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KYUK takes down AM tower

KYUK's original AM tower will be replaced after 50 years of transmitting news across the region. May 11, 2023 in Bethel, Alaska.
Shane Iverson
KYUK's original AM tower will be replaced after 50 years of transmitting news across the region. May 11, 2023 in Bethel, Alaska.

After half a century of use, KYUK's AM transmitter came down on Thursday as part of a planned upgrade. It means the 640 AM channel will be unavailable for a time and communities will have to tune in on 90.3 FM and rely on repeaters scattered throughout the region to get a radio broadcast. KYUK programming is also available streaming online. Reporter Francisco Martínezcuello sat down with General Manager Shane Iverson to get the details.

This conversation has been edited for clarity

Francisco: What happened today?
Shane: It was a big day. We've had our 640 AM transmitter, and antenna and tower that go along with it up for now, it's been serving the region for 50 years. However, it's been sinking into the permafrost, and we've been planning for years to get it replaced. And today was a big day when we brought down the old tower. It's kind of like a toothpick tower, it stands up through the tension on mainly three, three guy wires. And yeah, the crew we had out here tightened up two of the wires real tight and loosened up the other. And when they cut that loose one, the whole thing just tipped over and crashed right onto the tundra. It is pretty remarkable.

And we have video footage of that, right?

Yeah, we do. I'm sure it's on our Facebook already.

Why is this important?

Well, that tower is able to reach, you know, people all over the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta, in almost every community, we're the only signal they're getting. So our ability to transmit information through 640 AM, whether it's local information, statewide information or national news, it all goes through that tower. So it's a big part of our mission. It's a big part of serving our audience. And it's a huge part of our funding, you know, if we're not transmitting radio, we are not able to support ourselves. So if it's something that had to get done, and there was a big step towards that today.

And what can listeners expect?
Yeah, well, our 640 AM signal is down currently. Fortunately, here in Bethel, we have a 90.3 FM signal. So we put all of our regular 640 programming on that. So everyone here locally can still catch our programming on the FM and it might sound better in some instances, definitely, if you're close to Bethel, and that's going to serve you know, the nearest villages.
And then fortunately, too, we have nine repeaters and outlying areas, places farther away from Bethel, places like Aniak, up the Kuskokwim. Emmonak and Nunam Iqua on the Yukon, Quinhagak, Good News Bay out on the coast. So those repeaters are unaffected, they are still picking up our signal. So while we hate to be down on 640, especially during break up, we are happy that almost everyone is still able to receive our services.
It's the villages that are not quite far enough away that they needed a repeater, but that are too far to receive the FM signal. They're going to be the ones that have a tough time hearing us right now. And that's a handful of villages. And we're going to do everything we can to get back on the air as quickly as possible. And of course, there's always KYUK the stream on the internet.

So how was this funded?
There are four main funding sources. The first to come through was Wells Fargo, and then the City of Bethel stepped in with a big grant, the Alaska Community Foundation helped out as well. And then the Rasmussen Foundation came in real big and strong at the end to complete the funding package. And then of course, KYUK, we put in some as well. So that's a direct benefit from our many supporters and donors.

And is there anything else that our listeners would like to know from you?
Well, I think it's, it's good to note that we're going to have a brand new tower. The last one was anchored into a telephone pole into the ground. And amazingly, that's lasted this many decades. So you know, a lot has changed in 50 years of radio frequency engineering. And so the new tower along with the brand new equipment, we got along with it, the transmitters and other accessory equipment means our signal should be clearer than it has been and it should reach further than it has. And you know, we're gonna have a strong tower for decades and decades to come.

Gabby Salgado
Old KYUK AM tower

Francisco Martínezcuello was the KYUK News Reporting Fellow from November 2022 through January 2024. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley School of Journalism. He is also a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.