The stately Wasatch Mountains are collectively higher, wider and longer than the Oquirrhs, their sister range to the west across the Salt Lake Valley. And the Wasatch loom in importance as a source for such things as water and recreation. But when it comes to providing mass entertainment to Utahns, the Oquirrhs just might outshine the Wasatch.
"Oquirrh" is a Goshute Indian word, and one of its meanings is said to be "shining mountain" - a definition that has come to be quite appropriate in modern times: Several of the peaks bristle with shiny metal towers. All of Utah's major television station transmitters and many of its FM radio broadcast antennas sit atop the Oquirrh peaks, high above the valley floors in locations just about ideal for beaming signals along the populous Wasatch Front.The king of the Oquirrh summits is Farnsworth Peak, not because it is the highest (it is only second-tallest at 9,054 feet above sea level), but because it has by far the most transmitters on it - at least 15. KSL-TV Ch. 5, KSTU Ch. 13. and 11 FM radio stations transmit signals from Farnsworth. KUED Ch. 7 has a subtransmitter on Ch. 13's tower. KJZZ Ch. 14 has facilities just a quarter mile to the south, on Little Farnsworth Peak.
On the main tower on Farns-worth, you'll find KSL-TV on top and, just below, a cluster of domes that cover transmitters for a bevy of FM stations - KKAT (FM-101.9), KRSP ("Arrow 103.5"), KSFI ("FM-100"), KSOP (104.3), KLZX ("Z-93"), KISN-FM (97.1), KBER (101.1), KBZN ("The Breeze," 97.9), KRCL (90.9), KUMT ("Mountain 105.7") and KUFR (91.7).
In addition, the KSL-operated facility houses equipment for airline telephone systems (GTE and Clear Com), the Secret Service and Questar Telecom. A new wireless cable company, Omni-Vision, is installing a transmitter there. TCI, the cable company, has a transmitter on Little Farnsworth, next to Ch. 14's facilities. Even the UTA has a telephone transmitter on the peak.
The main access to Farnsworth Peak is via a 12-mile dirt road, barred by two locked gates, that crosses private land owned by Kennecott. The public at large is not permitted here. Authorized visitors are allowed, but otherwise there's no hunting, driving, hiking or biking.
Which is, in a way, unfortunate - the view from Farnsworth is spectacular. Not only is most of the Salt Lake Valley visible, but so are Grantsville and Tooele to the west, the Great Salt Lake and Ogden to the north, and Utah Lake and Timpanogos to the southeast.
That line-of-sight perspective is precisely why the Oquirrhs offer the best broadcast transmitter sites for the Wasatch Front, says Pete Petersen, one of KSL's Farns-worth Peak engineers. The Wasatch summits wouldn't serve the purpose nearly as well. Peaks and ridges and the lay of the range in general would likely block reception north and south, to the Ogden and Provo areas.
"We literally cover the Wasatch Front," Petersen said, explaining the signals from Farnsworth reach to the Idaho border on the north and to Nephi on the south. Translator stations relay the signals even farther.
Broadcast signals are sent by microwave from the stations in the valley to Farnsworth. Inside a large building are all the electronics that separate and enhance the signals for re-transmission to radio/TV sets and to the cable company's receivers.
KSL actually has two subtransmitters on the peak, one for audio and one for the video. It also has two main transmitters, which are used alternately each month so the station can be sure one receives regular maintenance and is ready for use. Other stations also have backup systems on the peak.
Electric lines provide the power for all this equipment as a rule, but in the event of a power failure, the KSL-operated facility has an auxiliary generator and enough propane fuel to run it for a month. Even so, the peak could use more electric power. A new line to Farnsworth was added in 1983, but Petersen said there's barely enough juice for everything now. Should he have to switch to that auxiliary generator in an emergency, not all of the radio stations would be able to broadcast. An unused room in the facility's basement awaits another auxiliary generator in the near future.
What happens when something breaks down? Petersen said various alarms may sound, or the TV or radio station studios may telephone the peak to report a problem.
"If anything breaks down, we have to fix it. . . . I do what I can to get them on line," said Peterson. He is KSL's engineer, but he's there to help get the radio station transmitters back on line, as well.
Fortunately, Petersen said, breakdowns are rare. Engineers from the 11 radio stations who are tenants at the complex regularly visit the peak to check their equipment.
"There isn't a day that goes by that I don't learn something new up here," Petersen said. "It keeps you challenged."
- FARNSWORTH PEAK isn't the only mountaintop with broadcast facilities in the Oquirrhs. There are many two-way radio towers on Kessler Peak, just to the north. A jeep trail leads from Farnsworth to that 8,820-foot summit. (Farnsworth is the third peak from the north in the Oquirrhs. The northernmost is 7,758 feet above sea level.)
South of Little Farnsworth (only slightly below Farnsworth), is Nelson Peak - the highest point in the Oquirrhs at 9,359 feet. KTVX Ch. 4 has a broadcast tower there. Curving around to the southeast is Mount Vision. At 8,466 feet above sea level, this peak sports another Ch. 4 transmitter, as well as KUED Ch. 7 and KBYU Ch. 11. It also has FM radio stations KVRI (FM-98.7), KUTQ ("Q-99.5") and KODJ ("Old-ies 94.1"). A separate dirt road from the south leads to this peak.
Other FM radio stations serving the area have transmitters on yet other peaks. KXRK ("X-96"), for example, has facilities on Lake Mountain in Utah County.
Where are the AM radio stations, you might ask? AM transmitters do not need the height and line of sight so conducive to the FM band. AM radio waves follow the ground and do especially well when broadcast near sources of water. For example, KISN-AM is on north Redwood Road, the KDDS transmitter is north of its west Murray studio and KTKK and KSOP-AM are in West Valley City.
Looking at the Oquirrh Mountains after dark - when the transmitter night lights are on - is one of the best times to see where all the broadcasting equipment is located.