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Clay’s Corner for July 2017

July 24, 2017


Clay’s Corner

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

Finally, as if Mother Nature was watching the calendar, summer arrived in our area about the 21st of June.  As if a switch was thrown, our gray cool weather was replaced with sun and warmth.  In fact, on the 25th the temps were in the 90’s.  Around these parts – This is HOT!  But not fear, our natural air-conditioning was right around the corner.  For those of you that are not in this area and reading this column, let me explain how this works.  In the summer, the Seattle area is dry…sometimes very dry…to the point that we fear wild-fires, etc.  However, unlike other areas of the country our weather has a couple of distinct differences …1) We have summer weather cycles.  The temps will go up and up and then, after a hot day, you will wake up to thick, low, overcast and dramatically cooler weather,with the sun peeking out in the late afternoon as the clouds burn off.  Each day the clouds burn off earlier and the days get warmer until you are back to clear skies all day.  This is caused by our proximity to the ocean and the changing of wind directions from off-shore to on-shore flow.  This is what we call our natural air conditioner.  What makes it interesting is that you can go higher in elevation and get to see all of this taking place below you as you bask in sun all day.  2) We have a very unique relationship with humidity.  During  the winter, when many areas experience low humidity, ours is the highest.  During the summer, when our temperatures go up, our humidity actually goes down.  People that live in the East and Southeast parts of the country have come to believe that humidity and temperatures track each other…Not the case in the Pacific Northwest, which makes this area such a wonderful place to be during the summer.  Let me not forget the fact that we must have sun for the famous Fremont Solstice Parade…You would not want all that body paint to run would you? One of the major firms in radio broadcasting, Cumulus, is still dealing with a mountain of debt and now there are reports that they may be the target of a hostile takeover.  Reportedly, Lew Dickey has launched a new company that may have that in mind.  Mr. Dickey was forced out of the company a couple of years ago.  The plot thickens. Not very often do you hear about someone developing a new antenna…but that’s  apparently what a company in Redmond, WA has done.  They’ve come up with a ‘flat’ antenna that, potentially, has a lot of people talking.  Vehicle makers should be interested because they could have an antenna that does not look like a shark fin.  Airplanes could have one that does not introduce wind resistance, etc.  The Company – Kymeta – has some very heavy duty backers and sharp people on the project.  And, of course, we are proud to have them in the Seattle area.  Redmond is located NE of Seattle and is more famously known for a little software outfit you might have heard about….Microsoft.  For more information – take a look at – You need a program these days to keep track of who is buying who.  Mergers and acquisitions are certainly popular.  One of the big names in audio streaming now has a new investor.  SiriusXM, the satellite radio company, has just invested $480 Million in Pandora, a huge name in the world of streaming. Likely due to pressure from many quarters, the FCC appears to be increasing the pressure on Pirate Radio Stations.  First the Commish uses their famous ‘warning letter’ telling the party to turn if off.  Realizing that the FCC has a limit as to what they can do (their warning letters often are ignored), Commissioner Michael O’Reilly admitted that they need additional tools to deal with the problem.  He’s asked Congress to do just that by allowing larger fines and the ability to seize equipment of the violators.  The problem is that the present administration is proposing that the FCC’s budget be cut and staff reduced.  Add to this the fact that a number of these operators simply ignore their fines.  Perhaps Congressional action is the only thing that will provide the tools to finally deal with this issue?   As I was driving to our favorite frozen yogurt shop recently I could not help but notice this sign:

For those of you that are not in the broadcast business, an ‘Air Check’ is a recording made of a person when they are actually on the air that has been edited to eliminate other items in the broadcast.  In this case, the sign is at a business servicing vehicles that wants you to come in to have your tire pressures checked.  (Note the fueling nozzle in the upper left.)  They likely have never heard of the other use of the term ‘Air Check’. Here we go again.  The FCC is, again, opening a filing windows for more FM translators for AM stations.  This time for Class C and D Stations (the two lower classes).  Not sure that this will impact the FM band in larger markets as the band is pretty full.  Another thing to watch will be the prices that AM stations will be willing to pay to add an FM.  There are a lot of very creative things happening with all of this….We will have to wait and see what transpires.   In recent columns I have mentioned one of the giants of business in the Seattle area, Amazon.  Seems like this rapidly growing firm is in the news frequently.  Most recently, in the middle of June, they announced that they are buying Whole Foods for a meager $13.7 Billion.  There a lot of people wondering where Amazon will go next.  When you have lots of money, you normally buy stuff!  One impact of this move has been to lower stock prices on others that sell food, and this includes another Seattle area based company, Costco.  When you are huge – the fear is that you will dominate a particular retail segment. Let us not forget that Amazon has a broadcast connection.  You can now purchase radio and TV broadcast equipment from the Big-A.  Additionally, Amazon employs broadcast engineers.  I discovered that fact while recently visiting their site while preparing this column.  One has to wonder what impact they will have on the traditional suppliers of equipment for the broadcast industry! My readers have probably concluded that I like to boast about certain aspects of the Seattle or Pacific Northwest area.  Some statistics are good, while others are bad.  For example, a recent survey has determined that there is a 72 percent increase in the number of people who commute 90 minutes.  Think of it this way – if you are one of those, and you work 9 to 5, you have to leave for work at 7:30 a.m. and don’t get back home until 6:30.  The rapid expansion of business and population in this region has made the Puget Sound area the 3rd fast growing mega-commuter region in the country.  The traffic congestion is not just in Seattle, but region wide.  This directly impacts me.  For example, it will often take me a hour to drive from my home in Auburn to Lakewood SW of Tacoma.  Highway 18 has become a commuter route for people going to and from work, which means that I often am ‘caught in traffic’ just trying to get to Tiger Summit, where I (fortunately) get to drive faster on that one-lane gravel road than on the highway I just exited.  What is making things worse, at a rapid pace, are the sky-rocketing prices of houses.  The closer to the center of the city the higher the prices…the impact of which is to force workers to head out of town where prices are more reasonable and this puts them on the roads as commuters.  Recently a boarded up shack in Seattle’s Greenwood district sold for over $450,000. The S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index, reported a 5.8% annual gain in March, up from 5.7% last month and setting a 33-month high.  Seattle, Portland, and Dallas reported the highest year-over-year gains among the 20 cities.  In March, Seattle led the way with a 12.3 % year-over-year price increase, followed by Portland with 9.2% surge.  From this study, here are some results for cities where my column is read: Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, Colorado  Year-over-year home price change 8.4%; median home value, March 2017 $366,000; 3-yr population change 5.7%; median household income $70,283. Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, Oregon-Washington  Year-over-year home price change 9.2%; median home value, March 2017 $360,000; 3-yr population change 4.9%; median household income $63,850.   Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Washington  Year-over-year home price change 12.3%; median home value, March 2017 $440,000; 3-yr population change 5.2%; median household income $75,331. Everyone in Broadcasting knows what HD means –  For TV it’s High Definition, for Radio it means that Digital Radio thing.  Did you know that in Seattle we have a firm that appears to be in the HD Business?  I was creeping along a freeway recently behind one of their trucks and could not resist pulling out my camera so I could share.

I really enjoyed listening to KONP while on the North Olympic Peninsula recently.  If anyone wants to experience small market radio, this is a great example of a station doing it right.  I had to smile however at their traffic reports.  Port Angeles is one of those locations that does not really have freeways, unless you count US 101 going to Sequim.  Freeways, to us in this area, are multiple lane highways without traffic signals with higher speed limits, that don’t charge for parking!  The big news was they were paving part of a highway west of town.  I wonder if they realize how lucky they are?  I did find it interesting that they were going to broadcast – live – the local high school graduation ceremony.  Kudos to Todd at KONP for his work at being a true community radio station. I can, perhaps, understand how a small market station might not keep up with the rules regarding the Emergency Alert System, and get caught by the FCC.  However, it’s a bit hard to grasp how a major ownership could let something take place that would net them a huge FCC fine for EAS violations, but that’s just what happened to Tegna, who will now pay 55 Grand for running an ad with false EAS Tones.  In this case, it happened with their Channel 12, WTLV in Jacksonville, when they aired a spot that started with EAS tone and the sounds of a storm and a voiceover that stated, “This is an emergency broadcast transmission.  This is not a test.  This is an emergency broadcast transmission.  This is not a test.  Please remain calm.  Seek shelter”.  As, all too often, those that create these spots are just looking for something to grab the viewers’ attention and have little or no knowledge of the FCC’s EAS Rules.  In this case, a staffer at the station heard the spot and they stopped airing it….But not until the damage had been done.  I’ll be that there was a pretty easy to understand memo circulating inside Tegna. On the topic of EAS…..the FCC is out with an NPRM that would create a new Event Code, BLU.  You will find all kinds of information about this on the Washington State EAS Remailer.  The WaState SECC will be dealing with this and other EAS issues at their regular meeting on July 13th at CPTC in Lakewood.  To subscribe, go here – I bring you this web-site just becuz – There is a new player in town in the world of devices able to be a radio receiver, in the form of Amazon’s Alexa.  You have perhaps seen the TV Spot for the device where the actor approaches Alexa and asks it questions and gets frustrated?  Like all computer based gizmos, GiGo (Garbage in equals Garbage out) is the rule.  You have to say something that the device recognizes or you end up getting the wrong thing.  Stations that use slogans more than call letters have to be careful for there may be duplications.  For instance in Seattle a person may ask for ‘The Wolf’ but not know that there are many ‘Wolfs’ in the country just like there are a lot of Mix 100’s, or Boss 99’s etc.  This new device has caused radio broadcasters to suddenly be in a nation-wide race to be the first to have – their – station be the one that Alexa recognizes.  The way Amazon’s policies work stipulates that only one entity can have a particular name, meaning there can only be one Mix FM or Lite FM or Z100.  The first radio station to build what Amazon calls a ‘skill’ under that name and win Amazon’s approval locks up that real estate.  Add to this equation the Google version.  Call letters are usually unique.  However, there are exceptions where you have an AM/FM that are only unique with one of them appending their letters with FM.  Who would have thought that these devices would cause the broadcasters to change.  Suddenly a station that only covers a specific geographic area has to think almost globally.  Then again, a station might wish to use a different slogan for their OTA product than what they use in streaming.  It’s also likely that the advantage may go to the larger groups that that have the resources to devote to this new issue.  Small mom and pop operations could (again) find themselves with the sort end of the stick.  Then there is this issue with speech recognition.  Those with an accent could be at a disadvantage.  Unlike some telephone-based system, you are not likely to have an ‘operator’ sort things out for you.  I look for a number of broadcast outlets having to fine-tune their alternative names, as these devices become more popular, and, in effect, bring Radio back into homes.  These things may also have an impact on the devices know as Internet Radios.  Time will tell. This got me to thinking…I wonder just how many people today actually go out and purchase a radio for their home.  It used to be that every kitchen, night stand etc. had a radio.  Not so much the case these days.  Recently, while shopping at Fred Meyer (a local Kroeger store) I was delighted to find a rather large assortment of radios…including several ‘clock radios’.  Apparently they are still being purchased (that’s a good thing).  Of course you can purchase one from Amazon – Google “Amazon Table Radios” and your screen will be filled with options. Look for new Domain Extensions – We commonly see .com, . net, .org, .edu, .biz and .ca (Canada).  Soon we will be seeing .radio.  Go here for more – Ever wonder what the difference is in the sound of an audio source whose upper limit is 15 kHz vs 20 kHz?  Those of you that have an HD Radio experience these different bandwidths as FM is 15 and HD is 20.  Bob Orban put it this way – The subjective effect of HD’s superior HF handling consists of two parts: the bandwidth increase from 15 to 20 kHz (which, according to a number of peer-reviewed journal studies, is usually not audible with program material because the lower frequency energy psychoacoustically masks the energy between 15 and 20 kHz), and the lack of need for pre-emphasis limiting.  The second of these is by far the most important.  The actual audible benefits of HD’s improved HF power handling start at around 2 kHz (where 75 us pre-emphasis starts to become significant on the analog FM channel) and extend to 20 kHz.  By 15 kHz, the HD has 22 dB better HF headroom than the analog channel (17 dB for the pre-emphasis + 5 dB for the analog/digital gain offset).  The only downside is that up at 15 kHz, the information is carried by the SBR part of the HD codec, and this is only an approximation of the fine details of HF spectrum at the codec’s input. The main impact of listening to HD compared to FM (in a mobile environment) is the lack of noise and transmission artifacts with HD…And, as Bob points out, the highs will sound better.  Probably the greatest demonstration of this difference in the Seattle area can be found at 98.1.  To a great extent, KING-FM’s classical format was not listenable in many areas with only an FM Radio.  HD changed all that, making listening to the classics in a moving vehicle possible.  In other areas with more favorable topography than Seattle, the HD advantage is not going to be as noticeable.  Of course, at my age, ears develop their own high-frequency roll off. I caught this image recently in Seaside Oregon.  The top was a ‘forest’ of antennas.

