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Power Loss Puts KPBX Down, Not Out

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Neesha Schrom
/
Spokane Public Radio

It takes more than a wind storm to knock Spokane Public Radio off the air for long.

Power went off along North Monroe St. in Spokane a little before 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 17 during All Things Considered and the first day of a planned Fall Pledge Drive. A dozen volunteers and staffers had settled in for an afternoon of answering phones when a tree pulled loose power lines. The power transformer, installed just months before by Avista, exploded in a spectacular blue bolt of lightning and sent SPR off the air for the rest of the night.

Lights and heat remained on in much of the building thanks to a generator installed for this scenario. SPR had purchased the generator soon after 1996's Ice Storm that kept KPBX off the air for more than a week. Since it is powered by a natural gas line, it can provide power as long as needed. That will be important for future emergencies, but couldn't help the bigger problem 11 blocks away.

While we had brought the microphones and some equipment to the Fire Station to broadcast for the Pledge Drive, the actual core of our broadcast equipment remained at the Hoban Building, SPR's home for the past 35 years.

By the following afternoon, Chief Engineer Jerry Olson had brought a second generator over to the Hoban Building and connected it to key broadcast equipment. KPBX could broadcast a live feed from the satellite outside plus anything live on the microphone.

No telephones. No computers. No internet. No heat.

The generator needed refueling every two hours. A back door needed to stay open for the power cords running down to the generator, kept far away from the door to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

Broadcasting became a two-person job. One would maintain the generator, another would manage the microphone and feed which alternated between NPR News programs and the BBC. Cell phones became hotspots and laptops helped gather news.

Since many of the station staff also lost power, the Fire Station became a gathering place for a warm meal, companionship, and recharging devices.