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GM's Letter: Going above and beyond to serve KVPR listeners

KVPR's transmitter site AFTER snow removal operations, March 3, 2023.
Joe Moore
KVPR's transmitter site AFTER snow removal operations, March 3, 2023.

I’d like to share a story with you about perseverance and the lengths our team will go to serve you. It turns out snowshoes are sometimes just as essential as microphones in a broadcasters tool kit.

It might be hard to remember in the middle of the valley’s summer heat, but just a few short months ago we were dealing with record low-elevation snowfall across the Sierra. While most of that snow has since melted, filling our local rivers and lakes, it was a different story at the end of February. A major “atmospheric river” storm had pummeled the mountains with snow beginning on the weekend of February 25th, resulting in a major PG&E power outage at our 89.3 transmitter site in Meadow Lakes. For those who aren’t familiar, Meadow Lakes is a community between Auberry and Shave Lake, at approximately 4,500 feet. It usually gets a light dusting of snow in most years. But as we know, the winter of 2022/2023 wasn’t normal.

Fortunately our backup generator kicked in when PG&E went off, keeping KVPR on-air that weekend. However, as the outage stretched on, the snow got worse. With only a 500 gallon propane supply, it was a race to see if PG&E would come back on or if we could get refueled in time before the generator ran out of fuel. With about five feet of snow on the ground, the private road to our mountaintop transmitter site was simply impassable. I recall calling the propane company, who told me they wouldn’t send a truck as conditions weren’t safe, and one of their drivers actually got stuck the day before in the same area.

Finally, we ran out of fuel and went off-air at 3:00 PM on Tuesday February 28th. We spent the next day working with our landlord at Meadow Lakes trying to secure snow removal equipment so we call could refuel. On Wednesday afternoon March 1st, we were excited when PG&E service came back online. But our mood quickly turned to disappointment when our main transmitter wouldn't respond to our remote commands. Something was wrong. Thankfully our broadcast engineer Kevin Davis was prepared. Even though it was late in the day, and he had already hiked to a remote snowbound transmitter at Mt. Bullion for another client, he got in his Jeep and drove up Auberry Road to the site. As darkness fell, he was only able to make it as far as the Meadow Lakes apple stand, a local landmark that collapsed in the snow days later. A car was partially blocking the road ahead, a one lane, narrow, icy path with snowbanks of 8 feet or more on either side.

He decided the only safe way to get to the transmitter was on foot. So he began a 1 mile hike, first on foot, and then ultimately with snowshoes, in complete darkness, to get to our transmitter. As he went farther, the partially plowed road eventually became completely unplowed. The temperature was below freezing. When he finally got to the site, he had to dig his way into the building with a shovel just to get the door open. Sure enough, the main KVPR transmitter was damaged with an electrical fault. He got us back on-air using our backup system, and proceeded to hike another mile back to his Jeep in the darkness, and then made the hour-long drive home. And that's why when you woke up and drove to work on March 2nd, we were back on the air.

Now we aren't asking you to hike two miles in the snow, in the dark, in freezing temperatures to keep KVPR on-air. But you play an equally important role in keeping KVPR on-the-air with your donations. Members help us pay the power bill, the propane bill, the repair bills and everything else that it takes to keep the station alive. Thanks for your generous support.

Joe Moore is the President and General Manager of KVPR / Valley Public Radio. He has led the station through major programming changes, the launch of KVPR Classical and the COVID-19 pandemic. Under his leadership the station was named California Non-Profit of the Year by Senator Melissa Hurtado (2019), and won a National Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative reporting (2022).