On the morning of Sept. 8, 2014, an unprecedented storm
ravaged much of the area around Palm Springs, Calif., in
particular the top of a small desert spot known as Edom
Hill. This is just north of the I-10 freeway in Cathedral City,
nestled among the small cities that make up the Palm Springs area and
known locally as Coachella Valley.
I am vice president of programming and operations for CRC Broadcasting
based in Phoenix. Our CRC Media West business operates two AM
stations whose transmission facilities are at the base of Edom Hill.
They are KXPS, licensed to Thousand Palms, and KPSF, Cathedral City.
They share the transmitter site, powered by generator and diplexed into a
five-tower array. KXPS at 1010 kHz has been licensed for decades. KPSF at
1200 was put in several years ago by Mueller Broadcast Design.
The facilities supporting these two stations were damaged in the 2014
storm, as the accompanying photos demonstrate. The repairs described
here were coordinated by my two fantastic engineers: Bill Watson, our
local engineer (and first on the scene); and Mark Mueller of Mueller
Broadcast Design. I spent my time coordinating crews of earthmovers, scheduling on-site, managing cleanup of the
ATUs, repairing copper radials and lending
assistance where I could to the engineers, who
understood all this far better than me.
I don’t feel I’ve ever taken engineers for
granted in my 18-year career; but I certainly
grew to appreciate them all the more after this
As you see in Fig. 1, our Towers 1-4 run
northeast up the hill while Tower 5 sits west of
the transmitter building. About 1,200 feet or so
south of the building is Varner Road, a two-lane
used mostly for construction, with no commercial
offices or useable electrical power. It runs
west of Bob Hope Drive and east of Date Palm.
The road is designed so that through traffic —
trucks headed for the trash facility at the west
end, utility trucks servicing electrical lines —
can pass through.
Intense amounts of rain in a short period of
time essentially caused a collapse of mud and
debris from near the top of the mountain in
what many locals called a “100-year storm.” Cascades
started about 1,000 feet higher and by the
time they washed past inside the guy wires west
of Tower 3, the widest stream was 14 feet across.
Much of the water accumulated to meet at
our Tower 2 with an 8-foot swell about 10 feet
wide. If you look again at the map in Fig. 1,
taken before the storm, you may notice that a
tiny water runoff had trailed to Tower 2 over the
years, though it had never caused damage. In the
September storm, water followed this best path
down the hill.
When the rain and mudslides were done, two
miles of nearby Varner Road were covered with
4 to 6 feet of mud. Fig. 2 represents a view from
Varner Road after the storm removed all shrubbery.
Fig. 3 shows a 26-inch long pipe where
water has taken out part of the road.
Immediately after the storm, Bill Watson
walked up from I-10 to the site to assess the
damage. He could bring nothing but a basic set
of tools with him.
He realized quickly
that Tower 2 would be
out of service for a while.
Thinking quickly, he noticed
that Tower 5, on high
ground, was unharmed.
He put us on a temporary
broadcast for both stations
using that tower alone.
But the erosion around
the entire area had created massive problems at
About 12 inches of ground cover had
washed away, exposing radials and large pieces
of copper strap.
Flood waters had caused mini “ravines,” pulling
and stressing the buried transmission lines
serving KXPS and running from to four of the
towers. The conduit used to create a basic cover
for transmission and sample lines had been
pulled out of the ground in almost every position
and whipped around as if it were nothing.
Further, the flood waters that collected
coming down within the guy radius of Tower
3 had created a path that cut straight through
the deeply buried 7/8-inch coax, 3/8-inch
sample line and control cable running to
Tower 4. The path where the cut occurred was
13 feet across at that point and about 4-5 feet
Fig. 4 shows copper strap that connected
ground radials between Towers 2 and 3. Fig. 5
shows the “Y” split for transmission lines that
ran to Towers 3 and 4.
If you look closely at Fig. 6 you’ll see the
transmitter building to the north, just west of
Tower 2. The area in the photo had been part
of the transmitter access road into our facility,
which was now washed out.
The water that had collected and crashed into
Tower 2 submersed the ATU boxes and the filter
box mounted to the side of KXPS’s ATU in silt-type
sand, very fine in texture.
The first major hurdle was to get fuel up the
hill to our tank, because tankers were unable to
Our engineers sought an alternate route
that could be created quickly within our leased
property area. This would have to be created
without new soil and placed clear of any
ground radials. They decided to start a road
from Varner about 400 feet west of the first
road, then head up the hill around the west
side of Tower 5. The earthmoving team was
Maco Engineering based in Cathedral City.
