Hi, my name is Dean Middleton I’m the Station Manager of KOCF. About eight years ago I began attending meetings started by the Oregon Country Fair Elders to begin the process of creating a Low Power Radio Station for the Fair. In June of 2015 I became the first KOCF Station Manager. I mention this because this is the last Manager’s Corner article that I will be writing. I am handing the day to day operations off to Sean Cumming, KOCF’s second manager. The station has in it’s five years of operation celebrated some momentous occasions, most of which our listeners were unaware of. But the volunteers that work to bring you the music and programming know of these events. The latest is chronicled in the following story.
In September of 2019 the KOCF began to explore the possibilities of building a new transmitter and antenna location to improve our signal coverage area. The first task was to make sure we could broadcast 92.7 FM from the location we had explored with the City of Veneta, the top of Bolton Hill at the reservoir site. Once we had confirmed with our FCC consultant that we could get licensed to broadcast from there we negotiated a lease with Veneta. KOCF Advisory Group Chairperson, Marshall Peter led us to an outstanding arrangement with the Veneta City Council, who supported the project and the Station unanimously.
The next step was to hire a structural engineer to sign off on our plan to secure the antenna to the top of the water tank. Little did I know this would take me on a crazy walk that would end up with a bid for a tower from Rohn that would cost over $10,000 to build? I had just about gotten to the point of not knowing what to do when I made a call to the City of Veneta planning and permits office, to find out if there was any way to get around the engineering sign off. In the six months I had been going around with the structural engineer State law had changed and the City said they no longer needed that sign off. Fair magic continues to guide KOCF.
So a new plan came into being. We designed the new tower which would be a 30 foot wooden mono pole with a 21 foot galvanized one and one half inch water pipe antenna mast. The tower was to be set in a five foot deep hole at the top of the water tank site. This would put the top antenna at about 35 feet above ground, approximately 900 feet of elevation.
In early October work began on preparing the transmitter cabinet. I fabricated a stand to hold the four, six volt golf cart batteries that will serve as the storage for an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). This UPS will allow the transmitter to operate in a blackout for six to eight hours at a time. We then started to test fit all the equipment into the cabinet.
The day the construction began turned into a very wet one. I was reminded that Jay Hennigan had told me there was no such a thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. But never the less we all did our part. Steve Hartsell construction began the trench at our transmitter cabinet pour site, as both conduit runs had to start from under the cabinet slab. In addition to the dig we had to cut into the adjoining slab to create a path for our electrical conduit.
Steve and Albert worked on cutting the pavement so they could dig the trench around the water tank. This was the first of two days of digging. There were several places where we could not be 100% sure if all the underground utilities had been located so the digging process had to be done with careful inspection on each grab by the excavator. There were several set of eyes watching. We did actually scrape across the top of a drain line that wasn’t on any of the plans nor did the locating service find it. It was not supposed to be there but no harm done. We ran into an incredibly hard level of lime stone, we thought it was cement at first but Albert said he’d seen it before on deep cuts. We realized the water tank site had been cut out of the side of the hill top and that’s why we found the lime stone just a few inches below the surface. Then there was the hill. A couple of times it was kind of scary watching Steve putting his machine at such steep angles, but he’s a master at his craft and pulled it off without a hitch. We needed to go up the hill with the trench because that’s where the tower would be sited. And the last part of the trenching process was erecting the tower. In technical terms, according to one of my colleagues our pole is called a wooden mono pole. Some of you might call it a utility pole or even a telephone pole. This one was donated to KOCF by Heather Kent and Mouseman who have supported KOCF from its inception and continue to this day. My thanks go out to both of them. The 30 foot pole was set in a hole five feet deep and then filled with gravel and then it got compacted. It’ll be there forever, at least from my perspective. It was really quite a thrill seeing it standing there. I had the realizations that so much work and worry had come to fruition. If you have followed my writings in Sound Bites in the Fair Family News, https://oregoncountryfair.net/fair-family-news/ you might be aware this project has challenged me. I have been the lead on more expensive projects. I designed and was part of a crew that built the KVAL TV 30’ remote television production truck, about $45,000 project. All of the equipment inside was used but still very serviceable. But the work on this tower was really challenging because the construction and engineering challenged both my knowledge and experience. I had done similar things but not on this scale nor had I ever work with a municipality at this level.
