Mountain Chill

KRKQ’s Ethan and Eric Funk recently flew to the top of Gray Head Peak near Telluride to restore the station’s FM signal after a malfunction was detected March 22. (Photo courtesy of KRKQ)

Nobody said running a radio station would be easy, especially one in the mountains. Experienced radio engineers Eric and Ethan Funk went into station ownership with their eyes wide open. They knew any summer repairs and maintenance to their transmitter atop Gray Head peak near Telluride would be arduous enough, but the Funks kept their fingers crossed when it came to winter visits to the transmitter site perched on a small shelf at 11,000 feet in elevation.

When Mountain Chill’s transmitter was compromised March 22, they knew what was in store to get the signal back up to full strength. Perfect weather and fortuitous timing with the helicopter service they needed to access the mountaintop conspired to bring KRKQ’s signal beaming across the San Juans.

“We are really vigilant (with repairs and maintenance) in the summer season,” Eric said, “but we figured something might go in the winter.”

It did. Their diagnostics led them to believe the transmitter’s cooling system had failed in late March, so they reduced power to the FM signal and limped along until they could get a loaner backup transmitter and figure out how to hitch a — very expensive — ride to the top of Gray Head.

Getting the loaner delivered within the small window they had to access the tower meant that, as Ethan said, “Timing was the main issue.” At no little cost, the replacement transmitter — they are leasing it — arrived.

Loaner transmitter in hand, they hightailed it to the Telluride Regional Airport on March 28, where their flight with Mountain Blade Runner awaited. Within moments, the brothers were aloft and soaking in the incredible views of the snow-covered mountains. It was a first for both of them.

“I was a little concerned,” Ethan admitted. “I’m afraid of heights. I was half terrified but it was kind of fun.”

Despite that day’s perfect weather, the landing, Ethan said, was “really sketchy” as the skilled pilot had to take into account the towers’ guy wires and the relatively small landing area. There are four towers bristling from the top of Gray Head. The Telluride airport and other communication services share the towers.

But the ideal, calm weather allowed the pilot to shut down and wait for the Funks to make repairs, rather than dropping them off and returning to collect them.

Just entering the transmitter shack was an effort — they were only able to open the door about halfway due to the voluminous amount of snow. They squeezed in and determined that their diagnostics were accurate.

“Sure enough, there was no forced air to cool the transmitter and it was just cooking itself,” Ethan said. In about 45 minutes they completed the swap and were airborne once again.

The next excursion back to the transmitter site could happen as early as mid-April, depending on when they get the refurbished transmitter back.

The mountaintop trip was not cheap.

“That’s a costly expense for us, one of the few single-station operators in the U.S.,” Eric said. “Fortunately, the community and our advertisers have been very supportive of us and our work.”

For the radio-loving Funk brothers, the epic tale of high elevation repairs at the height of what has been an incredible winter precipitation-wise is simply what they do.

In the early 2000s, they decided to chuck their perfectly good engineering jobs and move from the East Coast to the mountains they loved and had been visiting for years. They formed Red Mountain Radio LLC, a radio frequency design firm headquartered in Ouray, and started Mountain Chill as an internet radio station.

According to the Mountain Chill website, Eric and Ethan jumped at an opportunity to finish the construction of KRKQ in Telluride in 2011 and lease the signal to air Mountain Chill on the terrestrial airwaves. They purchased the station outright in 2012 and have been broadcasting terrestrially since then, in addition to the internet stream.

Mountain Chill is unique in that it has a funky, community radio station vibe — supporting independent artists and focusing on specialty programming — but is private, rather than a nonprofit. The brothers began their careers in college and community radio and have a history that dates back to the 1980s. They’ve worked with WRPI, WITR, WZBC, WRYR, KURA, and KSJC.

Programming is an eclectic blend of electronica and world music. They’re hoping to include some jazz programming within the next few weeks. “This music is medicine for our souls,” the brothers agree.

The station can be found at 95.5 on the FM dial and streams on the internet at mountainchill.com.