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E Madison towers not to blame for KEXP dead air

It was a failed memory card and not an issue on E Madison’s massive radio and TV towers that knocked Seattle’s ubiquitous independent music station KEXP off the air Tuesday morning.

“Our transmitter OS runs on a CompactFlash card,” Jamie Alls, KEXP chief engineer, told GeekWire. “It’s been there for 11 years, and it just chose this morning to crap out. Luckily we were able to get the backup transmitter working, and this issue shouldn’t come up again anytime soon.”

The period of dead air lasted only about two hours starting around 8:40 AM but it was a reminder for many how lonely your commute or your cafe could be without KEXP. It was also a reminder of the important role the E Madison towers play in the city’s communications.

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CHS headed out to check the trio of towers at the top of the Hill along E Madison to see if any work was underway during the outage but found the structures — 594-feet, 637-feet, and 682-feet tall and about 1,000 feet above sea level at their tips — mostly quietly buzzing away on the overcast morning.

The property where two of the towers stand is owned by KCTS television. Their tower on the property dates to 1965. “Channel 9” began as an experiment at the University of Washington in 1954 — KCTS stands for Community Television Service, with the K for west of the Mississippi River. The station was located at UW but the transmitter was atop the Edison Technical College, now part of Seattle Community College, until the current tower was built. In addition to Channel 9 transmission, the KCTS tower provides for transmission of radio stations KUOW-FM (94.9) and KEXP-FM (90.3) which also began at the UW. The second tower was built for KSTW-TV and also has included antennas used by the Coast Guard in addition to other communications gear. Across 18th Ave is the newest of the towers, built in 1985 for KTZZ-TV.

The towers continue to change and evolve with local broadcasting needs.

Earlier this year, work was approved to outfit the KCTS tower with equipment from the King County Department of Information Technology to enable the new county PSERN system. CHS reported here in 2015 on the levy to power Puget Sound Emergency Radio Network work to replace “aging components and provide new technology to support emergency dispatch and incident scene communications” for police, fire, and first responders across the county.

Meanwhile, a new era of smaller broadcasters has also started in the city. In 2016, KXSU became the first in a small wave of lower powered FM stations when it began broadcasting from its 12th Ave campus. The Central District’s Hollow Earth radio joined the LPFM club as KHUH broadcasting live from E Union in 2017. The stations, like KEXP, are also, of course, available online.

KEXP’s connection to the neighborhood will be further tuned in next year when a new food+drink project from DJ John Richards and wife Amy Richards is expected to open on E Pike.

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