Monthly Archives: March 2020

Clay’s Corner for March 2020

March 15, 2020
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Clay’s Corner

Providing news and views from a broadcast engineers perspective since September 1986

This past month it was that, McClatchy, the owner of the Tacoma News Tribune has filed for bankruptcy. Having been in the Tacoma area since 1957 and worked for former owners (Tribune Publishing Co) for a number of years this caught my attention.

As we all know, newspapers are not what they once were. Back in 1957 the TNT (as it was known by many) was the big-frog in the advertising pond. Not only did they own the daily newspaper, but they owned KTNT AM & FM Radio as well as KTNT-TV (Channel 11). When I started with them, they were a force to be reckoned with in Tacoma. About 1982 the Tribune sold the company…piece by piece. Viacom picked up the Radio and Cable systems (they had sold Channel 11 earlier) and McClatchy bought the paper.

 

When broadcasters have less advertising, they just run fewer commercials. When newspapers have less advertising, the paper gets smaller. The last couple of years has seen the TNT shrink to be about the size of a weekly. It does not take a genius to figure out that times are tough.

McClatchy, a 163-year-old company, is a very well-known firm with deep roots in northern California. Not only do they own the Tacoma paper, but many others. And, even thought it’s not been much talked about, McClatchy owns, reportedly, 49.5% of the Seattle Times. The McClatchy announcement cannot be good news to the Seattle paper either.

What happens now is anyone’s guess. Perhaps it will be picked up by a venture capital outfit who will try and milk the last few pennies out of it before selling it off?

According to The New York Times, McClatchy wants to shed much of its pension obligations and its more than $700 million in debt. Making me wonder what would happen if you were retired from the company and depending on your pension. Any doubt why so few firms are offering pensions these days?

The plan outlined in the filing would slash about 60% of its debt. McClatchy says it wants to make a transition to digital. This is a path that is being followed by most newspapers as a means of getting their content (which they hope you will pay for) into your Smart Gizmo. Seems to me the P-I did that a long time ago.

Times have changed over the years. Newspapers are simply not the factor they used to be. When was the last time you saw a young person on your street delivering papers? Or, when was the last time you saw a row of newspaper dispensing machines in front of your local retailer? When was the last time you went into a restaurant and saw customers having a meal while reading the paper? We all know what happened. Those little gizmos called smart phones have had their way with the newspapers. Today, most get their news by watching TV, listening to the Radio or via the Internet, connected to that little hand-held gizmo.

Thankfully, there is still a demand for Radio and TV to provide news and information!

Speaking of Tacoma. According to Redfin – Tacoma, benefiting from the high prices in King County, has become one of the fastest housing markets in the country, one notch behind the Bay Area of California. Betcha there are many that never thought they’d see this happening.

As a former Pierce County resident, now living in King County with property taxes that went up over $1000 last year….I understand. Funny how my situation is reversed. I use to live in Lakewood (SW Tacoma) and commuted to Seattle. Now I live in King Country and often am working in Lakewood. If you have any doubt that many have chosen to live down south…take a look at Southbound I-5 in the afternoon. It’s jammed from Federal Way on.

At one time the idea that a broadcaster would sell their transmitter site to another company and lease it back would be unthought of. Then American Radio Systems spun off their American Tower Systems to become American Tower, which quickly pursued the same thought to become a huge tower-site owner with a very impressive Market Cap. Others have jumped into the business since then – Vertical Bridge, Crown Castle etc. So what does a broadcasting company do these days when they are looking for a cash infusion? Of course, sell their towers.

This is exactly what Cumulus is considering doing now with some 250 sites they own in 32 states. The fact they recently went through bankruptcy likely played a role in the decision.

Have you made your reservations and plans for the annual trek to the desert? It’s getting close to NAB time. Remember they have moved ahead the show dates…eliminating the half day on Thursdays. Dates this year are April 18 thru 22nd. (ed: this event has been postponed.)

Apparently, another step forward to the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint was recently made. Something now has to happen in California as they creep toward making the deal final. Wow, this has been a very long and slow process. I can just imagine how the sky on the east side of the Lake will be lit up Magenta when the deal finally closes.

Yes, they are still stealing copper wire. According to published reports, thieves have hit Seattle’s streetlights more than 40 times in the past year.

Now that we are winding down the TV Repack, here comes another one…this time it’s what’s called C-Band. For those of you that are not familiar with this chunk of spectrum, you can go here for more info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C_band_(IEEE)

Broadcasters are heavy users of this spectrum often used to connect them to satellite fed programs. For many years, broadcasters would install satellite dish antennas for the services they wanted. Unfortunately, despite the urging of many, some, perhaps 25% of stations did not bother to register their C-Band terminal with the FCC before the 2018 deadline to do so.

Now, fast forward to the present. the FCC, in response to the ever-growing demand for wireless spectrum, is planning on doing to C-Band what they did with Broadcast TV channels – Repack them. In other words, squeeze the broadcast users into a smaller piece of spectrum so they can auction off the remainder. So, what about those, reportedly, 2000 users that did not license their dishes with the FCC? First off, if the FCC does not know they are there, they would not be likely eligible for any relocation money that could flow from the Auction to pay for their relocation, meaning that this could be an out of pocket expense. (Ooops!) Like before, the FCC appears to be planning on having a spectrum auction, perhaps in December, that would bring in the funds to pay to those that have to change frequencies to accommodate the new users of the band. This will not mean as much heavy-duty construction as was the case with the TV-repack, however there will be a lot of things to do. Getting all the Satellite users to snuggle up in the upper portion of the band will be interesting.

Here’s a story that brought back alot memories:

In the Chicago suburb of Lockport, a family says they are hearing religious broadcasts through the walls of their home. The family has had the local police out to the house to listen to the strange sounds that have been plaguing them at night. The police reports note that “voices and music” and “talking about Christ” can be heard. The officers also heard a “commercial” for Salem Media Group religious teaching WYLL Chicago (1160). The radio station sent an engineer to investigate its reception in the walls of the home.

I had a couple of these over the years, both of them taking place while I was working at KMO in Tacoma. The first took place when KMO still had their transmitter in Fife. I received a call from the Police Department that a woman was ‘freaking-out’ because KMO was coming out of her medicine cabinet. (Back then there were still a number of homes along Pacific Hwy.)
I contacted the lady and told her not to touch it and I would be there shortly. Upon arrival, I indeed heard 1360 AM coming from her medicine cabinet. Not very loud, but certainly audible. This was one of those small metal ones that you hung on a wall with a mirror on the front. The door was partially open. I noticed the hinges were quite rusty. I swung the door back and forth a number of times and the ‘medicine cabinet radio’ stopped operating. I explained if it came back, just do as I did.

The second took place shortly after we moved KMO to Browns Point. There was a widow living in a house next to the Browns Point Improvement Club that reported she could hear voices coming out of her furnace ducts. Thankfully, she was not upset. She explained that as a widow she did not expect to hear a man’s voice late at night.

It is very easy to construct an AM Radio…and often devices that are not designed to be radios become one. Telephones are often guilty of this kind of ‘added/undesired-feature’. Perhaps an added benefit for those AM’s that switch to all digital for that mode will not be as easy to demodulate.

Big thanks to Mike Gilbert for sending me the following pictures of the construction project at the 1110 Station in Oak Harbor. In the process, KRPA will be getting a new transmitter building, a second tower and higher powered transmitter, as they transition from a 500 watt daytimer to 9 kW Day and 2.5 kW night, using a two-tower directional pattern generally aimed to the Northwest.

Here you can see the new transmitter building arriving on a flat-bed trailer.

The arrival of the new 2nd tower

TThe higher powered transmitter will require more power

Here you can see the transmitter building on the ground with some electrical connections having been made.

Thanks Mike for sending the pictures. If your station has been involved with a construction project (inside or out), pease feel free to take some pictures and forward them to me with a short description.

In my recent columns I have written about the discussion regarding the work being done that ‘could’ result in ‘some’ AM stations converting to All Digital. The proponents of DRM are suggesting that this mode of digital transmission should be considered. In response to my comments last month, I received the following from Hal Kneller. Hal is a semi-retired broadcast station owner and engineer in Florida.

In your recent column, you made a comment about receivers and whether DRM 30 (the AM version of DRM for use below 30 MHz) could be decoded on the same radios that decode HD Radio broadcasts. The answer is yes and no. Yes, most of the chipsets being made the last number of years decode HD Radio, DAB, DAB+ and DRM. Here is but one example:  https://www.silabs.com/audio-and-radio/si468x-digital-radios. HOWEVER, the manufacturers do not have the various digital systems enabled in the receivers, primarily for royalty purposes. Each receiver containing any of the various digital radio standards requires a royalty per receiver fee back to the patent holders, be it Xperi for HD Radio technology, ViaCorp for DRM, and World DMB for DAB and other Eureka 147 offshoots. Even though many people think that DRM is an “open standard” and is “free”, that is certainly not the case in either a receiver or a DRM exciter. There are definite royalties for DRM technology as well (paid by receiver and transmitter manufacturers and passed on to purchasers), although sometimes the concept of “open standard” has confused people on that issue. The “open standard” concept refers to developers of applications such as graphics, text services, emergency alerts, and Journaline). So anybody can develop something for DRM, whether it becomes part of the standard or not depends upon demand and those developers can join the patent pool if they wish to receive royalties. More information is at www.drm.org and there is some great technical reading material there.

Since there are virtually no HD Radio stations outside of the Americas (Philippines is an exception), there would be no incentive for a manufacturer to enable HD in radios being sold outside this region. Since there is no DRM here in the Americas, there would be no reason to pay royalties for enabling it to be received here. In the case of DRM, there is some world-wide shortwave broadcasting but those receivers are altogether different from our consumer receivers typically found in homes or autos. Since most of the radios in newer cars are software defined and flashed at the factory for the region in which they will be used, it is technically possible that many could be converted to receive DRM for the AM band. But consider the practicality of it. Can you just imagine going to your local car dealer and asking them to “flash your radio” to receive DRM? They’d have no clue what you’re talking about. Plus there is another potential problem in that most places using DRM (India being the largest) are utilizing 9 kHz channel spacing vs our 10 kHz. The software load might well leave you unable to listen to many stations here unless it was customized for the Americas and again, who will pay for that? Most people have no idea how much iBquity spent on development to get HD Radio into cars (and retailers) back in the early 2000s, same with Sirius and XM.

All that being said, I don’t think most broadcasters are going to be willing to make the investment in DRM for AM with 1) HD Radio broadcasts  being the standard here since around 2001 and 2) the significant cost of implementation. Further, what would be the great driver for DRM on the AM band that would somehow be technically advantageous over HD Radio’s MA3 all-digital system? I can think of only one small thing and that is DRM has the ability to adjust the occupied bandwidth but, of course, at the expense of fidelity and coverage (i.e. lower bit rate for the audio). The all-digital MA3 mode (assuming the entire band converted) would eliminate the interference problem between the digital signals and the analog which would still be there with DRM, unless bandwidth was severely curtailed and that would not end well for audio fidelity.

Just so nobody thinks I am anti-DRM, I am certainly not. I served as a board member of the DRM Consortium for about 5 years and went around the world promoting the technology for both medium wave (AM) and DRM+ for the FM band (and beyond). It’s a great system for digitizing AM. It just isn’t practical to introduce in the US after the horses already left the barn. Had iBiquity, back in the day, worked out some arrangement to make FM HD and AM DRM (perhaps calling it another name) the standard here, things might be different, but we have what we have. By the way, there were people intervening in the early days of development pressing for just that, but nothing came of it. We should certainly proceed with further implementation of the MA3 HD Radio system as it could present some great advantages over analog AM.

