(CINCINNATI, October 19, 2005) Harris Corporation’s (NYSE: HRS) Broadcast Communications Division (BCD) has played a key role in rebuilding WQRZ-FM, a low-power FM station serving Hancock County, Mississippi that was nearly destroyed by the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina.
WQRZ-LP was the country’s first Amateur Radio-based organization granted a community broadcast FM station, hitting the airwaves in January 2003. Since then, the 24/7 station has been the premier source of information to Hancock County residents, providing music as regular programming but also offering communication resources and automatic Emergency Alert System (EAS) broadcasts to local listeners in times of emergency.
“We are passing on in-depth information to listeners about where to go for FEMA assistance, the Small Business Administration, medical center and shelter locations, and where to get a hot meal, ice, clothing and bare necessities,” said Sara Allen, an independent contractor assisting with WQRZ operations. “The hardest part of the update is reading the list of those still missing since Hurricane Katrina made landfall. But the feedback I’ve had from the public is that WQRZ has been a very important resource to the people of Hancock County. They are listening and trusting the source as we are attached directly to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) by way of the Public Information Office, and that co-location decreases the risk of faulty and inaccurate information.”
As Hurricane Katrina approached, WQRZ-FM Chief Engineer Brice Phillips, who operated the station from his home two miles from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, relocated the station’s existing 100-watt FM transmitter, the EAS, a portion of its four-bay antenna, and some studio components to the Hancock County EOC to continue broadcasts. When the storm hit on August 29, Phillips’ home was destroyed, but the station’s tower and a 10-foot by 10-foot shed survived. In the ensuing days, Harris engineers pre-built and shipped a turnkey studio system to the Hancock EOC featuring Harris resale products, including a Mackie VLZPRO mixer, a Denon 951FA CD player, microphones, headphones, wiring and cable. A Harris Quest® 1 kW FM transmitter from the Harris factory in Quincy, Illinois, was tuned and tested, crated and shipped to Phillips. Mark Goins, a Harris BCD national accounts manager, pulled all of the studio gear together and made sure it reached its destination in time. Harris also worked closely with Dielectric, which designed and built a one-bay antenna with transmission line for use with the Harris Quest® transmitter and existing tower.
Once delivered, Gary Minker, president of Radio Works RF Consulting and a Harris contractor, headed the task of cleaning and converting Phillips’ shed into a transmission facility. “The working conditions were far from ideal with the heat, bugs and unbelievable amounts of mud,” said Minker. “We removed a foot of mud from the shed, rinsed it with water and drilled holes in the floor for drainage. We used repeater boxes, which had been used for local police and amateur radio communications before being destroyed in the storm surge, as stairs for access to the shed to create a new transmission facility. The Harris Quest transmitter frequency was changed from 98.1 to WQRZ’s 103.5 frequency, and we set the transmitter to mono so listeners using state-distributed transistor radios could pick up a stronger signal. Tower climbing, line sweeping, connector installation, antenna settings, and modulation testing were just some of the other tasks performed at the transmitter site. We then built the studio at the new Hancock EOC’s site at the Hancock Vocational Technical School seven miles from the transmitter. The entire project was completed in just four days.”
The Harris Quest transmitter has boosted WQRZ’s signal output to 1300 watts – 13 times its previous output – thanks to special temporary authority from the FCC that was secured by Allen. This has allowed Phillips and Allen to cover greater distances with these important broadcasts. Minker reports that he received clear car audio from the station at the Mississippi-Louisiana state line 15 miles from the site.
“WQRZ’s original purpose was to be the center of information for Hancock Country, providing trained radio operators to communicate public safety, health and property protection information to local residents,” said Phillips, who also serves as broadcast division director of Hancock County Amateur Radio Association, Inc. “We are very lucky that our tower escaped unharmed and are very appreciative of the help we received from numerous organizations and engineers. With the help of Gary Minker and his crew, plus the equipment supplied by Harris, we rebuilt quickly and transferred our temporary on-air operation to the new system with less than 45 minutes of off-air time.”
The state of Florida also donated a generator to keep the transmitter on-air due to the lack of electricity in the region. The generator was almost lost when Hurricane Rita blew through the area, but Phillips moved it to higher ground to ride out the second storm. Phillips reports that the new transmission system has been running perfectly since going on-air. There is no fixed date for changing the studio location, and it could be at its current home for up to several months. “The station is fairly portable at this point,” said Allen, “so all that’s required is to move the installed equipment to another site, connect it, and go back on the air in a fairly brief amount of time.”
Hal Kneller, manager of National Public Radio Initiatives for the Harris BCD’s Radio Broadcast Systems business unit, was instrumental in coordinating the Harris response to procure, pre-build and deliver the new studio equipment and FM transmitter. “It is gratifying to know that Harris employees across the company can come together very quickly to make the near impossible very possible. This was not just a Harris BCD project. Harris’ Government Communications Systems Division (GCSD) Homeland Security unit contacted us with a general description of what was needed, and we immediately turned to BCD’s Quincy, Illinois, factory to ensure rapid shipment of the Quest transmitter. GCSD had been in contact with the Florida Emergency Operations Center, which was coordinating all of Florida's hurricane assistance to the Gulf Coast. This became the staging area for all the broadcast equipment coming in from different locations. We all feel a great sense of satisfaction from being a part of this crucial project.”
About Harris Broadcast Communications Division
Harris is an international communications and information technology company serving government and commercial markets in more than 150 countries. With headquarters in Melbourne, Florida, the company has annual sales of over $3 billion and has 12,600 employees – including 5,500 engineers and scientists – dedicated to the development of best-in-class assured communications™ products, systems, and services. The company's operating divisions serve markets for government communications, RF communications, broadcast communications, and microwave communications. Additional information about Harris Corporation is available at www.harris.com.