Public service radio station WRTZ-707 is broadcasting non-commercial voice announcements, providing emergency and other vital information on 1700 kHz in the AM band. It is the result of public agencies, organizations and individuals working together in a mutual commitment to community safety. Here’s their story:
The 2021 Dixie Fire prompted changes and upgrades to a number of aspects of local life. One of those involved a grass-roots response to communications issues in the Lake Almanor basin. Even before Dixie there were concerns about the inability to quickly reach residents and visitors with community announcements. The lack of a local broadcast radio or TV station made it difficult to convey information to the entire population. The only available tool for such purposes was the Plumas County Code Red telephone alert system, which could send brief emergency messages to those who had signed up for the service.
Dixie proved the value of Code Red when evacuation notices were sent out ahead of the flames. But visitors and unregistered residents didn’t receive the alerts. And when the fire caused damage to telephone and cell-phone infrastructure, conventional basin communications largely went dark. Fortunately, most of the population was evacuating by that point and the emergency responders who remained behind relied on their two-way radios.
Not long after the fire passed and the evacuees returned, a small group of local amateur radio operators began brainstorming ideas for improved community communications. The goal was a means of promptly informing the local population of important matters of all types, emergency or otherwise. It didn’t take long to focus on a public service broadcast radio system that is permitted under FCC regulations. Initial planning efforts determined that the entire basin could be reached if the low-power transmitter were placed at a central location on the peninsula.
Licensing for such a station needed to be done by a public agency, and the Peninsula Fire Protection District quickly agreed to host the station. The Lake Almanor Country Club agreed to allow the transmitter and antenna to be located within their water tank compound. After determining equipment requirements, fund raising began under the leadership of the Lake Almanor Community Foundation. That effort resulted in a wonderful response from both individuals and organizations in the basin.
Rural America at work
Ultimately the FCC license was obtained, parts and equipment were purchased and amateur radio volunteers assembled the system. Initial operations were done using a low-elevation temporary antenna, but more recently Pacific Gas & Electric Co. installed a utility pole for the final, higher elevation antenna installation.
Public service radio station WRTZ-707 broadcasts on 1700 kHz in the AM band. In accordance with FCC regulations, broadcasting is limited to non-commercial voice announcements of items deemed important to the overall community. The station provides follow-up information during emergencies when initial alerts come by way of community sirens or telephone using the County’s new Genasys system (the replacement for Code Red). During non-emergency periods, the station continues to operate, 24/7, broadcasting brief messages regarding public events, weather or road alerts, and similar topics. The availability of backup generator power allows the station to remain on the air even when telephone, cell phone or internet services are not available. Residents are urged to use a preset button on their car radio to be able to quickly tune in the station during an emergency.
This public service radio station serves as a good example of what a small community can do when faced with an important need. Individuals and organizations stepped up to the challenge, identified a solution, raised the funds and made it happen. It’s rural America at work.
Information submitted by Dale Knutsen