Trent Radio’s Transmitter Fails (Again)

towerTrent Radio was off the air for approximately 53 hours when on January 15, the CFF transmitter failed.

A back-up transmitter is now in place, and plans are being made to purchase an entirely new transmitter. If you feel like you’re experiencing déjà vu, you’re not crazy: in December 2010, the transmitter failed and Trent Radio was off the air for 60 hours, the first time since going live in 1984. There was a huge outpouring of community support, and within a few weeks over $8000 was raised to repair the transmitter and purchase back-up parts.

The radio silence was shorter this time, but the situation is a little more dire: the 2010 failure was the result of a faulty part, while this year’s failure can only be resolved by replacing the entire thing.

Transmitters don’t come cheap: the new equipment will cost about $7000. This is on top of the $3000 that is needed to repair Trent Radio’s server, which blew up in December and is currently being restored in California.

It’s been a wake-up call for John K. Muir, Trent Radio’s General Manager.

“They just don’t build technology to last anymore,” he laments. “My telephone has lasted for thirty years. The server lasted for less than a decade.”

It’s also much harder to repair and replace “old-school” equipment, as fewer and fewer companies are producing it.In a post-industrial, globalized society, it also no longer makes sense for companies to stockpile, which means that a lot of equipment only gets manufactured when there have been a number of orders for it.

The financial crisis of 2008 also didn’t help: many tech companies were bought out or downsized.

For example, the company that sold the server to Trent Radio no longer exists—John had to track down the original manufacturer in Taiwan. The British company that made the old transmitter was sold to another firm and has closed down its Canadian associations; to have it fixed the entire transmitter would have had to be shipped to Britain.

As MP3 players and tablets get smaller, cheaper, and more accessible, companies producing radio equipment are throwing in the towel. Even though competition for new radio licenses is fierce—when Trent Radio first signed on there were only two other broadcasters in the area, and now there are 14—the equipment used in radio has a much longer shelf life than a smaller gadget, making it far less profitable for tech manufacturers.

So, what’s the point? If radio is so expensive and complicated, why keep it up?

I’ll make the argument I made two years ago: it may be getting more expensive for producers, but it’s still the cheapest medium for consumers.

Not everyone can afford a fancy smartphone or a satellite TV, but anyone can buy a cheap radio from Canadian Tire, or even find one for nothing at the Free Market (I’m pretty sure I donated a clock-radio a few years back).

Also, on the producing end, it’s worth the cost.

Expressing yourself through social media is great and all—I’ve been Tweeting up a storm about the transmitter failure, and all of @trentradio’s followers have been very supportive—but when there are zillions of people shouting about their breakfasts and their babies and their baseball games all over the internet, it’s pretty easy to get lost in the shuffle.

Radio is a way to have your voice heard by the multitudes without having to confine yourself to 140 characters. It’s a way to spark dialogue and get people thinking, especially when you can catch them off-guard driving in their cars or contemplating hitting the snooze button again. Radio’s costs are far outweighed by its benefits.

So, what are we going to do about this? Well, this transmitter failure has been a lot more relaxed. It’s happened before, it’ll happen again, and that’s a reality we’re going to have to prepare for in the future.

Our fundraising goal this time around is $10,000—that will cover the cost of a new transmitter as well as fixing the server. We are still in the process of planning FUNdraising events, but in the meantime we kindly ask that you donate whatever you can.

You can donate online by clicking the blue button on the homepage or in person by bringing your nickels and dimes to Trent Radio House, 715 George Street North.

For updates, if you’re a Twit like me you can follow @trentradio, or if Facebook’s more your thing, join the Trent Radio Facebook Group.

Stay tuned for upcoming events and remember, love it or lose it.