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Clay’s Corner FOR JUNE 2020

June 4, 2020
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Clay’s Corner

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

Here I set, near the end of May, and time to write this column. Six months ago, would you have ever dreamed we would be living in a world like this?  Back then, the worst thing going on in our area was the 737 Max mess. Seems like not long after the first of the year we were hearing about this new virus in China. Not long after that – WHAM! It was here in our midst, with Kirkland being put on the national map for something other than the Costco house-brand. Then we were told that this new ‘bug’ was easily spread from person to person, with the bad news being there was no Vaccine and very little that could be done to treat it. Fear started creeping in and before we knew it our world was turned upside down with, seemingly, no end of restrictions as government entities, at all levels, raced to do something about a situation that they, largely, knew nothing about. As time went by, everything that we have known involving any kind of social action was stopped or closed. Schools (of every level) businesses, public gatherings, churches, sporting events, etc. We were hearing that this would stop the spread of the disease. The curve would be flattened and soon, we would be back to the way it was. Complicating this process was the fact that we were receiving a flood of mixed messages from leaders at all levels. And the process dragged on. It’s pretty easy to get compliance when fear is the primary driver. However, it’s much harder to keep going when there are disagreements on how to deal with it and how the restrictions are being implemented. Add to that the fact that with businesses closing, huge quantities find themselves out of work. Our society has largely grown out of the mindset etched in our relatives from their experiences with the great depression. Rainy day funds, emergency food supplies etc. are things of the past. This all meant a new and different fear – no income and bills stacking up and orders to stay home. As May wore on, we were starting to see an increase in ‘pushback’, perhaps fueled by the politicization of the matter. Rejection of begin told what to do was striking many nerves, to the point there were marches on capitals across the land. To some extent a lot of behavior reminds me of when I would have arguments with my teen-aged children. They were quick to ignore advice that was good for them when it was viewed that the advice restricted their ability to do what they wanted. Another example is dealing with smokers. The more you try and tell a smoker they should quit, the more angry they become. Defending your right to do what may well hurt or kill you is part of our social fabric. The other factor involved here are the statistics. Only a small portion of those who contract COVID-19 die from it….and most who do have an underlying condition or are older. To someone under 30 or so, this means, to many, they are being punished for something that may well not impact them. Those that are willing to ‘play the odds’ are likely to defy authority and ‘stick their neck out’ to see what happens. Another factor is where the person lives. Some areas have had very few if any deaths. Those that live there may well feel that they are being wrongly punished. This reminds me of an email discussion I was having a few years ago with some folks about Climate Change. For a while this group was embracing the science behind the matter. That is until a certain Democrat politician (you all know his name) jumped into the forefront. From that point forward, those that were of the opposing political party were quick to state that it was all wrong, apparently following a well known radio talk show host (you know his name too) who was doing the same thing. Suddenly I found that these folks were letting politics override science. Adding to the problem is the matter of sorting out fact from fiction, or, perhaps, science from politics. I was very hopeful, when this all started, that we would be able to bury our political agendas and come together as we battle this common enemy. Unfortunately, we have not been able to completely do this, with many falling back to their old ways of ‘politicizing’ this issue as well. Then there is the fact that many do not understand, nor like, mathematical or scientific ways of dealing with much of anything. I’m sure you know the type. You mention either or those two words and, rather quickly, you are getting the classic ‘deer in the headlights’ response. Many are aware of this short-coming in our society, many have been promoting greater emphasis on STEM in our educational system as a result. If you want to see an example of the anti-science crowd, take a close look at those that are ignoring science and good medical advice and are chanting how they don’t want to be told what to do.  Evidently, their ‘rights’ are more important? It will be interesting to see what kind of politicians run for office and, more importantly, those that get elected – The good news is we are not sitting in the Governors chair! Can you image the amount of pressure they are feeling? Scientists and medical experts on one side, businesses on the other. The goal is to strike a balance between doing what will minimize cases and deaths, and, on the other side, minimize the disaster that is our economic situation. Perhaps a classic case of ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t’? Unfortunately, many political leaders are unable to wage a good argument with those that see economics as being more important than health. The bottom line is, until we have a treatment and/or vaccine for this virus, we will be caught in the middle of this battle. It will be interesting to see what kind of politicians run for office and, more importantly, those that get elected.

  • Those that are anti-science, and don’t listen to anyone who knows better.
  • Those that will listen and heed the advice of those who do know better.

Then again, you can’t put all the blame on the politicians for the simple reason they are not appointed but rather are elected! Voters clearly have a lot in common with those they elect and follow similar patterns of behavior. Chances are good that voters will opt for those that promise the most. After all, what politician has been elected because he has experience managing a pandemic? Perhaps some of them are learning more about this topic, thanks to the media’s efforts at separating fact from fiction? Then there is the political divide in the news media.  Many of them seem to have been drinking the same ‘Kool-Aid’. I long for the days when news in the print and electronic-media meant objectivity. The scary part is how many obtain their information from misguided politicians or wackos on the Internet?  This coming ‘political season’ will be very interesting as this issue gets ‘hashed out’ in the form of sound-bites and 30 second spots. Unfortunately history has shown that people are very likely to ‘Vote with their Wallet’, meaning, if things have been good for them, they are likely to vote for the incumbent, if they have been bad, they are more likely to vote for ‘the other candidate’. Perhaps this will be a silver lining for the broadcast industry and will result in an infusion of income that has been missing during this process? For those of us that live in King County, we have perhaps known someone who has passed from the coronavirus. In my case, it was VERY close to home. My next-door neighbor died from it. Let me put this in context. My neighbor’s wife (the one who passed) was looking after her elderly parents in Seattle and living with them five days a week. She came down with Ovarian Cancer. When additional post-surgery treatment was indicated, she went to the hospital (where they test all who are admitted) and found out she was COVID-19 positive. It was fast and she was gone within a week. The very industry that employs us has been a contributor, due to our drive to make ‘bad news’ the lead story. The more that are impacted, the more stories are aired. This is not unlike newspapers that have historically run the worst of bad news on the front page. The more bad news, the more pages devoted to the matter. All of this has created what has been called COVID-19 overload. In general, people want to know what’s happening with the virus, but at the same time it contributes to other issues, emotionally, etc.  A vicious circle. So now we in the process of what’s called ‘opening up our economy’. (Another new term for those of you keeping track) With all of this, things are already looking very different everywhere you look. We are being told that this is the new normal and we’d better get used to it, at least until there are more effective means for dealing with those who become seriously ill from the virus or until we have a vaccine. One way to look at the Covid-19 issue is to look at the totals. (These are round numbers based on May 27th)

LOCATION/REGION # OF CASES # OF DEATHS
World-Wide 5.6 + Million ~ 356,000
USA 1.7 +Million ~ 102,000
Washington State ~20,000 ~ 1100
Oregon ~ 4,000 ~ 150
King County ~7900 ~ 560

 

From these numbers some things jump out at me:

  • The percentage of cases and deaths that are in the U.S. This is changing daily due to increases in Brazil and Russia.
  • How much better things are in Oregon (Granted they have a lower population than Washington State and we had a ‘head start’)
  • Half of the deaths in Washington State are in King County.

Looking at this another way….Deaths per 100,000: Washington   – – 13.3 Idaho  – – – – – –    4.2 Oregon – – – – –    3.3 Looks to me that Oregon is, perhaps, doing something we are not. With all disasters there are business winners and losers. A few of the winners –

  • Those that invested in on-line business – Costco, Walmart, Amazon. I see an Amazon truck drive by my place several times a day.
  • The makers of Plexiglass. Everywhere you go today you find barriers made of the stuff.
  • Consultants that will be hired by all manner of businesses to help insure worker safety.
  • The makers of PPE equipment…masks in particular.
  • Fast food already geared to ‘drive-up’.
  • Investors with cash that are looking for bargains. Historically, downturns spell doom for some and opportunities for others.
  • Those whose jobs have been declared ‘Essential’.
  • Consumers of Gasoline who have seen prices fall.

The losers –

  • Local Governments. Already cities and towns are laying off employees as their source of revenue, local sales taxes etc, have dried up.
  • Those whose jobs were not declared essential.
  • Restaurants…Sure, some of them switched to take-out or delivery. The majority are barely hanging on and some will be gone forever.
  • Movie Theatres. There are those who are saying we may see a rebound of the ‘Drive-In’.
  • Hotels and Motels…Know anyone that’s been traveling to a place where you can’t find an open restaurant?
  • Airlines…Face it, no-one wants to fly based on the fear that this is ‘The Place’ to become infected.
  • Education…Years from now there will likely be a big ‘Notch’ in the abilities of those who have been involved with the educational process during this time.
  • Taxpayers…Not much talked about, however, we need to understand that State and Local Governments cannot print money and/or borrow from future generations. Granted we will need to expect less from Government when this is over, but the bills will be coming due and this means higher taxes. Already the residents of Oregon appear to understand this by approving higher taxes. Fasten your seat belt!
  • Radio and TV Broadcasters…Already we have seen significant staff reductions, with some stations going off the air (some for good). Look at the type of local spots that stations are able to run. Only for those businesses that have been deemed ‘essential’, HVAC firms, vehicle repair facilities, etc. None of the conventional sources of advertising are going to do so for a business that’s forced so close. Even after they are allowed to open, they will all be having to deal with a huge economic hole to fill. There will be some that will see this as an opportunity to jump ahead of their, less financially well off, competitors.
  • Office Buildings…One has to wonder just how many businesses that have been able to continue to function via remote computer access will opt to continue to do so creating a net reduction in the need for conventional office space.
  • The Homeless problem…Just as politicians were trying to get a handle on this issue, along came COVID-19 whose economic fallout only made things worse.

One, unfortunate, byproduct of the ‘shut-down’ has been the number of people that feel the need to speed. I’m not sure if this is due to less traffic, or general frustration with the situation. Law Enforcement has been pulling over many doing in excess of 100 mph and the number of accidents and deaths due to excessive speed has increased. As we near the end of May, one can certainly see that the pace of re-opening is increasing, using the measure of traffic on our highways. Recently I drove from Auburn to Tacoma and discovered that the southbound lanes of I-5 in what’s known as the ‘Fife-Curve’ were once again slowing down to a creep. Perhaps I should mention the ‘bottleneck’ created by the failure of the West Seattle high-rise bridge? Talk about a big dose of bad-timing? The COVID-19 Situation has meant opportunity to many who prey on situations like this. Perhaps the worst is how a fraud ring got into the Washington State Employment Security Department to the tune of millions of lost taxpayers dollars. This Department was quickly overwhelmed with requests and demands from citizens who were frustrated by the pace of things and who, in the process, let their normal guard down. Then there are the snake oil peddlers who prey on those that are looking for non-standard and untested cure or preventative measures. Some political leaders have not helped with this one. And, of course, there are the conspiracy promoters….. Those that have been burning down 5G Cell Towers based on the notion that, somehow, 5G signals exacerbate the impacts of COVID. Probably one of the classic ones is the idea that Bill Gates is plotting to use mass COVID-19 vaccinations as a pretext to implant microchips in billions of people so he can monitor their movements. (You can’t make this stuff up.) The whole coronavirus situation is unique in that it is so poorly understood. Everyday there is a new discovery about this critter. The good news is there are a lot of very smart people, the world over, working on getting a handle on it, and a lot of people hoping and praying they will succeed. You hear and read about how ill-prepared our country was in dealing with this issue. While it’s easy to be critical of our governmental entities, perhaps there is some comfort that we are not alone! Many nations have been caught tragically unprepared in this battle. Interestingly, there are exceptions, Iceland and New Zealand come to mind. Will we learn from those? Probably not! An old friend, Nels Harvey, submitted this item – So you think stay at home is getting to you? During the “Great Plague of London” 1665 to 1666, Sir Isaac Newton invented Calculus.  How bored do you have to be to invent Calculus? Another friend contributed this item – As it stands today, you can’t get a haircut, but buying marijuana at the local “Pot-Shop’ is legal. What does this prove? Fifty years later, the Hippies finally won. This new normal is going to have to be without things we had expected. Here’s a short list:

