Jack-FM off the air because of High Park fire -- but hoping to return today

The still raging High Park fire near Fort Collins has wreaked plenty of havoc, what with one resident, Linda Steadman, killed in the blaze's early days and 189 homes confirmed destroyed at this writing. It's also disrupted plenty of businesses, including Jack-FM, which has been off the air for well over a week because of the disaster.

Tim Spence, program director for Front Range Sports Network, which owns Jack-FM (official call letters: KJAC), notes that the station's transmitter is on top of Buckhorn Mountain, located in the fire zone. "We're pretty close to the mountaintop," he says of the facility, which is also utilized by KUNC-FM and the Larimer County Fire Department, among others -- and midway through Saturday afternoon, Jack's signal failed.

That was bad news for Jack, but "it was a crisis issue with the fire department," Spence continues. "It was imperative to help protect that, because if they had lost communication, everything would have been line-of-sight versus telecommunications" -- a terrible handicap given the size of the conflagration, which has consumed an estimated 92 square miles to date.

For this reason, firefighters made protecting the transmitter site a top priority -- "and we were the beneficiaries of that," Spence acknowledges. Not that there weren't some tense moments. "Once we got approval to go up, we had to have a fire truck escort us," he notes. "And then the fire changed directions and went back across the road and cut everyone off. They were stuck on the mountainside for ten hours, waiting for the fire to get under control in that area again, so they could get back down. It was never a life-or-death situation, but they were trapped on the mountain."

In the end, the station's personnel got down safety, and the firefighters "did a bang-up job," Spence points out. "The way it was described to me, pretty much everything around the top of the hill was charred to nothing. But they saved the antennas."

So why's Jack still off the air? Because the power in the entire area is down, and the station didn't have a backup generator on site. (Spence believes the fire department did have such a generator, preventing a communication breakdown among those trying to control the blaze.) But things should improve soon. Depending on conditions, Spence says staffers are scheduled to take a generator to the Buckhorn facility later today, then connect to a satellite uplink managed by Clear Channel. If all goes well, the station should begin broadcasting again by this evening -- probably at lower strength than usual (it may take two or three weeks for full power to be restored), but back in the game.

"It's been a crazy time," Spence says, "but the shining light is people coming together to help -- even competitors" like Clear Channel. "Business is business, but we're all broadcasters, and it's nice at times like this to have people help you out."

The same can be said for everyone in the vicinity of the High Park fire.

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More from our Media archive: "102.3 ESPN replaces The Ticket with national-local mix, Jack FM survives."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts