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Clay’s Corner For January 2017

January 6, 2017
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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’.

 SnowCat

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 – http://www.pnsn.org/volcanoes/mount-st-helens  To reach the camera used in this shot – https://www.fs.fed.us/gpnf/volcanocams/msh/ 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clay’s Corner for December 2016

December 11, 2016
By

 

 

Clay’s Corner

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

By now Turkey Day has come and gone and we are all facing the annual fear of stepping on the scale. Don’t worry – There are more parties and diners to come – Time to be concerned about that is AFTER the first of the year.

As you all know by now…The FCC has decided one of the ways to prop up the ailing AM Broadcast Band is by permitting AM’s to get FM Translators. This has been received well with many AM owners as they instantly saw a way to reach those that have abandoned the AM band in favor of FM.

The Commission approached this with a series of what they call ‘Filing Windows’. The first application window was only available to small and daytime only stations.  The 2nd window, open to all stations, with the granting process underway.  At this point the Commish appears to be patting themselves on the back, calling the effort a success, as perhaps 1000 new translators fill up the FM Band.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that this is not all a good idea. Certainly a small, day-time only AM in a small market could benefit from adding a simulcast FM.  I find it interesting, however, that some high-powered AM’s are adding FM Translators.  Perhaps the power level and operating time of these stations is not sufficient to make up the difference that a low-powered FM would add?

Here in Western Washington we have a very interesting situation in Bellingham. For those of you not familiar, Bellingham is 90 Miles north of Seattle and approx. 50 miles south of Vancouver, B.C.  The dominate radio cluster there is a group of stations owned by Saga consisting of 3 AM and 2 FM Stations.  They recently added 3 AM Translators re-broadcasting their 3 AM’s.  The problem is that the frequencies they chose were 96.5, 97.3 and 98.9, all co-channel to Seattle stations with transmitters located on West Tiger (the highest of the major broadcast sites in the Seattle area).  Not only did these new translators eliminate the listeners in the Bellingham area that the Seattle stations enjoyed, but it got the attention of the local Bellingham newspaper as well as the owners of some Seattle stations that suddenly found another on what was ‘their’ frequency.  Here’s a couple of links you can look at for additional information:

http://www.allaccess.com/net-news/archive/story/159179/new-kpug-bellingham-wa-fm-translator-simulcast-cau

http://www.insideradio.com/free/saga-translator-causes-static-for-bonneville-in-seattle/article_339d974c-9ce4-11e6-ae85-5b73698d6557.html

http://www.bellinghamherald.com/news/local/article110661327.html

The problem here is that Bellingham is considerably outside what is considered the Seattle stations’ primary coverage area….Even though they are listenable there.

I recently drove around the Bellingham area listening to the signals on 97.3 coming from KIRO-FM on West Tiger (Seattle) as well as KPUG’s local transmitter (at the KPUG-AM Transmitter Site) in my 2016 Toyota Tacoma.  The process was quite interesting….. I found one location, about 2 miles from the KPUG translator that KIRO completely captured my radio.  In other locations I found I could listen to KPUG-FM, with their RDS, and in the same location, receive KIRO’s HD2 or HD3 along with their PAD information.  Going North from Bellingham, further away from Seattle, I was able to drive out of the KPUG translator coverage area and again receive KIRO-FM.  It’s my understanding that KIRO-FM (as well as their HD Channels) are listenable 50 miles North of Bellingham.  This is not a good situation for either broadcaster.  It’s my understanding that KIRO received a considerable number of complaints and formally objected to the new translator and that it has since been removed from the air and that the station may be searching for another frequency.  This is going to be tough, as Bellingham sits between two major markets with a lot of FM signals from high-elevation sites on both sides of the Border.  Perhaps the Bellingham group should have done some additional listening to the band to determine whether or not this would be an issue?  I’ve not heard what the impact has been on the other two Seattle stations.  This may have something to do with the fact that KIRO-FM’s programming is unique while 96.5 and 98.9 are music formats that are likely duplicated by stations in Vancouver etc.?

The Seattle SBE Chapter Remailer had a number of comments posted, here is a sample:

  • That is not the half of it….What I find of interest is this little bite. How about a translator that is allowed to stay on during the dark hours of the AM signal-DAYTIMERS.  Just direct feed the signal, and presto: You have a full time FM.
  • I still don’t understand how FM translators revitalize the AM band but then, as my wife keeps reminding me, there’s a lot of things about the way various governmental agencies work that don’t have to make sense. Has the revitalization waved the non-interference to regularly heard full service FM’s rule?  I wondered how they were going to get all these translators shoved into the FM band in metro coverage areas.  I guess the answer is they’ll just step on FM’s that they can capture out.
  • Broadcast is shooting itself in the foot by doing this.

Regarding this last comment….Reminds me of the old question – Whose ox is being gored? Are FM Broadcasters feet being shot by AM Broadcasters that want an FM signal in the belief that this is what’s needed to remain viable?

The media outlets that follow this type of thing were all over this one too with one of them citing how stations in other markets have launched campaigns to enlist their listeners support to fight off these new systems.

But wait, there is more (Love that line). The list of local, Seattle area, AM’s that have FM Translators on the air or have applied for them is growing.  Soon the FM Band in Western Washington will sound like it does in the major metropolitan areas of the East Coast…Sad, but true.

Not all AM translators are on new frequencies…Witness the purchase of the KMIH 94.5 translator by Bonneville to provide KTTH with an FM in the area. The announced purchase price for this transaction is $300 Grand.  (Compare that to the value of a less than 50kW AM.)  Whereas the transmitter operates with a breathtaking 62 watts this amounts to about $4800 per watt.  Wow!  Who would have thought that a little translator would bring in that amount of cash?  My guess is Bonneville will re-locate the system.

I suspect as more of these translators go on the air that situations like the one here are going to crop up. The big question is what will be the FCC’s response to these matters going forward?  Will the Commish tell the established broadcaster ….Sorry Charlie, not going to protect your signal beyond the 60 dBu regardless of how many listeners you have out there?  The impact of these events should be a ‘wakeup call’ for the engineering departments of these stations that were under the false impression that the FCC would be looking out for them.  I learned about these applications by checking the daily releases of new applications from the FCC.  Frankly I was disappointed to hear that this came as a surprise to some who apparently feel that perhaps their government is going to protect them?  Owners of existing FM Stations today are going to have to watch the ‘henhouse’ or they are going to be in for some unfortunate surprises from not only AM translators on FM but from the ever growing number of other signals on the band.  Sorry folks, in this case, your government may not be looking out for you but rather the other guy.

I suppose I should mention that KIRO-FM is now operating with their HD at -14 dBc via their main transmitter as opposed to the separate antenna -20 method they have been using for many years. Slowly but surely the FM’s in this market are increasing their HD Power levels.  This will have a positive impact for the primary station as it will help protect those first adjacent channels.

Speaking of HD Radio –

It’s interesting playing with the Toyota Entune system in my pickup. This device (formally called a car-radio) is fascinating.  Not only does this creature have a pretty decent radio (without the conventional fish-pole antenna) but it makes use of the data delivery capability of HD Radio to provide me with weather information, including weather radar images etc. (Pretty cool).  I do notice, however, when I am out of range of an affiliated FM/HD Station broadcasting this data, the radio will display a message telling me the information is not available.  Hopefully, one day, these gaps in service will be filled.

I could not help but notice the following recent announcement –

The exclusive data partner of the Broadcaster Traffic Consortium, HERE, which produces mapping and location technology, announced that its HD+ Traffic service will be available in select 2017 Hyundai cars sold in the U.S. and Canada. HERE HD+ Traffic is a distribution mechanism that offers drivers real-time traffic information by combining broadcast and connected vehicle technology.

Another HD thought – Why in the world does Sinclair not run HD on their Seattle FM Station, KPLZ/101.5?? I would think that they would be running KOMO-AM on their HD2 and KVI-AM on their HD3 just like everyone else??

From the ‘wanna feel old dept.’ – Remember that young fella they called the ‘Kid’ that played with the Mariners?  Hate to tell you but that ‘Kid’ just turned 47.

Now that the elections are behind us, we are in the familiar mode of trying to figure out what the new administration will mean in terms of polices impacting the electronic media. Will there be changes at the FCC and what will that mean?  Considering the record of who was elected, there will be plenty of guessing.

 

While I’m on that topic – The Commish is having a meeting on December 15th whereby they will be, potentially, announcing more changes to EAS. As I have stated many times, EAS is a constantly changing system.  Rumors are they will be announcing new requirements in the world of security and who knows what else.  I suspect that these changes may require that we, once again, do some editing of the Washington State EAS Plan….A process where you are invited to participate.  Whereas EAS remains a  hot-button enforcement issue, all FCC licensees (Known as EAS Participants) are wise to keep track of this.  One of your best sources of information is the Washington State EAS Remailer.

On November 4th the new KING-TV facility in Sodo got to deal with a Fire Alarm during their morning news. Apparently it went OK as there was not much said about it.  The other news item to come from that location is the announcement that Tegna is shutting down Northwest Cable News (NWCN) on Jan 6th.  I fondly recall the days when you had CNN Headline news and NWCN that you would watch to get caught up on what was happening.  NWCN also seemed to be a favorite in doctors’ offices.  Oh well…Times and tastes change and with that, low-ratings, which was the reason given for the local change.

Entercom recently did a major re-financing of their debt ending up with a new 480 megabuck loan and a 60 megabuck revolving line of credit. Soon afterward they announced new stations were being added to their company, most notably in North Carolina.   Add to this the news that they had a good 3rd Quarter.

Congratulations are in order for Alex Brewster who is joining the Engineering Department of CBS Radio in Seattle. Most recently Alex has been working with Doug Fisher at Comtek Service.  I recently had lunch with Doug and he said that indeed he was looking for a new broadcast tech.  For more info Contact Doug at doug@comtekservice.com.   Meanwhile there is an opening for an IT tech in Portland go to www.iheartmediacareers.com for more info.