  • Seafair
  • Hamfests
  • Summertime Sports
  • That planned fly-away vacation

I recently learned that my 60th High School reunion has been cancelled to 2021.  At this stage of life, this will, unfortunately, mean less attendees ☹ You may be asking ….What does this all have to do with Broadcasting? Well, life is full of parallels. This is not unlike my experiences with many years in broadcast engineering where Management is focused on the bottom line (because this is what they are hired to do). Buying equipment and stocking supplies for an unforeseen emergency is rarely approved. The rationale is simple – We will cross that bridge when (and if) we come to it (sound familiar?) As we move forward in a world that must balance the need to protect ourselves from getting the Virus and being able to have a life somewhat like we used to have. Until we have a vaccine, that’s clearly not going to happen. The changes that this will mean will take some getting used to. For example: Consider the way modern offices are constructed. I recall the stations where I worked back in the 60’s. Back then, we had not heard the term ‘cubical’ and everyone had a separate office. Granted, there were a few instances, where a larger room would have more than one desk. Somewhere along the way things began to change and the cubical started catching on.   There was a lot going for it – much of it economic. For a given amount of people, offices could be smaller. This was a big plus for those that leased space in commercial buildings. The cubical meant traditional walls did not need to be constructed. Cubicals were ‘factory made’ and permitted a wide number of variations, etc. Then there were those who promoted their use, saying their use would allow employees to collaborate more easily. In later years, they became S.O.P for station sales and news departments. In fact, in one instance, the height of the cubical partitions was lowered based on the notion that the collaborative aspect could be improved. Then along came the Coronavirus and Social Distancing! A few things have happened that may have the effect of changing things: 1 – How do cubicals, especially low ones, fit into this picture? Hmmmm. Do they install taller ones? Will they have to use every other one? 2 – What about all those folks that have been working from home? Will that become more common, thereby reducing the need for some of the cubes? 3 – With many businesses likely being negatively impacted by the resulting business downturn, will they need as many? 4 – Will a vaccine be developed so that the office will return to the way it was? 5 – Will the ‘Open Office’ become obsolete? What about the Radio and TV studios where multiple people were all working in close proximity? Separate booths or more Plexiglass? If you think that planning for the ‘new normal’ is mind bending, consider what the Airline Industry is going through. I recall the changes after 9/11. Shoe removal, liquids in plastic-bags, the TSA etc. Looking back, we objected to many of those changes as minor compared to what may be coming. At least it appears that you will be able to bring a liquid on board, provided it’s a hand sanitizer. I wonder if TSA will have a check to make sure that it’s real? If passengers are required to wear masks while in the aircraft, will this mean no beverage service? No booze for sale? No bags of nameless salty crunch stuff? What are they going to do in the event someone elects to take off their mask in the middle of a flight, divert to the nearest airport, arrest on landing? Here is what some think we may be faced with – In a new report, “The Rise of Sanitised Travel,” Simpliflying anticipates dozens of ways air travel might change in the coming months and years. Some examples: 1.  Online check-in: Besides choosing their seat or paying for checked bags, passengers might also need to upload a document to confirm the presence of COVID-19 antibodies before they fly. 2.  Airport curbside: Passengers could be required to arrive at least four hours ahead of their flight, and pass through a “disinfection tunnel” or thermal scanner to check their temperature before being allowed to enter the airport. 3. Check-in and bag drop: New touchless kiosks would allow passengers to check in by scanning a barcode, or using gestures or voice commands. Agents would be behind plexiglass shields, and bags would be disinfected and then “sanitagged.” 4. Health check: Passengers would undergo a health screening, and potentially even have their blood tested. In April, Emirates became the first airline to conduct rapid on-site COVID-19 testing of passengers before boarding. 5. Security: Each carry-on bag and security bin would be disinfected when entering the X-ray machine, using fogging or UV-ray techniques, then “sanitagged.” 6. Boarding: Passengers would need to be present an hour before departure, maintain social distancing in the gate area and board only when they receive individual notifications on their smartphones to prevent crowding in the jet bridge. 7. On the plane: The preflight safety video might include sanitation procedures, as passengers wipe down their seats and tray tables. In-flight magazines will be removed, seatback pockets emptied, and passengers will likely use their own devices to watch videos. An in-flight janitor might keep lavatories and other high-touch areas disinfected after passenger use. I found it interesting recently with the announcement in some of the areas that Indian Casinos were opening with the requirement that everyone wear a mask. At the same time they said that smoking would be allowed!!   Wonder how that works? I also spotted a picture of how restaurants would be structured. In this shot, they had caution tape blocking access to every other booth. In some booths (obviously a staged picture) sat ‘pretend-patrons’ with food on the table and wearing masks….Hmmm? Some are having positive predictions for the Seattle area – According to Moody’s Analytics –  Seattle is likely to have one of the quickest and strongest recoveries in the nation as the coronavirus scare winds down. Time will tell. Ah yes….There is some broadcast news to report (in the event you were wondering if I’d ever get to it). On May 19th the CBS Evening News experienced some type of ‘technical glitch’ in the WDC bureau where it originates, leaving affiliates scrambling. In Chicago, record breaking high water in the Chicago River overflowed its banks and into the basement of many buildings including the Willis (Sears) Tower electrical systems, knocking off several Radio and TV operations whose transmitters and antennas are located there. Thankfully, in the Seattle area, this is not likely to happen. The impact of COVID-19 continues to alter the Radio Ratings landscape with NewsTalk formats enjoying higher numbers. Perhaps underscoring the fact that, despite suffering from ‘Virus News Overload’… many want to stay in the know. As expected, stations airing SportsTalk were down. Frankly, I have a hard time listening to a game whose outcome is already known. I wonder how many Radio and TV operations will be informing their on-air talent that they are to stop using those home studios and come back to the station? Also wonder what changes will be made to the physical plant that will assure those returning will be safe? (More Plexiglass?) I understand those that are represented by Unions are insisting on safety standards. Efforts are proceeding on the rebuilding of the tower and FM antenna system at West Tiger. This all as a result of the Antenna Fire of a couple of years ago. This will involve the replacement of the top of the tower and installation of a new master antenna. All of this will mean that those stations will, once again, be operating from Auxiliary facilities. Impacted will be Hubbard’s 92.5 and 98.9, iHeartMedia’s 96.5 and 102.5 and Entercom’s 94.1. American Tower Recently repainted their Multiple Station Building on Cougar Mountain. Hard to believe that it’s been 20 years. Here you can see the building back to it’s original green. The ‘Blue-Gizmo’ in the foreground was used to permit painters to access the higher portions of the 2-story building.

Many stations have opted to simply turn off everything (transmitter included), ask the FCC for an STA, and lock the door. The following from InsideRadio: A group of 45 stations have signed off the air since March 11, the date the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic. Of those, 17, or 38%, specifically listed financial conditions due to the Coronavirus pandemic in their Special Temporary Authority (STA) application filing with the FCC. The remainder referenced a variety of unrelated reasons including technical problems, pending station sales and not being able to reach an agreement with a tower company. The spike in stations that temporarily went dark is vividly apparent in April when a record number of radio stations signed off, new data from PrecisionTrak/InsideRadio shows. A group of 35 radio stations went dark in April, bringing the total number of stations off the air to 369, up from 334 in March. The April number is the highest amount of stations off the air during the previous 12 months. Most are AM outlets and many are located in small markets. Not all stations said it was the financial pressure of the economic shutdown that was their breaking point. In some cases broadcasters have told the FCC their stations need repairs but because of the lockdown they haven’t been able to get crews onsite to perform the work. The number of licensed radio stations that are currently silent rises and falls from month to month. During the past 12 months, the number has increased or decreased by as much as 18 and by as little as two. An increase of 35 stations in one month is highly unusual. Anadal Enterprises, which took two stations silent on March 20 – news/talkers WPNS (1140) Ft. Walton Beach-Destin, FL and WNWF (1470) Evergreen, AL – said in a filing that the stations were “forced to go off the air due to the COVID-19 outbreak temporarily. We will resume operations as soon as business reopens after this shutdown.” Other STA applications filed with the FCC were less specific. “The stations have ceased operations due to financial reasons,” Batesville Broadcasting said in taking two FMs and one AM in Mississippi off the air. Country WBLE (100.5) Batesville, MS and the classic country simulcast of WJBI (1290) Batesville, MS and WHKL-FM (106.9) Crenshaw, MS went silent April 11. Bustos Media took regional Mexican KMIA (1210) Seattle-Tacoma and ethnic KXET (1130) Portland, OR off the air March 23. “Due to health considerations and economic conditions in the Portland metropolitan area, in light of the coronavirus emergency, we have decided to temporarily cease broadcasting,” it said of KXET’s situation. East Carolina Radio – which silenced the classic country simulcast of WCNC (1240) Elizabeth City, NC and WZBO (1260) Edenton, NC on April 1 – said the stations “have experienced “multiple advertisement cancellations, resulting in significant reductions in revenue in a relatively short period of time.” Saul Levine’s Mount Wilson FM Broadcasters took two stations in the Monterey-Salinas-Santa Cruz, CA market silent in April, saying operations are “not sustainable financially because of greatly diminished advertising during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Levine was already in the process of donating classical “K-Mozart” KIDD (630) and oldies “1240 K-Surf” KNRY to The Balanced Radio Foundation. After operating major market stations for a staggering 62 years, Levine says the current economic conditions are the worst he’s ever seen. “It is small and standalone AM stations [that] are feeling the impact,” he told Inside Radio. He says his company donated the two Bay Area AM stations after it was unable to find a buyer. But after the FCC approved the license transfer, the attorney for Balanced Radio, the non-profit run by Richard Jenkins, the former President and CEO of Educational Media Foundation, indicated they were not going to close the transaction. “The Monterey radio market is challenged,” Levine said. “Rather than sustain the Monterey operation we decided to go silent, and devote our efforts to our major markets. There are difficult times ahead for radio. Major market radio will survive. Small markets will have problems.” FCC Chair Ajit Pai said last week he is open to hearing any ideas that broadcasters may have to help keep as many stations afloat as possible. “One thing that comes to mind is to allow AM broadcasters to reduce power to save money on power bills,” Pai told Inside Radio. “That’s one of the things that may seem relatively small, but it’s an important step in helping some of the AM broadcasters to continue operations.” While there are limits on what the agency can do to help operators struggling with the country’s economic standstill, Pai believes the modernization steps taken by the FCC during the past several years will help. Unfortunately,  a lot of crime is up during this period. Here is an example from SBE Chapter 74:

SOCIETY OF BROADCAST ENGINEERS CHAPTER 74 – MIDLANDS ALERT Eastern Nebraska and Western Iowa www.sbe74.org  

The Nebraska Broadcasters Association has asked SBE 74 to distribute the following information below regarding recent copper thefts in Omaha and Nebraska City. If you have cameras or security systems at your transmitter sites, please take a moment to be sure all equipment is working properly and keep an eye out for suspicious activity at your sites: On April 26th  television station KPTM/KXVO had vandals break into the outside patio area of both TV stations and break into the main distribution center and cut out all the grounding cabling leaving no electrical ground. When the copper thieves had finished with KPTM and KXVO they headed over to the KGBI/KOOO transmitter site. Once the copper thieves cut the gate lock they began cutting away all the tower grounding. Next the copper thieves started removing the Halo grounding around the building, the generators and the A/C units. They also cut away the ground cables going to the disconnect boxes. Next the copper thieves pried the front door open and did damage to the door. Once inside the transmitter building the copper thieves started removing the Harmonic Filter off the 20KW standby transmitter used for KOOO 101.9. They also removed a 20 foot section of 4 inch rigid transmission line plus two 20 foot sections in inter bay plus tools and two vacuum cleaners. All this was removed from the KOOO transmitter room with considerable damage left behind. We could not believe the copper thieves did not remove anything from the KGBI auxiliary transmitter room. In the case of both the KPTM/KXVO and KOOO/KGBI transmitter sites, this  break-in was reported to the Sarpy County Sheriff and an officer did show up to investigate.   The Chief Engineer for KOOO, John Nielsen installed a Ring camera and had a guard watching the transmitter site from 6PM to 12 midnight and a second guard watched the site from 12 midnight till 6 AM.  On Friday around 11:30pm what looked like a blue Dodge Ram truck drove up the driveway of the KOOO/KGBI transmitter site with its lights off. As soon as the Dodge truck got close to the guard on duty the guard turned on his vehicle lights and the Dodge truck immediately turned around and the chase was on. The guard did get the license plate information and a good look at the vehicle.   On another note it has been reported that someone broke into the transmitter building of KBBX, Radio Lobo, 97.7 which is licensed to Nebraska City just recently, could be yesterday or the day before, not sure about the exact time or date.   John Nielsen and I are trying to get the word out to all engineers in the area to be aware of what is going on with the copper theft that has taken place around the Gretna, Springfield, Sarpy County area.  If you do not have security and have not been to your transmitter sites lately it is suggested that you check your sites for and damage or theft.   Jim Leedham, Engineer/Site manager Salem Radio Properties Any questions call 402-680- 2424 The state of the Economy is contributing to a large increase in commercial burglaries across the country.   Considering the price of copper is running under $2 per pound, these folks were trying to make a big-haul to make up for the difference. Frankly, it still amazes me so few broadcast transmission facilities have sophisticated alarm systems. Usually, these ‘low-lifes’ will ‘test’ a facility beforehand to determine whether there is a system that could lead them to be caught. If they find none, it’s free game. This is like leaving your keys in your car and wondering why it was stolen. Congrats to the Seattle Times on the winning of their 11th Pulitzer Price. The latest for their work related to the Boeing 737 Max. In last month’s Column I showed a picture of a building with an antenna…..Here’s a new one for you to ponder. Give you a hint. It’s in the Tacoma area.

