The solar-powered Low Power FM (LPFM) radio station is the realized vision of tuba player and coffee shop frequenter, Zac Smith. A transplanted resident of Hot Springs, AR, Smith was intrigued with the idea of an LPFM station with a community voice, and saw the possibilities of solar power after relocating to sunny Arkansas. “I thought wow, gee, how cool would it be if there was a deejay booth right here in a coffee shop and we could like drop a tune, or talk about our latest philosophical revelation? And that was literally the seed of the idea,” Smith told Inhabitant.com about the inspiration for his radio station.
Using batteries powered by the sun, Smith has enough juice to operate the LPFM station, run its lights, some of the A/C, and add to the town grid when it has harnessed an excess of power. The batteries charge during the day and allow the station to keep running at night, and for several overcast days in a row. Sealed 200 Ah lead acid batteries keep KUHS-LP on the air, though Smith noted that they are kind of pricey. “It is kind of expensive and batteries turn out to be much like toner cartridges in that they’re consumable and they don’t last forever,” he said.
Smith likens KUHS-LP to a community garden with numerous volunteers each contributing to its success. A fundraising effort of $35,000 launched the station, though Smith says keeping it running costs only $12,000 per year.
The radio tower itself is located in a former AT&T microwave building on West Mountain. Smith, along with partners Bill Solleder, founder of Hot Springs nonprofit Low Key Arts, and radio engineer Bob Nagy filed for a spot on the radio dial in 2013 and moved into the mountaintop location.
“The power was off,” Smith said. “So me and Nagy were up there, and we’re like, oh, man, we’ve got to get the power on. And you know, dealing with Entergy, a commercial account, all of this stuff. Geez, it’s a low-power station. Our power needs are low by definition, right? So we did the math. And we’re like, well, what would it take for us to make it solar? And not actually turn the power on?”
The solar power is on, and lighting up the airwaves with an eclectic mix of programming that’s changing with whoever is serving as deejay at the moment. “We don’t think of it, but the airwaves are one of our national properties,” said Smith. “They are like our national parks. They are something that belongs to all of us. The federal government is their steward to make sure that all of us have a reasonable amount of access.”