Skywarn is a program where Amateur Radio Operators (Hams) participate with NWS.  Speaking of Seaside, we were blessed with wonderful weather while there for the annual Ham Radio event.  Got to actually do some patio eating!  (Something that does not take place every day on the Oregon Coast.)  At the event, attended by some 2200 Hams this year, is a flea-market where I spotted this device – Brush Sound Mirror.   Looking at a web site, it appears that there may be more to this item.  Here’s a web site and a YouTube video with more:


This old tape recorder made me think of this –

Hard to believe that it’s been 55 years since the Space Needle was erected.  I wonder if those that were involved had any idea that this structure would become the symbol for Seattle?  In the early days it was common to have a radio station broadcasting from the Needle.  I recall the natural gas torch on the top that was lit hourly and mentioned on a local radio station.  In the early days there was a Ham Repeater up there as well….6 meters if I recall.  Does anyone remember that? During one week, the station I worked for at the time did their morning show from the needle.  That was kind of cool as I’d show up at about 4 a.m. with a cart load of equipment, loading it in the elevator for the trip upward.  What was neat about this was the fact that I got to operate the elevator.  Usually the elevator was operated by a person that explained the sights to the many tourists that flock to get the view. Over the years there have been some changes made.  Most significant was the addition of the restaurant part way up.  Now we are learning that the place is going to get a significant makeover…its third major renovation.  Not to be outdone by other locations that feature glass floors so you can get that special feeling in your stomach, reportedly the new Needle will have some of that too.  Apparently, the restaurant that revolves once an hour will also get the glass floor treatment that is certain to impact more than a few that choose to dine there. I do have to wonder how it will impact appetites!  The project is supposed to start this fall and will take a while to complete. Seems like there are a number of job opportunities cropping up – There is an opening for a Radio cluster in Redding, California.  The firm is offering  a competitive salary + benefits, 401K.  If you’re interested, or know someone who is, contact  E&OE. Congratulations to Mark Huffstutter on his retirement from KING5.  My occasional visits to that transmitter site on Queen Ann Hill will not be the same without Mark’s ‘museum of wonders’.  Those that have been there will know exactly what I mean.  The retirement of yet another broadcast RF guy makes one wonder what this industry is going to do in the future.  Finding younger, experienced people that can give a company 20 or so years dealing with these plants is going to become increasingly difficult.  For people like me that elected to continue to work well past conventional retirement age, there is plenty of demand.  The fact that there is still a lot of old equipment still in place needing someone to keep it going is what has kept me from being a greeter at Walmart.  The problem is with the newer generation of folks that are tasked with maintaining equipment that is older than their dad.  Many of today’s (and tomorrow’s) Broadcast Techs are likely to come from the IT world where some of the things we deal with are unknowns – for example – Vacuum Tube Transmitters with huge power supplies, blowers and lethal voltages.  Analog devices, a ‘Greenie’ screwdriver, equipment that does not require a laptop or tablet to communicate, etc. One does not need a crystal ball to see that there is a convergence coming that is going to force change, and that some of this change will be very painful to those who own and operate these facilities.  Older managers are used to buying equipment that lasts a very long time, knowing that they have someone on staff that will make sure that this happens.  However, this is changing as younger managers view the world of equipment differently.  They are accustomed to equipment with shorter life cycles like Desk Top PC’s, Copiers, Laptops etc.  The winners will be the contractors.  Likely broadcasters will be employing a lot fewer conventional engineers and looking at broadcast equipment much as they do office equipment.  When they do, replacement cycles will likely change too. Bustos Media has purchased some broadcast properties in Eastern Washington, KNNA in Mabton/Yakima and KLES and KZXR in Prosser.  Bustos owns stations in the Seattle and Portland markets. Since 2009 you have been hearing KOMO Radio give their ID as KOMO-Seattle, KOMO-FM Oakville.  This has all been possible due to an LMA that Fisher had with South Sound Broadcasting related to the 97.7 FM transmitting from South Mountain west of Shelton.  Now that the Sinclair owns the stations in Seattle, they have ‘pulled the trigger’ and are purchasing the FM for reportedly $6.75 Million.  Included in the deal is a translator in Redmond.  South Mountain got its name from being the southernmost mountain in the Olympics.  The site is presently the home of 3 FM stations, with rumors that this will increase.  The stations there can perhaps be described as high-powered ‘Rim-Shots’ being 50 miles from Downtown Seattle.  FCC data shows KDDS (located on the top of the tower), operating with 64 kW from 742 meters above average terrain with an elevation of 1032 Meters.  KOMO-FM is running 69 kW at 701 meters AAT.  Both Stations operate with a directional antenna protecting co-channel operations in the Vancouver, BC area. We’ve all seen those outdoor/patio speakers designed to be left outside, year around.  But what about a TV set?  No one would dream of letting a TV get caught in a rain storm.  That is until now.  A firm I’ve never heard of, Peerless-AV has come out with an all-season outdoor TV.  Probably not designed for places like Phoenix however, as the high end temperature it is designed for is 122 degrees.  That would mean it should be under-cover in most locals.  However, if you wish to watch TV or videos outside in the winter…You are in luck as it will work down to -22 F.  These are not little screens either…They will be available in 49, 55 and 65 inch sizes.  Perfect for those summer, or perhaps winter, evenings on the patio! Around about July first, the first of the four Entercom Stations is slated to move to their new address at 800 5th Ave., 14th floor.  Entercom has been based, for many years, in the Metropolitan Park West Tower.  No word on how this move will be involved with the merger with CBS radio.  The re-location was in the works prior to that announcement. The May radio ratings are out and here are some of my usual observations of the 12+ Numbers:

  • Hubbard’s KQMV remains #1
  • Non-Commercial KUOW is #2
  • KMPS is certainly winning the Country race at #6 (the Wolf is down to #19)
  • Non-Comm KNKX is at #9
  • AM continues to suffer with KIRO and KOMO sharing 16th place with all other AM’s well below that
  • KCMS is now down to #20, perhaps due to the impact of KLSW
  • There are now 3.704 Million over 12 in the area
  • Hispanics now total over 311,000

CNN recently released a list of 12 iconic mountains from around the world with many familiar names – Mt. Everest in Nepal, Mt Fuji in Japan etc.  The ONLY mountain in the States listed – Mt. Rainier!  The picture below is what it looks like from the transmitter site at West Tiger Mt.  Never tire of seeing this magnificent sight.  And for my readers in other parts of the country – The mountain is white – year around.  (Mark of a real mountain.)  Much of the white you see in this picture is not snow, but rather ice from the many glaciers. The little peak on the left is called ‘Little Tahoma’ and is 11,138 ft.  Mt. Rainier is 14,411.  If you ever wanted to compare Oregon’s Mt. Hood to Mt. Rainier – Here’s what it looks like.  Mt. Hood, the highest peak in Oregon, is 11,250.  As you might gather, Mt. Rainer is huge.  The name Little Tahoma is reference to Mt. Rainier that used to be known as Tahoma, a name that is used frequently in the area.

The RTDNA is out with their annual Murrow Awards.  (RTDNA means Radio Television Digital News Association).  Scoring big were CBS Radio and TV, winning the overall excellence award at the network level.  Also scoring well were NPR and CNN.  The Edward R. Murrow Awards are named after the famous CBS news reporter.  Perhaps I should mention that Washington State University operates the Murrow College of Communications in Pullman.  If you ever get there, be sure and take in the area dedicated to Mr. Murrow…including the door that was on his office in New York!  In our area, the Murrow College operates Northwest Public Radio, with radio and TV transmitters all over the state and into Idaho and Oregon. I love to catch people working – I found  Buzz Anderson the other day working at Cougar Mountain on KNHC.  Note the ‘C-89’ sticker on the top of the blue transmitter.

Broadcast history has recently been made in NYC.  16 years after the destruction of the original World Trade Center towers by terrorists, the new One World Trade Center tower is receiving its first broadcast operations as TV stations begin transmitting from the highest point in that city. Once in a while you hear a news story about a police vehicle being stolen.  Tough for the cops being a crime victim.  But what about a TV news truck being stolen while they were reporting on crime in the area?  That’s exactly what happened to a TV news crew in Albuquerque, NM recently to KOB-TV.  The news director was quoted as saying – “I have a rule that you are never the lead of your own newscast”.  Understand they got it back thanks to GPS tracking equipment they had on board. Don’t forget the SBE Picnic on Vashon Island on July 29th.  Check the SBE16 Web Site for details. As I reach the end of this edition – I’d like to share with you something that, hopefully, will bring a smile.  As usual, this comes from one of my many friends that keep me supplied with this stuff.  In this case, a comparison of how math teaching methods have changed over the years – 1. Teaching Math In 1950’s A logger sells a truckload of timber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit? 2. Teaching Math In 1970’s A logger sells a truckload of timber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or $80. What is his profit? 3. Teaching  Math In 1990’s A logger sells a truckload of timber for $100.  His cost of production is $80. Did he make a profit? Yes or No 4. Teaching Math In 2000’s A logger sells a truckload  of timber for  $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Your assignment: Underline the number 20.   5. Teaching Math In 2016 A logger cuts down a beautiful forest because he is selfish and inconsiderate and cares nothing for the habitat of animals or the preservation of our woodlands. He does this so he can make a profit of $20. What  do you think of this way of making a living? Topic for class participation after answering the question: How did the  birds and squirrels feel as the logger cut down their homes? (There  are no wrong answers, feel free to express your feelings  e.g, anger, anxiety, inadequacy, helplessness etc.) Should you require  debriefing at conclusion of exam there are counselors available  to assist you adjust back into the real world. That’s it for this month – Enjoy summer and stay safe. Clay, K7CR, SBE Fellow.

Clay’s Corner for May 2017

May 13, 2017

Clay’s Corner

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

Well, at last, we are able to drive conventional vehicles to the top of West Tiger.   It almost seems strange…Like I’ve been on an extended vacation.   The bad news…Lots of catch-up to do.

The crew from iHeart have been busy getting their new 106.1 Nautel GV40 on the air. On April 14th Marty Hadfield sent me this picture of his vehicle parked at West Tiger – Mother Nature is certainly being stubborn this year!


If you have believed that the Seattle area has rain all the time…Well….This year, you may be right with record setting amounts of wet….and it’s been cool…Last year we enjoyed temps in the 80’s.. this year they are in the 60’s.   Don’t think that anyone accurately predicted this.  In driving up to the mountain sites around here you can’t help but notice all the hanging moss…in fact moss is growing everywhere, at a rapid rate.   You used to have to drive over to the west side of the Olympics to see this kind of thing…not anymore!  The old joke went something like this….Someone asked a Seattleite…If it rains all the time, what do you do during the summer to which the native responded…’Well, if it takes place on a weekend, we go on a picnic’.   Let’s hope that this ‘wet’ will abate and we can have a summer like last year.   Come to think of it, perhaps this extended monsoon has been a penalty for last summers extended dry and warm?   To put all this in perspective – As of April 23, there are ‘Critical/Elevated Fire Weather and Fed Flag warnings in – Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado.  Perhaps our water should be viewed as a blessing?

Once again, I did not make it to the big show in Vegas this year, however, I understand that attendance was strong with over 103,000 being reported.   Whereas I am no longer in the ‘looking for something to buy’ or ‘meetings to attend’ mode…I would require a very good reason to go down to breath some more cigarette smoke and listen to electronic gizmo’s make noise.   Would be nice, however, to be able to be, one more time, with some old friends.

The FCC is, once again, talking tough about pirate radio broadcasters.   Commissioner O’Rielly recently spoke at a Hispanic Radio Conference and said – , “The failure to properly address [this] highlights a deficiency in the Commission’s enforcement tools and undermines our overall credibility.”   I, personally, feel that he should be a candidate for the ‘Yah-Think’ award.

He went on to use a term I’ve not seen to describe these folks – He called them Squatters who are infecting the radio band at the expense of listeners and legitimate radio stations.   Well said, Mr Commissioner – Now let me remind all that actions speak louder than words.    Time will tell.

The FCC’s effort to prop-up AM Radio with new rules that permit AM’s to own FM Translators is applauded by some…and is being rejected by others.     What many (that know better) should know is that the FM Band is not a waste land of empty spectrum waiting for every AM station to grab a channel and ride off to the bank with a bag of money.    The band has been filling, quickly, with a host of other things….like LPFM’s etc.   The fact is – SURPRISE – There is not room for everyone.   Recently an LPFM advocacy group call Prometheus has petitioned the FCC to slow up the train as it may well harm their members.   One of the down sides of our spectrum regulators is that they, time after time, throw away the book of good engineering practice and attempt to accommodate everyone. You want evidence, just look at what happened to AM over the years thanks to this practice.

Apparently there are those broadcasters that still try and play a bit ‘loose’….For example a station complained about interference from a translator.   The station owning the translator did some checking an found out that the complaining station was operating in variance from their licensed parameters (oops)  Our own, Seattle based, Hatfield and Dawson got involved with this one…Perhaps a member of that team would be willing to discuss it at an upcoming SBE meeting?   The bottom line is this – If you are going to complain to the FCC about an issue – First make sure that your house is in order.   Call letters involved are – KXEG and KSWG.   (I’ll let you research the details if you wish)

For many years I have been directly connected with the implementation of HD Radio systems.   Over the years the equipment involved has improved, reliability has increased etc.   However there are still some rough edges that tend to make some stations that are operating HD Radio look bad in the minds and ears of consumers.    Frankly, in this day and age, there is no excuse for it to continue…..Especially in light of the fact that just about all new vehicle radios have HD built in.

Specifically what I am talking about is the listener experience when they tune into a station operating HD-Radio.   When you tune in the station, your receiver first is receiving the conventional FM signal, then, in about 8 seconds…(Assuming you are in range of the HD signal) the radio will cross-fade from FM to what we call HD-1 and will begin producing audio derived from the digital transmission.   It’s what happens when this transition takes place is where the problems are .

In the case of many stations there are several technical issues that should never take place –

  1. Time Alignment    This is where the timing of the FM and HD Audio is not aligned causing the listener to experience an echo/stutter or repeat of a piece of audio.     This problem is multiplied significantly if the listener is in a weak signal area where the receiver is going back and forth between FM and HD.


The issue here is that the listener is going to be very annoyed by this taking place and is likely to

feel that their radio is broken and may, in the case of a new car, take it back to the dealer demanding that the radio be repaired (yes, this does take place).

The bottom line is that this problem – should not take place.   Further the responsibility to make

sure it does not rests with the radio station.    The listener may well discover that this problem

only exists with some, but not all stations and may conclude there is something wrong with that station and avoid listening to it!   A clear situation where the station loses.

For many years there have been methods for setting the time alignment and for monitoring the situation.   More recently there has been equipment available that will automatically keep the FM and HD time-aligned.   So why does it continue?… That’s the $ 64,000 Question.  Perhaps, in some cases because the station is not aware that a technical solution exists, or, simply does not wish to make the investment?

  1. Equalization This is where the ‘sound’ or ‘fidelity’ of the FM and HD-1 Signals is remarkably
  2. Again the question came to mind – Why do they let this take place???   Does not any one at that station care?   Could it be that the stations management and engineers don’t have an HD Radio and simply are not aware?
  3. Recently while tuning around the FM band I came across a station that was clearly running HD (My vehicle radio has an indicator that lights up telling me that) I awaited the transition to HD and could not believe my ears.   The HD audio was piercing and shrill sounding, making me want to grab the treble control and turn it down.   Then, as I drove a bit further, the signal level dropped and the radio switched back to FM, and the audio quality changed back.   Talk about annoying!   This was one station that I could not listen to- regardless of how compelling their programming was.   This back and forth audio quality issue was obnoxious.   Clearly they were either not using a common audio processor or they had them considerably miss-adjusted.
  4. different.   When the receiver is transitioning back and forth between receiving FM or HD signals the audio should sound the same.   The exception being the noise and distortion of FM should be gone.
  5. Loudness   This is where the station has mis-adjusted the audio loudness and either the FM or HD audio is louder than the other…rather than have them be the same.

The bottom lines –

The Time Alignment, Equalization and Loudness of the FM and HD should be such that a radio can go thru the transition between modes without causing the listener to feel there is something wrong.   When the radio goes from FM to HD the only thing they should notice is that it sounds better because un-wanted things (like multipath distortion, picket-fencing etc.) go away.

What is perhaps the hardest thing for me to grasp is why the owners and managers of these stations have not created a policy that forbids this level of technical negligence?     If you are just a listener to one of these stations, perhaps now you know that this is a problem that can be easily resolved, and will, upon hearing these issues, call the station and speak to their manager and ask them why they have not addressed the problem?

There was a recent piece written about some of these issues in Radio World – It should be a must-read for all radio broadcast engineers –

The Radio industry is still talking about the Entercom/CBS Merger.   Entercom’s David Field has been busy telling everyone how this will create “truly preeminent radio company with an extraordinary platform” covering virtually all of the country’s top 50 markets. With nearly $2 billion in annual sales, a value of over $4 billion and a strong financial position”. Perhaps a pitch to investors who, by and large, pan investing in media companies. This merger was moving along with the FCC creating a formal docket to deal with it….That is….Until the DOJ announced that they wanted to take a look at the deal.   Who knows what that will mean. One of the issues to deal with will be the spinning off of assets that place the new company over limits.   Here in Seattle this means which stations will stay with the new company and which will become property of another.   As usual, in cases like this, managers are telling the troops to keep plugging away and ignore all the uncertainty that comes with the territory.   Perhaps in 6 months I will be able to write about how this all sifts out.