Within four days we had a serviceable
path on which fuel trucks could resume driving.
Fig. 7 shows the new road, represented
by the blue line, with radial estimates in
Once the new road was taken care of, we
needed to pull up the transmission line, sample
line and control cables that had moved around.
We had to dig them up and retest them before
repair could proceed further.
Notice the red arrow in Fig. 8; it points to
a rectangular metal object. At first we thought
this was the “guts” of the ATU box serving
KXPS; but after several hours spent extracting
it from underneath, we discovered that this
was in fact an old window air conditioner unit
that had been dumped up the hill and used for
several years as target practice. It had washed
down in the storm and ended up under this
ATU. It thankfully had been able to stand up to
enormous direct pressure. This box quite possibly
was the only reason the tower itself wasn’t
nudged or damaged.
But this had all been underwater during the
flood, as you can see from the dirt and soil atop
the ATU box, Fig. 9.
The KXPS ATUs had been mounted on a
concrete base with two pieces of thick angle iron.
Those were bent backward and pressed all the way
up until about 6 inches from the actual tower.
Fig. 10 also is revealing. Notice that sand and soil underneath the ATU’s
concrete base is washed away;
you can see the bases for the
chain link fence supports. The
gray conduit is KPSF transmission
line for Towers 1 and 2.
Internal damage to the
ATUs was massive. Fig. 11
shows the outer door open, exposing
the inside metal panel
that protects the contents from
the elements and protects users
against electrical shock. To
the right side of that picture,
note the space separating the
structure from the filter box
that serves both stations. The
sheer force of the water and
mud that flowed over it had
not only bent back the entire
box but nearly sheared the
screws that mounted the filter
box to it. The KPSF ATU is out
of the frame.
Fig. 12 is the lower right
side opening of Tower 2’s ATU.
The dirt is more of the caked-on silt type sand that had washed into
a fairly well sealed box. You can see the day/night contactor switch
mounted on the back wall. Fig. 13 is the filter box for the two stations.
Around the northeast corner of this tower was Fig. 14, the ATU for
KXPS, filled with sand and mud but structurally intact.
Once we’d assessed the damage we began the cleanup process.
I went out and dug out the components in the ATUs by hand. Not knowing
what was within, I had to proceed slowly and deliberately over several
days to avoid damaging components. The back of the cabinet showed that mud had reached 17 inches from the
base; see Figs. 15 and 16.
Most of the coaxial transmission
lines tested very well. Sand had blocked
the gates of all our fences so we dug
those out. All of the new lines that
went to Towers 1, 2, 3 and 4 showed
stress at the junction points, but a team
of four men with shovels managed to
get those lines set properly. We had to
replace a contactor in KPSF’s Tower 2
ATU, and a component failed after the
first test in the Tower 2 filter box.
After repairing and/or replacing lines to
Towers 4 and 2, we re-buried all of the line runs,
repaired the fence at Tower 2, repaired many
copper radials and moved hundreds of tons of
earth back over exposed copper. Then we tested
all lines and were back to full strength.
In review, because we’d been facing substantial
expense and had no flood insurance coverage
we split our project into four parts:
Basic recovery. This was mostly Bill Watson
getting us the early reports before we could get
vehicles on site. During this time we had the
earthmovers come in and create a new road to
resume fuel deliveries.
I coordinated a team of guys to dig up the
conduit for inspection. We then scheduled our
consultant Mark Mueller, who assessed damage,
did some basic repairs and got us to a reasonable
operational status. We left at this point to
test components that had simply been cleaned
rather than replaced.
Before we had our consultant on site again,
we experienced a failure at our Tower 2 filter
box and replaced a Jennings UCSXHF-450-35S
vacuum capacitor that had sustained damage.
With that repaired, Mark came back on site,
repaired remaining components and ran successful
Re-burying lines, repairing copper, moving
lots of earth, repairing the fence line around
Tower 2, and installing a cattle gate to restrict
entrance were the last few steps.
So it took about 12 hours to get back on
the air, two months to improve the signal and
about five months before we were fully “back
to normal.” Amazingly, in spite of the ordeal
and damage, once we got everything cleaned up
and put back together, both systems came back
up and are operating normally, requiring only