The next step was to put the conduit into the trenches, we actually have two destinations, the primary is between the transmitter cabinet and the wooden mono pole, about 190 feet, and the second is between the transmitter cabinet and an electrical service modular rack, about a 45 foot run. The phone company has an empty conduit stubbed up next to this rack. We put Cat5e cable into this conduit run in order to get internet service from the phone company. We also placed cat5e into the conduit to the tower just in case. Many years ago I had a chief engineer tell me once that wire’s cheap, even if you don’t know if you’ll ever use it, while you have the ground opened up put it in place. The cost of 400 feet of cat5e is nothing compared to the cost of, the locating service, the excavator, the asphalt cut and patch which costs thousands. We were required to hire an electrical contractor by the City to do this work. They would not allow us to do it ourselves. It’s kind of ironic as I have more electrical experience than any other phase of the job and I couldn’t touch it.
That ended day one.
Day two began with the electricians finishing the conduit work. Steve followed them placing the removed soil back into the trenches. They filled the soil in at our slab site first so Mouseman, Dr Yeti and I could begin the cement pour. First we had to finish the forms and tie conduit and all the rebar together, making sure everything was level and plum. Then came the cement pour. There is a reason I don’t have much experience with cement. It’s heavy! Everything about cement is hard work, loading it into my truck protecting it from the rain, pouring it in the mixer, pouring it into the forms, packing it into the forms, pulling the screed board, smoothing it, and even cleaning up all the tools and site at the end of the day is all very hard work. We had the pour planned to go from 11am to 3pm it actually went from 1pm to about 5pm. The cement will tell you when it’s time to put the finish on it. We had just enough time to get some sandwiches while it was setting up. I’ll tell you the BigFoot burger we ate that day at the Broadway Grill was one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. It’s probably because we had really worked up an appetite but really they have great food there and have been supporters of the Fair for as long as I can remember.
A week passed…as we had to let the cement cure before we placed the cabinet on it. This was an interesting process. I planned for the worst and hoped for the best. While the cabinet was sitting in my shop at home I made a template of the bottom of the cabinet so we could place the anchor bolts into the cement at the exact spots needed to line up with the holes in the bottom of the metal cabinet. Remember it rained on day one? Well it got my cardboard template wet and apparently it shrank enough to make our anchor bolt just slightly off. Having planned for the worst I had brought along some drills and a metal cutter. We just made a few modifications with the holes on the bottom of the cabinet and everything fit just right. Our work setting the cabinet was first thing that morning. By the time we had completed that work it was time to start the preparation to replace the asphalt we had to cut out to make the trenches. This was my first time working with asphalt as it was for Mouseman and Yeti. Have you every driven your car past a crew of workers doing pot hole repair and wondered why it takes four or five people to fill a little hole? Well it’s because the asphalt shows up on site very hot and you have to work fast so it doesn’t set up. Actually before the asphalt could be poured we had to put gravel into the trench and compact it. Then the entire area around the trench had to be swept clean. When the truck arrived with the asphalt first thing was to put a sealant and bonding agent on the exposed sides of the trench. This allowed the hot asphalt to bond with the old asphalt. Next the excavator would lay down the hot asphalt into the trench. One rake would move any asphalt outside of the trench to on top of the trench. It had to be exactly two inches thick on the top of the trench and shovel person would assist with this exact placement of the asphalt. Then comes the hand operated compactor. After the hand compactor had compacted then the roller would come along and compact again. Before the roller went over the fresh asphalt the patch job got inspected for low spots which got filled immediately. There were a couple of times when the dump truck was moving as was the excavator, roller and compactor and four others working with the hand tools got in very close quarters making it all very exciting or should I say dangerous.