In one of the markets where the merged company had to divest of stations was Sacramento, Ca.   Just so happened that Entercom was in ‘hot-water’ over their water contest that went tragically bad at one of their stations (KDND).   Timing was good as Entercom surrendered the license for the FM Station a move that apparently satisfied the Commish.   Therefore – The official end of ‘The End’ 107.9.

Shifting gears a bit to business in the Seattle area –

The Seattle area continues to amaze. If someone had told you that in 20 years –

  • On-line retailing was going to be huge
  • Many historic retailers would be going out of business because of it
  • The major player would be a company called Amazon
  • Seattle would be the home of that company
  • It’s CEO would be the 2nd richest person in the world.

Would you have believed it? Some of the headlines are pretty stark –

  • Stores closing at a record pace as Amazon chews up retailers
  • Brick-and-Mortar Stores Are Shuttering at a Record Pace
  • Some a filing for bankruptcy
  • Other companies are plowing ahead with store closures outside of bankruptcy court. Sears., Macy’s and J.C. Penney Co. are shutting hundreds of locations combined, reeling from an especially punishing slump in the department-store industry.


  • According to research from Slice Intelligence, Amazon captured 38 percent of all dollars spent online during the past holiday season. The next-closest retailer, Best Buy, had a mere 3.9 percent.
  • So how much of the e-commerce pie does Amazon have?   53% !

Jeff Bezos is now just behind Bill Gates with a worth somewhere north of 75 Billion Bucks! (Gates reportedly is still cruising with about 10 Billion more) Bezos has edged out Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg.   And if you don’t know who Jeff Bezos is – he is best known as the founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of, which is the world’s largest online shopping retailer.

And, if you have not heard – Radioshack is once again going under.   Sad to say that the days when people actually built electronic gizmos from parts purchased at a local store have gone.   Then again you can buy all of these items now on Amazon.


One of the big losers in all of this are some shopping malls.   The formula is familiar…A mall is constructed with two or more major anchor stores and a little of smaller firms filling in the small footprints.   The question is what happens when those big anchor stores close?  In many cases the mall becomes history.   Some malls have done something un-thinkable in the past – they have welcome large mega food outlets like Kroger etc.     And who gets the blame for a lot of this?    Yes, that Seattle based giant called Amazon.

There is an impact on broadcast here too.   The demise of local, brick and mortar, stores puts a dent in historic advertising revenue.

Then there is the news that Amazon is going to be streaming NFL Games…And that Amazon is going to open a concept called Amazon Go which would be a technology powered grocery store that would not require shoppers to have to endure the dreaded checkout line. So why did I write all about this in this column?….To point out how a Seattle based company is making a huge difference in many ways….Ways that if they have not already, will in the future, likely touch us all.

Besides the insane amount of construction in Seattle…One of the major impacts has been to dramatically increase the cost of housing in the area.   Not that there are not plenty of people with the income to buy them.   Reports are there are over 165,000 people in King County that are making over $150,000/year.  A great indicator of this issue is the median home price.   Go about 60 miles to the south to Olympia and you will find the median price there is about 260,000 – That over $360,000 less than Seattle!

Recently Boeing issued a number of lay-off notices due to declining orders.   In years past this would have sent shock-waves thru the Seattle area.   Today, in light of the areas diversification, It’s almost a non-event.

Here’s another Seattle statistic for you to digest – The University of Washington (in Seattle) is now ranked #9 in the world…A long way behind Harvard…But not bad for a little town in the northwest part of the country.

One thing that the Seattle area does not often have to deal with ….Thunderstorms…At least T-storms of the magnitude that recently struck Columbus, Georgia on April 5th.    Lightning repeated struck the WLTZ TV tower during that one.    Can you imagine if this was one of the 6 TV Towers in Seattle?

Most of us are familiar with radio stations or EAS systems getting hacked…Well this time, on April 8th someone hacked in the Dallas Texas area weather warning Sirens…..All of them.    Apparently they were controlled via a common radio repeater system.   Officials had to turn off the repeater to silence the sirens that wailed for some time.  Likely a lot of red-faces over this one….and a new and more secure system being deployed.   Seems like if a device is powered by electricity, it’s just a matter of time before it gets hacked.


On the subject of hacking – There are a couple of things that are very high on the FCC’s NO-NO list.

Messing with something involving aviation radio systems and the other something involving law enforcement.   In the latter case a resident of New York City may have to give the Feds $400,000 for his interfering with police communications…Including threats to police officers, false bomb threats etc.

Unlike most pirate radio operators, this guy is in police custody on other, unrelated charges.   My big question is whether or not he will actually pay the fine.   In all too many cases these yahoo’s seem to end up not paying for various reasons.    BTW the $400 Grand was the maximum permitted


The Commish had to deal with another one recently – This time in Pompano Beach Florida where they asked a party to contribute 20 Grand to the Treasury for operating a non-licensed FM station. This fellow had a lot of ‘brass’.   When an FCC field agent spoke with the person on the phone, he acknowledged that he had received an earlier notice from the Commission and when on to ask if he could continue to operate for a few more days.

Meanwhile, here in the Seattle area, a number of folks are monitoring 101.9 to see what might be on the air next.   This is the same operation that recently was broadcasting programming supplied by a party that hacked into their IP Based STL system.


Nielsen continues to make news with the announcement that they are going to increase the number of samplers as well as introducing a mini-version of the device people wear to sample their media habits.   This new creature will, reportedly, be so small it would fit inside a smartwatch, Fitbit or smart phone.

Another announcement on the technology front –   Sony (yes they are still around) is rolling out some new solid state drives designed to work with video recording equipment.  They claim their new model SB-G596 can achieve 2400 terabytes written.     The 4K video world is driving a lot of this.

The recent mega merger announcement of Entercom and CBS has caused some to suggest that the FCC should take a look at what’s call ‘Sub-Caps’ .   These are limits on the number of stations that a single owner can operate in a given market.   Presently, in markets the size of Seattle, an entity can own no more than 5 FM or AM stations or 8 total.  I find it interesting that in Seattle, at one time, Entercom owned 5 FM’s and 3 AM’s…but ended up spinning off one of the FM’s and all the AM’s.    This, sort of, indicated that there was not a lot of demand for the large clusters.   In other, smaller, markets the demand is greater.   There are groups that are lining up on both sides of this one.    One of the drivers for this is the plight of AM radio.  Perhaps a single operator, could make a go of a large cluster of AM’s?
Some recently released first quarter 2017 totals to look at.


  • The total number of AM’s is down by 3 (I would have guessed more) to 4,666
  • Eight more commercial FM’s (6,754)
  • Two more FM NCE’s (4,112)
  • 200 more FM Translators and Boosters
  • 246 more LPFM’s


On the Video Side –

  • One less full power TV Stations (1,777)
  • 6 fewer UHF translators
  • 5 fewer VHF translators


Grand total – 32,846 active broadcast licensees.


I suspect there will be some significant shifts in these numbers with all the FM translator activity as well as the TV Repacking process.


Speaking of Repacking –There is a ton of news items related all of this—–


Some of the major TV sites are in for some rather dramatic changes.   For Example – The Sutro Tower in San Francisco will be losing 3 TV tenants, changing channels for 6 and they may pick up some additional stations.     This site alone represents a huge amount of hardware that will have to be changed.     Certainly good news for those that supply the hardware as well as those that will be working at these sites to make the changes.       I suspect there will be number of requests for extensions and a shortage of qualified people to pull it all off.


According to reports, T-Mobile and Comcast were the heavy hitters in the spectrum auction.   T-Mobile is estimated going to be spending something like $10 Billion for new spectrum.    And yes, there is a local aspect to all of this – The home office for T-Mobile just happens to be in the Seattle area – Technically on the other side of Lake Washington from Seattle in Bellevue (What locals call ‘the East Side)


Interesting that there are a number of stations that will be moving into the VHF band.   This is contrary to the big push of not long ago to move the other way.


The FCC has, on-line, all the information about who is going where. For my readers in the 3 states were this column is read – The following should be helpful.    The columns are (left to right)

  • Call letters
  • New channel
  • Old Channel
  • City of license


The Repack in Washington




The Repack in Oregon

K19GH-D 19 19 EUGENE, ETC.
K32DY-D 32 32 MEDFORD`


The Repack in Colorado



So what’s happening with Toshiba?   Back in 2006 the Japanese electronics firm bought an iconic American company- Westinghouse Electric perhaps on the notion that nuclear power was going to be a good investment.  Thanks to huge cost overruns for nuke-plants in the Southeast U.S. their Westinghouse division has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.   Toshiba has announced that the net loss could hit one trillion Dollars.  The effect of this is to be a huge financial drag on the parent company causing it to be forced to sell a big stake in their money making chip business and causing many to wonder what will come of the company.   Westinghouse, has been a historic supplier of electrical equipment.  If you recall your history…It was George Westinghouse that was a key proponent of using AC for commercial power while Edison wanted to use DC.   At one time it was in the broadcast business owning stations and making equipment.   I recall KEX in Portland was owned by the firm and was operating a Westinghouse transmitter (I got to see it in operation sometime in the last century).  Up at West Tiger power to the building is supplied via a Westinghouse ‘Power Pad’ transformer.  Toshiba is a historic industrial feature of Japan dating back to 1870.     Apparently this has a basis in the meltdown of the Fukushima Dalichi nuclear power plant back on 2011 when many determined that there were too many risks with this type of power generation.   Closer to home, I have two Toshiba Laptops.   Not the first time I’ve owned something that was made by a firm that may be no longer around.  A lot of great names have come and gone – Think Ampex, RCA, ITC, AEL etc.

While many have been taking a wait and see position regarding reverse auctions and repacking – Sinclair has been busy …Reportedly trying to buy Tribune Media Co.   Tribune owns or operates 42 local TV stations in the country…..Including –

  • KCPQ and KZJO In Seattle
  • KWGN and KDVR in Denver
  • KRCW in Portland

Meanwhile, Sinclair owns and operates 173 Stations in 81 Markets, including –

  • KOMO and KUNS in Seattle
  • KATU AND KUNP in Portland

Then came the announcement that Sinclair was going to purchase the Bonten 14 Station group for $240 Million. None of these stations are in the Seattle, Portland or Denver Market.  However, they do own stations in 3 markets in Montana  (Missoula, Butte/Bozeman and Kalispell)

The question is – Just how many TV Stations could be owned by the same firm in the same market? Apparently the whole matter of ownership limits, for Radio and TV, is being reviewed.   Certainly there is going to be pressure from firms like Sinclair to see these regulations move in their favor.

I could not help but notice the new application for license for an LPTV station in Tacoma, WA.     Owner is Denver Digital Television (Really—–Denver?) and then there are the call letters – KDMD.    Wow –

KDMD and KOMO look awful similar.  (The official call sign is KDMD-LD)

From time to time I run across a product that brings a smile – Like the Bar-B-Q tools with screwdriver handles from your favorite tool makers (Craftsman and Snap On come to mine).   This item is bound to find a ‘warm-spot’ in the heart of Engineers.

When you get into Broadcast Engineering you will quickly learn about some of the tools of the trade. Early on you will hear the term ‘Butt-Set’.   The technical name for these devices is a ‘Llineman’s Handset’…it’s a special telephone that can be held in one hand, or on the shoulder, and has been a  classic item used for working on analog telephone circuits for many years.  Most broadcast engineering shops will have one too.     Recently in clearing out items in anticipation for their move of studios, Entercom’s engineers came across a piece of history.   This fine example predates the push-button or Touchtone phones of today and should re-kindle some warm feelings with some of my older readers.   One of my best memories of this term came from a conversation with one of the DJ’s at KBSG a few years ago.  Scott Phillips could just not get over the term butt-set.    I did not tell him that some called it a ‘Buttski’.


Congratulations to Mike Cooney on being honored by Radio World with their Excellence in Engineering Award on April 24th in Las Vegas. Mike is the CTO and VP of Engineering for the Beasley Broadcast Group/.

What makes this especially of interest to me is that I won this award back in 2007.

On the –bad news- front we again are reporting on the continued financial woes of the two largest radio groups.   Cumulus and iHeart.

First Cumulus –

Ø  They have been advised that they will be de-listed by Nasdaq.

Ø  Their total debt is reported to be about $2.5 Billion.

Ø  Their recent stock price, on April 26, was 28Cents per share, well below the necessary $1 threshold to remain listed.

Ø  In order to boost their stock price the firm did a reverse stock split using a 1 to 3 ratio. Had they not done that, their stock price would be priced even less.

Ø  Their stock has dropped 93% in the past year


iHeart Media-

Ø  News releases in Mid-April were very downbeat.

Ø  The company financial performance was presented to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on April 20th announced that it may not survive another year.

Ø  iHeart posted a net loss of $240 million in 2016,

Ø  The company has almost $350 million of debt coming due this year

Ø  Total debt is estimated to be in the vicinity of $20 Billion.

Ø  Some experts said bankruptcy is now almost inevitable.

Ø  Their Stock Price was a $2.10 on April 26.  An Approx. 78% decline in the past year.

One of the major problems for these firms, aside from trying to figure out how to stay in business and avoiding bankruptcy, is talent drain.     It is reported that both firms are experiencing high turn-over with the majority of those leaving doing so voluntarily.

There is another aspect of this – When the two largest firms owning primarily radio stations are on the cusp of Chapter ??   It’s pretty hard to interest anyone in investing in this type of media thereby keeping stock prices low for those firms that have good balance sheets.

Looking at the Seattle March Radio Ratings, 12 + (Top 10)- some thoughts –

Ø  Non-Comm’s are well represented with KUOW’s #2 and KNKX at #10

Ø  4 of the Top 10 are either CBS or Entercom…With their merger will be interesting to watch

Ø  The popularity of AM Radio continues to slide – The top rated AM station in Seattle is KOMO at #16

Ø  Population now up to 3.704 Megapeople.

The recent news releases from California about the ill effects of cellphone use got me to thinking… It’s really easy for joe-citizen to object to a cell-site in their neighborhood….(Don’t want those death-rays killing my chickens)…or for a citizens group to march on city-hall objecting to a broadcast station in their midst.   What do you want to bet what would happen if they were told they had to stop putting their cellphone to their ear ?   My guess is that would be a recipe for a full-fledged temper tantrum among the masses.   Is it just me, but this this have the odor of hypocrisy? Could it be that a rumored cancer causing device is only bad if it belongs to someone else?   Sort of like the heavy cigarette smoker that objects to what he feels are illnesses are caused by fumes from an industrial firm in his area.

On a related note….Looks like Washington State may be ready to really crack down on distracted driving.