Wonder what this is ?

So what do I do when asked to stay home? Well, my wife and I play an extensive amount of Scrabble. Here she is across the table from me:

The negative economic impact of COVID-19 is not just hitting commercial broadcasters but non-commercial as well. The following from Bloomberg regarding NPR: The public broadcaster is cutting pay and benefits, hoping to “save jobs and support the future of NPR.” The report says NPR is facing projected losses of up to $53 million in the next two years. Last month it was reported that NPR was cutting executive pay by 10% to 25%. A memo to staffers from CEO John Lansing said at the time that NPR faced a budget shortfall of $30 million to $45 million through its 2021 fiscal year. That calculation included an estimated sponsorship shortfall of $12 million to $15 million in sponsorship revenue. NPR had budgeted a total of $115 million for 2020, according to Lansing’s memo. NPR now anticipates a loss of $40 million to $53 million in fiscal 2020 and 2021. In the latest round of austerity, the base pay of NPR’s employees will be reduced on a sliding scale of up to 9% through the end of September. Workers will also be offered furloughs, according to a new memo from Lansing to staff. The public broadcaster will also halt employer contributions to its retirement plan. Workers who make less than $80,000 annually will not see a reduction in pay. There’s financial suffering across the U.S. media landscape from COVID-19, which has resulted in a massive shortage of advertising revenues. But NPR’s situation is unique: It’s a non-profit that relies heavily on contributions to remain viable. “We do not have a profit motive or shareholders to serve like commercial media, so all of our resources go toward public service,” NPR said in a statement. “We will continue to manage our budgets closely across the organization — our main priority is to preserve jobs so we can continue providing an essential public service to audiences across platforms.” Whereas I work for WSU’s NW Public Broadcasting, I too am left to be concerned whether or not I will still have a job after all is said and done, knowing well that reductions are coming. In what is reported to be the largest ever civil penalty, the FCC has informed Sinclair Broadcasting Group to pay $48,000,000. This is related to Sinclair’s effort to acquire Tribune Media’s stations. Locally, Sinclair owns KOMO and KUNS-TV and radio stations KOMO, KPLZ and KVI. At the core of this was their failure to follow sponsorship identification rules. Once again, Dwight Small (who is very likely basking in the knowledge that he retired at the right time) submits this picture from what is his backyard (a lake). Here we are looking SE toward White Horse Mountain, elevation 6840ft, with Glacier Peak on the far left. Just wondering, I looked at what it would take to climb this peak and quickly learned it is a significant challenge.

The Radio industry could soon get an indication as to which the way the Federal Communications Commission is leaning on a proposal to allow digital-only AM stations. Fort Wayne, IN owner Brian Walsh has petitioned the FCC to allow him to power down his analog transmitter and operate WIOE (1450) using only a digital signal for the next year.    There are a number of attractive features with this.   AM Stations would gain parity on the Vehicle Dashboard.

  • They could, for the first time, have the graphical display of their FM cousins, Song Title and Artist, etc.
  • Would be able to run stereo (assuming that the analog AM Stereo is dead).
  • Have much higher fidelity.
  • Would be running digital, largely eliminating the buzzes and noises faced by AM’s today.
  • Perhaps one of the most attractive aspects, be able to multicast a second audio channel (This feature may have to await a newer ‘chip-set’ as today’s HD Radio receivers would be unable to decode it).

The FCC has been collecting comments in a proceeding (MB Docket No. 19-311) that would give AM stations the option of digital-only operations. In light of today’s economic mess, its probably unlikely we will see many more stations request authority to go all-digital in the near term.     And the headline read – “FCC, Pentagon Go to War Over 5G Spectrum” Not often do you see a couple of Federal Agencies going up against each other. Breakout the popcorn and peanuts as this is going to be interesting. Apparently, this has to do with the FCC’s approval of an application by Ligado (formally known as LightSquared) for use of spectrum adjacent to frequencies used by GPS. Will be interesting to see of the DOD ‘caves’ under pressure this time. Recently Lowell Kiesow (KNKX) experienced some new interference to their satellite receiving equipment. Lowell rightfully noted that this occurred just before the Memorial Holiday weekend. This caused me to recall the following – As for the timing of failures – I recall ‘Murphy Sign’ somewhere, long ago. Something like this:

  • The incidence of failures is inversely proportional to the availability of parts and people.
  • Multiply X2 – If it’s in the middle of the night.
  • Multiply X 3 – If it’s a weekend.
  • Multiply X4 – if it’s a holiday weekend.
  • Multiply X5 – If it’s one of the above and the person that normally deals with it is on vacation and you have the call.

There are variations – All proving that Murphy Reign’s! Another, timely, contribution from a reader –

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 – Stay safe as you carefully explore the new world out there.

Clay, K7CR, CPBE

SBE Member #714 since February 5th, 1968

Clay’s Corner FOR MAY 2020

May 8, 2020
By

 

 

Clay’s Corner

Providing news and views from a broadcast engineer’s perspective since September 1986

As you can tell from the heading, I’ve been writing this column for a very long time under circumstances that were, somewhat, predictable….until about a month ago! Now, for all of us, the world has been turned upside down. Accordingly, the Column will be a bit different this month. We have a lot of words and terms that are being used with this outbreak. We may have used them in the past, however, now they have different meanings. Here are a few that come to mind: Social Distancing Chances are you may have never used this term in the past. Now we all know what it means. In high school it meant stay away from the nerds. Flatten the curve A term you may have heard….but not likely in this application. Ventilator I’ve long known what a ventilator was. It was a device you installed on the roof of a building to exhaust heat in the summer. The one pictured here is often found on barns and industrial buildings.

Interestingly, if you were to now Google Ventilator, you will find pages of the medical type that are used  to assist a person to breathe in a hospital.    Hunkering Down Here is a term that had almost faded away. Luckily, old folks (like me) knew what it meant. I suspect there are a number of more freshly minted souls that did not. I found a couple of definitions:   When you hunker down, you settle into a safe, sheltered position. Some people evacuate their homes during a big hurricane, while others hunker down and wait. Hunker down was originally an American phrase and means to dig in or settle in to ride out troubled times. Shelter in Place This term is, perhaps, being used in error. Shelter In Place conventionally means go inside, close all the windows and doors and stay there. This is a term used to warn citizens in the event of a hazardous condition outside, etc. The Emergency Alert System has an Event Code for this — ‘SPW’. Today, governments are issuing Stay-at-Home orders with exceptions, going for food or medicine, etc. Essential Personnel In terms of today’s situation, Governmental entities will determine what occupations or jobs are deemed essential to keep critical systems and supply lines operating. Examples are those who work providing food, medicine, medical attention, etc. Broadcasters have been deemed essential, including those technicians and engineers that keep the broadcast systems operating. This is very understandable during times where information is critical. COVID-19 When I first heard this term, I immediately thought it was a cool name for a group of bad guys in a James Bond film. Later we all learned the real meaning: COVID-19: ‘CO’ stands for ‘corona,’ ‘VI’ for ‘virus,’ and ‘D’ for ‘disease’ – 2019. Just to add to the confusion, some call it ‘corona-virus’. By now we have all become familiar with these various names. PPE In this situation, PPE is Personal Protective Equipment, Masks, Face-shields, Gowns etc. In other fields this could mean Hardhats, Boots, Aprons, Gloves etc. The shortage of ‘on-the-shelf’ PPE’s has caused an extreme example of ‘The Blame Game’. Apparently, everyone wants to blame everyone else because they have a shortage of these items. Here in our area we saw a number of firms that used to make different, but perhaps related, products jump in to help. The bottom line is that apparently no one ever thought they would need these quantities. Supply Chain One thing seems clear. Many have been caught off guard with the severity and speed at which this virus has spread. A lot of our problems stem from the fact that very few users of a product stock very much of it. In the past, a business (hospitals etc.) would have a large amount of storage, either on site, or in the same town. Now, thanks to our very efficient transportation systems (think UPS and FedEx) they don’t need to stock much, as it can be there the next  day. Today, storage of much of anything is thought of as a waste of space and money. The problem is, many of the middlemen feel the same way. Look what happened to Toilet Paper! A big bump in demand caused huge supply problems because the – just in time – philosophy depends on ‘average use figures’, to know how much to put in the ‘supply chain’. This issue goes all the way back to manufacturers who are not about to build, and stock, much of anything beyond what the average demand dictates. Now we have a situation where medical supplies are needed in huge quantities and no one has that much on the shelf. Unfortunately, States (and perhaps Provinces) look to the Federal Government to come to their rescue, thinking they can supply unlimited amounts of whatever is needed overnight. As we have all come to understand, this was faulty-thinking. In many cases, the Federal Government is a procurement agency. You have a need, they procure it on your behalf. So why weren’t all these masks, gowns, shields, gloves etc. sitting in a warehouse somewhere? For the same reasons! Everyone, at every level, stocks what their projections indicate they will need. The problem was the demands of a huge pandemic was not factored in. Thanks to computers, we now find a host of people trying to plan for the future, based on the number crunching of computers. When will this end, when can we get back to work, how many will die etc? Occasionally you will hear someone say, in response to questions requiring one to have a ‘crystal ball’, ’the Virus will tell us’ or, it’s up to us if we follow the guidelines. The term ‘educated guess’ is rarely, if ever, heard anymore. It appears that UDub is playing an active role in this area with many quoting our home-town school. This outbreak has had a huge impact on the environment. Suddenly, cities around the world that have been choking on pollution and haze are seeing blue skies. Likely many have never seen it that way before. For those who question the impact of man and our machines, now have lost their argument. Many major cities, Seattle included, have been trying to get us out of our cars and into public transportation. Now there are fewer cars and many are afraid of those transportation systems, due to the fear that being confined with others is a health hazard. The result is less public transportation because of fewer riders. With the emphasis on working from home, Transportation Planners are going to have their hands full when we overcome this situation. Perhaps more Models and Projections?   Then, with a stroke of lucky timing, Seattle discovered that the high-rise freeway bridge over the Duwamish, connecting West Seattle is cracking…and could fall down. Thankfully, they left the old lower-level bridge in place for use by Emergency Vehicles and others that have to reach Harbor Island. However, with the Pandemic, 100,000 vehicles that were using the, now unusable, bridge want access – Wow! They are saying it could take a couple of years to resolve this mess. I have to wonder what people do that simply don’t cook? Many rely on restaurants now that are no longer in business. I noted one restaurant in my town went from offering take out to ‘we will bring you your food’ delivery service. Certainly the drive-up fast food industry has been busy. At just about any hour. there is a lineup at their drive-up windows. One word that you hear constantly is ‘CORONA’. The word CORONA has been around a while, but a lot of things have changed since the name corona has been linked to a virus caused pandemic! There is Corona, California, a city in Riverside County with a population of over 150,000 and a borough of Queens in New York City named Corona. Bet they are loving their name? Let’s not forget the Sun also has a Corona, the rarefied gaseous envelope of the sun and other stars. The sun’s corona is normally visible only during a total solar eclipse, when it is seen as an irregularly shaped pearly glow surrounding the darkened disk of the moon.

With Americans suddenly linking coronavirus with Corona Beer, their sales tanked and the brewer, in Mexico, stopped making it.

 

Do  you recall the Corona automobile? Toyota Corona was an automobile manufactured by the Japanese automaker Toyota between 1957 and 2001. Traditionally, the competitor from Nissan was the Nissan Bluebird. The word “corona” is Latin for “crown”, a reference to an earlier vehicle Toyota offered called the Toyota Crown. Bet Toyota is happy they no longer market this model.

