GatesAir, a Thomson Broadcast subsidiary dedicated to wireless content delivery, continues to win FM and HD Radio installation projects with WAY Media, a group of listener-supported Christian radio stations in North America that recently merged with Houston-based Hope Media Group. With nearly 75 stations now combined under Hope Media Group’s ownership, WAY Media executives and engineers still make technology decisions for their 54 AM and FM stations. On the transmission side, those decisions have increasingly included GatesAir Flexiva FM and HD Radio systems.
“We have picked up our pace of GatesAir installations since we started replacing more of our older tube transmitters four years ago,” said Phil Jennings, Senior Director of Engineering, Hope Media Group. “All of the major transmitter suppliers offer great products today, but the difference is that GatesAir really has its finger on the pulse of the FM radio industry. That extends beyond their transmitters and into their HD Radio and Intraplex STL products. They make products that are compact, easy to use, and in the case of their transmitters, offer a true return on investment.”
Citing successful past installations in Alabama (Huntsville), Kentucky (Louisville) and Tennessee (Clarksville), Jennings reached out to his friends at SCMS, a leading radio industry supplier and GatesAir channel partner, to discuss replacement transmitters for KAWA-FM (Dallas), WAYF-FM (West Palm Beach, Fla.) and WAYM-FM (Nashville). Foremost, they wanted modern solid-state transmitters that would improve on-air reliability, reduce operational costs, and be easier to maintain and service when technical issues arose. As a broadcaster that is rapidly evolving its programming options and streaming footprint, they also wanted more complete solutions that would help them grow niche formats and reach more listeners.
“We have been adding HD2 feeds to many of our FM stations, and in some markets we use HD Radio channels to feed translators that extend our over-the-air signals,” said Jennings. “HD Radio also gives us an opportunity to expand our latest formats including Vida Unida, our Hispanic Christian format. We considered all these factors when we reached out to SCMS, and even very forward-looking opportunities such as SFN (single-frequency network) broadcasting that would help us take full advantage of our market penetration. GatesAir checks all these boxes for us.”
According to Jennings, GatesAir helps them provide the best possible HD Radio experience for their listeners. “The clarity of the HD Radio signal from the FAX exciter is pristine, and then you add the Flexiva FMXi 4g to the mix and things get very interesting. This is a complete, embedded HD Radio Importer and Exporter system with perfect time alignment as analog and digital signals blend. We can also send The Artist Experience through it, which provides album art and other data to the receiver. We evaluated other HD Radio systems that glossed over some of these benefits; GatesAir builds everything we need into the system to deliver an engaging HD Radio audience experience, and it’s still very easy to use.”
Jennings calls the WAYM-FM setup in Nashville a “dream scenario” for an HD Radio deployment. In this example, audio feeds originate from the studio and move through a GatesAir HD Link microwave STL to the tower site, where the Flexiva FMXi 4g imports the audio for processing. All E2X (Exporter-to-Exciter) data is embedded within an Intraplex IP Link MPXp stream along with composite audio to the FAX exciter within the transmitter. “This setup gives us the best possible reliability and audio clarity,” added Jennings, noting this configuration will likely be replicated at other stations.
WAYM-FM is the most recent site to be completed, with a Flexiva FAX 7.5kW air-cooled transmitter going on the air in August. KAWA-FM in Dallas and WAYF-FM in West Palm Beach hit the airwaves with Flexiva FLX 20kW liquid-cooled transmitters in February and June, respectively. As with previous installations, the transmitters have vastly increased on-air-reliability while simplifying maintenance. Jennings cites a recent air conditioner failure at the WAYF transmitter site as an example of improved reliability, noting that the transmitter continued to operate at full power without issue. He adds that SCMS quickly addressed a Flexiva module failure in Dallas, delivering a replacement module on short notice that was installed and operational within minutes.
Return on investment is the shining benefit for company management, however. This is especially notable in at KAWA-FM, where an ROI on the 20kW liquid-cooled system is expected in three years.
“We were running a legacy tube transmitter at about 19kW in Dallas, and we ran strictly analog FM for one month with the Flexiva before adding HD,” said Jennings. “We compared the utility bills, and the Flexiva absorbed 100 kilowatt hours less each day. The cost of electricity has gone up, so while the bills were about the same, they would be much higher now were we still broadcasting from the tube. Even with HD added, our research shows that our GatesAir transmitters will reduce energy and save us plenty of money in the big picture.”
“GatesAir has a long legacy of manufacturing transmitters that provide exceptional performance and reliability for broadcasters,” said Mark Goins, Vice President of North America Sales, GatesAir. “By adding our latest solid-state technology and complete HD Radio architecture, WAY Media has the added benefits of operating with greater efficiency while adding new services that engage their listeners and increase their brand awareness.”