Already you are not supposed to hold a cellphone to your ear.   New laws would take this a step further, you are not to be touching your phone under the terms of the (love this name) Driving Under the Influence of Electronics Act.   I’m sure you have seen people – still – holding a cellphone to their ear…or holding it in front of them (with the phone in speaker phone mode). Thankfully my truck enables me to operate completely hands free.   I can make a call by simply speaking the number or answer a call by pushing a button on the steering wheel.   Text messages are even read to me.      Now we will see just how many are willing to put the phone away after being able to use it while driving.   Fines of $136 for the first offence and $245 for the second may help.   You have some time, however, before the law goes into effect.      Now about the fellow driving this vehicle –

Those of you that have been reading this column for a while will recall how I often comment about how, despite living in a world full of technology, the level of ‘technophobia’ still remains very high.   A recent study in the U.K.  helps us understand that there are a lot of fairly helpless people in other countries too.    Here is a sample of some polled tasks and the percentage of people who said they could confidently complete the task.

  • Boil an egg – 81%
  • Change a light bulb – 79%
  • Read a map – 66%
  • Wire a plug – 57%
  • Check the oil level in a car – 53%
  • Change a flat – 37%
  • Replace a faucet washer – 30%

There is a bright side to all of this – It assures that there will be continued employment for those that are not this challenged.     Then again, perhaps these folks figured that this is what You Tube videos are for?

About 48 years ago I met this young man that had recently become my Nephew.   Several years later he called me one evening asking me if he should take a job at a broadcast station where I used to work.  (I said yes).    He’s come a long way over the years….And now he turned 60!.    Reminds me of that T-shirt saw a while back – ‘I thought getting old would take longer’.    A belated Happy Birthday to Tom Pierson.


Time to wrap this one up for another month and leave you with some bits of advice – from an old farmer.


  • Life is simpler when you plow around the stump.
  • Words that soak into your ears are whispered… not yelled.
  • Meanness don’t just happen overnight.
  • Forgive your enemies; it messes up their heads.
  • Do not corner something that you know is meaner than you.
  • Every path has a few puddles.
  • When you wallow with pigs, expect to get dirty.
  • The best sermons are lived, not preached.
  • Don’t judge folks by their relatives.
  • Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
  • Live a good and honorable life, then when you get older and think back, you’ll enjoy it a second time.
  • Don’t interfere with somethin’ that ain’t bothering you none.
  • If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.
  • The biggest troublemaker you’ll probably ever have to deal with, watches you from the mirror every morning’.
  • Always drink upstream from the herd.
  • Good judgment comes from experience, and a lotta that comes from bad judgment.
  • Lettin’ the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than puttin’ it back in.
  • If you get to thinkin’ you’re a person of some influence, try orderin’ somebody else’s dog around.
  • Live simply, love generously, care deeply, speak kindly, and enjoy the ride.


Have a good one- Thanks for the read –


Clay Freinwald, CPBE aka – K7CR








Clay’s Corner for April 2017

March 26, 2017


Clay’s Corner

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


On the heels of the Entercom/CBS deal, are we about to see a lot more consolidation? Apparently some think so and this time it will involve television as well.  Part of what is fueling all this is the belief that the changes in administration and at the FCC will change ownership limits.  This has caused a lot of rumors to fly of late….Among them – Sinclair will do a deal with Tribune.  This would be interesting in Seattle where Sinclair owns a station and Tribune owns two.  Let’s not forget ION and CBS that both own one TV station in Seattle, which many consider to be a major market.  Any reduction in ownership limitations is likely to result in opposition from those that have been consistent in their opposition to media consolidation.


So what is the FCC going to do about Pirate Radio? For many years we have been reading about how unlicensed radio stations have been a thorn in the side of licensed broadcasters as well as those that are supposed to regulate the activity.  Unfortunately a lot of the regulatory efforts have fallen short of what’s needed to stop the activity.  There are those big fines that, apparently, go un-paid…or the pirate operation that is supposedly ‘shut-down’ by the Feds just to appear again at another address.  Some local governments, reacting to pressure from legitimate broadcasters have gotten involved as they see the Feds failing to regulate.  This matter is, apparently, finally getting the attention of lawmakers and is resulting in the FCC asking Congress to give the FCC more authority, including the ability to seize equipment.  Guess it never made sense to me for the FCC to tell a pirate operator to stop doing wrong and walk away from the equipment to repeat the process.  Today, becoming a pirate is very easy….Just Google – Pirate Radio Station Equipment and see for yourself.  Will the Fed’s new interest in combating this activity be effective, time will tell.  I still fail to understand how cutting back on the EB was the correct approach.  The Commish has this concept of having Tiger Teams doing enforcement.  Appears to me that they have this half right – The part about the Tiger.  Unfortunately the FCC has become to all too many, a ‘Paper Tiger’.


With the news full of stories about huge radio operators like Cumulus sinking under the weight of their own debt – it’s great to hear some good news. Recently Saga Communications (who operates a cluster of radio stations in Bellingham) announced that their net revenue, operating income, free cash flow and net income all increased in Q4 of 2016.  Meanwhile, Cumulus continues to receive more bad news as they try and restructure their $2.4 Billion debt.  Certainly the vultures are circling this firm, awaiting the time that they are forced to sell off the company for bargain basement prices.


Meanwhile the Entercom / CBS deal seems to be getting good marks from those that evaluate deals. The value of CBS Radio has been placed at 2.86 Billion Bucks!  When completed, the new Entercom will consist of 244 stations in 47 markets including all of the top 10 and all but 2 of the top 25.  Talk about a dream position to be in!  Some of the markets are huge.  Both the New York and LA clusters are valued at well north of 300 million each.  If you owned stock in Entercom…28% will be part of the new company.  If you have stock in CBS, that figure will be 72%, underscoring who was bigger than who.  I’m sure the new Entercom will be watching things very closely to avoid the tragic mistakes of a couple of other big radio outfits.


On the local (Seattle) front of the Entercom/CBS deal, apparently all of the Seattle stations, belonging to both companies, have been put into a trust giving the new company time to sort out just which ones to spin off (and which ones to keep). They’ve made it obvious that they would like to do a deal with whoever will bring the maximum benefit to the new company.  Meanwhile, those that work at these 7 FM stations have likely been told to continue to ‘soldier-on’ as if nothing was taking place.  A pretty tall order.  I’ve been in situations like this.  There are likely a lot of hallway conversations taking place as employees are, understandably, nervous with many polishing their resumes….just in case.  Uncertainty will cause many to have less than peaceful sleep.  There is little comfort knowing that this same level of anxiety is taking place in other markets as well.


It’s happening again – the periodic call for elimination of funding for some 1,500 Public Broadcasting (Radio and TV) Stations. Interestingly there has been government funds provided for now 50 years.  With the new group in power in WDC, it remains to be seen if this will continue or not.  Many public stations are, reportedly, gearing up for the fight, engaging their listeners and viewers to write their congressmen in support of keep it going.  Some are openly expressing concern that elimination of the $445 million annual funding could cause public broadcasting to collapse.  Expressed as a percentage, the amount received is a very small percentage of the federal budget.  We need to remember that this is the ‘proposed’ budget and only one step in a process.  There are those that question should the government be funding something that is operating in competition to private industry?  I’ve often wondered what would happen if the FCC permitted Non-Coms to sell spots in exchange for dropping government funding.


Some local translator news to report –


103.3/K277AE – The historic Entercom translator in Downtown Seattle that runs the same programming as their West Tiger based 103.7/KHTP, recently had to change antennas to one more directional (aimed south) to avoid the new co-channel operation on 103.3 in Oak Harbor.


94.5/K233BU – Is now on the air from Cougar Mountain with a directional antenna (aimed north) re-broadcasting Bonneville’s 770 AM KTTH. 94.5 was on Capitol Hill operated by a non-commercial station.


On the subject of translators…April 10th is the day that the FCC is supposed to begin their new rules regarding siting of AM Translators. Under the old rules, an AM had to place their translator either within their daytime service contour or within 25 miles of the AM translator, whichever was less.  The new, and certainly more relaxed rules drop the ‘whichever is less’ part allowing that AM to install their transmitter anywhere within 25 miles of their AM, even if its outside their service contour.  The feeling is that this will create more opportunities for the AM station.  The problem is, with all the LPFMs and new translators, there is not much spectrum left to do it.  That is unless you are in a very sparsely populated area.


Yes, once again, it’s time for many to make their annual trek to Las Vegas for the NAB show. I can well recall making that trip annually for many years.  Nowadays, without any compelling reason to go, I don’t.  I do need to mention that John Kean is going to be receiving the NAB Radio Engineering Achievement Award.  John is best known for his work with NPR.  Last year’s recipient was Andy Laird who I am proud to say I was able to work with.  John Lyons will be receiving the NAB Television Engineering Achievement Award.  John is involved with the Durst Organization in NYC.


Slowly but surely, the Radio industry is finding a role for HD Radio channels. Early on Radio had no idea of what to do with these new resources, with no receivers out there, they simply filled them with minimal expense programming.  This is changing as more receivers are coming on line every day.


Most recently, HD Radio got a shot in the arm with the announcement that Radio Disney is going to be on Entercom HD2 Channels in 9 markets including one in Portland, Oregon. Interestingly there was no mention of Seattle.  Disney, for several years, operated the 1250 AM.  Perhaps there will be an announcement coming?


Another item that comes around periodically is the matter of public health issues caused by cellphones.


This time the California Department of Public Health has release a draft document dealing with the issue that was apparently kept out of public view for some time. Like a lot of previous items in this category…It is suggested that there is a connection to having a cellphone pressed next to your ear and brain cancer.  Perhaps the move to more texting is a good one suggesting that repetitive stress disorder with our thumbs is a better option?


Things I learned recently –

  • Cubic Light years – Try and get your head around that one! It’s actually a measurement that’s being used to describe the amount still out there that has been found by the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey.
  • QoE – An expression meaning Quality of Experience being used by the wireless industry to describe whether a customer has dropped calls etc. (I can see this one being used in many places)
  • Amateur (Ham) Radio continues to grow. You’d think with all the computers and smartphones out there that this legacy hobby would be shrinking…Not so according to the ARRL.  As of the end of 2016 there were over 742,000 licensed Hams in the US.  New licensees are growing at a rate of about 30,000 per year.


What other people learned recently –


In this case, former Corporate Engineer for Entercom and now retired John Price wrote–


Thumbing through the April 2017 QST I noticed the Eclectic Technology column on page 71. Columnist Steve Ford has the story of an interesting WSJT project by a Chuck Kelly, W9MDO/VE1MDO.  Even though Chuck Kelly sounds like a pretty common name, I wondered, with the VE1 call, could that possibly be Chuck Kelly from Nautel?  BINGO.  A quick check of the W9 call at confirmed my suspicion…it’s him.  Pretty cool.


Chuck has moved from his role as Sales Manager to taking the Southeast Asia sales rep. position due to the recent retirement of John Abdnour. It’s my understanding that long time Nautel fixture Wendell Lonergan will be now heading up their sales efforts.


There has been a recent discussion on Pubtech regarding the impact of wind turbines on radio and TV reception. If I recall, the Tri-Cities area of Washington State dealt with this a few years ago, however I don’t recall what happened.  In this discussion, many were calling these huge wind generator ‘Wind Mills’.  Whereas I had recently been ‘nailed’ for using the same term…I jumped into point out that these machines did not ‘mill’ anything and should be called by a more proper term.  This set off some discussion about terms that we have carried over – Here are a couple –


CUTTING A SPOT – From the days when radio commercials were recorded with a cutting lathe for later playback on a phonograph.


PUMPING GAS – As many of you probably suspect – I am indeed old enough to remember seeing this done. Gas pumps were indeed ‘pumps’.  The attendant would ask how many gallons you wanted and then  ‘pump’ gas up into a big glass container on the top of the pump (they had graduations marked on them).  When that process was completed, he would transfer the fuel to your vehicle.  You can see these today in museums


FILM AT 11 – A classic TV phrase used in earlier newscasts.  News crews would go out and capture images on Film…Rush back to the station to process it where it was loaded on a file projector (on a film island) for playback during the 11 p.m. news.  Amazing how many  today think that film is still being used.


ROLL UP YOUR WINDOW – Motor vehicles all used to have a crank that you would use to ‘roll’ up or down your windows.  Today they are a rare site with power operated windows becoming standard.  This does not stop folks from continuing to use the term.


DIAL A PHONE NUMBER – Telephones of yesteryear had a ‘Dial’ (that rotary motion devices that you would operate with your index finger) to enter the number you wished to call. The ‘Rotary Dial’ was replaced with push buttons (often called a Touch-Tone Pad).  This does not stop the use of the term today where many continue to ‘Dial’ phone numbers.


Got some more of these? Drop me a note, (oops, I meant to say send me an email) so we can share.


Are you looking for a job in Radio Engineering? There are a couple of openings that I’ve heard of – 1) Bonneville (same folks that own KIRO In Seattle) are looking for a Chief Engineer for their Phoenix, Arizona stations.  2) Binnie Media is looking for a Chief for their Maine Radio Group.  Talk about climate alternatives.


One area where all can agree that the FCC has left something to be desired in enforcement is the matter of RF Noise pollution. Finally AM Broadcasters and broadcast associations are starting to catch-on that we have a problem that’s largely out of control.  Ham Operators have long known that noise levels are increasing as they often have meters on their equipment measuring it.  Lately, in certain areas of the country that noise level has shot upward….The reason?  The legalizing of pot and the RF noise that is generated by the high powered lighting equipment used in grow operations.  I’ve read of some interesting cases where there is a power failure resulting in a dramatic reduction in RF Noise.  So what can be done?  The FCC’s enforcement capability has been shrunk to the point of being useless…and all the FCC will likely do with a noise polluter is send him a letter requesting he fix the problem.  Likely those with RF Noise generating equipment read the same ‘playbook’ as pirate radio operators that advises them to simply ignore the FCC.  If we are lucky, the FCC will gain some new teeth and be able to confiscate pirate radio equipment.  Now if they could do the same with equipment that also generates illegal amount of radio frequency energy.  The missing element here is, of course, who is going to do the leg-work that was formally accomplished by your local FCC Field Office?  The fear I have is that all this congressional interest in solving the pirate problem will result in the creation of a bigger tiger who will never visit my neighborhood.


Some Washington State EAS News to report –

  • The State EAS Committee, SECC, has moved their meeting location from the Washington State Emergency Management facility at Camp Murray to the Radio Conference Room at Clover Park Technical College.
  • In the SECC’s recent meeting a number of items were discussed resulting in the approval to create two new Tab’s for the EAS Plan. Tab 17 will deal with ENS (systems used by Emergency Management), the other (Tab 13) details how the State Duty Officers deal with the issuance of warning messages.
  • Tab 8 will be expanded to more fully explain which event codes can be used with EAS and WEA.
  • Tab 26, which deals with Amber, is being re-written reflecting changes in how Amber, aka Child Abduction Emergencies (CAE) are handled.


The next SECC Meeting will be on May 25th at Kittcom in Ellensburg. The following, July 13th Meeting will be at Clover Park Technical College.  Completed details are always posted on the State EAS Remailer.