On the 19th of February, Radio World Magazine presented a Webinar titled “Digital Sunrise’ which I found to be quite interesting and informative. If you’d like to see it, go here: https://tinyurl.com/rw-sunrise. I can definitely see a future for what is proposed. I just hope that someone in our area will make the switch so I can experience it myself.

On this subject, I found the comments of Chris Alexander to be very interesting –

At this late date, I daresay that there is nothing that can be done about the noise issue. That train left the station a long time ago, and there is a lot of momentum. In my opinion, this noise issue spells doom for most of the AM broadcast medium. Only the strongest stations that produce a field of 10 mV/m or more throughout the coverage area have a chance at survival.

This is where all-digital comes in. It has a demonstrated immunity to noise. It’s not a panacea, but it does perform well in our 21st century noisy environment.

So, I’m going to go out on a limb here and agree with proponents that if AM is to survive for the long term, it has to make the jump to all-digital.

But what comes first? Do we wait for a critical mass of receivers before making that jump, or do we go now? Do we drive the demand for digital receivers by going all-digital now, or is that a pipe dream? Or … is it way too late for any of this, making this a pointless discussion?

I don’t have a Magic 8-Ball that I can shake and get answers, but I do believe that the AM broadcast medium has both value and a future — if we get moving now, in at least a limited way, with conversion to the noise-immune all-digital MA-3 mode. Receiver proliferation will independently continue, driven by the auto industry and FM. AM can ride that wave. But if the AM medium dies while we wait … well … it won’t much matter if there are plenty of digital AM capable receivers out there. It’s certainly something to think about.

In this day, just about everything is a target for hacking. In broadcasting, a number of major owners have been ‘hacked’. In the past it was discovered that many stations that did not change the default password on their new EAS equipment had a target on their backs and were hacked. On Feb. 20th someone hacked the EAS equipment at Wave Broadband an put up this message for their customers in the Pt. Townsend area.

As you can well imagine, their customers were alarmed. Many contacted the Jefferson County Emergency Management office wanting information.   Apparently, they then put up this message.

Multiple local news outlets picked this one up. Perhaps some were looking for a ‘smoking gun’.

A TV Crew showed up at Washington Emergency Management to talk with the director there.

After the situation in Hawaii (Remember the false missile attack?) this is a highly sensitive issue.

Here is the story from KING 5:

KING 5 Link:  https://www.king5.com/article/news/local/no-emergency-false-alert-over-radiological-incident-sent-by-jefferson-county/281-568c86b3-8aae-4df0-b3b3-5dd4c800e0e8

In my role with EAS – I received an email from the FCC in WDC wanting more information with a promise to look into the matter.

This message was posted on the State EAS Remailer:

All,

For your awareness, Jefferson County Washington was hit with a fake EAS message stating that there was a radiological hazard warning for all of Washington. The fake message appears to have originated from the Wave Broadband cable television company out of California with services in CA, WA, and OR. Jefferson County DEM transmitted a message afterwards to inform the public that it was a fake message. The State EOC also sent out an AlertSense message informing recipients that the message was fake. Jefferson County DEM is continuing to investigate what happened. As of now, we do not know how the system was accessed, and I will not speculate. But, this is a good time to review the most basic of security steps for all EAS equipment.