One area where there is no shortage – ‘The Blame Game’. There are many political leaders that are being called out for not reacting soon enough, not being prepared, not listening to the experts, etc. So what happened? Couple this with the upcoming elections, it will be interesting to see just how many will use various political leaders’ approach to dealing with COVID-19 as ammunition pro and con. If we are lucky, some of this money will flow to the Broadcast Industry and help with the economic situation many of these stations are facing. Another old motto has come to mind – that of the Boy Scouts ‘Be-Prepared”. Many are questioning how much we have been prepared for something like this. Perhaps it’s human nature to prepare for things that we have experienced and not for things that we have not? I learned a long time ago that we are, pretty-much, short sighted and have little tolerance for those that are not – calling them ‘Chicken Little Types’. Many broadcast engineers fall into that category, by nature. We like to plan ahead for unforeseen events, perhaps because we have learned, many the hard way, the pain that is caused by not doing so. Typically, managers (and politicians) are focused on what they need to do to keep their jobs, and not on what ‘might’ happen. Our society has changed so much over the years. Today it’s common to run to the store for what we need at the last moment. Our grandparents likely were much better prepared as a result. Many people’s kitchens today don’t include a pantry stocked with dry-goods that can be made into meals. Then again, how many have the ability to prepare things from scratch like grandma did? Emergency managers have long been trying to get us all ready for the ‘Big-One’, to be able to ‘hunker down’ for a period of time without the ability to go to a store, or have someone come to our rescue. Mainly these warnings have fallen on deaf ears. Perhaps this event will be big enough to cause some  rethinking? Granted, the earth has not been shaking, in the conventional sense…but it certainly has shaken us up. Just be thankful that we have not had a massive quake on top of it (uh, perhaps I should have not written that one?) Financially, many live paycheck to paycheck. The money they make that day provides for food tomorrow, etc. Statistics confirm this. The idea of a ‘Rainy Day Fund’ is a strange philosophy to many who spend all they make and use credit cards to extend their way of handling money. Many feel good things come from bad. Perhaps this event will change the way government, businesses and families look at things. We can only hope. What is not talked about is, how are we going to pay for all of this? Governments and businesses have been borrowing, in record amounts! I know the Washington Legislature is going to have to deal with this issue. Hang on folks, these things are paid for via taxes. The laws of supply and demand are certainly skewed in some new ways. There is tremendous demand for news and information. The ratings for the, traditional, evening TV newscasts are way up. In Radio, KIRO-FM, KUOW (FM) and KOMO AM are now ranking #1, 2 and 3 in the Seattle Market. At the same time demand is up, revenue is down, because the traditional buyers of advertising are not buying. One of the major sources of advertising is car dealers. The only thing I’ve seen are a few spots urging people to bring their vehicle in for service or repairs. I suspect there is a LOT of this kind of maintenance that’s being put off…especially if your paychecks have stopped. This all ‘trickles down’ to a reduction in revenue to Radio and TV stations. I found it interesting that Hubbard, who operates five radio stations in the market, with no news department, created an arrangement with KIRO Radio to provide them with the missing program elements. Speaking of Hubbard, congratulations to Alex Brewster who recently made the move from Assistant Chief at the Entercom Cluster to Chief at Hubbard. He replaced the departed Dave Ratener. This came at a great time for Alex, and, perhaps, at a bad time for Phil Van Liew at Entercom, who now has to pick up the slack. In light of Entercom’s announcements about the economic situation, it’s not likely they will be hiring a replacement for Alex, at least not in the short term. Those who are working in areas that are deemed ‘essential’ are thankful they have a job. Those that are not, are likely thankful they had a rainy day fund to fall back on. Those that did not plan ahead, are having to rely on unemployment benefits and the frustration that comes with having to deal with an overloaded system that has been unable to keep up with demand. Another example of where supply systems are designed for ‘average times’. There are certainly a number of people working that make me wonder. Example, the number of old beater pickups towing a trailer with hand tools and lawnmowers. Seems to me that cutting grass and landscaping is deemed (by someone) as essential? The idea of converting some AM Radio stations to all-digital has been getting a lot of press lately. Apparently, the FCC agrees that this idea may be a way to pump new life into the place where broadcasting began. According to published reports, the Commish has been receiving some supportive comments. The problem is, as I see it, we have a very bad case of timing. With a number of radio stations having recently gone dark across the country due to the virus situation, it strikes me as a very poor time to ask a station owner to come up with the cash to experiment with all-digital. Frankly, I hope things improve and look forward to actually being able to experience this mode first hand. Gotta hand it to Hubbard’s local 98.9 ‘The Bull’ for coming up with a unique prize. On April 9th, I understand they gave away 1,000 rolls of toilet paper. Nice to see a local fellow get behind helping with the coronavirus situation. Bill Gates has funded testing of a potential vaccine. Bill, of course, is one of the founders of Microsoft. From the ‘You’d think they’d learn by now’ Department comes news that for the 6th time in 8 months the FCC has fined a broadcaster for the improper use of EAS Tones. The latest is WNEW in New York. What, perhaps, made matters worse is the fact the tones were used during a skit that made fun of the National EAS Test that was scheduled for later the same day. Normally this will cost $8,000. However, in this case, the Commish is suggesting 20 Grand. For too many, this Virus situation has many sequestered to their homes. This means different things depending on where home is. For some, this means a small apartment. For others, like Dwight Small, who not long ago, retired to his place on the Lake, stepping out on his deck recently and snapped this picture. A very lucky man indeed!

I’m blessed with living on the edge of the Green River valley, having to put up with sunsets like these from my rocking chair on the deck.

 

When I am not hunkered down, I am performing ‘essential work’ at a transmitter site somewhere. The good news is, the majority of the time, there are not other humans nearby. This picture was taken, coming down from Striped Peak, west of Port Angeles.

Speaking of Striped Peak, here is the sign posted at the gate at the bottom of the hill.  Another reason why I did not see anyone else while up there.

This year, none of us got to go to Las Vegas for the NAB Convention, as the whole town was under a coronavirus shutdown. Apparently, this does not stop construction, as the project to enlarge the already huge Los Vegas Convention Center is underway. If you recall, across Paradise Road from the LVCC was a large parking lot and the historic Riviera Hotel. The hotel was torn down, making way for a new ‘West Hall’ to be added. The LVCC is already mammoth, with something like 2,000,000 square feet of space. The new facility will add 600,000 square feet. Putting this another way, the present LVCC is equal to about 13.8 Costcos. When completed, it will be equal to 18 Costcos or 2.6 million square feet! You will really want to bring comfortable shoes to the 2021 NAB. Never fear, the Boeing plant in Everett is still bigger at 4.3 Million square feet.   Another item impacted by the Virus, talks to purchase Tegna (Owner of KING-TV and KONG-TV) have apparently stopped. Obviously, cashflow issues have been altered everywhere. The coronavirus has spawned more radical thinking. In this case, the rumor that 5G cellular systems have something to do with the spreading virus. This has resulted in ‘wackos’ out destroying 5G cell sites, who they believe weaken people’s immune systems. From this has come a new term ‘covidiots’. This, all despite the WHO pointing out there were thousands of COVID-19 cases in areas of the world where there are no 5G systems. Unfortunately, todays internet connected world has enabled those who spread rumors and conspiracy theories to flourish. What is perhaps more frightening is how many, seemingly normal people, are prone to believe this stuff. Worse yet….they live among us! For some time, Radio and TV stations have had the ability to broadcast from remote locations away from their studios. The pandemic has accelerated this movement to a degree that no one could have imagined. With Radio, it’s pretty hard to tell that an announcer is speaking from his home. TV is another matter. Typically, around here, local stations will have one anchor at the studio with the rest of the crew operating from home. Initially some of the production was a bit clunky. However, as time goes on, its looking pretty good. Field reporting is another interesting issue. To start with, it appeared that stations were getting reports from the field using smartphones. The video quality was a bit worse than SD and the audio often sounding like a tin-can-telephone. For those that insist that everything on the air be ‘broadcast quality’, this must have been hard to swallow. Think what this would have looked like if we did not have the internet, bonded cellular etc. There are likely a lot of things learned with this event – lessons that will find application going forward for sure. The real winners are the firms that make the equipment that makes this possible. They would have likely never predicted the demand. Non-commercial broadcasters are taking a hit here also. NPR has announced reductions and financial woes. CPB is getting a cash infusion from the Feds. In the ‘Good News’ Department, the lack of demand has caused gas prices to fall dramatically. By the middle of the month, I was seeing gas selling for under $2 a gallon. Another item, thanks to very heavy snow in the mountains late in the winter, projections are that our snowpack is going to be above normal. Be thankful, as much of the Southwest is in the midst of a historic drought. I got a note from Mike Gilbert informing us that KBDB in Forks has added another HD Channel to their station. Perhaps the first station in the area running an HD4. Mike sent along this picture of their transmitting antenna on Mt. Ellis, north of Forks.

Many of us will remember when KFKF was a radio station in Bellevue (Kemper Freeman – Kemper Freeman). Now those call letters reside in Kansas City. As, perhaps, an indication of just how far HD Radio has com, IHeartMedia has moved their Atlanta modern-rock station to an HD Channel to make room for a Spanish CHR format. Another item impacted by the Virus is TV Antennas. Many households are now wanting to see local news from local stations and have discovered that a TV antenna is the answer. According to a recent survey, 41 million families will be watching OTA TV via an antenna by the end of this year…a new wrinkle in the growing move to cut the cord. One of the techniques used to screen people for the coronavirus is to check their temperature. This is often done with a point-and-shoot thermometer that’s commonly available. Another method is to use a thermal scanning camera, perhaps from Oregon-based FLIR. This reminded me of how we have been using this technique for years, checking the temperature of one of the broadcast antennas on West Tiger Mountain.

 

Oh yes, add to that list of those working from home – the FCC is even doing it.  I had to laugh at this one sent to me by an old friend in Wisconsin. An antivirus mask indeed!

First quarter results are in from the FCC regarding the number of stations on the air:

  • FM Translators and Boosters are up 2% with 140 new ones, total 8,188.
  • The pace for AM stations to put on FM translators has slowed.
  • AM continues to fade with 13 less stations on the air. The current economic situation is likely to further reduce the number of AM’s even more.
  • There are fewer commercial FM’s while the number of NCE’s grew.
  • Could the novelty of an LPFM be wearing off? Their quantity is down.

I had a nice surprise – a certificate from Washington State University noting my ten years of service. Wow has that ten years gone fast! Interesting to see how Non-Commercial radio stations are doing. As we all know, KUOW is a ratings giant in Seattle. In Portland, KOPB is also in second place. This is not a situation unique to the Pacific Northwest. In Washington DC, WAMU is tied for first place. In Austin, KUT is tied for second. With a number of people stuck at home – the question is – how many are listening to Radio? Granted there are those who are using their ‘Smart Speaker’ as a radio. I just happened to be visiting a local store, where I wandered into their electronics department. To my surprise, they had several AM/FM Clock Radios for sale. Recent surveys show that less than half of those 18-34 have a traditional AM/FM radio in their home. If they want radio, they use their computer. I suspect that many in this age group never think about a radio in their kitchen or family room. Perhaps the same who are surprised to learn that they can pick up TV – for free – with a contraption called an antenna.   One of my readers spotted this antenna in Bellevue recently. Anyone know what it’s for?

Just had to share this one with you. On the way to the Cougar Mt. transmitter facility, in a very-nice residential area, there are a couple of concrete retaining walls alongside the road. Both of them have several metal ‘Cougars’ as decorations. During the holidays you will often see them decorated in some way. Someone had a COVID moment and decorated this cat.

Other things impacted by the Virus –

  • A sharp reduction in Robo-Calls?
  • An increase in the amount of emailed humor from friends who are obviously spending more time on the home computer these days.

On the 21st of April, the Washington Governor laid out his plan for moving forward. Personally, I appreciate his methodical approach to all of this, as opposed to some that have what I call a ‘non-scientific, knee-jerk’ way of doing things. We all need to remember that it’s highly unlikely that any person in a position of authority in government has any experience dealing with an issue like this one.   The totals for this disease are staggering. At this writing, the totals look, roughly, like this: Worldwide we are approaching 3,000,000 cases and over 200,000 deaths. U.S.A we are approaching 1,000,000 cases and 55,000 deaths. This is about 1/3 of all the cases in the world and about 1/4 of the deaths. (The numbers in New York are close to 300,00 cases and 18,000 deaths.) WA State we are approaching 14,000 cases and will likely exceed 1,000 deaths. (At this writing, the number of new cases per day is actually going up.) One of the major problems with these numbers is that no one knows for sure just how many have it…a question that cannot be answered until everyone is tested.    It’s also interesting to look at the deaths from other causes. The following data is from 2017:

 

From this it’s pretty easy to see how this virus is serious, however, until we have a year with it, will be unable to say how it will be positioned on a list like this one. Certainly, everyone is anxious to see this be over with and a return to the way things were. We are being told that the recovery will be slow, take time etc. This is tough on a society that is used to ‘date certain’ information. An answer like ’We just don’t know for sure’ is a hard pill for most to swallow. Perhaps there is some comfort in knowing that this is something that the whole world is having to deal with, ie, we are not alone in this battle. There is hope in knowing that scientists, all over the world, are racing to find a treatment and, hopefully, a cure. As we dream about the day that this is behind us, we are left with a host of questions:

  • The first, and most obvious one, when will be get back to normal?
  • Assuming that we ‘slowly’ will, with restrictions, what will that mean?
  • Will things every be like they were -or- will we have a ‘new-normal’?
  • How much will fear and trust alter the path forward?
  • With so many industries (Broadcasting included) now permitting working from ‘safe-locations’ will this become more commonplace now that we know how to do it?
  • How many businesses, large and small, will be killed off,  never to return?
  • Assuming that ‘Social Distancing’ and wearing masks and other protective measures will be normal until we have vaccines, how will this impact things like sporting events. etc?
  • As you go by the football/ soccer and baseball venues in So-Do…how long will it be before they can be used again?
  • When will our children be able to go back to school?
  • How will this impact our Political Landscape?
  • Who is going to be blamed for all of this?