To learn more about the Washington State EAS system, consider subscribing to the WaState EAS Remailer by checking out Good time to remind all that this electronic communications system is provided by the consulting firm of Hatfield and Dawson to whom we should all say thank you.


Occasionally there is a bit of good news for broadcasters. In this case a new survey has shown that 82% of Americans listen to AM/FM Radio in their cars every month.  Add this to the fact there are estimated to be 250,000,000 vehicles with radios – it is good news indeed.


From the ‘end of an era’ department came the recent announcement that International Crystal was shutting down. For those of us that have been in this industry for a long time – This is a shocker…but probably not un-expected as we have devised circuits today that have just about completely eliminated the need for the products that they produced.  For those of you that are not on the technical side, for a very long time the frequency that transmitters operated on was controlled by a little piece of quartz crystal.  International was one of the major suppliers.  I understand that there are a few firms still in the business…just for how long remains to be seen.  International Crystal was 66 years old.


So what about the impact of the TV Repacking on radio? On the non-commercial side, CPB has determined that 95 of their eligible radio stations are co-located with TV stations that are involved in the process and that over a third of them are sharing towers with those TV Stations.  Then there are the commercial FMs that share towers and sites with impacted TV stations.  Here in the Seattle area it appears that we will not see much of a problem….But I can’t speak for other areas of the country.  If you know of a situation where a radio station will be adversely impacted by the TV repacking process, please let me know and send me some details of how it’s being handled.


From the ‘department of they should have known better’ comes news that the FCC has fined a church and its pastor for operating an unlicensed station in Arleta, California. Additionally the FCC said they had warned them multiple times.  Perhaps they felt they were given permission by a higher authority?


Picture time – this time of Arthur Willetts, with Terry Springs pickup, having fun trying to drive up their transmitter site on West Tiger Mt.   As you can see, from the angle of Terrys truck, it’s time for chains.


If you look closely at this picture you can see that they have chains on all 4 wheels, but are heading down hill. From the looks of all of the tracks in the snow, my guess it was one of those days that they were unable to get to the top.  By the way….Just in time for Spring – Terry reported, on March 20, the news we have all been waiting to hear….He was finally able to drive up to the top of West Tiger.  It’s been a VERY long winter.


On the 14th of March I had to make a quick trip to West Tiger to repair a transmitter in distress. Whereas Terry had told me that he was only able to get to within about half a mile of his site and had to walk from there…and whereas the site I was going to was another half-mile and higher in elevation…Doug Fisher got another call to provide transportation services with his Gator.  He told me recently that he has made more trips this year with that machine than any other previously.  This has indeed been an interesting year, weather-wise.  I keep thinking back to the winter weather predictions of last year.  If I recall they really did not know what to expect…Apparently we have now learned what that means.


From time to time in this column I have featured a Radio/TV transmitter site in another market and compare it to Seattle. For those of you not familiar with Seattle we have multiple transmitter sites.


For TV –

  • Gold Mountain west of Downtown about 16 miles
  • Queen Ann Hill – just north of Downtown
  • Capitol Hill – Just East of Downtown
  • West Tiger – East of Seattle


For FM –

  • Capitol Hill – Just east of Downtown (only one station there)
  • Cougar Mt – East of Seattle about 15 miles
  • West Tiger – East of Seattle about 22 miles


Whereas Seattle is, essentially, at sea level…All elevations are in relation to that. The area’s lowest sites are on Queen Ann and Capital Hills where the tower top beacons are all at about 1049 feet AMSL.  The highest site in the area is West Tiger Mt where the tower tops there are 3148 ft. AMSL.


The site we are going to visit is reportedly the highest Radio/TV site in the country and is known as Sandia Crest and it’s over 10,600 feet above sea level! Just east of Albuquerque, New Mexico.


To put this into perspective – Mt Baker (just about 100 miles North of Seattle) is about the same elevation (10,781).

You may have noticed the difference in color….All due to the difference in latitude. At about the same elevation, Mt Baker’s summit is pretty much white all year long with the peak covered in glaciers and hardly a place to put towers and transmission equipment.


When you compare the elevation of the site to the elevation of the primary target or major city you wish to cover you get a clearer picture. In the case of Seattle, our highest site is West Tiger with transmitting antennas approx. 3000 feet above the downtown town area.  (Other Seattle sites are considerably lower).  Sandia is extremely impressive!  When you consider the city of Albuquerque is nominally about 5300 ft elevation, and do the math, you can see that, even at ground level, these transmitters are well over 5000 ft. above their City of License.  Just take a look at this picture looking down at the city from Sandia Crest.  There are about 700,000 people down there.

Looking back up toward the towers you can see they don’t have to be very tall….Not with that much elevation.

Thanks to friend, Bill Harris, here are some other pictures of the Sandia Crest facility –

One of the American Tower facilities on Sandia Crest.

In addition to Sandia’s elevation above sea-level and it’s elevation above the city of Albuquerque…A standard way to measure transmitter location is by using what’s call Height Above Average Terrain or HAAT.

Here is a table comparing the two locations, using an FM Station at each –

Location               Sandia Crest – Albuquerque         West Tiger -Seattle

Market Rank                             69                                              13

Market Population           760,500                                       3,779,500

Station                                   KRST-FM                             KING-FM

Effective Radiated Power (ERP)  22 kW                       68 Kw

Height Above Average Terrain (HAAT)  1268 Meters      707 Meters

Height Above Sea Level (AMSL) 3284 Meters      940 Meters

Height Above Ground Level (AGL)     41 Meters           41 Meters


A couple of interesting comparisons –

  • The Power of the stations at Sandia is considerably less and this is because the FCC requires that power be reduced once you exceed the maximum elevation for that class of station. For example – KING-FM ran 100,000 watts ERP when they were at Queen Ann Hill due to its much lower elevation.
  • The reason the power at Sandia is so much less than at West Tiger is due to their AAT.
  • The AMSL number is somewhat meaningless as it’s the relationship to the surrounding terrain that really counts
  • I found it interesting that the AGL number was the same, indicating that the tower height at both locations was the same.
  • Both locations have extensive site management handled by American Tower.


There are some other interesting, and perhaps unique, aspects of Sandia Crest – (Unlike the Seattle Sites)

  • Public Access – You can drive to a location near the broadcast towers to catch the view and buy food.
  • Ride a Tram up the mountain
  • Ski (they have a 7500 foot chair lift)


With that being said…. Yes, you can drive to the base of the towers in Seattle.


I asked local broadcast engineer, Bill Harris, some questions about the Sandia Site and the broadcasters that use it –

  • With a site elevation of 10,612 (According to ATC) it’s one of the highest in the country??


Actually, we all think of it as more like 10,670. I’m told that the two FMs on the pole above what is now the ATC building/tower are definitely among the highest anywhere in the country. (KDRF is one.)

  • How many TV stations are up there?


Most of them. Though not actually on these channels in many cases.


2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 13 and quite a few other UHFs of various powers. In fact, the only TV that comes to mind that is NOT up there is Ch. 14, which used to be, but moved out to a tall tower west of the city some years ago.  Let me put it this way, at my house on the west side of the metro, my TV will scan 50 program sources (4.1, 4.2, etc.) with a pair of rabbit ears with a UHF loop.  BTW, 7 and 13 stayed on their VHF channels.

  • How many FM’s?


Many of the ABQ and ‘near suburban’ licensees are up there. There are, however, a couple other ‘near market’ signals out on the west side on ‘Nine Mile Hill’ (C2s) and a class A, believe it or not, licensed to a suburb whose antenna is mounted on the building at the base of the tram going up to Sandia mountain!  Then, there are a half dozen or so ‘rim shots’, some north, some south, with varying degrees of effectiveness.


  • Do all the Class C FMs operate with 22 kW ERP?


Most of the FMs run in that general ERP range, give or take. 250 watt translators perform admirably from up there!

  • What about beam tilt, is it used?


I’m sure that varies a lot from system to system. None of the FMs up there cover really well in the foothills on the east side of the metro area.  When I had to replace an entire antenna for one of our FMs in the mid-2000s, we put in a couple of degrees and some first null fill as I recall.  Still, it really isn’t a heck of lot better performer than any of the others.  It’s a REALLY steep angle!  On the other hand, I have carried most of the signals from up there a looooong way in some directions depending on terrain.  Nothing to get in the way.  Sandia rises pretty abruptly in most every direction.

  • What about combining, most of the Seattle Stations now operate via Combiners and Master Antennas?


There is a ‘tri-plex’ system, 3 FMs on one Shively antenna. There might be another two in one….not sure.

  • Are their radiation concerns at this site, especially because there are public facilities so close?


As for all the building shielding and limited exposure times…there have been at least a couple fairly extensive surveys done of the entire site. Yes, there are some fairly hot spots near the ground, all of which have been located, but I don’t know of anyone who is too concerned on a day to day basis.  Now, gain any altitude and that all changes.  Since most of the towers are not very tall, it doesn’t take long to get into the aperture of some serious RF.  Believe it or not, the Forest Service allows hang gliders to launch right from a location ON the site.  They have been known to ride a thermal too close to the antennas.  We warn them about that on occasion.


I want thank Bill Harris for his contributions.   If you would like to read more about the Highest Transmitter site in the U.S.  Here are some sites with more information.

Recent reports say that Norway has decided to expand the number of FM Radio channels available, unlike their neighbor, Sweden, that appears to be moving to shift things to an all-digital mode.

Downtown Seattle continues to grow at an all-time record rate. I recall working in the, then new, 20 story Metropolitan Park East Tower where our top floor deck on the north side of the building had an, unobstructed, panoramic view from West, thru north.  Not any more as the forest of construction cranes have dramatically changed the South Lake Union landscape.  Just recently it was announced that a new 40 story building is going to be built across the street.  This video, from KING-TV, tells the tale.

In last month’s Column I dealt with some terms that are likely not familiar with some of the more ‘freshly minted’ types that we deal with Such as Fritz, Whack and Kilter.

One of my readers contributed another term that belongs in this category – copacetic. If you are a ‘more mature’ person you may have responded to a question like – How’s it going – with a response – Everything is copacetic.  Which is likely to produce some additional ‘Deer in the Headlights’ responses.  In the event you are new to this term – Here is the official word –

Copacetic is an adjective used to describe something or someone as pleasing or meeting one’s expectations…Good, Excellent, Fine etc.

From the department of Call Letter Re-use – KBSG was the call that then new owner Viacom gave 97.3FM (changing it from KNBQ). They wanted to use KBST for their new station slogan – ‘K-Best’ but were apparently un-successful in getting the station using those letters to let them go…so they chose KBSG.  Now those call letters are used by the Chehalis Valley Educational Foundation for their little FM station in Westport on the Washington Coast.

Time to once again put my spin on the latest radio ratings. Radio ratings are like a lot of things, they are taken apart in segments, in the case of radio, age groups.  In my case I just look at what’s called 12 Plus.  Here we go –

  • There are 35 stations listed, meaning that the radio pie is divided into 36 slices. This may sound excessive, consider there are well over 200 different models of automobiles for sale.
  • The #1 Station (KQMV) continues to prove that CHR is a popular and viable format.
  • Non-commercial stations are doing very well here – KUOW is ranked #2, KNKX #9, KLSW #23, KING #24 etc. beating out many commercial facilities.
  • AM’s continue to struggle. The highest rated one, KOMO, is at #15, KIRO at #18.
  • Power used to make the difference with AM…Not so much anymore. KJR is #28, KIXI #29, KFNQ is #34 – All of them 50,000 Watters.


In closing this month’s Column – The following contribution comes from an old friend. This is a great example of how many things that seem new really are not as new as you might suspect.

That’s it for this month – Enjoy Spring ! –

Clay Freinwald, K7CR, CPBE

Clay’s Corner for March 2017

March 18, 2017

Clay’s Corner

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

March 2017 Edition

For some time now we have been hearing about how CBS was going to spin off their radio division…this would lead many to wonder, and chat about, who might buy them. Then in early February the news broke – Indeed CBS Radio was going to have new owners…but not exactly how we thought it might play out.  The news was that Entercom was going to merge with CBS Radio, creating what some have termed a ‘super-size’ Entercom that would become the 2nd largest radio group in the country and one with an enviable financial condition, with a Market Cap of reportedly around 2 Billion!  Rather than Entercom assuming huge debt and buying CBS they are merging with stockholders of both companies ending up owning the larger entity.  The deal is supposed to close late this year.  In the meantime – Wow do they have a lot of decisions to make.  Perhaps more interesting to my readers in the Pacific Northwest is what this will mean to Seattle Radio.

First an overview –

  • Entercom has 4 FMs
  • CBS has 3 FMs and 1 AM
  • Total between the groups – 7 FMs and 1 AM
  • The FCC limits the number of stations a given owner can have in this market to 5 FMs and 3 AMs

Clearly there are 2 FMs that have to be spun-off or sold with the new company keeping 5 FMs.   This is where the fun of speculation begins –

  • We are assuming that the new Entercom will want to have 5 FMs. (History note, this was the case before Entercom sold 97.3 and two AMs to Bonneville)
  • We can assume that there are buyers for two of the FM’s.
  • Existing local groups that could purchase the two spin-offs include Bonneville and Hubbard.
  • Then again, perhaps these groups could be seen purchasing one – each.
  • Then there is the possibility that someone not doing radio in the Seattle Market may wish to come here. A couple of names have surfaced:

o   Alpha who has been buying a lot of stations is not yet doing business in Seattle

o   Cox who owns KIRO-TV is in the radio business elsewhere.


Probably one of the more interesting aspects of all of this is the fact that Entercom and CBS both currently operate competitive Country Music stations (KMPS and KKWF). It’s not too much of a stretch to think that Entercom would like to see just one country station in this market.  (History note, 106.1 was a country station competing with KMPS many years ago.  Consolidation brought them under the same roof and one of them [106.1] changed format.)  Would Entercom risk spinning KMPS off to a competitor?…A station that has long history in that format.  Or would they keep KMPS and change KKWF/ The Wolf?

On the technical side – All 3 of the CBS FMs operate from what we commonly call West Tiger Mountain #2 or WTM-2. All of the Entercom FMs operate at WTM-1, about half a mile away at the same elevation.  Not likely that any of the 7 FM’s can be viewed as technically inferior which is occasionally used to determine which station to spin off.


Looking at the CBS AM situation. The historic KING-AM on 1090 (Now known as the Fan or KFNQ) has not been blessed with any history of great success in the half century that I’ve been around this area…Despite the fact that is a 50Kw full-time facility.    Couple that with the fact that the value of AM properties, in general, has been heading downward rather steeply….You have to wonder if they will find a willing taker for the AM.  Perhaps a foreign language broadcaster?


The studios of the Entercom stations have been, for many years, in the Metropolitan Park West…However, recently it was announced that they are re-locating to a new location in Downtown Seattle. Meanwhile, CBS’s radio operations are over at 1000 Dexter, near the West Side of Lake Union.  It’s likely that the new Entercom digs will have room for an additional FM – Who knows about the rest of the stations.  Guess this is for lawyers to figure out.