The process of clearing space in the former UHF TV band for more wireless gizmo’s continues with the present target being 108 MHz. This is an interesting, albeit somewhat complicated process that will (as proponents claim) yield some quantity of spectrum into which television broadcasters will ‘snuggle up’ as part of what’s called re-packing.  A lot of money, and perhaps, dust on the table as this process moves along.

I’ve been doing some reflecting (comes with the territory at this age) about how the broadcast station reached me before the advent of cell phones.

I thought I’d dig back into my ever dimming memory of over 50 years in the radio business to review the various methods that the company/station I was working for reached me when they had a technical snafu that they felt that only I could resolve. We need to remember that 50 years ago we did not have computers that got finicky…But we did have a plant full of vacuum tubes.  Frankly, in terms of the number of times a radio station back then needed to reach their engineer was not that different than it is now….The  big change is that things have become incredibly more complicated.  Another difference is, back then, there was a live-operator on duty all the time and he was the one that went looking for technical help.  Today that phone call could be generated by some automatic system with no human to talk to.  Of course, today, we have means of remote controlling things that would have been viewed as science fiction back then.

Back in 1961 we did not have cellphones, pagers or any other means of reaching a person. Therefore you-

  • Left phone numbers where you could be reached
  • Had a land-line phone
  • Knew where all the pay-phones were located
  • Always had a pocket full of change (for the phones)
  • You listened to the station you were working for – just about all the time
  • Had a 2-way radio in your car that could be used to reach the station.

The next great invention that was immediately adopted was the pager, or as they were known back then – The ‘beeper’. (The phone company called them ‘Bellboys’).  These little gizmos were a simple VHF or UHF receiver with a decoder and sounder.  When you called the number associated with the device – it beeped.  That was your signal to call a pre-arranged number.  If the person you ‘beeped’ did not call back right away – You called the number again.  Sadly these little critters did not have any indicator that it had been called (that came later).

The next advancement in ‘leash technology’ I had was the ‘Tone and Voice Pager’. These were a bit bigger and contained a very small speaker.  When the pager beeped, you would immediately pull it off your belt, or out of your shirt pocket, and place it next to your ear to (hopefully) hear the message.  These were cool because they could deliver a selective message….Call the station, call home etc.

I recall putting this system to work rather quickly as a means of controlling ham-radio systems. A receiver tuned to the paging system’s frequency, a DTMF decoder and you were set.  You could call yourself from the then new Touch Tone Phones and enter digits that would make things happen …Cool.  I also recall adding DTMF encoders (known as touch tone pads) to telephones for this purpose.

Then came along the Digital Pager. With these things, the caller would enter the number they wanted you to call back.  There were a number of advantages to these devices.  They would save the numbers so you could call back when you could, and they would save more than one number.

All of these systems relied on your ability to, in a timely manner, locate a pay phone to make that return call. Remember mobile telephones had not come along yet.  You got pretty good at knowing where pay-phones were located.  And, of course, you had to carry change as each call required cash.

The telephone company and some private carriers had mobile telephones. These were basically 2-way radios with a trunk mounted transceiver and a control head with a rotary dial.  They worked pretty well and would allow you to make and receive phone calls over an area limited by the coverage of the system (forget going out of town and having it work).  Of course they were not little 2-way radios you could slip in your shirt pocket.

In the 70’s I found myself working at a company that did paging and radiotelephones. Here I had a digital pager on one hip and a Motorola MT500 on the other.  The MT500 was big (about the size of 8 I-Phones stacked together) and looked very much like the kind of radio warn by police (I was viewed by some in a unique way back then).  It had several frequencies and was controlled by a mobile telephone terminal.  This enabled the device to have a unique phone number.  It was half-duplex, i.e., you had to push the transmit button to talk and you heard the caller on a loud-speaker.  I recall being in a grocery store one time when the wife called to remind me to pick up something…A lady standing nearby was dazzled and wanted one.  This system was clunky, but it was functional and I could be reached by anyone, by phone and I could make phone calls.  The biggest customers for this technology were doctors that were on call.

Paging was a viable business back then with the telephone company and private common carriers as well as a number of re-sellers serving a number of customers. To extend the coverage area of paging systems, simulcast systems were installed with transmitters scattered throughout the area.  These systems were the forerunner of SFN’s (Single Frequency Networks) that are talked about today in broadcasting.  Along the way some experiments were conducted using FM broadcast station sub-carriers for paging.  Motorola even made an SCA Pager in limited quantities.  One local station I know of even did some experimental work with these during a convention of common carriers that was held in Seattle.

About that time, cellular was being planned in earnest. I was lucky as the company I was working with was not only involved in paging and radio-telephones, they were also an early partner with the McCaw’s and I got to see how this system was going to be really cool.  An interesting side-bar, the technology of site selection for these first cell sites was aided by a, then brand new technology that employed a terrain data base to evaluate potential sites without having to go out and ‘drive them’ or use manually generated profiles using USGS Maps.

Early cellular phones were all mounted in vehicles, much like land-mobile two way radios. You took your vehicle to a shop where they installed the antenna (many were mounted on the rear window), a gizmo in the trunk and a control head that had a handset.  There was still the limitation of being reached when you were not in a vehicle with one of these…So I still carried a pager.

 

Finally, the much hyped, hand-held cellphone hit the market – Yes, I was one of the early ones that carried a ‘brick’. That was about the size of it – and let’s not forget the rubberized antenna that stuck out the top.  Cellular was launched and the days of pagers were numbered as they soon joined the rotary phone in the great dust heap of history, along with IMTS mobile phones and, to a great extent, land-mobile 2-way radio.

We’ve come a long way. Now we have what are called smart-phones that we put in our pocket and have become addicted to the chain that previously only our employers told us we must have.  Who would have thought that we’d be carrying a device that would not just be a telephone but a communicator that would enable us to access a world of things…including determining what was wrong with the broadcast plant after it’s computer called you to report an ailment?

One parting item – Most men now ‘wear’ their cellphone. This means if you wish to reach a fellow (Male) Engineer – You can call them and they answer right away.  Recently I had the occasion to wonder why a particular person I was dealing with did not rapidly answer when I called her cellphone.  Then it dawned on me.  Most women don’t wear their phone…Duh!  Then again that leather belt that we use as a ‘holder’ for electronic devices is, perhaps, a male thing.

Every wonder what happened to Panasonic? They were a major player in consumer electronics, and to some extent in broadcast equipment.  Apparently before the Korean giants started taking a huge share of the market and bet the farm on Plasma displays.  Word is now that Panasonic is working on a machine that will fold your laundry called the Laundroid – Don’t believe me – Check this out –  http://gazettereview.com/2016/11/panasonic-invests-60-million-laundroid/  Also note they are investing 60 megabucks in the project.

Looks like another chapter is being written in the book of gone but not forgotten communications systems. Filings at the FCC by CenturyLink indicates that they are planning on dropping copper conductors in many states.  In many newly built out areas this has been the case for some time, with copper conductors replaced with fiber (or is that fibre?).  The concept of having a copper pair between your telephone and the local Central Office is becoming quaint.  Another communications system that is in danger of going away is ISDN.  Let’s face it….We are in an IP world today and those things that are not IP based – will be – phased out.

The recent change in FAA tower lighting requirements to help reduce bird strikes is being hailed by bird conservation groups. (No official responses have been noted from the birds themselves.)  It’s estimated that some 750 of the perhaps 15,000 tall towers have been converted thus far.  This goal is to replace the flashing lights on all tower lights with lights that don’t.  These groups still maintain that 7 million birds are killed annually colliding with towers.  I guess I have missed out on this as I have rarely ever seen a dead bird at the base of a tower in my 50+ years in this business.  Perhaps I have not been in the right locations?

Apparently the FCC was not amused with the discovery that an AM Station (WINW) had failed to file for a license renewal and continued to operate for 6 more years after their application was dismissed back in 2005. Hmmm….What am I missing here?  Does this mean that a radio station could continue to operate, without a valid license, for a number of years and the FCC did not know it?  For some reason I keep thinking about the FCC decision to close field offices and reduce their enforcement activities.     What am I missing here?

I recently ran across this line:

A computer programmer is someone who solves a problem you didn’t know you had in a way you don’t understand.

One of the most difficult issues today is having a technical job and having to explain a situation to someone that’s technically challenged. In the good old days equipment was a great deal more simplistic than today’s computer based systems.  It was pretty easy to talk a non-technical person through a problem on the phone – today, not so much.  The term ‘Power-Cycle’ did not exist.  If it did – it was used with another new-fangled invention, the automatic Washington machine.

Today, with just about everything becoming more complex, it must be a bewildering place for those that really have no interest. Perhaps we can learn something from Doctors that have been attempting to explain to their patients a situation without using any technical jargon or multi-syllable words?

Another example of this type of communications problem is where the person you are dealing with has, as they say, enough technical knowledge to be dangerous. This is the person that is fluent in buzz-words and terms that he uses successfully around his peers to enhance his image by using them.  I often recall an event that took place about 10 years ago where a non-technical person asked me how HD Radio worked.  I was pretty proud of myself In delivering a response that was, perhaps, in the neighborhood of 100 words.  Later that day I overheard this person explaining how HD Radio worked to a co-worker.  This time the explanation had been compressed to perhaps 25 words!  What I concluded was that this person really did not want know how something worked (I should have watched for the deer in the headlights).  They only wanted to know enough to be ‘satisfied’.  Once you have reached their ‘satisfaction level’, everything you say beyond that point is heard as – blah, blah, blah etc.

Yet another survey this month adding one of our PNW cities to the BEST PLACE TO VISIT list – in this case, according to ‘Lonely Planet’ – they rank Portland Oregon #10 on their list. I have to admit I have a warm spot for the Rose City having spent many of my early years there.

mountains

As my readers know…I love surveys that rank cities and states where this column is affiliated with local SBE chapters.

In this case – The title is – What the richest 1 percent earns in every state.

