Kent city emergency broadcast station temporarily unavailable

Amy Szabo

The city of Kent’s radio station reserved for emergency broadcasts will be unavailable for an uncertain amount of time.

Three weeks ago, Public Safety Director William Lillich noticed that only a loud hum came through clearly on radio station 1620 AM.

City officials first noticed the problem during Kent’s tornado warning Aug. 20.??

“We could still put the signal out, but it was spotty at best – not as strong,” Lillich said.

In the meantime, the city’s siren will still be sounded in the event of an emergency, but Lillich asks that listeners tune into any commercial station that typically displays weather or traffic warnings.

In case of a more local hazard, a press release would be quickly created and distributed to major local broadcast centers.

He said Kent’s radio broadcast system is located in the city hall building and operated by a dispatch center and others who are trained to handle the equipment.

“It’s not like a great big mammoth of a device,” Lillich said. “If you imagine a good-sized stereo receiver, take something twice the size of that.”

The equipment is being delivered for repairs to Information Station Specialists, Inc., the broadcast system’s creator in Zeeland, Mich. The company will be looking into what caused the malfunction.

One hypothesis is that it was a lightning storm that struck the system.

“We might repair five to 10 systems that have storm damage in a year,” said Thomas Coviak, project manager at Information Station Specialists, Inc.

The most time spent on repairing systems with storm damage is about three to four weeks, he said.

Coviak said 25 to 35 percent of all the problems they have to repair come from an electrical spike on the inside.

“We try to protect the equipment as best we can,” Coviak said. Multiple arrestors are placed inside and around the device to prevent any type of electrical surges, he explained.

For broadcast signals to work, the towers have to be placed in large open areas. A tall tower like that is an easy target for lightning strikes, and as such, there’s no warranty coverage for weather damage, Coviak said.

The company has 1,500 stations working in various locations.

“We’ve been doing this for 25 years now and some are still running from when we started,” Coviak said.

The system plays pre-recorded messages over the airwaves. If a special situation arises, like traffic congestion or a major storm, those authorized can call in and leave a new message to be played.

Contact public affairs reporter Amy Szabo at [email protected].