Across the country, the new Entercom will be a formidable operation with a roster of historic big stations in major markets. For instance – New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Detroit, Boston, Phoenix, Washington DC, Cleveland, Dallas/Ft Worth, Houston, Miami, Tampa, Charlotte, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Las Vegas, Baltimore and San Francisco.


I did find it interesting that, with the exception of WCBS and KCBS, and the use of the term CBS Sports Radio, the letters CBS must be phased out and not used by the new conglomerate. The letters CBS will become exclusively a TV thing.


My thoughts on this topic need to include what must be going through the minds of those that work at the existing CBS Stations…They have to be wondering about their future, will they be working for the new/bigger Entercom or will ‘their station’ be one of the spin-offs and they end up working for who knows? It is a hectic time for sure …All I can say is – hang in there – Trust me, I’ve been there – multiple times.


Good timing for this item –

Things turn out best for those who make the best of how things turn out.


Guess who is moving? The FCC!  They have decided to move to a new location in WDC where they will be leasing 473,000 Sq. Ft.  (That’s about 3 average size Costcos) in an 11 story building at 45 L St N.E.  Still think of them on M Street.


There is a lot of attention focused on the FCC these days with the change of leadership to the Republicans.   One item of interest to a firm doing business in Seattle – The matter of the Entercom station in Sacramento where a contestant died in a contest that went very wrong.    One segment of broadcasting has been hearing good news from the new FCC chairman is AM Radio.   We will see.


One change is the elimination of certain Public File Requirements – Go here for details

For TV, aside from the Spectrum Auction, is the FCC’s actions regarding ATSC-3 in the form of an NPRM.


Another effort by the FCC is to bolster AM Radio with FM Translators. New rules will allow the translator be located anywhere within he AM’s day-time contour or within a 25 mile radius of the transmitter.  For many low powered AMs in areas of poor ground conductivity, this could mean they could have an FM Translator where they presently have little or no AM Signal!  (Assuming I understand this correctly)

I received word that Boise State Public Radio is hiring a Senior Broadcast/IT Engineer. For more information – check out

Am saddened to report on the passing of Dick Engh, W7HGX. Many years ago when I was just starting in this line of work I was doing part time work on KTNT Radio in Tacoma…At that time KTNT was an AM/FM/TV operation.  Their GM was Max Bice who had moved up from Chief Engineer (not a move you hear about very often).  The operations Chief Engineer was Dick Engh.  His assistant was a young fellow named Paul Crittenden.  Dick left the station to take a job in American Samoa and Paul was elevated to Chief.  Dick came back and became the station’s RF guy.  Later, for a short time, he worked for Trinity in Federal Way as their Chief.


His Obit, in the Tacoma News Tribune read as follows-

Dick F. Engh Dick was born in Tacoma, WA on 10-21-1920. He died on 1-28-2017. He was 96 years old.  He is survived by his two daughters and many other family members.  Dick was a Broadcast Engineer for over 40 years.  He was a member of the Tacoma Yacht Club and the Elks Club.  Dick married Sally Rae M. Wyckoff in 1958.  At 80, Dick had 3 PC’s with different operating systems.  He loved “computing” and helping others with them.  Donations to the Franciscan Hospice Org. would be appreciated. He is interred in the National Cemetery in Kent, WA.

Wheatstone, already a major player in the audio business just became a bit larger with the announcement that they have acquired PR&E from GatesAir. Gates, under its former name Harris, purchased the California firm back in 1999.  If you recall Wheatstone, not long ago, purchase a Seattle based firm that make the VoxPro audio editor.

You often see me write about traveling to West Tiger Mt. The fact is, there are quite a few broadcast engineers that travel up there to install and maintain equipment.  For those are not familiar with the place…I had the pleasure of being involved with the installation of the first broadcast station at this site about 28 years ago.  That station today is known as KIR0-FM on 97.3 (Back then It was called KBSG).

Today there are over a dozen FMs in addition to TVs, ENG systems etc. now located on the mountain.

This picture is from a surveillance camera operated by Acell-Net. Here we are looking to the East toward the twin towers of what we call WTM-2.  (West Tiger #2)   You can see the Cascade range beyond.


In the many years I’ve been going up there – This is the first winter that you could not drive a rubber-tired vehicle (with chains on all 4 wheels) up there this early in the year. Thanks to our rather unique winter this year – we have been snowed out from approx. Dec 10 to Feb 10 when Arthur Willets and Terry Spring managed to drive up.  More recently increased snow depth has curtailed easy access.  In normal years, our snowed-out periods are in late February and March.  Thankfully, Doug Fisher has a John Deere Gator with tracks that takes getting up here in stride.

To be sure the scenery up there beats what you see driving on a freeway in town! To the South you can see Mt Rainier and, if you pick your spot, you can see Mt St Helens.  With my 10X Bi-Noc’s I can see the Lava Dome on a clear day.  To the North, Mt Baker and the mountains to the north of Vancouver are visible.  Of course, to the West is the Puget Sound basin with Seattle, Bellevue etc. and the Olympics beyond.

It’s hard to predict just what kind of winter we are going to have until we get there.  There have been mild ones that enabled access with vehicles without chains all winter….Then there are those like this one.

The NWS is not a lot of help with their predictions either. According to State Climatologist, Nick Bond, the reason for all the snow is the simple fact that our temperatures have been well below normal.  No one is blaming a La Nina or El Nino…but rather that thing they call with a non-scientific name…The Blob.

I recently heard that they are now guesstimating that we will have an abnormally wet spring followed by a hot summer. Like all of us – We will just have to wait and see.  Weather here in the Pacific Northwest is, as we are being reminded, very very hard to predict. One note, according to the NWS, this is the 2nd wettest February in Seattle

After recent a big dump of snow – Doug Fisher took this of West Tiger #1 (WTM-1) The original broadcast site on the mountain. You can see his Gator parked in front of the building.

Those of us that have been following the boom in Seattle know that the cost for housing has been climbing rapidly. A new study underscores the situation concluding that the cost of living in Seattle is now the 9th highest in the world!  Seattle is now the 5th most expensive city for rent in the U.S.  Yes Seattle is behind New York and San Francisco.  Perhaps this will explain the exploding homeless problem?  Rents for everyone have gone up dramatically, including those that cannot afford it, forcing many into tents.  Some have called this a price of progress.

Plenty of survey and study results to share this month –

First of all – this one from MoneyRates – The best and worst states to make a living –

Coming in at #2 is Washington. One of the reasons they like this state – One of the highest wages in the country and no Income Tax.  At # 7 is Colorado credit given to high wage and low unemployment.

Unfortunately Oregon is ranked #49. They did not like the fact that the cost of living is 28.5% higher than the national average.

Forbes recently published a list of cities where workers are ‘flocking to’. Coming in at #1 – Seattle; #2 Portland, Oregon; #3 Austin, TX and #4- Denver.

Seattle made it into a list of cities that you can’t brag about – Worst Commute. LA (no surprise) is #1 worst commute in the world.  Seattle is (Ugh) ranked #10.

I love the fact that my readers are sending me pictures these days – Anyone care to venture a guess as to who this is? (Look at all that hair !!!!)

I have been writing, for some time, about the spectrum auction that promises to have a big impact on Television. Knowing that Rick Kemp has been following this closely – I asked him to explain it to us – and help us understand what this will mean here in the PNW – Rick submitted the following –

TV 600 MHz Spectrum Auction

The UHF Television spectrum auction has concluded. The FCC received or will receive $19.6 Billion from the wireless carriers that bid on 84 MHZ of 600MHZ Television spectrum. Out of the total, $6 Billion will be used to go to help reduce the US Deficit $1.75B will be used to help defray some of the cost to broadcasters who wish to participate in the next step, the TV Re-pack. Over $10 Billion will go to broadcasters that chose to relinquish their spectrum rights.

Basically what this means is all the UHF TV Channels that wish to stay on the air will be required to move to different channels (repacked)  into the UHF Channels between UHF Channels 18 and 36. The frequencies above CH 36 have been sold (auctioned) to Wireless companies.

This will affect 1200+ TV stations in the US. it will be up to the station owners to decide if they want to continue broadcasting or hand in some or all of their licenses and go dark.  FCC requires a station going off the air provide 30 days’ notice.


How will it work?

If a station wants to continue to broadcast and is out of band, they will need to:

  • Get a new (ATSC3.0) antenna*
  • Arrange for an interim or Aux antenna and / or site, in order to continue to operate while replacing their old antenna.
  • Get /upgrade to a new ATSC3.0 Exciter

At antenna sites that are co-located with FM Stations, there is a strong likelihood that the FM stations will be affected as well, possibly requiring an antenna relocation.

TV Stations that will be out of band in Washington State: (Starting with Seattle stations)

KOMO (38)




KUSE-LD (46)


KVEW(44 Kennewick)

KSKN(36 Spokane)


Channel 36 (RF channel 36): K36EW-D – (Religious independent) – College Place

Channel 36 (RF channel 36): KEVE-LD – (3ABN) – Vancouver

Channel 38 (RF channel 38): KYPK-LD – (MundoFox/Infomercials/The Walk TV/TeLe-Romántica/Religious independent) – Yakima

Channel 39 (RF channel 39): K39DL-D – (3ABN/Radio 74) – Moses Lake

Channel 39 (RF channel 39): KHBA-LD – (Hope Channel/3ABN/Religious independent/LLBN) – Spokane

Channel 39 (RF channel 39): KWYT-LP – (Estrella TV/Azteca America/MiCasa/LATV/QVC/Almavision) – Yakima

Channel 41 (RF channel 41): KCYU-LD – (Fox/This TV) – Yakima

Channel 42: KVBI-LP – Clarkston

Channel 42 (RF channel 42): K42KA-D – Moses Lake

Channel 43 (RF channel 43): K43MG-D – Hermiston

Channel 43 (RF channel 43): K43GZ-D – (HSN) – Spokane

Channel 45 (RF channel 35): KDHW-CD – (TBN/Church Channel/Smile of a Child TV/TBN Enlace USA) – Yakima

Channel 46 (RF channel 46): KUSE-LD – (Peace TV/SonLife/QVC/Hot TV/Infomercials) – Seattle

Channel 47 (RF channel 47): KQUP-LD – (Daystar) – Spokane

Channel 47 (RF channel 47): KWWO-LD – (Cornerstone) – Walla Walla

Channel 47 (RF channel 47): KWCC-LD – (Independent) – Wenatchee, Washington

Channel 49: K49EV – Clarkston

Channel 49: K49GF – Yakima, etc.

Channel 49 (RF channel 38): K38LZ-D – (MyNetworkTV) – Longview

Channel 49 (RF channel 49): KRLB-LD – (Cornerstone) – Richland, etc.

Channel 51 (RF channel 51): K51KY-D – Hermiston

Channel 51 (RF channel 51): K51JG-D – (3ABN/Radio 74) – Yakima

Channel 53 (RF channel 42): K42IH-D – (Independent) – East Wenatchee

Channel 54 (RF channel 31): K31KW-D

It’s unclear to me if KVOS (Ch 35) will be affected by the re-pack, due to the close proximity to Canada, which might require they still move (or go dark) to avoid potential interference with Mobile wireless in B.C.

TV Stations that will be out of band in Portland:






Channel 36 (RF channel 49): KAMK-LD (3ABN) – Eugene

Channel 38 (RF channel 38): KHWB-LD (TBN) – Eugene

Channel 38 (RF channel 38): KKEI-CD (Telemundo) – Portland

Channel 39 (RF channel 27): K27DO-D (FOX/Telemundo) – Bend, etc.

Channel 39 (RF channel 39): K39EF-D (HSN) – Ashland

Channel 39 (RF channel 39): KFXO-LD (FOX/Telemundo) – Bend

Channel 39 (RF channel 39): K39DP-D – Klamath Falls

Channel 39 (RF channel 45): K45KM-D (FOX/Telemundo) – Bend

Channel 40 (RF channel 40): K40KR-D – Medford

Channel 42: K42IR (3ABN) – Astoria

Channel 42 (RF channel 42): KPXG-LD (Daystar) – Portland

Channel 43 (RF channel 43): K43MK-D – Roseburg

Channel 44: KDOV-LP (Religious independent) – Medford

Channel 46 (RF channel 46): KGWZ-LD (Ind.) – Portland

Channel 47: K47HT (3ABN) – Roseburg

Channel 47 (RF channel 47): KUNP-LD (Univision/TBA) – Portland

Channel 48 (RF channel 16): K16IG-D – Cottage Grove

Channel 48 (RF channel 48): K48GC-D (3ABN/Radio 74) – Florence

Channel 48 (RF channel 48): K48DZ-D (3ABN/Radio 74) – Hermiston

Channel 48 (RF channel 48): KFBI-LD (MyNetworkTV/Telemundo) – Medford

Channel 49 (RF channel 20): K20DD-D (MyNetworkTV) – Albany, etc.

Channel 49 (RF channel 20): K20EH-D (MyNetworkTV) – Hood River

Channel 49 (RF channel 43): KUBN-LD (MyNetworkTV) – Bend

Channel 49 (RF channel 49): K49KT-D (GCN) – Bend

Channel 49 (RF channel 49): K49DM-D – Coos Bay

Channel 49 (RF channel 50): K50GG-D (MyNetworkTV) – Salem

Channel 51 (RF channel 41): KOXO-CD (America One) – Portland

Channel 51 (RF channel 51): KHPN-LD (Silent) – Warrenton

Channel 57 (RF channel 21): K21KB-D (3ABN/Radio 74) – Brookings

The FCC will issue a “Channel Reassignment Public Notice(CRPN) which will trigger a 39 month window.  At present, the countdown-clock is set to start on March 31.

This also means that several Wireless Microphone bands and IFB channels will also become no longer available. But as far as I can tell, the major wireless mic manufacturers are or have already planned for this eventuality.

It should be pointed out that the FCC originally had put 126 MHZ worth of UHF Spectrum up for auction, but after 3 rounds of auctions with no bites, the amount was whittled down to 84 MHZ.

This is an excerpt from a statement by Lectrosonics on the subject:

A big thankyou to Rick Kemp for this information….Now what is it likely to mean around here –

To start with, looks like a lot of construction activity around Queen Anne Hill with at least 4 stations going to have to change channels (I’ve highlighted them in Yellow) in Portland, several there are also going to have to make major changes. This will be the 2nd time for the Seattle changes, the first time was the shuffle from VHF to UHF.

In some cases, where FM Stations are sharing towers with TV stations that are going to have to move, there will be impacts to those radio stations. Perhaps rightfully, some of these stations are asking that some of that auction money should pay for instances where they have to make expensive changes through no fault of their own.  Apparently the NAB agrees.  Not sure that the FCC planned on doing so.

To the best of my knowledge this will not impact FMs in Seattle. KUOW/94.9 on the Ch. 9 tower on Capitol Hill is not impacted as none of those TV stations on that hill are impacted.