# 39 Idaho: $738,278 per year – The average earnings of the bottom 99% is $45,254

# 35 Oregon: $754,431 per year – Average earnings of bottom 99%: $40,719

# 14 Washington: $1,100,186 per year – Average earnings of bottom 99 %: $50,372

# 13 Colorado: $1,101,215 per year – Average earnings of bottom 99%: $54,809

To put this all into perspective –

The apparent top of the economic ladder, at # 1, is Connecticut where the top 1% earn $2,402,339/year and the bottom one-percenters make $56,445

 

At the bottom is West Virginia at #51. There the top 1 percenters make $488.634 and the bottom 99 earn $34,407.

According to the survey (no surprise here), not since before the great depression has the gap between rich and poor been so great. On average, the people at the top are making about 25 times more than those at the bottom.  The top 1 percent are now making 20% of all of the income.  I believe that this was the major issue of one of the presidential candidates.

What is not mentioned in the survey is what the costs are….For example, I suspect that housing (buying or renting) costs are a whole lot higher in Connecticut than they are in WV. Here in Seattle we are hearing a lot about how our rapidly increasing costs for housing is pushing many to the ‘burb’s …or, in some cases, into tents.

Another recent survey ranked 10 SPECTACULAR SKYLINES around the world. Coming in at 5 was Vancouver, B.C.  I find it interesting that a large number of folks I’ve spoken with over the years have never been there….Those that do are usually astonished at what they see.  Not only is it the 3rd largest city in Canada, but it’s setting is spectacular, with the Straits to the west and the Mountains to the north.  If you have not been to the bigger Vancouver (we have two of them in this area), this is a must for your bucket list.

What’s with this? Despite all the news about cord cutting, Comcast reported an increase in subscribers and earnings in the 3rd quarter.  The ratio of TV to Internet connections really underscores the trend – 22,428,000 TV and 24,316,000 high speed Internet.

In early November there was a huge Oooop in the world of Wireless Emergency Alerts with many wireless device owners receiving messages over a wide area. Apparently someone testing.  This is what the carrier had to say –

 

http://www.wkow.com/story/33651891/2016/11/07/did-you-get-emergency-alerts-on-your-cell-phone-today-us-cellular-customers-impacted

emergency-alert

Anyone have an idea of what this machine is and what year the picture was taken?

wierd-machine

From the category – “ All good things must come to an end” comes news that the C-Band Satellite known as AMC-8, launched back in 2000, is going away in its slot at 139 degrees. This ‘Bird’ is used by many Radio Networks for program delivery, among them – Premiere, Westwood One etc. that provide programs with very familiar names.  Like all things, these satellites have a design life and this one is nearing that time.  The replacement will not be in the same orbital slot but AMC-18 at 105 degrees West.  Thankfully there will be an overlap period of several months.  According to what I’m reading, the switch period will be between February and June of next year.  For more info go to http://www.amc8migration.com.

Always a pleasant surprise to see a story about local events in a national magazine. This was the case in the November issue of Radio magazine.  The cover features a picture of one of the towers on Mt. Constitution.  For those of you that are not from this area, Mt. Constitution is located on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands of Puget Sound, roughly west of the city of Bellingham.  The piece is about the installation of a new backup transmitter for KWPZ, one of the Crista stations in this area.  Names mentioned, Bryan Hubert, Tim Vik and Bob Ricker.  Apparently I was the first one to Inform Bob that his name and pictures were in this issue.  For those that don’t know Bob – He received his first broadcast transmitter experience at West Tiger when the original broadcast building there was enlarged back in 1999.  At that time he worked for Prime Electric.  Most recently he has gone out on his own under the name of Midpoint.  Hard to find an electrician that truly understands the unique creature that is a broadcast transmitter site.  In the case of KWPZ, Bob demonstrated his abilities in moving things (You can read the story)    One more item about Bob – He and I share the same birthday.  (Not day but the date  )

Now here is an idea for a Christmas Present for the person that has everything!

dialeze

I don’t recall when it was I first heard this one – my guess it was when I was in school in the middle 50’s – Still brings a smile.

REWARD OFFERED

A REWARD OF 500 MICROFARADS IS OFFERED FOR INFORMATION LEADING TO THE ARREST OF THIS DESPERATE CRIMINAL: HOP-A-LONG CAPACITY.

THIS UNRECTIFIED CRIMINAL ESCAPED FROM A WESTERN PRIMARY CELL WHERE HE HAD BEEN CLAMPED IN IONS AWAITING THE GAUSS CHAMBER.

HE WAS CHARGED WITH THE INDUCTION OF AN 18 TURN COIL NAMED MILLIHENRY WHO WAS FOUND CHOKED AND ROBBED OF VALUABLE JOULES. HE IS ARMED WITH A CARBON ROD AND IS A POTENTIAL KILLER.  CAPACITY IS ALSO CHARGED WITH DRIVING DC MOTOR OVER A WHEATSTONE BRIDGE AND REFUSING TO LET THE BAND-PASS.

IF ENCOUNTERED, HE MAY OFFER SERIES OF RESISTANCE. THE ELECTROMOTIVE FORCE SPENT THE NIGHT SEARCHING FOR HIM IN A MAGNETIC FIELD, WHERE HE HAD GONE TO EARTH.  THEY HAD NO SUCCESS AND BELIEVED HE HAD RETURNED OHM VIA A SHORT CIRCUIT.

HE WAS LAST SEEN RIDING A KILOCYCLE WITH HIS FRIEND EDDY CURRENT WHO WAS PLAYING A HARMONIC.

That’s it for this month – and this year.

Sincerely wish you and yours a wonderful Christmas – Lord willing – I’ll be here for, at least, some of 2017. Hope you will too.

Clay, K7CR, CPBE

CLAY’S CORNER FOR NOVEMBER 2016

November 2, 2016
By
 

CLAY’S CORNER FOR NOVEMBER 2016

First – some sad news – The passing of David Christian on October 15th.  The following was posted by Lowell Kiesow to the West Tiger Remailer on Oct 16th – I am very sad to report that David Christian passed away last night from a massive stroke, at the age of 84.  He was a great, longtime friend, a giving mentor, and a visionary broadcast engineer.  David built KPLU in 1966, as a 10 Watt station in Parkland, and he led it through several, major stages of growth to become the powerhouse station it is today.  Most notably, David moved the KPLU transmitter to West Tiger Mountain, where he helped design the facility as one of the original five stations there.  It is safe to say KNKX would not exist today without David pushing us to be at the top technically.  He also built TV studios at PLU, and helped train hundreds of students to become good radio and TV technicians, many of whom went on to careers in broadcasting.  If I had to sum up David in one word, it would be “wisdom.”  I will always be grateful to David for giving me my career at KPLU and for teaching me so much. David retired in 1998, but remained very busy with his family and his church.  Please keep his wife Anita, son Aaron, and family in your prayers. Lowell To say the least, I have a lot of wonderful memories of David.  As I set here at my computer thinking what to write about my memories of David, I am flooded with thoughts as to what to write…Here are a few of them.

  • Back in 1987,  As soon as news got out that KNBQ (97.3) was planning a facility on West Tiger he contacted me to say that KPLU would like to be there also.  Initially it was planned that the facility would be the home of 3 stations (KNBQ/97.3, KRPM/106.1 and KPLU/88.5) each with its own antenna.
  • For many years I would feed this column to John Forbes (retired from KOMO).  He would edit the Waveguide and forward it to David who would handle the printing and mailing (yes it was snail-mailed in those days).  I would periodically give someone what I called the Gold Star Award for doing something that I thought was cool.  David purchased some adhesive gold stars to make sure that the recipient of my awards copy actually had a ‘gold’ star.
  • David had wonderful sense of humor…One time he really showed it off…He mounted a water faucet (like you would have on the side of a house) on the basement wall at West Tiger and then put the mop bucket under it…All just to see my reaction (It’s still there).
  • David was also influential in getting me to join SBE – To the best of my knowledge, he was one of only two in this area with a lower membership number.  His was in the 600’s
  • The last year that NAB was in Dallas, he and I went together and shared a room.  I recall waking up one morning to look out the window of our hotel to see the most unusual site – It was snowing up!  The winds were forcing the snow to appear to fall up, quite a site that we laughed about as the years past. It was during that trip that David introduced me to the Order of the Iron Test Pattern.
  • After David’s retirement from PLU, he and I would continue to have a periodic breakfast to catch up on what was going on.  He maintained a keen interest in West Tiger as a broadcast site.

David – you left your mark on our area and a ton of wonderful memories for all of us – Thank you for being part of our lives! The middle of October brought many of us memories of that famous storm on Columbus Day 1962 when a huge windstorm ravaged our area.  Perhaps what will be remembered about this year’s storms was the fact that a Tornado struck the Oregon Coast and the fact that the PDX Forecast office issued about 10 tornado warnings on October 14th.  For years we would tell people living elsewhere that we don’t get tornadoes…Guess that will have to change.  During one of our mid-month wind events the power went out in Queen Anne.  This impacted the TV Transmitters there.  In one case a grumpy transfer switch caused the outage to be a bit longer than they wanted.  (No…Not going to say who.) Oh yes, 10/12/62….I was living in Tacoma and (believe it or not) working in broadcasting at the time.  Interesting how, after all this time, that storm set the bench-mark for all storms to follow.  Thankfully the big-blow they predicted for the 15th did not materialize.  Sometimes it’s nice when NWS gets it wrong  Do you live in a good place to find a job?  US News recently ran a piece where they identified the 20 best cities in the country to find a job.  Denver came in #8 and Seattle #5. According to the FCC, as of Sept 30th there are 32,042 licensed broadcast stations in the U.S. Happy to report that the FCC has been doing a FINE job…This time in Guntersville, Alabama where they shut down a pirate radio station….Twice.  Mr. Michael Dudley has been requested to submit $15,000 for his activity. During the mid October storms, a number of us were working up at West Tiger Mt.  Not wanting to have to deal with any fallen trees, I packed my truck with the necessary items, chainsaw, come-along, axe etc.  Worked perfectly….The road was clear all the way up.  Terry Spring, however, did not have as much luck, encountering two trees that had fallen across the road.  Being prepared, he quickly dispatched the obstacles….At least to the point where he could drive under one of them.  I snapped this picture on my way down.  Looks like the DNR had the wrong sign posted….should have read ‘Tree Crossing’.