  • Change both user and administrator passwords
  • Longer and more complex passwords are infinitely more secure
  • Use double authentication by changing the user names
  • Make sure the EAS unit is behind a firewall
  • The firewall should not have any inbound ports to the EAS equipment open
  • The same rules apply to character generators for EAS

In short, treat an EAS encoder/ decoder like you would any computer containing sensitive information. Anything connected to the internet can be hacked, but let’s not make it easy for them. I’m sure that this served as a significant wake-up-call for Wave Broadband. It should give us all cause to make sure that all of our EAS equipment cannot be accessed by those that are up to no-good.
Before I leave the topic of EAS-

This past month the FCC conducted a webinar regarding their new ARS, which is a system that will provide better connections between the FCC and the State EAS Committee’s (SECC’s). There were four members of the Washington State SECC on this call. The FCC received a good deal of input and recommendations for changes that need to take place before this system is formally rolled out.

Meanwhile, the SECC’s Plan Revision Committee is working on revisions to our State Plan. Presently they are dealing with what are called Monitoring Assignments. There will be a discussion of these changes at the March 10th SECC Meeting at Clover Park Technical College with a follow up – working session – scheduled for Monday evening, March 16th. If you are involved with EAS at a Station in Washington State, and would like additional information or would like to become involved with the process, please feel free to contact me for additional information.

We had another event recently. A tornado warning was issued for Grays Harbor County. Unfortunately, many of the broadcasters that serve that area do not monitor the Capital Peak NOAA Weather Radio system which broadcast the warnings. They only monitor the Seattle Weather Radio transmitter. This caused the warnings to be delayed until the story was picked up by the ‘Wire Services’. In response to this, the following statement was crafted. I would appreciate it if this were distributed to those in your facility that need to see it.

The following should serve as a wake-up call for Seattle-area broadcasters and emergency managers. Please read carefully.

On January 21st, the National Weather Service in Seattle issued four Tornado Warnings for Grays Harbor County on the central coast. No damage was reported, but it might have been much worse.  

The Tornado Warning (EAS Event Code TOR) was broadcast on all the NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) transmitters serving the coast from Astoria to Forks, including the Capitol Peak transmitter (162.475) near Olympia. But it was not sent from Seattle NWS Radio (162.550). Many Seattle-area based broadcasters only monitor the Seattle NWS station, so they didn’t get the warning until it was picked up by other news services.

I recommend that all broadcasters having listeners/ viewers in areas outside the Seattle area install an additional receiver tuned to the Capitol Peak NWR station (162.475). This is particularly important if your station has translators or a significant signal in coastal areas where the only connection to these warnings is via your stations. The Capitol Peak transmitter should be easily received in the Seattle area.

I hope this event in Grays Harbor County will cause broadcasters to quickly and critically review their EAS monitoring.

According to reports I’ve read recently, the speed at which consumers are cutting the cord is increasing. Cable and satellite TV providers are rapidly losing customers thanks to the availability of high-speed Internet service and with it, on-demand streaming of TV content. Back in 2009 almost 88% of TV consumers were satellite or cable customers. By 2019, 10 years later, that number was closer to 65%. I can imagine the cable firms are in better shape than satellite providers, as many of them have been able to significantly increase their internet-only customer base.

Still want to be a pirate radio station operator? You may wish to reconsider in light of the Presidents signing of bill that will give the FCC more tools to deal with pirates, not the least is the ability to fine those that are doing it, up to $2 million. Last year the Commish fined pirates a total of just over $1.5 million. This is all well and fine (no-pun). I still wonder what percentage will actually be collected. Many of these guys are simply not able to come up with the money. In my opinion, we have too many law makers that think if they pass a new law that this will automatically cause law-breakers to change their ways.

Looking for a technical job in Radio ? iHeart has an opening.

https://iheartmedia.wd5.myworkdayjobs.com/en-US/External_iHM/job/Tigard-OR/Regional-Engineer_Req20482-1. This is interesting as it comes on the heels of a technical staff reduction in Seattle and elsewhere.
Here are a couple of smile makers that came my way this past month –

That’s about it for this month, my friends –  Lord willing, I will be back, next month to most of the usual locations.

Until then – THINK SPRING !!   Clay, K7CR, CPBE

SBE Member #714 since February 5th, 1968