Making a Difference:
KET Transmitter Towers

Without this system we wouldn't have been able to get information back to the main transportation building. The power was out, cell phones were out. It helped us tremendously.

Tony Downs

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet

Firefighter Tabitha Liesengane knows the value of communication. Not long ago, as part of her job for the Kentucky Department of Forestry, she was deep in the woods in Lee County near the Red River Gorge, trying to get to one of the approximately 2,000 fires that erupt in Kentucky each year.

She jumped from ledge to ledge, avoiding the flames. The last jump proved one too many and she fell, breaking her leg. But her two-way radio provided her the means to call for help and rescuers got her to the hospital—thanks to the communication network the forestry service uses, facilitated by the transmission towers owned by KET.

The two-way communication system allows field and office staff to communicate—essential in everyday operations and critical when something goes awry, according to Tim Brown, branch manager for field operations. The system would be of no use, however, if it were not for transmission towers that relay the signals.

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KET has 15 towers located throughout Kentucky and Indiana. Like an array of other local, state, and federal agencies, the Department of Forestry uses many of these towers to operate their communications system.

"KET is the only broadcaster that serves statewide," said Curtis Harper, KETís director of transmission systems. "Most commercial TV stations have a single studio and a single transmitter. We have transmitters all over the state."

Each site also has an emergency generator. That came in handy during the most recent ice storm when the Murray/Mayfield transmitter kept WKMU and all the partners on the tower on the air by using emergency power for nine days.

KET's towers were also critical during the 2008 storm for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, said the cabinet's Tony Downs.

"Without this system we wouldn't have been able to get information back to the main transportation building," he said. "The power was out, cell phones were out. It helped us tremendously."

Cost savings

Like most agencies, the cabinet realizes a great savings in using KET's towers rather than having to construct their own.

"If it wasn't for KET, we'd have to lease space from a private entity, probably at greater cost, or build our own towers, which is tremendously costly," said Downs. "To get a decent figure on what that would cost, we just spent $250,000 for a 250-foot tower—and that's just one tower."

Though KET does realize some aid from leasing fees, it nowhere near covers the extensive maintenance and other costs associated with maintaining the network of towers. Regular painting, just to name one item, runs into the thousands of dollars for just one tower. When inspections and safety surveys must be completed, specialized tower climbers must be hired. And with any structure constantly exposed to the elements, each is subject to the ravages of bad weather, such as the tornado that damaged part of the Somerset tower earlier this year.

Still, they are vital to many agencies. The National Weather Service requires a tall tower to broadcast NOAA weather radio, a 24/7 transmission that provides weather forecasts, alerts, and warnings.

"For an antenna to be effective, you have to have line of sight," said Bill Whitlock, of the National Weather Service in Louisville. "KET's towers are tall so you get an unobstructed transmission pattern. Their towers are also strategically located."

Many of Kentuckyís public radio stations use KETís transmitter towers to broadcast.

"KET has been the best thing we have ever come up with," said Gordon Brandenburg, WUKY chief engineer. "We have a real good working relationship. You are kicking around about $1 million to build a tower as tall as we need. It is quite an expensive proposition."

All told, a total of 23 agencies and other public entities rely upon the KET transmitter towers—the statewide network of silent sentries that touch the sky as well as so many lives across the Commonwealth.