trail-crossing

There is another matter that deserves our full attention.  And that is the matter of having Washington come up with a credentialing system like what was recently implemented in Oregon.  The problem is broadcast engineers could easily be denied access to places like West Tiger in times by law enforcement, when we need to reach these plants to get them back on the air.  Frankly, I fail to understand why Oregon now has such a system and we don’t.  Perhaps it’s because the issue has not impacted someone’s bottom line ………..Yet?  In Oregon the new system treats broadcast technical staff people as First-Informers.  Several organizations came together to make this happen – The OAB, State Emergency Management and SBE.  Kudos to John White for his contribution to this accomplishment.  Perhaps one of this year’s storms will provide the emphasis needed to get’er done here. One cannot think about West Tiger without thinking about the late Arne Skoog.  Many of you know that Arne was a Ham (WA7WKT).  He was part of the Channel 1 Repeater group and operated his own UHF repeater on Buck Mountain.  After his passing, his widow Deb got his call letters.  It was decided to move his UHF repeater to West Tiger.  You will find it on 444.3 with a CTCSS Tone of 103.5.  Who knows, you might just find some other broadcast engineers there?  (Hint) Here’s a great piece of wisdom that many of my generation will agree with – I was always taught to respect my elders, but it keeps getting harder to find one. As you probably knew – Cumulus, the large radio group, is having financial issues.  This has depressed their stock price considerably….to the point that they decided to do a reverse stock split.  This meant that 8 shares of stock would become 1 share on October 12th.  Apparently this did not work quite like they hoped as the new stock price was something under 2 dollars a share.  You can always check on this by asking your browser to check Cumulus stock price. Another FCC fine for a pirate in New York.  In this case they are asking Jose Gerez to pay 10 Grand, who was operating a station on 95.1 in Queens.  Now the question – Will the feds actually collect their money?  In some cases these FCC fine are treated like parking tickets. In another instance we have KLIM In Limon, Colorado a small town SE of Denver in the flat lands, population under 2000.  The FCC had wanted the owner to pay 5 Grand for taking the station off the air and not telling them.  They later have reduced it to $1500.  One has to wonder how a station operating with 250 watts daytime only could survive in a town of 2000?  The owner apparently did have plans, because they have a construction permit for increasing power to 50,000 watts (still daytime only) with 2 towers, at a site closer to Colorado Springs, that would give it coverage as well into Denver.  An added factor is that the station was vandalized and a number of apparently necessary items were taken.  It’s a rough road out there in radio land. Here’s a looking back thought – When was the last time you could purchase an item COD?  For us old timers this term meant Cash On Delivery.  It’s where you would pay the party that delivered the item to you when you received it.  Today if you Google COD you get Call of Duty.  How times have changed. Every once in a while someone invents something that will likely find a lot of use.  In this case in Israel. They’ve come up with something that’s really cool….albeit smelly.  Dealing with lawbreaking crowds has been a problem for law enforcement forever.  Tools today typically are Tear Gas and Water Cannons.  A lot of things have been tried, including extremely loud sounds that attack people’s ears.  Now something that attacks their noses.  Israeli biomedical engineers have done it again.  Click here: Skunk: A “degrading form of abuse” or safe, non-toxic alternative to rubber bullets – YouTube I recently ran across some pictures that were taken long ago, in the conference room at 11th and Grant in Tacoma (location of then KTNT/KNBQ).  These meetings were for the planning of what turned out to be the first broadcast facility on West Tiger.  My guess is they were taken sometime in 1987. First is of Jim Stevens, who was representing KLSY/92.5:

chuck-morris

This one of the late Chuck Morris – representing KIRO-FM (then on 100.7):

allen-hartle

While we are in ‘looking back mode’ – How about this one submitted by Allen Hartle and forwarded to me by Kelly Alford.  This is a great compliment to the picture of that big RCA machine in last month’s column.

ampex

I can fully appreciate the struggling little AM stations wanting an FM translator as a means of staying afloat….What surprised me is the number of larger AM’s in metropolitan areas that would be jumping at the chance of getting an FM Translator.  In most cases, if that AM has a companion/co-owned FM they have already elected to put that AM on one of the FM HD channels.  Example – KIRO 710 AM can be heard on KIRO-97.3 FM HD2.  Perhaps this provides a satisfactory addition to the AM, reducing the desire for a simulcast translator?  There are a lot of factors involved…Here are some of my random thoughts about some of them.  In no particular order –

  • Granted the FCC is saying that these new AM translators can operate with 250 watts.  But this is not a blanket statement, as there are a lot of factors that will likely throttle that number back in several ways, especially in areas where the FM Band is already filled with Legacy signals, LPFM’s etc.  In most cases, these metro-area translators are likely to be very low power and/or use directional antennas.  I suspect some of these AM Translator’s benefit may be limited to ‘bragging rights’.
  • Generally an existing FM Station’s HD signal may be greater than a new AM Translator.
  • Not all HD signal are the same – Some are at higher elevations while others may be operating at different power levels compared to their host FM (not all FM’s with HD’s have opted to increase power to the maximum).
  • On the plus side for the FM Translator – It can be received on just about every radio, while the penetration of HD receivers is growing, it’s not at the same level as FM.
  • I wonder if an AM can lease an HD Channel from another broadcaster?  There are a number of HD3’s out there not being used.

I have to wonder how a full time, and perhaps full power AM, can justify the expense of paying for the translator which may involve buying one from some distance away, in addition to the cost of engineering.  Unless the AM’s translator is on its own tower, the owners will have to lease tower space, thereby creating an on-going obligation.  Perhaps this is all justified when you consider that their new letterhead can state AM and FM. Gord Lansdell, who operates the NW Broadcasters Web Site, is tracking all this in the Seattle/Vancouver area.  You can go here to see the big picture – http://nwbroadcasters.com/ampage.html I got an item in the mail today from Century Link.  The front of the item spelled out – Miss having a CLEAR,  RELIABLE connection?  JACK can help.  (The A in JACK has what looks like an RJ11 telephone jack…clever).  Their pitch is obviously directed at those that have dropped their ‘land-line’ in favor of their cell phone.  The back cover reads – ‘Make sure your CELL PHONE isn’t your ONLY PHONE’.    Guess it was due to happen as many have been cutting their cords – Cable TV as well as Telephone. Here’s a great picture of Nick Winter, K7MO, (engineer at KNKX) and his wife Anna operating an Amateur Radio contest.  Be sure and note her shirt.  Anna is K7ANA.

man-and-lady-hams

If you are into the RF side of things (like me) you spot every antenna out there.  (I’m sure it drives my wife nuts.)  This collection is located on a standpipe at the Olympic Natural Resource Center in Forks and is part of PNSN…Or Pacific Northwest Seismic Network who have installed ground motion detectors all over our area…In some cases transmitter sites where NWPR has transmitters.  You can check out their web-site at http://www.pnsn.org/earthquakes/recent and see what’s been shaking.

antennas

Received a note from Mike Brooks at KING-FM telling me that they got a reception report from a person listening to the Seattle 98.1 Classical station’s HD-1 in Seaside Oregon.  Perhaps this has to do with the increasing number of HD receivers out there and the fact that KING-FM is operating with -10 and -14 HD Power levels, putting their digital channels on a par with their FM.  Certainly this area is more techno-savvy than other places.  One only has to go to Eastern Washington to hear broadcasters poo-poo HD Radio.  Market size is a huge factor in these matters. The following picture is of a safety climb cable on a tower that also has an FM Station.  What happened here is very common.  Energy from the FM Station is coupled into the cable and then it looks for a place to go, usually a piece of conducting material attached to the tower, which is at a different potential.  In the process, the cable was burned almost totally apart.  (Sorry about the techno-talk, just could explain this any other way.)  The bad news is that this cable is supposed to keep a tower climber from falling.  In this case, it might not have done this, as only one strand was left (on the right).  Yes, the cable was replaced and ‘grounded’ in the vicinity of the FM antenna.  It is also now on a periodic inspection cycle.

burned-cable

Another pretty picture this month from Dwight Small of his beloved Lake Cavanaugh.  Dwight has recently built a rather large garage with an attic ‘man cave’ and just recently received a permit to start his lake front house.  Obtaining that permit has been a multi-year process.

pretty-lake

This picture, a beauty contributed by old friend Joe Fleming, of the towers for WINA in Charlottesville, VA which is owned by Saga Communications.  Saga also owns a cluster of stations in Bellingham operating under the name of Cascade Radio Group.

am-towers

Radio station operator Entercom continues to grow, recently adding a cluster of stations in Charlotte, N.C. from Beasley for $24 Million.  Entercom has other clusters of stations in the Carolinas in Greensboro, N.C. and Greenville S.C.  ETM, as it’s often called, is the country’s 4th largest firm with now over 125 stations in over 25 different markets.  They also operate clusters of stations in Seattle, Portland and Denver. Talk about Mega-Mergers – How about the $85.4 Billion deal whereby AT&T will purchase Time Warner?  This would combine a lot of very familiar brand names, including CNN.  Certainly something this size is going to create a lot of critical comments and calls from those that will say it would concentrate too much power in too few hands.  We will have to see how this one plays out, especially in light of the fact that the major presidential candidates are opposed to it. I recently ran across this picture.  The location is 3-Sisters Mountain East of Enumclaw, which is going to see installed a portion of a new communications system known as PSRN.  A lot of history here.  The 4000 foot site used to be the location of the old FOG Lookout.  Later an FM station called it home when Entercom’ s 103.7 operated there as KBRD.  Interesting that the site never had commercial power, using diesel generators only.

site

This month’s picture gallery would not be complete without a picture taken close to home.  In this case, across the street from where I live.  As I sit here at my computer I can look out the window to my left and get to see this.  Turns this color every year!