Recently there was a small, low power, station in the Seattle area that got hacked by someone getting into their un-protected Barix based STL system. Obviously the FCC has been following this.  The question is being asked…If the FCC fines your station because it was hacked – Are you liable?  Whereas older aural STL systems were (usually) not vulnerable to hacking, we have not had to think about these things.  In today’s Internet based systems, STL, EAS etc. stations (apparently) have become easy targets.  Seems to me that the fault lives with these stations that fail to protect their systems from intrusions.

A few years ago a TV station aired some adult material with the FCC taking action against them. As with a lot of things these days – it may depend on whether or not someone complains.  Larger stations and/or ownerships may have insurance to deal with this kind of thing…Not likely a small LPFM would enjoy the same degree of protection.  Then…We have a new administration at the FCC and time will tell just how tough they will be in these matters.

A lot of radio stations are facing the need to switch ‘birds’ for satellite fed programming this summer.

The change is from AMC 8 to AMC 18. For many stations, their receive antennas are not designed to be moved….Then there is the issue that some existing receive dishes will not work with the new satellite due to their spacing, making larger dishes a requirement.  The good news is there is an overlap period when both satellites will provide the same programming.  You may have noticed an increase in advertising for these kinds of products ….This is why.

Every so often you start seeing advertising for some new version of yesteryear’s ‘snake oil’…. Are you ready for Himalayan Sea Salt? Not only can you sprinkle this on your food …but you can purchase Himalayan Sea Salt Lamp fans of which claim they emit negative ions which lowers your blood pressure, increase oxygen flow to the brain, purify the air – and (GET THIS) Protect against electromagnetic radiation.  Perhaps you should only use your cellphone near one of these?

Speaking of Cellphones…..Looks like the Washington Legislature is, once again, working to toughen up laws regarding distracted driving. Not sure how much good this will do as, despite the existing laws, I continue to see a LOT of folks driving down the road with their cellphones to their ears or looking down at their device with their thumbs flying.  There is concern that this might negatively impact those that are Amateur Radio operators (Hams).  Looks like they may been have been successful.

The Washington State EAS Committee, formally known as the SECC, is changing its meeting location. We have been meeting at the Washington State EOC at Camp Murray –  The new location, for the March 16th Meeting will be at Clover Park Technical College (CPTC) in Lakewood in the Building 11 KVTI Conference Room.   This change will bring with it some benefits –

  • A larger room better able to accommodate a greater number of participants
  • Easier access in that you will not have to go thru a military checkpoint
  • More parking (Camp Murray has become increasingly difficult to find parking)
  • Better conference telephone to make it easier for telephone participants to hear and be heard

I hope you can join us in person. I will have more, detailed, information on the EAS Remailer as we approach the meeting day.  The May Meeting of the SECC will again be on the other side of the Cascades at Kittcom in Ellensburg on May 25th.  This annual meeting on the East-Side has been popular with good attendance by those from the other side of the State.  In July we will be back to CPTC.

I have heard it said that the vultures are circling Cumulus as the big radio company is struggling with a mountain of debt (2.4 Billion bucks worth) and efforts to deal with it have been facing headwinds. The questions that many keep asking is – How long can they avoid the ‘B-Word’?  Should they fail, there could be a fire-sale with some very well-known properties going for bargain basement prices.  Then who wants to buy them.  Let’s face it, media companies are not exactly the darlings of Wall Street.  The financial woes of iHeart and Cumulus have not exactly helped.

For those of you that are into electronics, Ham Radio, computers etc. – Don’t forget the annual Mike and Key Club Electronic Flea Market at the Puyallup Fair Grounds on March 11th. A sure sign of Spring!

A bit further out is the Annual SeaPac Ham Convention in Seaside, Oregon June 2- 4.

Are you ready for a reversal of the Magnetic Poles? There are a number of scientists that feel that this may well happen and point to evidence to support their contention, specifically, the magnetic field has been decreasing for the past 160 years at a rapid rate.  In fact, there is evidence that this has happened in the past.  It’s during the switch that concerns the experts as the Earth’s magnetic field would become very weak and during this time a number of bad things could take place…Like an increase in harmful radiation that the magnetic field protects us from, messing up our navigation and power distribution systems etc.  In the end, your compass would be pointed South.  No this is not a run up to an April 1 story.  You are welcome to do some research on your own.

And this brings me to thoughts of terms that we don’t use any more. In fact, if you were to use them around a typical broadcast station today you’d discover a significant number of the staff would likely be giving you a classic ‘Deer in the Headlights’ expression.

Let’s try a couple for TV –

  • Registration
  • Film chain
  • Pre-roll
  • Kinescope
  • Racking Lenses


Or for Radio –

  • Wow and Flutter
  • Rumble
  • Turn-over cartridge
  • ET’s
  • NEMO


In general there are a lot of terms that we stopped using….For example the word ‘Kilter’. When was the last time you used or heard it?    Perhaps you recall the term ‘out of kilter’.  Something that is ‘out of kilter’ is – ‘out of balance’.  Or, you could say that something is ‘off kilter’.  For example something that is not plumb is ‘off kilter’.  Your game could be ‘off’ ….or ‘out of kilter’.  Now that you are with me….Time for some fun.  Try using this term with a more freshly minted person.

  • The video looks out of kilter
  • The Audio sounds out of kilter
  • The computer network is out of kilter
  • When your expenses exceed your income – your cash-flow is ‘out of kilter’


What we really need is a device that will detect and alert us to a condition where kilter is about to be compromised or the level of kilter is approaching a condition where intervention is called for.   That device would be (of course) a “Kiltometer’.  Kiltometers can be linear or utilize some other acceptable curve depending on the nature of the matter being monitored.  Certainly a Kilter reaching a critical level should trigger automatic alarms.  Might I recommend that engineers take this matter seriously and consider producing devices that would be able to display these types of conditions?  Any indicating instrument, like a Kiltometer, would need to have a unit of measurement associated with it.  In some cases Kilter could be displayed in Degrees or perhaps, in extreme cases – Units of Aggravation.  Oh yes, you are invited to do your own research on Kilter.  You will discover that the word (Kilter or Kelter) goes back to the 1600’s.  It’s just that it has, like a lot of things, fallen from favor.

Another term that could be used instead of Kilter is – ‘ Whack’. Perhaps the newbies will understand when you tell them that the device is simply ‘out of whack’.  You may wish to bone up on this topic because you just might be ask to define when something becomes – IN- whack as opposed to be ‘out of whack’.  The origin of Whack is easier to understand as it likely came from the experiences that a person had with a piece of equipment that failed to perform as expected that could be corrected with the application of a ‘whack’ in a particular location using a certain amount of G-force….But this is only a guess.

Then there is the old standby ‘Fritz’. We all know when a copy machine is ‘on the fritz’….However we may not be able to tell if it’s ‘off the fritz’.  Using simple deductive and detective principles…It appears that this term is German in origin.

I believe, with all that, the time has come to end this month’s Column.

Thanks again for all the reader feedback I have been receiving – It’s good to know that there are those that will take the time to read what I have written.


Till next month, in most of these same locations,


Think SPRING !


Clay, K7CR, CPBE








Clay’s Corner For January 2017

January 6, 2017

Clay’s Corner
Providing news and views from a broadcast engineers perspective since September 1986

I hope that you all had a wonderful Christmas and that 2017 will prove to be the best – A lot of newsy stuff to report on this month and some pretty, and interesting, pictures – The two biggest in-debt radio operators, Cumulus and iHeart, continue to dance around a mountain of IOU’s.  I guess the expression – “Too big to fail” applies to these firms.  If you find yourself overwhelmed with financial obligations, my recommendation is that you hire the folks handling these messes…They have to be geniuses.  If you wish to better understand what’s taking place…Start with researching ‘springing lien’ (And you thought engineering was complicated?)  Perhaps the real question that needs to be asked here – Is radio hurting and the financial position of these two big outfits a sign of a struggling industry or are these just a couple of examples of mismanagement?  Another reason for raised eyebrows was the word that a couple of top executives with Cumulus recently received huge bonuses.  Oh Well……There is another activity in the world of radio and that’s the looming spin-off of CBS. We have all been hearing a great deal about the problems impacting AM Radio – Giving this some thought, I’d like to share the following with you – AM BOOSTERS – Some recent attention is being paid to the AM band thanks to activity in Puerto Rico where an operator has been, for some time, operating a number of AM Boosters.

With information that the Commish wants to rein in this operation has come a lot of raised eyebrows and renewed discussion about how synchronized AM boosters might be good for the salvation of the ‘legacy band’.  Apparently there are those that feel that if an AM Station could spread out its coverage with boosters it might be able to succeed.  There are a number of cases where small AM’ s are linked with common programming serving multiple small towns that seem to work well.

DOES COVERAGE EQUAL SUCCESS? There was a time, especially in locations like Seattle that has very poor ground conductivity and a population that continues to spread out, where an AM Broadcaster needed to have either a low-dial position or lots of power (or both) to cover the entire market.  Back when I got into this business, Tacoma and Seattle were, in many ways, hundreds of miles apart.  Each had its own stations and that was fine.  As the cities along Puget Sound grew together those big signals that covered most of the entire market were what kept them afloat with the smaller signal AM’s falling by the wayside, and in some cases, going dark.  This shift to a larger conjoined area forced FM stations to re-locate their transmitters to higher locations for much the same reason.  Today we have FM stations whose coverage is equal to the signals from the big, 50kW AM’s creating a more level playing field.  Interestingly, in the Seattle area, we have very few small signal FM’s but several limited coverage AM’s continue to manage to survive.

IT HAPPENS AT NIGHT Radio listeners today have come to expect that their favorite audio sources will be there – whenever- they want it.  AM is unique in that something bad happens when the sun goes down that they don’t understand, and further, don’t desire to.  The fact that the vast majority of AM’s either reduce power, switch to a directional antenna or – sign off – at sunset is something that, 50 years ago, was tolerated…but those days are gone!  (I recall a few years ago, while out doing AM field measurements, encountering a fellow that wanted to know how come a local station had their transmitter break – every day – during the 5th inning of the ball game) FM Radio and all manner of streaming, does not have that problem.  Sadly, there is nothing anyone can do to fix it….including the Government.

THE QUALITY DIFFERENCE Today audio audiences expect full fidelity, low background noise, and stereo, for the simple reason that, with the exception of AM Radio, they all give them what they expect.  Meanwhile efforts providing increased audio bandwidth and stereo on AM have been less than hugely successful.  First we had AM Stereo – It was a better – But success was limited and lack of universal adoption killed it.  Then came along IBOC, aka the AM Version of HD Radio.  Like AM Stereo – A few stations operate it, but it has not been proven to be the key to universal success.

THE RECEIVER ISSUE Quality AM Receivers are largely a dream.  For years the manufacturers of consumer radios have done a poor job in their AM sections.  Lack of sensitivity, bandwidth (fidelity) etc.  The fact is an old, tube-type, table radio manufactured over 50 years ago, works better than most of today’s products (I have one of those).  Even with today’s HD Radio AM – You would be hard pressed to find a radio for your home that will decode it.  It appears that the makers of receivers have given-up on non-vehicle AM receivers.  Meanwhile you can purchase all kinds of receiving equipment for FM, including some models of smart phones.  Unfortunately the broadcast industry, or any government entity, has done little to help correct this problem.

FM TRANSLATORS FOR AM’s The FCC, in an effort to give AM a shot in the arm, has agreed with those that have been claiming that if they just had an FM translator that things would be ‘all-better’.  Apparently this is based on the fact that FM now has the biggest piece of the radio pie.  I recall talking to an AM station owner many years ago about FM….Trying to convince him to file for an FM Frequency (when they were still available).  He was not interested countering with arguments like – Why should l sink a lot of money into something that nobody listens to? – – How am I going to get my money back? – – Why should I reduce my bottom line just to say that I am an AM/FM station?  (Funny how the same arguments are used today by some FM station owners when you discuss HD Radio).  History has taught us that these folks were wrong and those that did indeed opt for an FM today find themselves in a much better position.  The problem is there is just not enough empty spectrum to accommodate all those AM’s with big signal FM’s to make a difference.  That train left the station many years ago.  As they say, you snooze – you looze.

THE NOISE PROBLEM Like a lot of things…There will always be those that look to the regulators for answers.  In the case of the US – The FCC could have done more to aggressively deal with the ever increasing noise floor that is, effectively, reducing the coverage of AM radio stations as each day goes by.  Only lately have they been receiving pressure to do so…Unfortunately that horse left the barn many years ago.  There is a lot of blame to go around here – 1) I blame the owners and operators of AM stations for being anti-science and failing to recognize that their enemy was all around them.  Generally, they did not wish to try and understand what was going on (too close to that ugly word….’Science’). Their solution was to ask for more power.  2) I can blame the Feds for their apparent refusal to enforce their own rules.

SPECTRUM SUPPLY VS DEMAND Unfortunately, the ‘Magic Band-Aid’ FM Translator is a limited resource solution.  The FCC recognized this and twisted their rules to permit the importing of translators from afar calling it a minor-change.  The fact is the spectrum for these devices is limited and as it fills, that resource becomes increasingly more limited to the point that some translators will be severely limited in terms of coverage, resulting in being minimally effective at limiting the bleeding.  Regardless of how the they are viewed, their actual benefit may be more limited to the addition to the station’s letterhead.  Will having a flea-powered AM save the day….I think not.

THE LAWS OF SUPPLY AND DEMAND AND NATURAL PROCESSES In some ways, owners of AM stations have been discovering what it’s like when demand for a product goes down.  This is nothing new.  Consumers will always gravitate toward something new and/or better.  Need I mention – The Horse & Buggy, black and white TV, Cassette and Reel to Reel Tape, Typewriters, Rotary Dial Phones etc. etc.  There are countless industries that have not looked at the future and adapted (applied for those FM channels when they were available) and have been reduced to a paragraph in a history book.  We need to face the fact that to a large extent AM Radio is facing the same dilemma that countless other industries have faced.  As is said – There is nothing more constant than change.  Radio, like all things, is facing change.  One of the biggest factors today is choice.  Today there are a zillion more audio choices.  You can only divide the pie so many ways!  The other big factor is quality.  Let’s face it – a hyper-compressed digital audio source sounds a whole lot better than any monophonic, narrow band, pop and crackle AM signal ever will.  Today’s consumers are not likely to lower their expectations – Unless there is compelling content that you can’t get anywhere else.

CONTENT MATTERS Content is always a huge factor.  The fact that some AM’s are doing well underscores that.  The change in listening habits and demands have pretty much forced AM to abandon music formats (there are a few exceptions) and become a place where talk will work.  And this is good, as the technical characteristics of AM are more compatible.  Formats like News/Talk – Sports/Talk – Telephone/Talk continue to work well.  Examples – ESPN, Rush Limbaugh.  Another area where AM has changed is other languages.  Today you will find, in most metropolitan areas, a number of stations with non-English programming.  The issue here is that there are more stations than there are viable formats.  (Again supply and demand creeps into the picture.)

THE SMALL MARKETS There are a number of small markets across the country that are impacted by the shift of listening habits to FM.  Certainly these folks are impacted.  Admittedly the addition of an FM transmitter, albeit low power, can certainly help them….Especially if that AM is a Day-Timer.

