As so-called “chief engineer” for NCPR I get to review all complaints about our FM signal. Starting late last week we began to receive reports of a high-pitched “whining” (no, not end-of-year fundraising messages!) from listeners who were attempting to listen to the Lake George (93.5) and Glens Falls (97.3) translators.
These “translators” are very simple installations, consisting of an FM receiver (which picks up an NCPR signal from another translator or full-power FM site), and a transmitter (which broadcasts the signal from the translator site). Here’s how the NCPR signal is distributed in the S.E. Adirondacks:
Listeners in the area also mentioned that if they tried to listen to the Gore Mtn. signal (89.9) they also heard the whine.
The answer to this mystery seemed simple: Gore Mtn. was somehow misbehaving, so I planned a trip Monday to the summit. It isn’t easy to get there, but the folks at Gore Mtn. Ski Center are always helpful. It only takes a gondola and a chair-lift ride, plus two trips on a stretcher guided by the ski patrol!
Driving to Gore, 89.9 sounded fine, so I assumed that the problem was intermittent. In the Ski Center parking lot, I tried tuning in 93.5 (from Prospect Mtn.) and sure enough… there was the whine! How could this be? Using my cellphone I remotely turned off the 89.9 signal… and the whine on 93.5 was still there! The electronic plot thickens.
Aha! It must be interference from a different station which was ALSO operating at 89.9 and somehow forcing itself upon the receivers in the translators. (by the way during the whole process I chose to ignore the fact that we’d had no complaints from Schroon Lake or the “downtown” North Chreek translator), both of which also receive their signals from Gore Mtn… I conveniently assumed that everyone was away or asleep in those communities)
Driving towards Glens Falls on the Northway I found there there were a few areas where I could also hear the “whine” on 89.9, THEN found that I could hear the whine on other FM frequencies as well! 88.3, 88.5, 89.1! I said “tut tut” somebody’s transmitter is spraying all over the place, perhaps I can track it down and advise their engineer of the problem.
If you practice, you can use your car/truck radio as a direction finder… if you’re on the north side of a hill and the signal is better than on the south side of the same hill, then the signal is probably coming from the north. Using this method, I triangulated the whining signal to be coming apparently from Prospect Mountain, just to the west of Lake George.
The top of Prospect is crowded with over a dozen communications towers, including several hi-power FM stations. Here’s just two of the towers up there:
In the summer, getting to the summit of Prospect Mountain is easy. A 5 mile paved road with several lovely vistas make this trip fun for all! In the winter, the road is officially closed and not plowed, but if there is enough snow, the road is groomed for snowmobilers. Since there has been very little snowfall so far this year… just a few inches, it wasn’t in general use for the sleds either. So I drove to the summit… and hiked the last half mile to the transmitter site.
…..where the mystery was finally solved. The offending transmitter was actually our own! It was transmitting a “spur” at 89.9 which interfered with its own receiver as well as the 93.7 receiver in Glens Falls and even to the Gore Mtn. signal at 89.9.
I simply hiked back to the truck and returned with a spare transmitter and all became perfect!
Not only did I solve the mystery, making thousands of potential listeners to NCPR potentially happier, but I got home in time for dinner as well. Life is good.