pretty-colors

In the Seattle area we often talk about the cities of the Pacific Northwest as Seattle and Portland.  In the process we tend to not include Vancouver B.C. (No help that we have two Vancouver’s in this area.)  Granted the B.C. city is in Southwest Canada, another country in the minds of many. Recently there has been a good deal more thinking about ways to bring our two cities closer together.  Perhaps one way would to go back to the pre-911 days and restore the border crossing to a brief process? As a writer in the NY Times noted – Seattle and Vancouver are like fraternal twins separated at birth….And 140 miles.  As viewed from Vancouver, they likely have a lot more in common with Seattle than other Canadian cities like Calgary etc.  I would be remiss if I did not mention Victoria.  For those of you geographically challenged, I urge you to take a look at a map and note how that city is considerably south of the 49th…In fact, it’s perhaps closer to Port Angeles Washington than to Vancouver.  We share a lot of culture, language…and, of course, weather. We have a good amount of what I call ‘separate thinking’ in the states of Washington and Oregon.  The dividing line is, of course, the Cascade Mountain range.  This is to the point that, over the years, many have suggested that Eastern Washington and Oregon should become a state of their own.  This east-west difference in thinking perhaps exists in B.C. as well to some degree.  The question I’ve been asking myself for many years is…If the borders were suddenly erased…would things be different? I remember chatting with friends in southern B.C. a number of times about things of common interest, to find they find it unusual that I feel so inclusive about them.  I like to explain it this way – If you lived on a street of which the center of the roadway was a national border – Would you still feel the folks across the street as neighbors?  Would you not be in the same neighborhood?  Geographically – Vancouver and Seattle are very much in the same neighborhood.  As times change – I look forward to the day that we would all view our relationship in this manner.  It looks like I am not alone in this process. One forward step was a result of meetings between the Washington Governor and the B.C. Premier and their signing of an MOU affirming our shared interests in creating regional economic opportunities among other things.  One thing that came from this was an agreement to deepen the ties between not just the two cites but between our major universities, U of W and UBC. If you would like more on this – check out the October 3rd issued of the New York Times – Look for the piece titled ‘Tech Ambitions without Borders’. In my opinion – birds and fish have a much better way to deal with all of this…They get to enjoy this region without any borders or politics. Once again we are hearing about efforts to cram more into the FM Band.  (As if nothing was learned on AM).  This time an effort to create a new category of station, something in between the existing Class A and Class C3’s operating with 12kW.  This change (RM-11727) is on the agenda at the Commish.  Just on the heels of a huge increase in the number of LPFM’s and AM Translators too.  More things to watch.

And finally – A collection of wonderful ‘Groaners’ to consider.

1. A bicycle can’t stand alone; it is two tired.

2. A will is a dead giveaway.

3. Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.

4. A backward poet writes inverse.

5. In a democracy it’s your vote that counts; in feudalism, it’s your Count that votes.

6. A chicken crossing the road: poultry in motion.

7. If you don’t pay your exorcist you can get repossessed.

8. With her marriage she got a new name and a dress.

9. Show me a piano falling down a mine shaft and I’ll show you A-flat miner.

10. When a clock is hungry it goes back four seconds.

11. The dead batteries were given out free of charge.

12. A grenade fell onto a kitchen floor in France resulting in Linoleum Blownapart.

13. You are stuck with your debt if you can’t budge it.

14. Local Area Network in Australia: The LAN down under.

15. He broke into song because he couldn’t find the key.

16. A calendar’s days are numbered.

17. A lot of money is tainted: ‘Taint yours, and ‘taint mine.

18. A boiled egg is hard to beat.

19. He had a photographic memory which was never developed.

20. A plateau is a high form of flattery.

21. The short fortuneteller who escaped from prison: a small medium at large.

22. Those who get too big for their britches will be exposed in the end.

23. When you’ve seen one shopping center you’ve seen a mall.

24. If you jump off a Paris bridge, you are in Seine.

25. When she saw her first strands of gray hair, she thought she’d dye.

26. Bakers trade bread recipes on a knead to know basis.

27. Santa’s helpers are subordinate clauses.

28. Acupuncture: a jab well done.

29. Marathon runners with bad shoes suffer the agony of de feet.

30. The roundest knight at king Arthur’s round table was Sir Cumference.  He acquired his size from too much pi.

31. I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian.

32. She was only a whiskey maker, but he loved her still.

33. A rubber band pistol was confiscated from algebra class because it was a weapon of math disruption.

34. The butcher backed into the meat grinder and got a little behind in his work.

35. No matter how much you push the envelope, it’ll still be stationery..

36. A dog gave birth to puppies near the road and was cited for littering.

37. Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.

38. A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall. The police are looking into it.

39. Atheism is a non-prophet organization.

40. Two hats were hanging on a hat rack in the hallway.  One hat said to the other, ‘You stay here, I’ll go on a head.’

41. I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger.  Then it hit me.

42. A sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center said: ‘Keep off the Grass.’

43. A thief who stole a calendar got 12 months.

44. The soldier who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.

45. When cannibals ate a missionary, they got a taste of religion.

46. Police were called to a day care center where a 3-year-old was resisting a rest.

47. Did you hear about the guy whose whole left side was cut off?  He’s all right now.

48. To write with a broken pencil is pointless.

49. When the smog lifts in Los Angeles, U.C.L.A. Had enough?  Me too

That’s it for this month – Happy Holiday’s Clay, K7CR, CPBE

Clay’s Corner for October 2016

October 3, 2016
By

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

30 years of doing this column – This must be some sort of record for this kind of thing?

I got to thinking about how I went about it back then – A couple of items were recalled from the musty depths of my mind –

I was typing it on an Apple 2E

Was using a program called PFS Write

Was sending it to John Forbes via a dial-up modem at the blazing speed of 300 baud

Later when I got my first PC (a 286) I continued to use PFS Write (they had a DOS Version also)

Beyond that point I don’t recall as it did not take place long enough ago for me to remember.

For those of you in my age group – You know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.

 

I suppose I should have added that I’ve been an SBE Member since Feb 2, 1968…Member # 714.

Yikes that means I’m coming up on 49 years!

 

One of the big news items this past month had to be the nation-wide EAS NTP.   From what I am hearing it went pretty well.  I did hear of one station that was ‘sleeping at the switch’ regarding upgrading their equipment and ETRS.    I’m sure there will be more in that category.   What remains to be seen is how the Commish will deal with what some are viewing as an automatic violation tip mechanism.   I’m sure we will be hearing more about this issue.  Regardless of how much effort is expended trying to get everyone totally EAS compliant….There will always be those.  

As we await changes related to the upcoming elections…There have been some changes taking place on Greenwood Ave in Seattle. Stephen Lockwood is now president of Hatfield and Dawson consulting engineers.  Going forward Erik is now the Managing Partner with Tom Eckels and David Pinion remaining.  From what I understand, this change will enable Ben to spend more time on fun projects and less time with the admin load that comes with heading up any organization.  Knowing that Ben is a bit older than I, I can relate.  Congrats to these gentlemen.

While I’m talking about old things – How about this item? – The Radio Club of Tacoma is going to have a 100th birthday party on Oct 16th.   The club, with the call of W7DK, was formed in 1916 and is reported to be the 2nd oldest Amateur Radio Club in the country.  Oh yes, I joined the club in 1973.

Before I leave the topic of Amateur or ‘Ham’ Radio – if you are like me, you look forward to the delivery of the major magazine devoted to the hobby every month, QST.   And, you are like me and are getting ‘up there’ one of the first places you check is the listing of fellow hams that managed to get out of this world before you get to see if they list anyone you knew.  They call an amateur that has passed a ‘silent key’.  In this month’s list was the name John Black, W7HIL.  I first met John many years ago at the business he ran on Weller Street, just off Dearborn, called Radio Systems.  Radio Systems was the RCA land-mobile dealer – back when there were 3 – Motorola, GE and RCA.  Over the years I got to know several fellows who worked there for John.  Names you might recognize:  Jon Marcinko, W7FHZ and I became friends and were involved with various ham radio related projects.  Jon passed a few years ago (he was a year older than me).  Another fellow I had gotten to know prior to him working at Radio Systems was Arne Skoog, WA7WKT, who many of you know and some had the privilege of working with.  The passing of John Black closes another chapter of this former Seattle firm.

The 2016 Marconi’s have been awarded and only one station from the PNW made the cut this year…KQMV’s morning team of Brooke and Jubal won the category of Large Market Personality of the year.

Does the name Tessera ring a bell? Didn’t for me either – They are in the news for their accquistion of DTS who only recently acquired Ibiquity, the developer of HD Radio.  Wow, that was quick.  Just when we were getting used to saying DTS.   Reportedly the deal was worth $850 megabucks.  Tessera must be doing OK.

knkx

It’s official – the ‘Friends of 88.5’ now own the station.  Certainly a historic move…Listeners taking over the ownership of a station that had announced it was going to be sold to another party.  Who would have predicted such an activity could take place…much less in our area?  24,000 donations from 18,000 donors certainly indicates the depth of support for this operation.  Still hard to believe, after all these years that KPLU is no more….In this case the call letters are gone but the station survives.  From what I understand they will continue to operate out of the Neeb Center in Parkland for about the next 3 years, at which time the station may be moving to new quarters in a location to be determined.  Like a number of other legacy call letters it’s likely that the call – KPLU – will surface some place in the area.

In a related matter – Bill Putney, Chief Engineer of KPTZ in Port Townsend, was filling out his ETRS information, as all stations are required to do. When he told the ‘system’ that one of the stations he was monitoring was KNKX it confused the system, so he had to enter the stations previous call, KPLU.  Apparently the FCC’s ETRS system did not yet have the monitored call letter changed in that system.

Often a market is described by what’s called its ‘Market Rank’. Nielsen, the ratings outfit, has released a new listing of Local TV Market ranks – Seattle-Tacoma come in where they have been at Market #14.  Interestingly, we are very close to the size of #12 (Phoenix) and #13 (Detroit).  The way the Seattle area has been growing, I suspect that this rank may be shifting in the future.  While I’m at it – Denver is #17 and Portland is #25.