THE SURVIVAL OF THE FIT I suspect that a lot of major market AM’s would go dark, regardless of their power level, if they did not have an co-owned cluster of FM’s footing the bill.  I also have to believe that a number of ownerships would be happy to sell their AM’s just to get away from the financial drain.  Further, I would wager that a lot AM’s could go off the air and no-one would notice.  Any takers?

REDUCING THE BLOW TORCHES There are those that are calling for the reduction of protection for those legacy high powered stations at night feeling that if this were done, more small stations could survive and perhaps remain viable.  Seems to me that this is a process that’s been going on for some time.  The old ‘Clear Channels’ are not there anymore, folks.  Just turn on your AM radio at night and try and find them.

MY RECOMMENDATIONS 1 – Leave AM alone –  There are times that its best to ‘hold em’. 2 – Tell the Feds to quit trying to interfere with a natural process – This is not the Auto Industry – or the society for the preservation of the horse and buggy. 3 – Let the future of AM be determined by supply and demand – What happened to this foundation of capitalism in this case?

Perhaps if the Feds backed off we would find that AM will find a way to determine the level at which it can sustain itself.  This may mean that AM Radio, in a few years, may end with a whole lot fewer stations and those that do survive could perhaps be economically viable.  Those stations may end up being a mixture of small ones serving small markets and some big ones that have found a way to survive economically.  That’s my $.02 – What do you think?  As we enter this New Year – I’d love to hear what you see in your crystal ball for AM Radio.

Another wrinkle in the works is the matter of what will be the impact on the FCC of the changing of the guard in WDC?  A change of party in power could change a lot of things.  An example of this shift took place in the middle of the month when we all thought the Commission would adopt a number of changes to EAS….They declined to act.  What we got was news that the Commission is undergoing a shakeup.  Forecasting of political events is about as risky as forecasting windstorms or snow in Seattle.  Guess we can all hide and watch.

Another popular sport these days is watching the FCC struggle to find a balance between the interests of TV stations and potential wireless users of a big chunk of what used to be exclusively TV spectrum.  This is a moving target with a lot of shifting parts and pieces.  Looks like the amount of broadcast spectrum shifting to wireless may be less than first thought.  Again, my advice – Hide and watch Picture time! Whereas we have been having some early winter weather in our area…Here are some great scenes to share – First a couple of shots submitted by Doug Fisher captured during a recent trip to Capital Peak near Olympia.  This one, suitable for a Christmas Card, showing a winter moon.

Mountain and Snow

On a lighter note – Congrats to Dave Ratener on the purchase of a new Toyota Tacoma pickup.  Seems to be a growing trend.

The FCC continues to do a ‘FINE job’ – Nailing a South Carolina firm 22 Grand for violations involving their public file.  In this case staff changes were cited as a reason.  I have often wondered how often stations find themselves behind with portions of a public file that they thought were being handled by a long-gone employee.  In the past, I was the person in charge of the public files for a cluster of stations.  In that case I would have to hunt-down a party that was supposed to supply the file with data.  Often these folks leave (for one reason or another), leaving a gap in the P.F. that could prove to be expensive.  I recall preaching about how they needed to be prepared should an FCC Inspector drop by….The transition to an on-line system, the Commission will have a much better way of determining compliance without the government expense of surprise physical inspections.

Another beautiful picture from Doug Fisher – this one shows Doug working on a frozen gate at Capital Peak – Those of us that travel to mountain top sites have learned to carry a torch for times like these.  The mode of travel in these conditions is – over – the snow which means ‘tracks’.


It seems it was not long ago that the outfit that brought us HD Radio (Ibiquity) was sold to DTS.  It didn’t take long for DTS to get ‘gobbled up’.  Tessera Holding Corporation has acquired DTS.  We will have to see just what this means in the coming months.

I caught this one on the USGS Mt St Helens camera site on December 13th.  What surprised me was the fact that the Lava Dome was steaming.  Looking at the USGS Site, there has been an up-tick in quake activity, nothing large however.  Here is how you can check seismic activity for yourself –  To reach the camera used in this shot – Certainly that blanket of fall snow is a beautiful sight.

Snowy Mountain

Pirate Radio is back in the news again….and, as usual, there no place is like New York for pirates.  Recently listeners to the city’s WXQR were hearing a pirate station preaching the Torah over their classical music.  Can you image this taking place in Seattle?  Of course the FCC confirmed that this should not happen.  According to a NYC Newspaper there are (are you ready for this?) about 100 pirate stations operating within New York’s five boroughs.  The FCC agrees that they should be shut down…for reasons only understood on the other side of the Potomac….it continues.  I guess I have a hard time understanding how the Commission, on one hand, can gut the Enforcement Bureau and on the other hand let this mess continue.  It seems that a country that likes to talk about a place where the rule of law prevails is not practicing what it preaches.

Pirates are not just active in New York….They apparently love California too.  According to FCC Statistics, there have been about 165 pirate radio enforcement actions in that state alone since 2003.  Meanwhile, the FCC is proposing a fine of 25 Grand against the operators of a pirate station in Arleta.  According to news reports, the owners knew what they were doing was illegal but have been ignoring the warnings for a number of years.  What am I missing here?  I get the feeling that many of these operators have come to believe that the FCC is a toothless paper tiger and that they can do what they please.  Tragically, actions speak louder than words.  It’s been said that the problem is like ‘whack a mole’…The Feds hit them in one place and they pop up somewhere else.  Perhaps the lack of effort to resolve this is because many feel that no one is dying or getting physically hurt?  Could it be that radio, as we know it, will come to an end?  Funny how the FCC seems to feel they can ‘fix’ AM and yet can’t find out how to ‘fix’ one of the major problems on the FM band.  Again, I don’t get it.

Perhaps the solution to these problems will have to come from Congress and in that area broadcasting has a friend.  Congratulations to that friend, Greg Walden, who was just elected to Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.  If you recall, Greg used to own radio stations in Oregon.  And let us not forget that Greg is also known as W7EQI.  For those of us that have been involved with Amateur Radio for many years, this is especially significant.  Walden represents Oregon’s second Congressional district. Now here is an interesting picture – Equipment being tested by the FAA to zap drones.  Obviously a concern near airports.

Drone Zappers

Remember the item about the Saga/KPUG translator on 97.3 in Bellingham?  The Commission has, quickly, granted them a Construction Permit to move to 97.9.  I understand that this change will take place early in January.  Have not heard of any repercussions over the 96.5 or 98.9 operation in Bellingham.  Those frequencies are also in use in Seattle. Another winter scene picture – This one taken with my smart phone at West Tiger Mt recently.  It was close to sundown turning the clouds near Enumclaw a pretty shade.

Icy Trees

As my readers know – I love to feature the results of surveys that show locations where this column is read.  (Seattle, Portland and Denver).  Here are some new ones –   2016’s best places for business and career:   Best Places: 1. Denver, Colo.

  • Metro population: 2,820,200
  • Gross Metro Production: $178 billion
  • Projected annual GMP growth: 3.3%

Best Places: 4. Seattle, Wash.

  • Metro population: 2,895,300
  • Gross Metro Production: $250 billion
  • Projected annual GMP growth: 3.5%

Best Places: 5. Portland, Ore.

  • Metro population: 2,392,300
  • Gross Metro Production: $150 billion
  • Projected annual GMP growth: 5.4%

The best states for business 2016

  • # 5 Colorado
  • #9 Washington

And this finding, according to Business Insider, was a pleasant surprise – The #1 best city of quality of life in the US.  Quoting them now –   To determine which US cities offer the best quality of life, we turned to the latest Places to Live rankings from Niche, a company that researches and compiles information on cities.  We looked at eight separate rankings in the best cities category — which assessed more than 220 places with a population exceeding 100,000 people — including “Safest Cities,” “Cities with the Best Job Opportunities,” “Healthiest Cities,” and “Best Cities to Raise a Family.”  We then combined these rankings to determine which cities have the best overall quality of life.  The final list of the top 25 cities reveals that midsized cities (with populations less than 500,000) offer the best quality of life.  The state with the most cities in the top 25 is Texas with seven, followed by California with five. So which city ended up ranking #1 – Ready for this – Bellevue, Washington.  Yep that city on the other side of Lake Washington from Seattle.   Conde Nast Ranked the 17 most beautiful towns in America – Ranking #7 – Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands in Washington State.   Congratulations to PDX (Portland, Oregon).  J.D. Power’s 2016 North America Airport Satisfaction Study recently ranked Portland International #1. Not all things turn out exactly as intended.  American Tower (ATC) hired a contractor to cut down some trees that were growing into the building at their site on Cougar Mountain, as well as put some gravel on a road that was getting pretty muddy.  The tree removal went well…But the laying of the gravel did not!  As the 10 yard dump truck raised its bed, while driving spreading the gravel, they ‘discovered’ a guy wire attached to the old Century Link tower that crossed the road….Yup!  Down went the tower.  Good news is that it was a relatively short tower and may not have been in use.  The bad news is the tower fell into power lines!  The contractor put the tower back up and PSE restored the power about 12 hours later.  Obviously a lot of generators received their load-test.  I understand that this incident also uncovered a reluctant transfer switch in the process.  Guess we can be thankful it was not a bigger tower.  The message here is this – If there are guyed towers in the vicinity – Locate them!!  Obviously this incident got the attention of a lot of folks at ATC. In this first picture you can see the tower, and antenna, nicely laying across the power lines.  The ATC 273581 Site tower is in the right side of this frame.  I was musing with Rob Purdy at the site on how it appears a slight wind will bring down the power lines at Cougar and yet they are strong enough to hold a tower.

Tower Down #1

Here you can see the tower (Rohn 65G) laying over the top of the little Century Link building.  The tower in the background, formally known as the KUBE Tower, holds KRWM/106.9.

Tower Down #2


Here’s another winter picture.  This one taken at Striped Peak (just west of Port Angeles) and shows KNKX’s Lowell Kiesow scraping a layer of ice and snow out of a satellite dish.

Cleaning Dish

Lowell crafted this nifty dish snow and ice remover from a piece of plywood with a short pile carpet edge having just the proper radius for these dishes.  The pole or handle is the one used by concrete finishers and comes in sections permitting reaching elevated dishes.

Snow Sweeper

New tower standards have been announced.  The new – ANSI/TIA -222-H was announced on December 20th – The Revision of the structural standard for Antenna Supporting Structures (And small Wind Turbine structures) is expected to be published the 3rd quarter of 2017.  The new standard was constructed by TR-14 Task Group 3.

Congrats to the folks in Kilgore, Texas on establishing a new museum for broadcast equipment.  The problem is, unless you are driving from Dallas to Shreveport on I-20 you are not likely to get there.  Kilgore is 122 miles East of Dallas.  (Too bad it is not closer to a major city.  Kilgore is a town of 15,000.)  The new facility, called the Texas Museum of Broadcasting and Communications is located in what used to be an auto dealership and has a lot of cool stuff.  Probably the coolest is a fully restored 1949 DuMont Telecruiser.  Which reminds me very much of the old KTNT-TV Bus that was managed by Tom Brokaw.

KBTV Vehicle

Pictures like this cause me to recall a lot of my early years with TV.  For example this question that would likely confuse many today – Why did early Fader-Bars have the ability to be – decoupled?  And what the heck is a ‘Split-Bar-Super’ anyway?  On that topic – I recall looking at some early DuMont field production stuff.  Did you know, before there were fader bars, video levels were set with rotory pots.  To fade from one camera to another (dissolve) you turned down the level on one camera while increasing the level on the other all while watching what was later called an ‘A-Scope’ (Dang I AM getting old). As Paul McLane put it – Smitty is now a Free Agent.  Hard to believe but Milford Smith (Smitty to everyone) has officially left Greater Media with whom he had been their VP of Engineering for 32 years.  With Beasley buying Greater Media – Changes.  Anyone that knew Smitty would tell you that he was (and is) a class act.  He had one of those million watt smiles that would light up a room.  I first met him while he was doing work in Seattle…and later, with my travels for Entercom and SBE – we would see each other.  Great guy….and young too – (Only 68).  He was recently quoted thusly – “Retirement was surely not on my radar, at least not for a while, after 50 years of doing this, I still very much enjoy the work — especially the people — and would surely love to continue in the industry in some capacity”


More pictures – Sure – How about this one?

AM Tower



Anyone recognize this tower?

Another winter beauty from Dwight Small – If you look at the lower left of this frame you will see a portion of the foundation for their new home on Lake Cavanaugh.  Not hard to wonder why he’d rather look at this than any sight in Seattle.

Placid Lake

I do receive a number of responses to this Column.  Here’s one, received this past month, from Rockwell Smith that I thought I’d share.  In this case, he is responding to my piece on how stations reached technical help – back when.  Clay, I enjoyed your recent article on how calling the engineer has evolved.   There is one rather unique way that I wanted to share with you.  And that is using the station itself.   KSRA in Salmon has always been unique in many ways.  Being a small town,  with a contract engineer located several hours away was one of them back  in the ’60s.  I  worked here in the early ’60s part time while in high  school, and soon was taking care of minor technical problems, calling in the engineer for the bigger things beyond my expertise at that time, or  beyond my license grade at the time.  But I digress.  KSRA AM is a daytime station.  Yes, we now have a whopping 56 watts at night, but back then, it was strictly daytime.  We signed on with the Tennessee Ernie Ford song RIVER OF NO RETURN.  It was not played in its entirety, but only the first 30 seconds or so of the song.  But the record was on a peg in the control room marked EMERGENCY.   Being a small town, it was the only station.  Everyone listened in their businesses or cars.  Should a situation arise where you needed management or technical response ASAP you simply played the RIVER OF NO RETURN.  It was the “page” for anyone on the staff not at the station to call NOW. A couple of years later, I was back in Salmon, working for the Forest Service doing road surveys.  That meant camped on site somewhere in the forest Monday thru Friday.  No cell phone, no two-way, but I did have my little transistor radio.  The station and I had an agreement that I would take care of any needs within my capability, but they needed a way to contact me.  Back to the song.  At sign off, they also played about 30  seconds of it, did the sign-off script, and ended with the Star Spangled Banner.  It was agreed I would listen every evening at sign-off.  If the station was off the air, of course I would walk out and call in.  If the sign-off was normal, then everything was OK.  But if the entire song was played, I needed to hike out and call in.  It was not instant communication, but it was effective.   Just for what it’s worth, I retired from full time work in Boise at the end of 2013, and am enjoying semi-retirement back in my home town of Salmon, working once more the very station I started with back in 1962 –  KSRA.  A lot has changed in 50+ years.  I often say the only thing that  hasn’t changed since I was here as a teenager are the call letters. — Rockwell Smith Semi-retired Broadcast Engineer AE7NT Amateur Extra Well, my friends, that’s it for this Month – and for 2016.  Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts and look at my collection of pictures.  If you have a picture and/or a news item (old news works too) to share – Please do send it my way. Lord willing – Will be back to most of these same places next month-

Clay Freinwald, K7CR & CPBE












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