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Arkansas PBS Taps RFS to Expand Coverage

MERIDEN, Conn.—The Arkansas PBS is working with Radio Frequency Systems (RFS) on a $5.18 million project that will expand its transmissions to the entire state, improve its delivery of educational materials and futureproof its infrastructure so it can take advantage of ATSC 3.0 in the future. 

The deployment is presently underway, with the first site at Lee Mountain launched in April, and the remaining four under construction. The five new sites will have future-ready ATSC 3.0 capabilities and extend Arkansas PBS network coverage to reach 99.5% of the state population.

The broadcaster wanted to expand its coverage from 76% of Arkansas to the entire state but the arrival of Covid-19 accelerated those plans. Faced with the closure of schools at the start of the pandemic, Arkansas PBS launched an Alternative Method of Education (AMI) initiative which created a state-wide broadcast school environment for students K-12. This was seen as a vital service by the Arkansas Department of Education and needed to reach every student in the state.  

Arkansas PBS’s plan to add five additional sites to fill the coverage gaps was granted Covid Emergency Funding over summer of 2020, with the aim to deliver educational resources to the entire state by the end of summer. The proposal was put to tender and RFS was selected to deliver VHF broadcast antennas as well as the transmission lines and RF systems for the project. 

“Although for many Covid delayed projects, in this instance the pandemic accelerated our plans to expand coverage,” Andrew Bicknell, CTO at Arkansas PBS explained. “This made it all the more important to ensure we selected a solution that would not only work for the specific problem we were facing with the AMI initiative, but would be flexible enough to serve our future needs. Working with RFS, we definitely feel they helped to deliver the best of both worlds; a speedy roll out with versatile, futureproof infrastructure that will serve us for years to come.”

The lightweight, low wind load design of the RFS VHF panel antennas allowed installation time to be minimized as they were able to be deployed on existing state-owned towers, RFS reported. 

RFS also worked with Arkansas PBS to deliver equipment that would serve the broadcaster into the future. This included designing equipment that would allow Arkansas PBS to move to an alternate ATSC 3.0 channel in the future or allow for ATSC1.0 / 3.0 simulcast, with the antennas designed with the capacity to accommodate multiple channels.

Nick Wymant, global product line manager at RFS added, “Arkansas PBS presented us with a challenge that is universal for broadcasters, balancing investment to address immediate needs, while also ensuring it is capable of supporting future plans. The VHF broadband antennas and re-configurable RF systems that we used on this project strike that balance perfectly and it was great to be able to assist in delivering a rapid response that we know will serve the next wave of changes that the broadcast industry is facing.”