Congratulations to Jerry Massey who has been elected to serve another term as SBE President. Also re-elected were the other board members – VP, Jim Leifer…Secretary, Tim Anderson…Treasurer, Andrea Cummis.  You can find the all the details in the latest SBE Signal or on the Society Web Site.

Abbreviation time – HDR vs HD-R – HDR is a TV term meaning High Dynamic Range                                                                    HD-R is a Radio term meaning H.D. Radio.

Several of us spent some serious time recently at West Tiger Mountain installing this big gray gizmo on KIRO-FM. It’s a four section band-pass-filter manufactured by American Amplifier Technologies.  In combination with their recently replaced antenna, and year old transmitter, West Tiger’s first FM Station is considerably updated.

bandpass-filter

Perhaps sobering data regarding the fiscal position of the average household in the U.S. According to the Federal Reserve the total debt stood at just under $13 trillion.  As if that is not bad enough, according to a Pew Study in 2015, only 20% of Americans carry no debt.  To which I say…It’s nice being in the minority.  I wonder how this compares with Canada?

For years we have been buying things made in China…Sending money from here to there. As they say…All that money has to go somewhere.  Now that money is coming here….I don’t mean just the Seattle area, but the entire west coast.  Some areas are reacting to this with something less than enthusiasm…In fact it’s being reported that Vancouver BC is imposing a tax on foreign national buyers.   This has the impact of shifting the buying south of the border.  Another report found the period March 2014 to 2015 buyers from China invested over $28 million into US residential real estate.  With that kind of money flowing is it any wonder that there is pressure to increase the amount of foreign investment in broadcasting.  Makes me wonder about big broadcast companies that are deeply in debt.  When you are in debt, someone with a lot of money to invest has got to look attractive.

One of the reasons AM radio suffers compared to FM is ‘static’. The noise level in the

AM band naturally goes up in the spring with the increase in thunderstorms. This is the crashing sound you hear on the legacy band.  Here in this area we don’t have much lightning (thankfully)…not like they do elsewhere.  There is a considerable amount of money spent trying to keep damage caused by these ‘sky-bolts’ (An Arne Skoog term) at a minimum.  So how big can a lightning bolt be?  Reportedly, one was just under 200 miles long back in Oklahoma.  The longest duration was over 7 seconds (That’s a lot of current flow).  For more information about this topic – go here – http://www.usatoday.com/story/weather/2016/09/15/world-lightning-strike-records/90418046/

Could it be that the FCC is finally concluding that they can’t fix AM Radio? FCC Commissioner O’Rielly recently was quoted as saying that the future of AM Radio is in the hands of broadcasters, not regulators…Adding the ultimate future will be decided in the market by stations meeting the demands of listeners.  This has been my position for a long time.  There are some things that you can’t do – Nail Jello to the wall, push a rope up hill, herd cats, make the horse drink….etc. – AND – force people to listen to radio they don’t desire.  I still feel that what’s happening to AM radio is very similar to what’s happened to other products and services…They lose favor and/or customers find something better.  This is a natural consequence of our free market society.  In a few years the things should balance out between the desire for AM Radio and the number of stations that provide it.  As I have said in previous columns, perhaps we will see the AM Band look much like it did back in the 50’s…Some big signal Clear Channels with scattering of small stations serving their communities.  Perhaps the FCC is thinking the same thing?

Every once in a while an older technology is ‘discovered’ and everyone is filled with Wow!

Here’s what I mean – Qualcomm just announced what they are calling ‘Clear Site’ Dual Camera Technology. The basis of this is a smartphone camera to have two image sensors…One for color and the other for black and white.  The stated advantage is that the black and white sensor can absorb more light.  Put them together and you have a more sensitive camera.  Gee folks – I seem to remember early TV Cameras that had 4 image pickup tubes for the same reason – 3 for R, G and B and one, in early models, and IO for black and white.  Could it be the folks at Qualcomm did not know about this?  Lets assume they did and just decided to dust-off an old idea.

There are changes being made in the world to tower lighting to help cut down on the death of birds. Reportedly there are 7 million birds colliding with towers every year.  Investigations of this issue have turned up the fact that birds appear to be attracted to the steady burning side lights on towers more than to the flashing beacons.

So what to do? The FCC, working with the FAA is revising tower lighting requirements.  The new standards will eliminate the steady burning lights on towers over 350 feet and transition from steady burning to flashing lights on towers from 150 to 350ft.  On the taller towers, the change will reduce energy use, maintenance costs and, according to the experts, reduce bird strikes by 70%.  To make these changes to towers, you have to run this by the FAA and get their permission.  You can do this on-line by going to – https://oeaaa.faa.gov/oeaaa/external/portal.jsp.

Could it have something to do with the presidential election? A recent Gallup poll showed that just 32% of Americans trust the media, quite a drop from the 40-45% figures over the past eight years.  These percentages were further skewed if the responding person was aligned with a particular party.  A lot has changed since the days when there were only 3 TV networks and we got our news from Walter, John or Chet.

Repack – By now just about everyone in broadcasting has, at least, heard about it. It’s all a bit confusing with forward and reverse auctions, broadcasters deciding whether they want in or out, wireless carriers willing to pay big bucks for new spectrum, stations changing channels or sharing channels all with the FCC holding the gavel.  At some point this process will end and the game will end and the race will be on to get it all done in the 39 months the process is supposed to take.

For many years Orban has been making audio processors for the radio industry – How old some of this equipment is may startle you a bit – The 9100B, used by many AM Stations was first released in 1982. Their model 8200 (still in service at many stations) is 26 years old.  To put this into perspective, while we were replacing that big filter at KIRO-FM, they were operating their auxiliary transmitter at Cougar Mt.  This rig is a historic Collins 831G2 that was made in the middle 70’s…..Yes, that’s a 40 year old transmitter that we trusted to keep KIRO-FM on the air for several days of construction at the main site.  Not too many pieces of equipment that old around.  Proving, once again, that a great product will last a very long time.

I don’t make any claim to be a photographer…However I do carry a camera with me on my travels, looking for something to share – Every once in a while you see something at night that is a ‘keeper’.   In this case I was coming down the West Tiger Road and spotted moonrise in the east.

moon

 

In the category of – We’ve been hearing it, now it’s official – The FCC has begun closing nearly a dozen Field Offices and moving to a new plan, whereby they will be consolidating operations into fewer offices and reliance on what they call a WDC based ‘Strike Force’ to deal with un-named enforcement actions. Going away are 11 offices, including the historic one in Seattle.  The other office in the PNW, Portland, Oregon will remain in operation as will the office in Denver.  Chairman Wheeler maintains that the remaining 14 locations will enable the Commission to respond to any location in the country within one-day.  The FCC’s budget request for 2017 will feature an Enforcement Bureau with a 16% reduced budget, presumably due to the reduction in the number of field offices.

Meanwhile Pirate Radio continues to be a problem. Frankly, it’s hard to see how this problem is going to get better.  The problem today is our communication systems that enable the pirate operators to share their techniques for staying one (or more) steps ahead of enforcement.  Then there is the issue of equipment availability.  If the FCC totes away your radio equipment, it can be easily replaced – and purchased on-line.  Probably the most frustrating aspect is where a pirate operator is advised that they have to pay for their violation and then they don’t and slip back into the darkness to do it another day in another location.

This problem, in several major cities has grown from being a ‘whack a mole’ or cat and mouse game to the point that the Feds are trying to find other ways of attacking the problem. One technique has the Feds going after the owners of the buildings where the stations or transmitters are located.  What I find amazing is that in a country with buildings full of rules and regulations, operators of small radio stations can continue to get away with it.  I can recall the day that there was significant fear of doing wrong and violating FCC rules…Guess I’m too old to understand.  What I find surprising is that you don’t hear of a commercial station receiving interference from one of these jokers and the commercial operator tackling the problem outside of the FCC.  Perhaps some of the problem is being solved by LPFM.  Generally, pirates look for a quiet frequency to set up their operation.  With all the translators and LPFM’s on the band these days, those days of a quiet frequency are, in most larger markets becoming a thing of the past.

I love statistics and study results as they give us a picture of how things are in our town as well as others. For example – A new study determined the salary you must earn to buy a home in 27 different markets.  Now, granted house prices are all over the map in any area.  For the basis of this study I am assuming they are using the average sale price.  Looking at the markets where this column is read –

In Portland, Oregon you will need to make $73,613 per year to afford that $356,700 house.

In Denver you’d need to make $72.847 and in Seattle $82,670. You get the picture – Seattle is expensive and prices are likely rising faster than most salaries.  Sounds bad huh?  Not compared to San Francisco where you’d have to be hauling in over $162,000 to afford the average house and that’s if you put 20% down.  If you only paid 10% down you’d have to make about $200,000 per year to afford the house payments.  Any wonder why people are living far away from town and commuting?

The FCC has shocked many by lowering fees for small stations. Perhaps they are getting the message that their fees are part of the problem?  The Commish collects almost $390 million from all the communications services it regulates.  Radio pays just over 8% of that total.

The business of determining the ratings of broadcast stations has had some interesting twists and turns recently. Nielsen taking over Arbitron.  The introduction of the Voltair by the Telos Alliance that claims to improve the watermark technology used by Nielsen.  Then there were changes made by Nielsen to ‘improve’ their system.  More recently we have seen a couple of locations where broadcasters have elected to jump ship and use some other method for determining who is using their product.  One of the issues are the multitude of new ways that consumers are using to receive audio and video sources for what used to be strictly over-the-air.  There is a degree of secrecy going on out there.  Stations that are using the Voltaire or other gizmos are very tight lipped.  We’ve come a long way from just wondering who was filling out a diary.

