Erika Engle

Radio-free communities
move closer to clear signals

One of a broadcaster's worst fears is dead air. Unplanned on-air silence causes jarring, sit-bolt-upright-in-the-middle-of-the-night-with-the-cold-sweats-heart-pounding-in- the-chest-work-related-nightmares.

Some radio silence is caused by topography, though, and fixing it requires a whole lot more than just pushing a button to turn on the microphone, or to start the next song or commercial. Listeners experience it on the road heading from Waimanalo to Hawaii Kai, or anyplace else where signals fade and car radios become temporarily useless.

Some neighbor island radio companies have joined a flurry of their broadcast brethren in filing applications for FM translators that will fill in several musically moot zones, especially on Maui and Kauai.

The Federal Communications Commission recently opened a filing window that had been frozen shut for two to three years, said John Detz, president and chief executive officer of Visionary Related Entertainment Inc.

"We had a lot of pent-up demand from wanting to expand," he said. "Translators can only be used within existing signal areas, and there are little holes here and there around our signal areas."

He wants to erect the translators to fill in the pukas and has spent the freeze doing engineering studies in preparation for the filing. He doesn't know if or when the FCC's approval will come.

Visionary owns KAOI-FM/AM 95.1/1110, KDLX-FM 94.3 and KNUQ-FM 103.7 on Maui, and KQNG-FM/AM 93.5/570, KSRF-FM 95.9, KSHK-FM 103.3 and KUAI-AM 720 on Kauai.

Hawaii Public Radio engineer Robert Leembruggen knows the Kauai stations have trouble reaching some potential listeners in the growing north shore area.

"John probably needed those translators the day those stations went on the air in August of 1999," he said. Leembruggen put the stations on the air for Visionary before he eventually moved to Oahu.

Kauai-based H. Hawaii Media, led by President George Hochman, has also applied for translators. Company officials could not be reached for comment.

The investment for a translator is between $5,000 and $10,000, Leembruggen said, not including rent for space on a tower or building. Visionary has applied for three translators for Maui and four for Kauai, one for each of its FM stations.

The additions could mean more listeners, but it doesn't necessarily mean stations can boost adverting rates along with bettered reach.

"You don't find that much more in radio these days," Detz said.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4302, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached at:


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