Wind Knocks The Rock off the Air

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

December 4, 2023

A City crew removes the mangled radio tower at the City Maintenance Yard after it blew down Nov. 15 in high winds.

She’s a mighty radio station but apparently no match for Mother Nature. The Estero Bay’s community radio station is hoping its supporters will come through and keep commercial-free public radio live and on the air.

On Wednesday, Nov. 15, strong overnight winds blew down a radio tower installed at the City of Morro Bay’s Corporation Yard on Atascadero Road. 

That old radio tower used to hold the City’s wireless communications antennae for dispatching maintenance crews — for roads, water and sewer issues. 

But the tower is no longer in use and the City doesn’t plan on resurrecting it.

That’s left KEBF 97.3 FM The Rock scrambling to find a location to re-install their antenna.

“The tower collapsed,” said Hal Abrams the founder of The Rock and creator of community radio here. Abrams is also host of Animal Radio, a syndicated talk show all about animals, pets and the people who take care of them.

Abrams said the radio tower blew down while they were live on the air, too, and while they kept broadcasting via the Internet, the local signal was lost. Eventually they had to shut down the station and it remains off until they can get another antenna up.

“We eventually turned it off,” Abrams told Estero Bay News. “The next day a City crew took the tower down.”

He noted that the station’s antenna wasn’t damaged and they tried to install it on the station’s building, which is also home of the Morro Bay Resources Center, the TBID and Chamber of Commerce (at 695 Harbor St.). But that didn’t work, as the building just isn’t tall enough to be able to broadcast throughout the area.

“The tower is gone,” he added, “and the City has said it is no longer needed and they won’t put it back up.”

He said they are now on a double mission — to raise money for a new tower and to find someplace to erect it.

He said they’ve gotten a lot of notice to their plight on social media, especially the Next Door gossip site (and now a story in the local newspaper). 

The response has been good, which he finds very encouraging and reaffirming of a vision the radio veteran had over 10-years ago when he started the station.

KBEF 97.3 FM The Rock’s radio tower lies mangled, hanging from the roof of the City maintenance shop on Atascadero Road after high winds on Nov. 15 toppled the tower, and knocked the radio 
station off the air.

“We run on a skeleton budget,” Abrams said in a news release, “with over 40 volunteers, all great neighbors and community members. This is a very unexpected and unfortunate turn of events. Finding a new tower in the Morro Bay City Limits is not an easy task.”

Today the City’s communications — both emergency and non-emergency, are run through a radio repeater station set up on Black Hill, where the City has water storage tanks. Abrams is hoping they will be able to set up their antenna along with the police department’s and is hoping to meet with City officials on that idea.

He said the public has been great, with several people who live at higher elevations in town offering to let them install the antenna on their homes and Abrams said they are keeping that idea as a back-up plan if nowhere more appropriate for a radio station antenna can be found.

While they are looking, he wishes the station had the same levels of support it had 10-years ago when former Councilmen Noah Smukler and the late-Bill Peirce were helping get them started. 

“Bill is dearly missed,” Abrams said. “He had the technical know-how on where to put this stuff. Ideally we’d like to be on Black Hill.”

He noted that from the City’s radio repeater station on Black Hill, one has sweeping views in all directions.

Another ideal spot would be on the ridge above Nutmeg Avenue in North Morro Bay, which is private property, where the City has a water storage tank and hopes some day to build a second one.

He said they don’t have to hardwire the station to the antenna, as their broadcast can be sent via microwaves, Wi-Fi or UHF signal to the antenna for broadcast.

The Rock is at 97.3 FM on your radio dial in Los Osos, Morro Bay and Cayucos (on clear days one can get it almost in San Luis Obispo); in Paso Robles at 107.9 FM; and over the Internet. Right now they can still broadcast in Paso Robles and can stream online but its namesake cities — the Estero Bay Area — has gone silent.

“Right now,” he said, “we’ve got no solutions and have already spent over $1,700. We need money and we hope the press coverage we get will stir some thoughts amongst land owners and help us find a location.”

He said public radio station, KCBX, reached out to them and they are grateful to have them as comrades. “We’ve gotten some traction on ‘Next Door’ too,” he said. 

Abrams isn’t sure about the offers from folks who live high up in town to use their homes for the antenna, as he’s hoping to find a long-term solution and worries what would happen if someone has to move, or, God forbid, dies and their heirs sell the house?

He worries about something else too — this is the type of setback that can kill a small, non-profit radio station. So, could this actually kill The Rock? 

“We hope it doesn’t kill the radio station,” Abrams said. “I think  there are residents here that can fix this. Ideally, we’d really like to be up on Black Hill. That’s our best view for line-of-sight. From there we can cover from Los Osos to Harmony.”

If readers would like to know more about The Rock and its programming or make a donation to help save the only commercial-free local radio station, see: www.esterobayradio.org. The item talking about the antenna emergency is front and center on the home page.

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