Spoze you heard – Funai Electric, the last maker of a VCR, has stopped making them. No more new VCR’s anyway.  I guess we will continue to see these electro-mechanical tape based devices around for a while longer.  Another death nail in the world of tape-recorders.  If you are an old timer, like me, you witnessed the birth, and death. of tape at the consumer and professional level for audio and video.  Guess we no longer have to wonder if it’s live or Memorex.  Just for grins – One more look at one of the biggest and most complicated tape machines ever built.  The RCA TCR-100.

tcr100

Exploding batteries continue to be an issue.   Apparently Boeing and Tesla have resolved the problem.  However recent news indicates that Samsung may have not, by suspending sales of one of their new products that were exploding while being charged.  We’ve come a long way, very quickly, with batteries…perhaps in some cases, too fast.

I frequently look at the FCC’s Daily Releases and found it interesting that an FM Translator was being moved from Astoria, Oregon to Seattle. What is perhaps more interesting, is that the FCC calls this a ‘minor change’.  You can look up the call letters for more info – K278BH.  The proposed location is Cougar Mt. to be used to translate Salem’s KGNW 820 AM.  This is all part of the move to grant FM translators to AM stations.  This activity has significantly increased the prices that people are paying for FM Translators – In one case, it was reported that $700,000 changed hands for a translator.  In the case of the new one for the Seattle area for KGNW, the price paid was reportedly over $30,000 and the new FM operation will be operating with very low power and a directional antenna.  I guess I have a hard time understanding how they figure that it will pencil out.  In Albuquerque, New Mexico the owner of legacy station KOB (Now called KKOB) is paying $425,000 for a translator for the big AM just to get their programming on FM.  What makes this move interesting is that KKOB is owned by Cumulus who is ‘considerably’ in debt.

At the end of August it was announced that an AM station in Salisbury, North Carolina would be going dark. Perhaps what makes this interesting is the fact that the station had been on the air since 1939 and had been broadcasting a Sunday morning church service, from the same church, for over 75 years.  The station operates on 1490 which is a frequency that receives a lot of night time interference and is unable to make any technical improvements.  Chalk up another AM.  There will be more stories like this to come.  Speaking of which – According to recent ratings of radio stations in the Seattle area…You have to go down to #17 to find the highest rated AM, KOMO.  KIRO-AM comes in at #19.

Yet another indication of how the Seattle area is growing is the growth at Sea-Tac Airport. The old Bow-Lake airport is reportedly the fastest growing large airport in the country for the last 2 years.  Passenger growth was up 13 percent in 2015 and is on track to come close to that this year.  The problem is they need more gates, etc.  A $550 million expansion of the North Satellite was announced recently that will increase the size by another 180,000 square feet.  Likely the continued expansion of our local airline – Alaska – is fueling a lot of this.  From what I have seen, it appears that the North Satellite will be all Alaska.  Guess this is more appropriate than having Alaska at the South Satellite?  To put these size numbers into perspective…the average Costco store is just over 144,000 Square feet!

The Oregon Office of Emergency Management is moving forward with a system that will enable Broadcasters to be part of what they call their ‘first informer’ access program. This is very good news for those broadcasters that are responsible for keeping stations up and running during times of emergency.  My fingers are crossed that this will come to Washington State as well.  Let me give you an example –  Around the 8th of September there was, once again, a nasty wreck on highway 18 between the Issaquah Hobart Road and I-90. (Unfortunately this happens too often).  The Washington State Patrol deals with issues like this by closing that section of roadway.  Unfortunately this cuts off access to the Tiger Pass area which is where the only access road to the broadcast sites on West Tiger Mountain starts.  Some years ago I was headed to the mountain to do some work and encountered this situation.  A very nice, but firm, State Trooper told me after I explained that I did not want to go near the scene of the wreck, but rather would be turning off before there to go up Tiger Mountain.  His response was something to the effect of – I don’t care what you are god of…You are not going up there!!  If I had just some sort of identification that would be recognized by law enforcement, that would have been a great help.  In times of emergency, when roads are closed by police…A broadcast station could well be out of operation and unable to provide the public with vital information.  This has been a long standing issue.  Hopefully the WSAB and others can come together to provide broadcasters with something like this in this State.  The NAB estimates that about a dozen states now have something similar.  Whether this program would provide us access to Tiger Mountain for when there is a wreck causing the closure of Highway 18 remains to be seen.

 

As I mentioned earlier, I love great photography. Here’s one that was recently taken by Dwight Small who has, obviously, time, now that he has retired.  A beautiful sunny day on Puget Sound.

sun-on-water

Climbing towers is, from what I have read, one of the most dangerous jobs there are. (Falling is never good).  A friend of mine in Montana sent me this item.  What would you do if you were 120 feet up a tower and encountered a bunch of snakes?  Apparently this is what happened…go here to read more – http://www.cnet.com/news/snakes-on-a-cell-tower-t-mobile-photo-full-of-nope/

 

Looks like more translator shuffles in the wind – I see where K238CA in Twisp is being sold to Saga Broadcasting who operates a cluster of stations in Bellingham….Just a guess you understand. Sometimes my dot-connecting is accurate – but not always.

 

As we all recently remembered 9/11, it was announced that TV antennas are about to be installed on the new World Trade Center in NYC. We all recall the pictures of the roof top antennas falling to the ground and the loss of life of several broadcast engineers.

 

Thanks to Mike Brooks at KING-FM for this excellent example of creative writing –

rane-box-smaller

 

From the category – Things I have always wondered…..

Why is the third hand on the watch called the second hand?

If a word is misspelled in the dictionary, how would we ever know?

If Webster wrote the first dictionary, where did he find the words?

Why do we say something is out of whack?  What is a whack?

Why does “slow down” and “slow up” mean the same thing?

Why does “fat chance” and “slim chance” mean the same thing?

Why is it called “after dark” when it really is “after light”?

Doesn’t “expecting the unexpected” make the unexpected expected?

Why are a “wise man” and a “wise guy” opposites?

Why do you press harder on the buttons of a remote control when you know the batteries are dead?

How come abbreviated is such a long word?

Why do they call it a TV set when you only have one?

 

Enough news and nonsense for this month – Remember that Christmas is not far away….In case I forget – Happy New Year.

 

Till next time –

 

Clay, K7CR, CPBE.

 

 

Clay’s Corner for Sept 2016

September 3, 2016
By

 

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

The FCC’s new Electronic Test Reporting System, ETRS, has certainly got a lot of attention of late, and with good reason.  As you know I have been involved with EAS for many years, at many levels.  I find a wide range of attitudes about the system ranging from considerable interest and willingness to participate, all the way to those who detest the mention of those three letters.  Meanwhile the FCC, now with participation from FEMA, continues to stress the importance of the system and the responsibility of broadcasters to follow the rules.  The new ETRS is forcing stations to take a very close look at what’s involved, perhaps some for the first time.  I can confirm this as I have been receiving a steady stream of emails requesting information on Monitoring Assignments etc.  What will be interesting to watch will be what happens with those that continue to feel they can disregard the whole thing.  The ETRS will certainly provide the FCC with the tools necessary to find out who is naughty and who is not without having to send out inspectors to do random inspections.  One has to wonder if this was part of the thinking behind the closing down of FCC field offices? One thing for sure, EAS is a continuously evolving creation where the requirements for the equipment that every broadcast and cable system has, is periodically forced to upgrade in some fashion, for instance, the recent requirement that every EAS decoder can process the Location Code 000000 that will get the equipment ready for the big national test coming soon.  All of these changes are due to the lessons learned the last time we did a national test.  (Then called the EASNT). There are also some economic aspects of all of this that have impacted some facilities.  For example, those stations that chose to purchase add-on devices in order to save a buck.  Then there are the non-comms that are operating on a shoe string and are facing having to spend money they had not planned on. One longtime equipment manufacturer, Gorman-Redlich is asking the FCC for a partial waiver so that users of certain legacy equipment can continue to be used.  At this writing, no word on whether the Commish will agree.  Interestingly, Mr. Gorman submitted his request to both the FCC and FEMA.  At this writing, nothing has been heard.  Some are predicting that the FCC will sit on this with no action. From the ‘about time’ department….Finally the impact of spectrum noise is getting some attention.  Ask any Ham Radio operator about the noise floor on HF.  This has been a matter they have been complaining about for years.  Electronic gizmo’s of every description have been polluting their HF Spectrum to the point that some Hams are unable to operate their home stations.  The same issue has been steadily eroding the coverage of AM Radio stations.  With the recent concern about saving AM radio, it appears that the FCC might now be listening (assuming they can hear through the noise).  The impact of spectrum noise is to reduce the coverage area of AM Stations and this comes at a time when many of them are fighting for their lives.  The NAB has joined the call for the FCC to deal with the issue and the FCC is asking for input.   It’s interesting that many of the relatively new devices we use everyday, with good reason, have a dark side.  For example – Switching Power Supplies are smaller, cheaper, more efficient that their analog counterparts, but many of these devices are RF noise generators.  LED lighting is another.  No one can dispute the economic value if these over old incandescent lamps.  However, while saving power, many are polluting the spectrum. In June, the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology announced that its Technological Advisory Council be looking into the matter….All the while they cut the FCC’s field offices….However, I can just barely recall when someone from the FCC was trying to find the cause of something that raised the noise floor. Perhaps a bit of good news is that the wireless industry is speaking up about the problem, claiming the their networks are suffering from sources of interference like video displays, industrial lighting systems, LED lights. CFL ballasts etc.  AT&T Cellular added something to their complaint list that’s not a conventional source of RF noise – FM Broadcasters.  They cited a number of instances where FM stations are causing them problems.   Could it be that the FCC is too busy trying to generate revenue from new technologies that they are forgetting to protect those systems that have been around for a long time? If there is one thing that has kept Radio in business it’s the car-radio.  There have been a large number of advances in this area in the last few years that are providing drivers with more and more electronic ‘bling’.   My 2016 Pickup is a great example to the point that the term ‘car-radio’ does not begin to address what this creature can do.  Car makers are struggling trying to find the right balance between features that their customers want and features that increase distraction that could contribute to accidents, or worse.  Thankfully my new ride’s radio has HD Radio that works very well.  On that subject I am having a bathroom remodeled and the plumber that’s working at the house happened to mention that he had HD Radio in his truck.  WOW!  This is the first time I’ve run across someone that knows what it is and actually has it and uses it.  I was very pleased with the performance and number of formats available…Interestingly he named off a couple of them by name!  A number of surveys continue to show that people want their fancy electronic to do everything in their vehicle to still have a good working radio.  Taking the cue, Ford has announced their 2017 vehicles will have something they call ‘dual reception’ that sounds like an upgrade of the old diversity systems of years gone by.  This project has a Seattle connection – Ford reported that they have tested the system in cities like Chicago, Detroit, LA, NYC, Pittsburgh AND SEATTLE.  As anyone that has been in these markets – Propagation in Seattle is tough on good radio reception.  Kudo’s to Ford!  Not often a vehicle maker will talk about their radios. .