Perhaps the most important questions are:

  • What have we learned in this process?
  • What will we do differently the next time we are faced with a pandemic?
  • Will someone please, in addition to coming up with a cure, please invent, and manufacture in large quantities, a fully functional crystal-ball for times like this?

Here’s an excellent summary of where we are….from Bill Gates: https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/it-is-impossible-to-overstate-the-pain-fight-against-coronavirus-will-define-our-era-bill-gates-says/ Frequent contributor Mike Brooks of KING-FM sent me this item that would be of particular interest to those of you who are Hams.

Some more contributions from friends stuck at home:

 

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 – Hunker down and staff safe !!   Clay, K7CR, CPBE SBE Member #714 since February 5th, 1968

 

Clay’s Corner for March 2020

March 15, 2020
By

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

 

 

 

 

Clay’s Corner for February 2020

February 13, 2020
By

 

 

Clay’s Corner

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

Looking back a year, Seattle had its snowiest February on record and the coldest one in 30 years. The average temperature for the month was 36.6 degrees. According to the National Weather Service, SeaTac Airport saw 14.1 inches in the first 10 days of the month. The old record at SeaTac was 13.1 inches in 1949. The single snowiest day of the year was February 8 when 6.4 inches fell. Just days before, we experienced the two coldest days of the year when temperatures plummeted to 20 degrees on February 5 and 6.   Looking ahead –  Here is what last summer had for us –   By contrast, the hottest day of the year fell before the official start of summer. We hit 95 degrees on June 12 and the summer solstice didn’t arrive until June 21. The following picture is from now retired Broadcast Engineer Dwight Small…A beautiful winter scene.

As viewed from the later days of January – We certainly have stopped talking about drought. The Seattle area is in the midst of weather that could convince anyone that it rains all the time. Just wondering department – Has anyone tallied up the amount of revenue that has been lost by the Radio and TV stations that have been covering the Impeachment activity? I found it interesting that several radio stations elected to keep their ‘main-stream’ programming going while putting the WDC events on their HD-2 channel.    Perhaps they will make up for it with political advertising revenue? The FCC is asking for input on the matter of Radio Simulcasts. In light of today’s consolidation and clustering, perhaps relaxation of the rule on this issue is in order? Part of the thinking is based on the notion that you could have the same program on two AM’s (for example) in the same market, with one of them running all digital and the other analog. Those that oppose the idea of changing the rules are concerned that it would negatively impact what’s call ‘program diversity’. In my opinion, there is plenty of diversity on the Radio dial today. The FCC has set the dates for comments on the proposal to permit all digital AM Stations – Comments March 9th – Reply Comments April 6th. Not everyone is happy with this idea.   Some are interpreting this as meaning that – every – AM will be switching to digital leaving a Jillion AM only receivers with nothing to listen to (except for electrical gizmo noise). I give more credit than that to the owners of AM Radio Stations. I would highly doubt if any market would see all of their AM’s go digital. Perhaps in an ownership that had two AM’s it might make sense to have one of each. With the proposed rule change, they could each have the same programming, which could be viewed as a financial incentive. Another argument is that the FCC should not limit digital AM’s to HD Radio…But rather should permit Digital Radio Mondial, or DRM. to have an equal shot. The question that needs to be answered is just how many of the millions of HD Capable radios out there would be able to decode DRM? If that percentage is low, it would place DRM at a significant disadvantage. I know that both systems use COFDM, however I have no idea of there is any degree to compatibility between the systems. Perhaps that too could change? Other question is, what will the company that owns HD Radio (EXPERI) want to extract from the owner of an AM station that’s willing to put everything on the line and go all digital? The bottom line is there appears to be a lot of interest in this proposal. The FCC’s process will likely draw a number of comments, pro and con. This will be an interesting process to watch. I can say one thing, never did I ever dream that we would be debating this issue! If you are in an area where Frontier is your telephone company or Internet Service Provider, you might want to read this:   https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2020/01/frontier-an-isp-in-29-states-plans-to-file-for-bankruptcy/ Our State SECC (State Emergency Communications Committee) that manages the EAS has a committee that is slowly working through the process of re-writing our EAS Plan. Presently they are dealing with changes that will be made to the process of how EAS Participants will chose what to monitor. More specifically what Local Primary (LP) stations are expected to monitor. To get a handle on the situation they are surveying all the LP’s to see what they are ‘presently’ monitoring. The SECC determines what should be monitored and their decision is enforced by the FCC.   Radio World magazine has a new book out with an interesting title, ‘Radio Engineering in Crisis’. In their promotion piece they ask a number of questions –

  • Are the number of qualified engineers in fact declining?
  • How are companies balancing the needs of RF vs. IT?
  • What choices are available for technical training?
  • Are broadcast groups changing how they manage product buying or approaching infrastructure design with a shortage of technical talent in mind?

Should be an interesting read for those within the industry or those considering it. WSU recently released a piece called Clock is Ticking on Tackling Threat to Power Grid.

https://news.wsu.edu/2020/01/22/clock-ticking-tackling-threat-power-grid/

This is an interesting, thought provoking, item. In this day and age of hacking into computer systems where several large broadcast companies have been hit, one is always thinking about how to keep the bad guys out of your system. Within a broadcast facility, you have to be concerned about what might be called a ‘port of entry’ or the route that a ‘bug’ is able to get into your computer network. Obviously one of the first concerns are the websites, or links to things, that we have all seen. Then there is the well-meaning employee that comes in with a thumb drive containing something that they believe this just has to have at work…all the while not knowing that the little drive could well open the door to something nasty. My own computer system will, occasionally, flag and isolate one of these saving me from the grief they can cause. Think in terms of a business with a huge number of employees and computers. When your company has an ‘on-line’ presence, things can get even more scary. Sure, you can install various software solutions that are design to identify and, hopefully, isolate an unwanted interloper. That’s just one tool in the IT tool-box. One of the tools that your company has on their defensive squad is the firewall to keep the perps out of your company network. Here are a couple of definitions I found – From Barracuda Network firewalls are security devices used to stop or mitigate unauthorized access to private networks connected to the Internet, especially intranets. The only traffic allowed on the network is defined via firewall policies – any other traffic attempting to access the network is blocked. From Cisco A firewall is a network security device that monitors incoming and outgoing network traffic and decides whether to allow or block specific traffic based on a defined set of security rules. Firewalls have been a first line of defense in network security for over 25 years. Back to the story from WSU – The ever increasing problem is the rapid-rise in the number of things we have that are connected to the Internet….Some of which we, perhaps, have not considered as being an ‘Entry-Point’ for something that could ‘swim upstream’ and attack bigger things, like the computer system that’s used by public utilities.   This is a good read – something that should give us all pause. As most of you know, I’ve been a member of the Society of Broadcast Engineers for a very long time. My membership card shows that I joined on Feb. 5th of 1968…coming up on 52 years ago. Along the way, SBE determined that it needed an executive director…someone whose skills included how to guide a professional organization like SBE. In 1992 they hired John Poray (28 years ago). During my 10 years on the National Board, John had the chore of reviewing his performance – and every year we knew we were blessed to have him. A lot of mixed emotions flowed with the announcement that John is going to retire at the end of 2020. My hope is that SBE will try and fill his shoes with another person that came from the Poray mold. He certainly will be missed!

If you are looking for a change of scenery, here’s a job opening that you may want to consider: I’m looking for a motivated, experienced Chief Engineer for one of our station clusters in northern California. We need someone who has strong skills in IT, automation (we use Wide Orbit), STL’s, analog audio and FM transmitter site work. All of the transmitters are new, solid state, mostly Nautel and less than two years old.  The stations are the “live and local” types. We do dozens of remotes every month and we are fully involved with the local community. As a result, we are far-and-away the number one station group in the market! It’s a good place to work, evidenced by the fact that a substantial number of our employees have been with us for more than 20 years. Unlike the big radio groups you’ve been reading about, we’re not laying people off. Results Radio, LLC is hiring and growing!  Check our website at www.resultsradio.com. If you’re interested or can point me to someone who might be, please email me at ronc@sonic.net. Equal Opportunity Employer Ron Castro Chief Technical Officer Results Radio, LLC The new Fair Labor Standards Act is going to impact a lot of people who may not be aware of it. Here, thanks to Barry Mishkind – is a good summary: https://www.thebdr.net/articles/ops/ops/FLSA.pdf  There is a new tally of Radio broadcast stations in the US out. Perhaps no surprise to anyone, the headlines are:

  • There are more Translators
  • There are more FM’s
  • There are fewer AM’s

Because the gains are about the same as the losses – 2019 ended up about where it was to start with about 15,500 full power radio stations. One reads, or hears, about the demise of AM radio. The fact is only 26 of them went dark last year. Perhaps the total would have been much higher if the FCC had not dropped them a life-line in the form of an FM Translator. In the world of ‘Optical Broadcasting’…aka, Television – there are 1762 full power and 1892 low-power TV stations. Another, Radio related, survey looks at the various formats in use today….. The format that gained the most in 2019 was in the category often called ‘Religion’ where 92 stations joined that group where there are now over 2,000 stations. Historically a ‘Religion Station’ was one that aired mainly ‘preaching and teaching’.   Today we have a new category called  ‘Contemporary Christian’. Well known in this area is EMF which has a number of full power Stations nation-wide. Even the operator of a large number of Satellite fed low powered stations has dropped their historic preaching theme for music targeting younger ears. Seattle has a local station in that category, KCMS. There are now over 2000 claiming that format title with over 60 newcomers. Just ahead of Religion is Country with about 2200 stations. I can recall the days when there was no major radio outlet in the Seattle area that played Country Music. That all changed years ago when Country KAYO was launched. Today we have two stations, KKWF and KNUC, both owned by major broadcast companies duking it out for the ears of country fans. Country has undergone a lot of changes in recent years, making it hard to distinguish the difference between it and other formats targeting the same audience, like Taylor Swift. It appears that the steel guitars and fiddles have been put out to pasture. Other formats doing well are those playing Classic Hits and, of course, Spanish. Not many years ago the only way you would be able to hear Mexican Music is by listening to a far-away station, on the AM Band, late at night. Today we have a number of stations in this area, on AM and FM that are airing the format. One only has to peek at the Nielsen market totals to get a sense of why this is happening. In the Seattle area, out of 3,863,400 – 336,900 are Hispanic. Of course,  with more stations joining a format, you will find formats that have lost stations. Looking at the ‘losers’ category we find the following on the declining list:   Sports Talk with 23 less stations. Can Seattle be an exception to this? We still have 3 AM’s doing Sports Talk? Alternative lost 20 outlets in the past year. Again, Seattle may be bucking the trend with an apparently successful KNDD still in the mix. I can’t help but look back to when I started into this radio game – in the early 60’s – and how Radio has changed so very much. At one time, most radio stations were what was called ‘full service’. This means they air programs designed for everyone. Most stations were still airing an hourly news cast, time and temperature was standard. Music may have had some variation through the day, with many playing Country in the early mornings (perhaps aimed at farmers that got up early?) and easy listening later in the evening (people were getting ready for bed). Telephone talk programs were just starting. Sunday mornings were church services and, despite TV gaining audiences, there were still some network programs to be heard. Newspapers would run ‘program schedules’ for TV – and – Radio Stations so you would know when your favorite show would air and on what station and/or channel. As the TV footprint became larger (and the radio smaller) Radio set out to re-invent itself. Back then there were only a few ‘formats’, meaning stations that specialized in one type of music programming. There was the ‘MOR’, or ‘Middle of the Road’ format, often left-overs from the Big-Band ear (Perry Como, Frank Sinatra etc). The Rock and Roll format and, of course Country. Still, early on, all of these stations where likely to air hourly news casts (remember the telegraphers ‘Bug’ that was used for news casts on the rock stations?) Everyone wanted to air Pass Reports and the closing Stock Market numbers. Then the real revolution started – with stations (horrors) dropping their news casts (and news staffs). Specialization became the name of the game. The notion that a radio station should be all things for all people was fading in favor of a station dedicating it to a particular type of music, or, in some cases, News or Talk. Country and Rock stations would be the first to join that club. Later, as years rolled by, we have ended up with perhaps a dozen or more niche formats. Radio stations advertised based on their specialty, as they do today. This was the beginning of programming on demand, you wanted a particular audio experience, you went to where it was. To some degree, Cable TV has followed the same pattern. Sad but likely true – that 90% of the American population below the age of 30 has never read a paper map and can’t use a compass. Ever think about our reliance on GPS? Do you still carry maps in your vehicle, or perhaps a Thomas Guide? Likely not anymore. Want to go somewhere? Look up the address with your smart phone and enter that in your cars Nav-System and let it tell you how to get there. You think that FedEx and UPS or Amazon delivery people use Maps? Guess again. Now ask yourself, what would happen if that system went down? Would anyone go to the corner Gas Station to get a map? The problem with all of these wonderful technology features is our hyper-reliance on them. Those that plan on dealing with the aftermath of natural or man-caused disasters shudder to think of how helpless many could become in a very short period of time. Recently I was communicating with a person, via email, and wrote the following. Funny how when you are in your 4th quarter you think of these things –

  • With time comes knowledge based on experiences
  • With time and knowledge can come wisdom, provided you have been paying attention with an open mind.
  • If you are blessed with being able to spend a long time on this earth, always be willing to share with others.
  • Tis said that knowledge is power. However, to refuse to share your knowledge to benefit others is selfish.
  • The most efficient way to the top is by learning from the mistakes and successes of those that have come before you.
  • Part of growing up is being able to avoid the temptation to repeat the mistakes of others to satisfy your own ego.