About a week later Jay Hennigan arrived at the site. I rented a 36’ Boom lift. It was a full day as we were going pull to coax, mount the mast, hang the antennas and terminate the coax. While Jay worked on getting the antenna pole prepped for bolting onto the tower Jon, Mouseman and I pulled the coax and Cat5e 200’ through the 2” underground conduit. Any long underground pull is a bit un-nerving because if the cable gets stuck, the fix is usually very time consuming and it could be expensive. We knew we had a 90 degree turn about 150 feet from the tower and if there was a problem anywhere that would likely be the place. Sure enough when we hit that turn our progress stopped. Communicating around the water tank was not working real well and that’s when Jon called me on my phone and said put my phone on speaker mode, instant walkie talkies. We pulled the cable back a few feet and we all worked together and made it and around the corner. I thought we were home free but didn’t count on the final 90 degree turn up into the cabinet. We got hung up there again. It took us a couple of attempts but we did finally get the all our cables pulled. It was quite a thrill. I had spent a couple of weeks with a cable hung up under a foot path between my house and my new shop until a came up with a solution that finally got it through. I’d also seen a project at Lane Community College go off the rails when a long pull got stuck.
It was time to install the antennas. It took a couple of tries to get the high lift situated in the correct place. There is no level ground next to the tower and the high lift requires somewhat level ground. After a second attempt and the removal of a second section of chain link fencing we were able to get a stable purchase for the outriggers. We broke two drill bits getting the mounting holes drilled though the two inch galvanized plumbing pipe. Getting the holes in the correct location was also a challenge. Jay was trying to guide the holes in the galvanized pole, weighing 57 pounds, onto the threaded rod poking out from the side of the wooden pole. It was a very tricky operation but it actually worked. Once the galvanized pole was attached to the tower then came attaching the antennas. This was a two person job and Mouseman was more than able to assist Jay with the work. No problem being thirty feet in the air. Our new antennas, Nicom BKG 77 are broad band, meaning they will transmit any frequency in the FM spectrum (87.5 to 108.0 MHz). They are also quite a bit larger and heavier than our older Shivley 6812 which is narrow spectrum, cut to a specific length to resonate on our 92.7 frequency and also much smaller and lighter. We placed two of the Nicom antennas on the pole giving us a more efficient transmission pattern. Most of our energy will go out to the horizon. Very little signal will go up or down. We have so few listeners on the International Space Station and even fewer worms that tune in regularly. As the sun started to go down we still had to make the connections between the antenna and the coax cable that would feed the RF signal from the transmitter 200’ feet away on the other side of the water tank. It turned out we had just enough light to do the last of the tower work. Jon and I began to clean up all our tools and the various supplies we had left over from the construction of the pole and the cable pull. It was also getting very cold out. Mid-November late afternoons we found ourselves in 40 degree weather. Exposed fingers got numb after a while. It was nearly dark as we drove away.
The final phase is to populate the cabinet with all the equipment. When I had the cabinet in my shop I had it raised up about twelve inches off the ground so it would be easier for my old bones to work in the confined space. I’m wishing I had constructed a steel pedestal to set the cabinet on because doing all the work had to be done on my knees because now the cabinet sits directly on the slab. The four blue rectangles are six volt storage batteries. Above them is a charger and inverter that all of the equipment runs on. If the power on the hill goes out we have about six hours before we have to rely on a generator. Hopefully this will allow us fewer interruptions than we’ve experienced in the past. One of the last pieces was to connect to the internet. Installation was scheduled December 8 but didn’t happen until the next day. On Thursday, December 10, we made the connections between transmitter and the antenna. We started testing on the 10th and continue to test. I can report we have a good signal in most of Eugene. Because of the Hills our reception is a bit spotty in South Eugene. University neighborhoods have a good signal and we have a good signal in Springfield out to about 10th the Gateway neighborhoods have a great signal. If you are reading this a are getting reception please let us know. Go to; http://kocf.org/contact-us/ We continue to fine tune and testing … testing … testing. Can you hear me now?
KOCF Station Manager