News TWR’s Bonaire Facility Gets 440,000 Watt Makeover

May 15th, 2018

TWR’s Bonaire Facility Gets 440,000 Watt Makeover

Source: Radio World magazine of May 9, 2018
James E. O'Neal

Power boost makes station most powerful in Western Hemisphere

In an era when most operators are reluctant to spend even very modest sums maintaining AM broadcast facilities, a southern Caribbean Island medium-wave broadcaster has “gone for the gold,” rebuilding its transmission facility and boosting power nearly five-fold from 100 kW to 440 kW.

The rebuild was more of a “second coming” for the 800 kHz facility, located in Bonaire, an island that is part of The Netherlands, situated about 100 miles off the Venezuelan coast. The station is owned and operated by Trans World Radio, one of the world’s largest evangelical media organizations.

According to Lauren Libby, TWR’s president and CEO, the station went on the air in 1963 at the 500,000-Watt level, but costs associated with operating and maintaining a high-power tube-type rig eventually forced a cutback to 100 kW in 1998.

He explained that the decision to boost the station’s power to near its original level was made a few years ago when the need was recognized for a large regional station in Latin America to supplement the small FM operations on the air in that region.

“We also had a lot of people in Cuba asking us if we could increase the power to cover the island with Christian programming,” said Libby. “One of the primary motivations was to bring hope and encouragement to Cuba, Venezuela [and] to the whole Latin American region — even down into Brazil — to provide quality Christian programming. Its purpose is basically to encourage people, and to give hope in a world where hope is a pretty precious commodity. That’s why we increased the power.”

The superpower move didn’t happen overnight, though. “This was almost a $4 million project and it began about four years ago,” said Libby. “We had supporters from the U.S., Europe and Latin America. Actually, about 10 percent of the donations came from Latin America, which is remarkable when you look at the economy in many of these countries.

“I had people tell me that we would never accomplish it; it will never happen. But it did happen. It’s an amazing story — literally almost one miracle right after another.”

Libby noted that the power boost would not likely have been possible without the advances that have been made in broadcast technology, though, citing the greater than 90 percent efficiency of the Nautel solid-state transmitter selected for the project, and also the ability to operate with a much smaller staff.

“With the efficiencies now, you’re able to do it at a cost that is doable at that kind of power level,” he said. “Technology has moved forward. Back in the day TWR had close to 100 people doing live radio out of Bonaire. With today’s technology you’re able to do it in a more cost-effective and labor-effective environment.”

In addition to Nautel, Libby lauded the efforts of Tom King and Kintronic Labs in achieving the upgrade. “Kintronics did a superb job of creating the antenna solution,” he said.

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