I’m sure you are like most. You are constantly receiving Robocalls on you phone. How many are getting Robotext Messages? This seems to be a growing issue. I happened to catch the follow from the FCC’s Daily Releases back on December 27th:   Released: 2019-12-27. CONSUMER AND GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS BUREAU SEEKS COMMENT ON PETITION FOR DECLARATORY RULING FILED BY LUCAS CRANOR. (DA No. 19-1332). (Dkt No 02-278). Cranor seeks a ruling that “consumers have the right to revoke consent on receiving unwanted marketing text messages from their wireless providers at any time by any reasonable means. Comments Due: 2020-01-27. Reply Comments Due: 2020-02-11. CGB. Contact: Richard D. Smith (717) 338-2797. DA-19-1332A1.docx DA-19-1332A1.pdf DA-19-1332A1.txt Another item, or two, from the, looking back at 2019 file – CBS was the most-watched broadcast television network of 2019, attracting 7,140,000 viewers. NBC dominated among viewers 18 to 49, while many basic cable networks saw double-digit declines. This past year saw almost 4000 newspapers losing newsroom staff as the Newspaper industry continues in steep decline. Newspapers are stopping publication, combining weekend editions, combining with competitors or, as did the PI long ago, going to an on-line format altogether. The problem is that you can find a great deal of what you are looking for on-line for free. Many newspapers will put part of a story on line – and then, when you agree to pay, bring you the rest of the story. Seems to me that this is a classic case of supply and demand. I, personally, if I go out for a meal by myself like to look at a newspaper. However I am in the minority. Today the Smartphone is placed along side the knife and fork. Just after I sent my January column off for distribution the FCC announced they had granted a construction permit to Akal Media for KZIZ to move from their present site in Pacific to the former 1210 Night Site on the east side of Auburn. The new operation will be non-directional days with 3,000 Watts and 430 watts at night directional. The new operation will be using the former 1210 night towers that are still in place. Whereas I live only a couple of miles from this location, I drive by periodically. Thus far…no sign of activity. I’ve not heard who will be building the new facility. Not many, non-retired, folks these days have those skills. Can’t think of a class being taught on how to construct a directional antenna AM Radio transmitter site. Even if one were to be offered there would likely be little interest. Here’s a beautiful picture taken by the AccelNet Tower Camera at Cougar Mountain looking at downtown Seattle late in the day:

 

The FCC recently revoked three licenses for FM’s associated with a William Zawila for making what the Commish calls ‘misrepresentations’ and ‘showing lack of candor’ (perhaps you and I would use different terms?), among them Transferring control of a station, without their approval and violating their rules. The stations were in California in various markets. The FCC’s first decision, back in August of 2017 was appealed and Zawila’s appeal was rejected by an administrative law judge. It remains to be seen whether Zawila will continue to fight the decision. Also on the legal front, the DOJ (Department of Justice) has expressed concerns regarding iHeart Media and SiriusXM merging. Perhaps it should be viewed as Liberty Media buying iHeart? The reason – It would merge the biggest radio station owner with the only satellite radio provider. The size matters, however, it also attracts a lot of negative attention in the process. And…to show the Commish employs humans, the FCC recently announced that they were going to cancel forfeitures imposed on several stations after discovering that it was all a mistake. What was not disclosed was whether or not the stations lawyers aided in the process. Perhaps good news, there have been some sun-spots suggesting that the sun will indeed continue to cycle. There was a lot of concern expressed that, should the sun remain quiet that it would impact our weather, perhaps, reversing climate change warming. Currently the experts are saying the solar activity will bottom-out this coming April with the next peak, plus or minus a few months of July 2025. Of course, like a lot of things, there are experts that don’t agree. For more info read this: https://www.swpc.noaa.gov/news/solar-cycle-25-forecast-update. Here’s a relatively new term for your vocabulary – LINEAR TV. So what’s that you ask? Linear TV is a real-time television service that broadcasts scheduled programs, conventionally over the air or through satellite/ cable, not streamed to a specific user. Nearly all broadcast television services count as linear TV. The model of traditional linear television programming is for a schedule of shows to be selected by the broadcaster and then viewed in real-time, for example, if you watch a live 11 p.m. newscast on a local channel, you are likely watching Linear TV. There is also On-Demand TV. This is the term used to describe watching that newscast at a later time or delayed by some process. This is now termed non-linear TV. Now you can dazzle your friends with a new term. Wonder if this will catch-on.   Remember when TV shows would start with the announcer saying – ‘Live from______________it’s the ______________Show’? Then for a while they would tell you that the program was ‘recorded from a previous broadcast’ etc. Not so sure if content providers will be quick to use this one. Everyone using a computer or smartphone these days has run into a situation where ‘Spell-Check’ appears to stubbornly determine to spell something the way ‘it’ wants and not what you want. There are times that it refuses to let you use a word that you need to adequately convey what  you wish. This happens, a lot, when you are using technical terms that ‘spell-check’ considers that something is misspelled. Then there are times spell-check will come up with its version of something that needs to be stated. It overrides the author’s intent and it gets sent out for all to see just how stupid you must be. The February issue of Consumer Reports magazine, in its ‘Selling It’ page has a couple of great examples: The ad was supposed to read – Free WiFi Extender – but ended up as ‘FREE WIFE EXTENDER’. In another case a restaurant overlooked the text that read ‘Chocolate Mouse Brownie’. Perhaps you have had a similar, and hopefully humorous, outcome. If so, send me an email so we can share the laughs. We recently had something take place along the Washington Coast. On January 21st, the National Weather Service in Seattle issued four Tornado Warnings for Grays Harbor County on the central coast. As it turned out, thankfully, there were no reports of damage, however, it did serve as a great wake-up-call for many broadcasters and emergency managers. For instance, the Warning (in EAS Lingo a TOR) was not broadcast on the Seattle NWS Radio (162.550) but on all the NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) transmitters serving the coast from Astoria to Forks including the Capital Peak transmitter on 162.475 near Olympia. The fact that many Seattle-area based broadcasters only monitor the Seattle NWR station, and not the one on Capital Peak, many of those stations did not get the warning until it was picked up by other news services. My recommendation for all those broadcasters that have listeners and/ or viewers in areas outside of the service area of the Seattle Weather transmitter on 162.550 should install a second/ additional receiver tuned to the Capital Peak NWR station on 162.475. This is particularly important if your station has translators or a significant signal into coastal areas where those listeners/ viewer’s only connection to these warnings is via your station. The Capital Peak transmitter should be easily received in the Seattle area.   Another lesson learned here. Not all broadcasters have their EAS Equipment programmed so that it will automatically forward a potentially life-saving message, like a Tornado Warning. This is clearly a situation where minutes count, where delay could mean lives lost. I fully understand that many broadcasters are afraid of airing EAS Messages out of fear that their listeners and/ or Viewers will be tempted to change channels to avoid the message. I submit that in the case of a Tornado Warning, every Broadcaster and Cable system should be on the same page so that would not be an issue. The more broadcasters that air a short-fused warning, like a Tornado Warning, increases the odds that those in harm’s way will get the warning in a timely manner. The other factor involved here is the fact that disasters are not always timed to coincide with station staffing levels that would permit a warning to be manually put on the air without delay. Today a large percentage of stations (Radio and TV) are un-manned for long hours at a time. Having your EAS equipment programmed to automatically forward a TOR is the right thing to do. Our common goal should be to get these messages to our citizens as fast as possible. While I have the floor, there are a couple of other EAS ‘Event Codes’ that all stations (and Cable Systems) should have programmed to automatically forward (in addition to the TOR). These are EAS event codes that are NOT going to be used – unless – there is a REAL emergency. They are –   CEM – This is a CIVIL EMERGENCY Message, a warning that something extremely serious is taking place that EVERY citizen should be aware of – immediately. Examples: Riots, Sniper and mass shootings, events involving law enforcement etc. EVI – This is an EVACUATION IMMEDIATELY message. It simply means ‘time to get out of there’. The message will provide, quick/ short information as to what do so. Examples: Landslides, Fires, Flash Floods…anything that would warrant a warning to get out of harms way – QUICKLY. And finally –   SPW – This is a SHELTER IN PLACE Message. It means to close our doors and windows and turn off anything that would bring outside air – in. Examples: A Hazardous Material event in your area where going outside could mean exposure to something harmful. There could also be uses of this warning by Law Enforcement. My wish that this event in Gray Harbor County will serve as a wake-up call for all Broadcast Stations and Cable Systems to review just how they handle EAS Messages. A lesson identified, a lesson learned and a lesson addressed.     If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me and/ or your state or local Emergency Management office. I love alternative terms. A great oldie is a Janitor or Street Sweeper being referred to as a Sanitary Engineer. I recently came across a new alternative for someone that works in accounting aka book-keeper. We’ve all heard the term ‘Bean Counter’ right? Are you ready for ‘LEGUME ENUMERATOR’?? Let me know how that one works. 😊 Perhaps you have seen me write about how the ‘smart speaker’ is becoming the new, inside the home or kitchen Radio? New data released confirms my contention. According to the report, time spent listening to AM or FM radio on Smart Speakers rose to 24% in 2019 from 18% the previous year. One very positive effect of Smart Speaker listening is that it puts AM and FM Radio stations on an equal footing. These speakers are not truly radios in that they are not picking up over the air signals, but rather, they are connecting to the Internet Streams from the station. As most of you know, I work for Northwest Public Broadcasting which originates at Washington State University in Pullman. My work, with few exceptions, involves only NWPB facilities in Western Washington. Other members of the technical crew are based in Wenatchee, Tri-Cities and, of course, in Pullman. The following picture of the KRFA site was taken in early January by Jason Royals. KRFA is operated by WSU’s NW Public Broadcasting. The Station operates on 91.7 with 28 Kw ERP and covers a large portion of the SE Corner of Washington State from this site on Paradise Ridge. Their antenna is the 4-bay structure in the middle of the tower on the left side. Due to winter conditions, Jason had to snow-shoe his way in. Also on the tower is KUID-TV as well as a number of other services. In the event you are wondering — no, the tower is not bent or leaning.

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

Until then –   Clay, K7CR, CPBE

SBE Member #714 since February 5th, 1968

Clay’s Corner for January 2020

January 12, 2020
By

Clay’s Corner

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

Assuming you are reading this column in 2020 – Happy New Year. Some thoughts about this year:

  • Most will pronounce it Twenty-Twenty.
  • This decade will be pronounced the Twenty Twenties.
  • It’s been a very long time since we had 1919 and it will be a even longer until 3030.
  • 2020 is often said describing a person’s vision.
  • If you are into Roman Numerals – it’s MMXX.
  • 20/20 is an ABC TV news magazine.
  • 2020 will be a Leap-Year (quick check your calendar to make sure).
  • February this year will have 5 Saturdays.
  • It’s been 20 years since Y2K. (Remember that one?)
  • 2020 will be a presidential election in the U.S. (good news for broadcasters as a lot of money will be spent on advertising.

The end of a decade is, traditionally, a time to look back. Here are some of my thoughts at this time about events and changes in technology that have impacted many of us.

The Tiger Mountain Antenna Fire

In all my years in this game, I’ve seen many antenna failures. The failure of the Channel 11 antenna on Capital Hill comes to mind. In that case, they had to go back to their historic site at View Park to stay on the air (I was the last transmitter operator at that old site). The Tiger Mountain event, a year ago, caused six radio stations to be immediately thankful that they had auxiliary facilities – elsewhere. In years past, having this much redundancy would be but a dream. Sadly, in smaller markets, an event like this would have meant much more off-air time. Today, the switching to back up equipment is likely seamless and automatic. Hopefully the owners of those ‘very-mature’ Auxiliary transmitters will see the need to replace them.

Drones

Too bad Igor Sikorsky is not alive to witness what has happened to his helicopter! It’s amazing what these multi-bladed little machines can and are doing these days…not just in our business but many others. In TV they are the key to those, long wished for, overhead shots for news, sporting events and, of course, the production of spots. On the technical side, it was a drone, flown by Alex Brewster, that provided close up videos of the fire-damaged antenna at West Tiger, so the manufacturer, far away, could see for themselves what had happened, all of this in a very short time period. Recently, while chasing a source of interference to an FM Station, WSU’s Martin Gibbs deployed his specially equipped drone to fly a circular pattern around the suspected station while recording the radiation pattern of their antenna. The final presentation showed their actual antenna pattern overlaid on a Google Earth picture was not omni-directional as the owner thought and clearly showed why there was co-channel interference. Again, something that would have been impossible without the little drone that arrived on site in a small package. In days past, having a pilot on staff meant someone who could fly a light-plane or helicopter…another great example of how far we have come.

Video Cameras

Back when I was working in TV, cameras used vacuum tubes to pick up images and where NOT small. Image devices have come a very long way now, producing superior pictures and doing so in very small form-factors. Examples are in the drones. High Definition, broadcast quality pictures it a tiny package that weigh almost nothing. It’s hard to remember how we thought that Image Orthicons and Plumbicons were cool. The picture taking drone would not have been possible without the advancements in imaging devices in recent years.

Vacuum Tubes

They have served us well for many years. First our Radio and TV studios saw them be replaced with solid state systems.…leaving just the really big ones working in transmitters. The first to make the switch from tubes was AM Radio. Now there are just a few Tubes still working in FM Broadcast transmitters. Likely the reason they are still at work is that many of these transmitters were built extremely well. As an example, when the FM Antenna burned at West Tiger, many of those stations relied on Vacuum Tube transmitters that were 40 years old. Today, as these are replaced, the tube era will go away as well. TV is in the same boat as FM. Today, finding a person that knows their way around vacuum tubes has become rare.

The LED

Probably one of the greatest inventions of our time is the LED or Light Emitting Diode. They were, at first, used as a replacement for little light bulbs that showed the status of a device. Later, as the technology improved, the LED was being used to replace light bulbs of all kinds. The illumination of homes and business have switched to LEDs as have vehicle head and taillights, traffic signals, tower and obstruction lighting and, of course – Christmas decorations. Lighting our studios has also seen the Lightbulb go away. Gone are those heat producing spots and scoops as well as the air conditioning required. Let’s not forget displays that have become huge. Wonder what Thomas Edison would have thought if he were to stand at Safeco or T-Mobile Park? Dazzling displays, not a shadow to be seen and not a lightbulb in sight!

AM Radio

Who would have thought that the birthplace of broadcasting would, in many cases, be struggling to survive 100 years later? Despite all the competition for people’s ears, Radio continues to survive, however the portion that is AM continues to shrink. It is rare today to find an AM Station in the top 10 of the ratings. The number of AM transmitter manufacturers has been reduced to a handful. Locally there are exceptions with 710 and 770 recently investing in the legacy band with the purchase of new transmitters. There’s a lot of interest now on changing the modulation scheme from AM to DM (Digital Modulation) as a means of giving consumers what they have come to expect from a radio station. It’s early, and the jury is certainly out, as to whether this will catch on and breath new life into where it all started. One thing to watch in the coming couple of years will be the 100th birthday of many of our AM Stations. Guess the question is whether or not they will be celebrating. Yes, folks, KJR is, according to a recent piece by John Schneider, 100, going on 101.

Bonded Cellular

Cellular telephone systems have been around for awhile now and have been used by broadcasters for some time, especially in today’s ‘smartphones’. The big change has been the bonding or combining of two or more cellular signals, so that the bandwidth can be combined to equal something that will permit wide-band audio or video to be transmitted. This changed everything. Now you did not need a pneumatic mast and a clear shot to your receiver to transmit audio and video from remote locations. Wonder if anyone, holding one of those Motorola ‘Brick’ cellphones would have even dreamed of this day?

The, Desktop Computer

Just recently, while cleaning out an attic of a local station, I ran across a P.C. with a label on the front proudly stating that it was a ‘286’ (I’ll have some pictures in a future column). This one featured two large floppy disc-drives! Likely the monitor that was used with it was Green or Amber. Wow, have these devices come a long way. Now we have hard drives with storage measured in Terabytes. Today, everyone has a computer at their desk, and we cannot imagine being without it. Portable machines have some a long way, in a short time.

How we communicate with each other

Finally, after what seemed like a long time – we were able to come up with a standardized means for computers to talk with each other and computer networking was born. At one time the average desktop PC was a stand-alone device. If you wanted a file on another computer, you transferred that file to a disk and walked over to the other machine and inserted the disk, etc. Early connections for PCs involved devices that would enable multiple machines to share printers…and later, electronically transfer files from machine to machine. (Anyone remember Twin-Ax?) First within a station and later to everywhere. Hard to imagine how it used to be. When I first started writing this column, I was using an Apple II (the MSDOS machine would come later). I would send the completed column to the editor, via a dial-up modem at the blazing speed of 300 baud. Today I compose the column using Word and send it to whomever I wish, almost instantly, via email and the Internet. Who would have dreamed we’d all know what ‘Snail Mail’ meant?

How things communicate with each other

The same technology that permits computers to communicate with each other has spread, much of our broadcast equipment has become specialized computers. Today, as they say, ‘everything’ has become IP (Internet Protocol). Gone are huge amounts of wiring, replaced by the ubiquitous ‘Network Cable’, along with the now, universal, RJ45 Connector.

Then there is the wireless version, WiFi, Wireless Routers, Bluetooth, and 802.11 systems etc. have all become the norm.

Who would have predicted that the pressure for more wireless gizmos would create a need so big that the purveyors of this technology would ‘purchase’ the needed spectrum from the FCC, and that money would be used to shuffle TV channels, and buy new transmitting equipment, to make room for it all?

The inter-connection that changed it all

Today our world has been changed, dramatically to the point that most of us are interconnected to each other via that wonderful thing called the Internet. We have watched its capability expand in terms of geography as well as bandwidth and speed. Not very long ago, watching TV meant that you had cable. Then came ‘cord-cutting’ and people were, switching from Over the Air TV watching to the Internet. TVs have changed in recent years to the point that almost all of them are what are called ‘Smart’, meaning that you can watch OTA TV, TV via the Internet or look for whatever via your favorite web browser. New to a lot of people in 2020 will be the discovery of the Antenna. The concept of Free TV is foreign to many!

How we communicate with equipment

In the past, equipment all came with a ‘Control Panel’ in some form. Knobs, buttons, switches, meters etc. The tools of the trade were your fingers and the famous little green screwdriver. Today, as more and more equipment has become computer based, operation of equipment requires the use of a keyboard, mouse (or trackball) and perhaps a touchscreen. I recall one the transmitter manufacturers, reluctantly putting a power output meter on the front of their transmitters out of fear that no one would buy one without it. Unfortunately, those that design some, rather simple equipment, no longer employ designers that knew how to adjust things with that little green screwdriver, when that approach would have been much simpler.

How we store stuff

Way back in the dark ages, we would record audio and video spots and programs on reel-to-reel tape which was stored in the station’s ‘library’. That’s all gone as these things are now stored on Hard Drives with capacities that were science fiction not that long ago.

The Cloud

As the required amount of computing storage and hardware for each station became bigger and bigger and more expensive, along came a solution called “The Cloud”. I guess that name clicked because it meant ‘out there somewhere’. Today, many of the big names that own data centers (Microsoft, Amazon etc.) have created these huge facilities full of computers called ‘Data Centers’ that provide the required computing horse power and storage required by broadcasters (and everyone else for that matter). As time goes by, more of this will take place. Perhaps to the point that the Local P.C. will only have minimal capability leaving all the heavy lifting to the cloud. Perhaps you are already using what Microsoft called ‘One Drive’. If so, you have some of your files’ In the Cloud. Who would have predicted that many locations in the out-back of Eastern Washington would see the giant buildings be constructed?

Wow – I could go on and on with this.

So where is this all going to go in the next decade? Certainly, everything will continue to become computer based. Bandwidths will continue to increase. 5G will become a reality, with broadcasters making extensive use of it. The Vacuum Tube will become but a memory. The curve of technological advances will continue to become steeper and IP will become as much of a standard as 60 Hz AC Power. AM Radio (no tears please) will continue to decline overall (yes, there will be bright spots) with the total number of stations declining to levels of yesteryear. FM Radio will continue to duke it out for the ears of one place where the medium still reigns, the automobile. TV will continue to be a major factor, thanks to our love for sports and the ability to display it on a large screen. Next Gen TV will be tough, not for what it can do, but for the lack of knowing how to do it. Many times we have created something, because we can, not because of demand for it. Certainly the jury is out. Jobs in broadcasting will continue to offer exciting opportunities. Just that staffing levels will never be the same as yesteryear. Oh yes, we will almost certainly have more cyber attacks. ☹

As I look back at almost 60 years in this game, I have to conclude it’s been a great ride. I also have this feeling that I have been in it at just the right time. Whether anyone will take on the challenge of writing a column like this…only time will tell. I’ve ended up being, mainly a transmitter guy, even though I did not start out that way. It’s nice, as I am largely working on my own, doing what I love. As long as there is wireless, there are systems that will break and have to be repaired. Certainly, what’s known as ‘component level repair’ will, if it has not already, disappear. I don’t know many that have an interest in doing what I have been doing for all these years. ‘Twas said, ‘There is nothing more constant than change’. Attending a meeting of my peers I see a ‘sea of gray hair’ with a few bright spots (those that still have hair) and I am reminded of how things appeared many years ago. It’s all a cycle, and the cycle repeats.

My readers know that I often talk about the weather…perhaps because this was one of my hobbies when I was a kid. One thing about this neck of the woods, there is never a lack of something to write about. This year, what’s on my mind this past November is how dry the weather had been. I was remarking to some friends over breakfast on December 2nd that it would have to rain about 10 inches in December to get our precipitation total up to normal.

According to those that accurately track these things, this past November was the driest since 1976 with only 1.71 inches in the gauge. That’s about 75% below normal. November is supposed to be one of our wettest months. Extend this and our snow-pack will be impacted and that could spell a lot of trouble. In early December that was running less than 50% of normal.

Mother nature has a way to deal with situations like this. This is why there are often great differences between ‘Weather’ and ‘Climate’. This December has been a great example of how that works. Suddenly, about mid-month, we were hearing terms like ‘Atmospheric River’ and without further delay the skies opened up and the Monsoons were well underway. Now we were hearing familiar terms…like Winter Storm warnings for the mountains, Flood Watches etc. As the rains continued, we set all-time records for amounts of precipitation, following by warnings for flooding and landslides. Suddenly that dry period was ‘washed’ away in our minds to the point that the natives were complaining about the amount of rain.

Some of the interesting records set:

The gloomiest day in 20 years. U-Dub, apparently, tracks the amount of solar energy reaching the ground. For those of you that have solar-panels, it was a bust. In addition, this was the Winter Soltice making it the shortest and darkest day.

December 20 was the fifth rainiest day ever! Seattle recorded just over three inches, while some areas got over four. The rain-shadow of the Olympics, once again, did it’s job with some locations there only getting an inch or so. Seattle was actually wetter than Forks!

Now that is some kind of record.

Looking at the Sea-Tac totals on Dec 20th:

  • Thus far in December 6.33 inches
  • Total since January 1 – 32.25 inches
  • Normal  – 35.66 inches

Bottom line – Even after all of this we are still below normal!

Then there is the issue of the amount of rainfall that people all over think we get. I recently ran across a survey of 50 Cites in the US that were to have the most rainfall in 2019. I’ll bet those that saw the same thing were looking for a city in this area…Sorry folks , we aren’t even in that list.

To help put things into perspective – Utqiagvik (previously known as Barrow), Alaska is in the midst of winter and having to deal with 67 days of darkness!

Cyber attacks continue to make the news and broadcasters continue to be victims. Recently KHQ-TV in Spokane was hit. One of their spokespersons said the attack targeted the software they use to prepare newscasts for all the stations in the Cowels group. Reportedly, the station informed their viewers they were having technical difficulties that impacted their ability to air graphics and video their viewers were used to. This caused the news to be presented the way it used to be handled prior to becoming dependent on computers. This made doing weather forecasts a challenge. Wonder if they had to call some folks that had long retired to figure out how to do things? Reading off of paper on live TV – Yikes!

Meanwhile, Entercom was hit by a second cyber-attack. Rightfully, the big radio company has not released much information about this one, so as to not encourage anyone. Apparently, the impact of this one was not as severe as the one in September, indicating the attack was different or their countermeasures were working. According to published reports, Entercom lost millions in the previous event, which may help explain why they have been shedding staff and not making capital investments.

The dependence on computer systems in today’s broadcast stations is….looking for the best word….almost ‘complete’. With today’s graphics, computer driven teleprompters and content on servers, it would be interesting to see how today’s news anchors would deal with typed pieces of paper on the desk in front of them. Without computers, today’s radio would be a bit better off as the mass scramble could not be seen.

I had a recent Ransomware experience at KVTI in Lakewood. In this case, the perps got to one of the PCs in the on-air studio that’s only used for research and communications. In this case, it was a simple matter of quickly replacing the stand-alone computer while the victim was taken to the shop to be ‘dis-infected’.

One target of ransomware are government entities. In some cases, some have actually paid the perps to get their systems back up and running.

The following picture was sent my way by an old friend who gets to see sunrises I don’t, as all my views are to the West. Thanks Neil!

It’s always sad to write about the passing of someone you knew. In this case, the unexpected passing of John Lyons at age 71, who was famous for his work with transmission facilities in New York City. The loss of the Twin Towers on 9/11, 4 Times Square, The Empire State Building and One World Trade Center are all broadcast transmitter facilities that have his name all over them in his role with the Durst Organization.

I would meet and chat with John at various NAB and SBE functions over the years, where I always found him to be easy to talk to, with a warm and quick sense of humor. He was a Fellow of the Society of Broadcast Engineers. NYC lost a giant in our industry.

Another passing to note, listed in the Silent Key column of the most recent QST was Phil Ferrell, K7PF. I first got connected with Phil back in the 70s when I was involved with Amateur Radio Repeater frequency coordination. Phil operated one of the first 2 meter repeaters in the area on 146.88, then known as ‘The Seattle Repeater’. He and his wife, Joni, were very good to me. He knew I was in broadcasting and loved to tease me about ‘patch cords’ (for some reason). His educational resume was most impressive – B.S. Physics, 1955, CalTech; Professional Engineer, 1966, state of Washington; PhD Electrical Engineering, 1970, University of Washington. Perhaps the only person I’ve ever known with a PhD in EE. He retired from Boeing in 1993. According to QST, he resided in Auburn, which was news to me. QRZ still shows his Port Ludlow address. Phil was 86.

Recently, several changes at the Federal Level caused EAS participants to have to perform upgrades to their EAS Equipment. In some cases, several hundred dollars were spent in the process. Whereas the FCC required that this upgrade be done, broadcasters had no choice but pay the price. In some cases, those that own and operate this equipment are not broadcasters but government entities that have to fund it.

Then there are some special circumstances. One of which is the Seattle Weather Forecast Office (WFO) for NWS. Many years ago, the Washington SECC, set out to fully integrate NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) into our area’s EAS system. In the end, NWR/Seattle, in many ways, looks like a radio station. In their case, their ‘programming’ comes from the computers that generate weather forecasts and warnings. Their ‘transmitters’ are the various NWR transmitters in the region. In Seattle, the local transmitter is KHB-60 on 162.550 which broadcasts from Cougar Mt., co-located with broadcasters. The beauty of this system is that a person with a NOAA Weather Radio will receive, not only Weather Warnings, but all EAS warnings as well.

The EAS equipment at the NWS has all been donated, as there is no funding for this system via NOAA, as this is the only place in the U.S. with this arrangement. (Sometimes called the Seattle Experiment) Much of the labor was performed by the late Jim Tharp and continues to this day thanks to the efforts of Lowell Kiesow.

When the time came to update the EAS equipment for the Seattle WFO – we had a situation that was unique – State Emergency Management could not fund it as they are prohibited from funding something used by a Federal agency. The NWS could not fund it as it is, technically, not approved for it. This meant that for the system to continue, a volunteer source of funding was needed.

I am, abundantly pleased, to announce that the required upgrade was – DONATED  by Broadcast Supply Worldwide (BSW) in Tacoma.

I want to publicly thank the management of BSW for their donation and support of our Emergency Alert System in this area. Next time you are shopping for broadcast equipment, and in the process, contact BSW and please take a moment to thank them for their contribution.

I am proud that many, across the country, continue to point to Washington State as an example of what EAS can do. It is through voluntary contributions of time and materials we have been able to achieve so much.

Before I leave this topic , if you would like to join our team, we’d love to have you. You are welcome to attend the next SECC Meeting, Tuesday, January 14th at 9:30 a.m. at Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood, or you can call me or send me an email for all the details.

The FCC recently announced some – huge – fines related to some unlicensed radio stations. Radio TeleBoston was fined $453,015 and Radio Concord $151.005 due to them apparently ignoring warnings to halt their unlicensed operations. Now the big questions –

  • Will they actually end up paying the fine?
  • Will they claim the don’t have the funds and end up paying a fraction of it?
  • Will then simply not pay anything and get away with it?

I will start believing the FCC means business when –

  • They actually collect the fine amount.

-or-

  • The pirate operators start spending jail time.

WWFD in Fredrick, MD continues making news with their operation as an All Digital station on 820. A lot of eyes and ears are on this experiment of turning off their AM signal in favor of running all digital.

For some in depth information on this operation, check out recently issues of Radio World and Radio World Engineering Extra.

Some of the highlights are –

  • The station, despite not being able to be received by an AM Radio is, attracting enough listeners to show up in the local Nielsen Ratings.
  • The FCC has renewed their Special Temporary Authority (STA) to continue in this mode.
  • The Commisson is asking whether this should be a permitted mode of operation by issuing an NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rule Making).

There are a number of things a digital only AM can do that a conventional AM cannot –

  • Operate in Stereo (Granted you could run the old AM Stereo system).
  • Offer relatively noise free reception.
  • Broadcast the visual content that, today, is only offered by FM-HD stations meaning Song Title and Artist information and Album Art.

The only down side is the station cannot be received on a standard AM Radio. Perhaps the bottom line will involve some simple math. Will the ability of an ever increasing number of digital receivers, coupled with the fact that to a consumer an all-digital AM have the same look and feel as an FM or FM band HD station, overcome the fact that legacy AM receivers will not be able to ever hear the station?

Up until the development of Digital TV and HD Radio, the FCC had been very concerned about reverse compatibility. Since that time, this has not been a stumbling block to gaining FCC approval. Perhaps this is underscored by the fact that they are willing to issue an NPRM?

The other major factor is that the FCC has been pressured to do something to save AM Radio. Their reaction has been a number of rule changes and, of course, the ability of an AM to put on the air an FM Translator. It’s interesting to note that WWFD was one of those AMs that constructed an FM Translator, whereby they concluded that most of their audience had switched to their FM translator that helped pave the way for them electing to experiment with changing their AM to all-digital.

The question that comes to mind is how many other AMs are in the same boat and how many of them will figure there is little down-side to changing their AM to all digital. My guess is that this is a question that’s being asked by many.

Another potential candidate for digital AM are those AMs that are part of a larger cluster of FMs that are supporting the AM, without whose support would likely go off the air. These groups may see the conversion of their AM to digital attractive.

The impact of this on in-home listening will likely be minimal (except for those that still have an AM radio in their kitchen). Today most in-home radio listening is via a ‘smart speaker’ that’s not really a radio in the conventional sense, but rather a device that can play the stations streamed programming.

Finally, will we see a digital AM in our area? I hope so …I’d love to personally be able to see how well it works.

Oh yes, what about Canada. Will we, one day, see this spread across the border?

A fascinating time, indeed.

Indeed ‘Smart Speaker’ has become a fixture in many households. My grand daughter was the first one in our family to have one…and to her surprise, it was also a radio. Broadcasters were often caught off guard with these devices and scrambled to come up with means for dealing with them. Radio is still not the major use of these gizmos…however the trend is certainly upward, which is good news. As I pointed out earlier, this is today’s in-home radio…and so much more.

In today’s world the term ‘on-demand’ is the key. It used to be that you had to look up a program schedule in the newspaper to find out when, what you sought, would be on a radio or TV station. Today, we have come to expect what we want – WHEN – we want it. The key to making all this work is, of course, the computer networks of today that give us our connected world.

For those of you that long for the look of a classic, in home, table top radio, I recently ran across this item:

Rerii Handmade Walnut Bluetooth Speaker

Even the old-school holdout can join the modern world with this wireless speaker that pairs with smartphones, tablets, and other Bluetooth-enabled devices. But it still receives AM/FM radio stations, and the carved walnut case makes it look like a long-treasured heirloom.

I love it! You can have one for $60 from Amazon.

For those of us that are involved with towers, news of a tower failure is something that gets our attention. Recently a 500 tower in Northwest Nebraska came down due to a heavy ice storm.

The tower supported an antenna for KQSK…as well as the National Weather Service.

A pretty steady stream of news about C-Band. But let’s not take our eyes of what’s called mid-band. The NAB has warned the FCC that permitting unlicensed users on the 6 GHz band can still interfere with electronic news gathering.

Looking for a job in Radio? Here are a couple of openings that might interest you:

The FCC recently announced they were allocating $17.2 Million of reimbursement money for FM stations that were impacted by the TV channel Repack program. Understand there were 87 FMs effected. To my knowledge, none in this immediate area.

HD Radio continues to grow in this area…a very different situation in smaller markets, however. Here many Non-Commercial FMs are running HD. Recently Latino broadcaster, Bustos Media joined the ‘HD Radio Club’ with the purchase of 102.9 which transmits from Capital Peak SW of Olympia. Not long afterward, KZTM added an HD-2. Bustos has been growing rapidly in recent years. Here is what they have in Western Washington:

From Capital Peak, SW of Olympia – 102.9 – KZTM-FM and HD, KZTM HD-2

From South Mountain, West of Shelton – 99.3 – KDDS-FM

From near Mt. Vernon -103.3 – KZNW-FM

From Auburn – 1210 – KMIA (AM)

I understand another station may become part of this group. Perhaps some news for next month?

Work is progressing on the new studios for KING-FM in Seattle. Due to the sale of their present home at Queen Ann and Harrison (just west of Key Arena) they are moving around the corner and down Mercer, where they will be in the same building at the Seattle Opera.

Here you can see Mike Brooks (on the right) working in what will be the new KING-FM on-air studio. The new consoles are all Wheatstone. This will spell the end for one of the last PR&E consoles in this area.

 

Here’s an early view of the KING-FM ‘Rack-Room’. Lots of empty space at this point that will be filled with equipment.

For a number of years, KING-FM has been operating HD Radio from their facility on West Tiger, using a mode that is a bit unique. They are transmitting with HD Radio power levels that are different than most, in that their HD Power level is higher on one side of their FM than the other.

A process called Asymmetric Sidebands. They’ve been doing this via what’s called a Special Temporary Authority or STA (Similar process to the AM running all digital I wrote about earlier).

Now the FCC is being formally asked to move this from a mode requiring an STA to something permitted by the NAB, NPR as well as Xperi, the digital radio developer.

Whether or not a station can operate with asymmetric HD sidebands is determined by the proximity and coverage of adjacent channel stations. It’s likely many stations would wish to do this, if it were an outright permitted mode of operation as it would increase their digital coverage. (The reason KING-FM opted to do this several years ago.)

Late news – Xperi, the outfit behind HD-Radio, has agreed to merge with TiVo,  creating a company worth about 2.24 Billion Bucks.

The following is in an interesting chart showing the growth of HD Radio over time from Xperi:

Have you been keeping track of Sun-Spots? If you are like most, the answer is probably no.

If you are a Ham Radio operator that operates on what are called the ‘HF Bands’ the answer is likely yes.

Our nearest Star (we call it The Sun) operates in a cyclical manner. That every 11 years it varies between being active (producing a lot of sun-spots) and quiet (having very few). Presently the sun is in the midst of a very deep, if not historic, solar minimum…the quietest period since 1913. This impacts radio propagation on the AM Broadcast Band as well as the spectrum immediately above it (where many Hams operate). These 11 year cycles are also tied, by many, to weather conditions and other events. Many years ago, there was a very long period of solar minimum that was thought to have contributed to a cool-down period.

The follow graphs shows these cycles and where we are now:

One final note of interest, the year 1913 cited earlier for its lack of sunspots on the order of 311 days was a year filled with wild weather extremes including the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth in Death Valley, CA.

There is a local connection keeping track of solar activity. Tad Cook, K7RA posts a great deal of information on the ARRL Web Site. Visit http://arrl.org/propagation-of-rf-signals  the ARRL Technical Information Service, read http://arrl.org/the-sun-the-earth-the-ionosphere  “What the Numbers Mean.

Old friend, Donn Harvey, has a good idea of my sense of humor and appreciation for certain things and submitted the following –

According to the records of the NWS, Seattle has a 5% chance of having a White Christmas.

Just for the record…Here’s a picture of West Tiger on Christmas Eve 2019:

That’s about it for this month, my friends.

Hope you had a wonderful Holiday Season and may 2020 be the best yet.

Lord willing, I will be back to most of the same locations next month at this time.

Until then –

Clay, K7CR, CPBE

SBE Member for over 50 years, #714

 

 

 

 

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