The saga of KPLU 88.5 is all but over – The FCC has, in what felt like record time, approved the sale of the station and, at the end of August the station will be sporting new call letters, KNKX.  I have to admit that after 50 years of calling it KPLU, this will take some getting used to.  Apparently the new letters stand for Connects, or should I write Konnects?  The good news is that there are no other stations in this market with letters that would cause any contusion.  I recall that we did have a KNWX for a while.  Then there is the historic LA station, KNX.  We wish the new station the best.

KNKX

iHeart Media continues to struggle with increasing losses.  It was recently reported the nation’s biggest radio outfit lost 279 megabucks in the 2nd quarter of 2016…That compares to a loss of just over 54 megabucks in the same quarter a year ago.  Obviously they are far from being out of the woods.  The question remains as to what will happen to the big operation.  Anyone got a few Billion laying around that they are not using?  With the projections for Radio not exactly looking attractive – iHeart is in a $21 Billion bind.

Bill Major

Remember Bill Major?  Bill was working for the iHeart cluster in Seattle and moved back closer to home in Arizona.  Understand that Bill is not the Market Engineering Manager for iHeart in Tucson.  The above is a picture with Bill standing next to something he loves – Flying. As you know I frequently drive to West Tiger Mt. (east of Seattle) as I work for a number of broadcast interests there.  Just to put things in perspective for those of you that are tied up in Seattle’s famous traffic jams – I too have to occasionally sit and wait to be able to get where I’m going.  Shot this the other day to demonstrate what I mean –

Trucks and Logs

I recently sent this picture to a friend out of state and they were having trouble getting their head around the fact that trees up here are considered a crop.  As we were all settling into the thought that CBS was going to spin off their radio division into a separate company comes word that they are still considering other options or alternatives.  One would suspect that someone flashed some money in their direction and now they are having some ‘discussions’….But this is only a guess.  CBS Radio has 117 stations.  The Society of Broadcast Engineers has announced the recipients of the 2016 SBE National Awards.  Michael Hendrickson, CPBE, CBNT, of Lakeville, MN won the Robert W. Flanders SBE Engineer of the Year award.  Hendrickson’s recognition comes from his success in furthering the mission of the SBE.  Hendrickson is a former SBE Chapter 17 chair and is currently a member of the National Board of Directors.  With a broadcast engineering career that’s spanned more than 35 years, his work has been responsible for the upgrade of Minnesota Public Radio stations, several stations in Florida and a creation of an early database in the 1980s containing entries of most of the 950 MHz aural studio/transmitter link assignments. Cheryl Lustenberger, CBNT, CTO, of Chapter 11 in Boston, has been honored as the James C. Wulliman SBE Educator of the Year.  Her award is for outstanding service and excellence in teaching other broadcast engineers.  She is the assistant manager at the Tufte Television Facilities at Emerson College, where she teaches broadcast engineering students.  In addition to providing personalized workshops for her students, she also teaches professional workshops on safety, rigging and technology. SBE’s newest honor, the Freedom Award, has gone to Norman Portillo, CBT, CTO, who is also the 2014 winner of the Educator of the Year award.  Portillo continues to educate the military community and has established a new chapter of SBE at Fort Bragg, NC.  Blackmagic Design has won the 2016 SBE Technology Award for its URSA Studio Viewfinder. Ever wonder just how many satellites there are in orbit around Earth?  According to what I recently read, that total would be about 1400…an increase of 40% in the last 5 years. I frequently write about cool things in the Seattle area….Time to honor our neighbor to the South.  Portland was recently selected by Sunset Magazine as the Best Food Town. What level of sales indicates an extremely successful product?  How about selling ONE-BILLION items?  Not many can claim that lofty level of success ….Apple can and has with their I-Phone, making that device one of the most important, world changing, products in history. The National Association of Broadcasters announced finalists for its NAB Marconi Radio Awards.  The awards honor radio stations and on-air personalities for excellence in broadcasting.  Winners will be announced at the 2016 Radio Show in Nashville in September. As usual – I went looking for finalists that have connections to where this column is read.  A couple fit that criteria this time around – NETWORK/SYNDICATED PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR – Delilah, Premiere Networks.  LARGE MARKET PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR – Brooke Fox & Jubal Flagg, KQMV-FM Seattle.  CHR STATION OF THE YEAR – KQMV-FM, Seattle. I recently reached in my desk drawer to grab a file folder label (Yes I still keep paper files for some things)….I could not help but smile at what was written on the end of this sheet of labels.  My guess is that I’ve had this for some period of time. J

Typewriter

Here’s something you don’t run across very often – The FCC has announced that the Canadian Pacific Railway will pay over $1.2 Million due to the railroad’s operation of more than 100 wireless radio facilities in the U.S. without FCC approval. A friend of mine recently sent me this picture.  Interesting how the call letters you see are not the real call letters for the station.  Perhaps like knowing that KOMO-TV-4 is really on Channel 38.

93KHJ

 

If you are an Engineer or otherwise technical/scientific minded you likely already understand that there is an automatic rejection of ‘new fangled gadgets’ in the minds of many…We’ve all read about how some rejected the automobile, refrigeration, electric lights etc. etc.  A lot of this is rejection of new and improved ways of doing things or stalling our own progress.  I have family members that fought to hang on to their typewriters and not move to computers until they discovered they could no longer buy new ribbons for the mechanical creations.  Look what we are doing today with driverless or electric cars.  We humans have a habit of stalling our own progress according to Calestous Juma, a professor at Harvard in his new book, ‘Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies’.  He maintains that people are concerned that innovation means losing a piece of their identity or lifestyle.  A lot of times the rejection of something new is a gut reaction rather than a decision based on evidence.  There are new technologies that people flock to however…A great example is the smart phone and social media.  This is especially the case when the new gadget is adopted by their peers and they want to be part of the crowd. Dwight Small, Nick Winter, Arne Skoog’s widow Debra and I recently made a trip to Buck Mountain, near Quilcene, to retrieve Arne’s old UHF Repeater.  ‘Twas a beautiful day in the PNW.  Here’s a picture of Dwight, amongst the wild flowers look east over Hood Canal.

View

Between you and me ….All it takes is a few minutes looking at this scene to make me overlook about a month of rain and restore my feeling of how thankful I am to be able to live in this area.  For my readers that are not from around here….We are standing on a foot hill of the Olympic Mountains West of Seattle looking back over Puget Sound to the east.  When I turned around and looked the other way – This is the view:

View 2

 

For those of you that have responsibility for towers at your facility – You have heard that there are some new FAA Regulations coming down the pike – and this time, for shorter structures that, historically, were below the FAA’s level of concern, unless of course you were near an airport.  Here is something that you ought to check out – H.R. 636 – a/k/a the “FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016” This little 51 page item contains, buried inside, some new things that could potentially impact owners of small towers, especially those in rural areas.  Those days of assuming that if a tower is below 200 feet they don’t have to be marked and lit may be over.  Oh yes, future FAA Rules could affect some Ham Radio towers as well.  The ARRL is following this one closely too. Word to the wise – Be sure and follow this to see exactly what new rules come out of the FAA. Those of us with smart-phones that we use for telephone communications know to check for Wi-Fi for when we want to access our email or connect to the Internet.  As the demand for spectrum increases look for Wi-Fi/Cellular Hybrid devices to come along to augment 4G and other ‘G-Whiz’ enhancements. As anyone working in the Broadcast Engineering area knows…There are a lot of folks with gray, white or no hair in our field.  As you know, I have elected to continue to work beyond traditional retirement time.  In my case, I no longer work for a single employer…Giving that up over 6 years ago.  I now work half-time for WSU, augmenting this with contract work for several firms.  I have chosen to keep working for a couple of reasons – 1) The money is good, 2) I get to do what I like, 3) my schedule is reasonably flexible, 4) My health is good, 5) I have Zero politics and (the big one) 6) I know that I can quit anytime I want!  (When I want is the key).   It is perhaps comforting to know that I am not alone, with many choosing to work through their golden years.  In fact, approximately 20% of those in the labor force today are over 65. Recent studies have uncovered the reasons why people are working later in life –

  • People enjoy what they are doing
  • They want to stay busy
  • The extra money is always nice
  • Some have not put away sufficient amounts to augment Social Security
  • The recession wiped out their savings
  • There are no pension benefits
  • People are living and are healthy longer
  • A lot of jobs today are not physically demanding
  • The choice to continue to have the income to support a chosen lifestyle

There are a couple of recommendations that I routinely make to those friends that are getting close to traditional retirement age –

  • Get a good financial advisor to help determine whether or not you have sufficient ‘socked away’ to last before you set your retirement date.
  • Don’t for a minute think that you are going to be able to shift from full time employment and rely exclusively on Social Security.
  • Be fully prepared to learn that you would be much better off to delay taking Social Security and to keep working longer than you would like.
  • Consider that you could well outlive your wealth.
  • If you are an Engineer, be thankful that your skills are still very much in demand.

On the personal side – I got my First Class Radio Telephone license (with Ship Radar Endorsement) on July 25, 1959.  Yikes that was 57 years ago.  I started working (full time while still in school) August 1, 1961 (55 years ago) and it was September of 1986 (30 years ago) that I started writing this column. And you think you are old? Now to the question of how do you cut-back in later years?  This is something that I have been seriously pondering.  Right now I work very much full time, ie, at least 5 days a week.  The problem with this kind of work is it does not lend itself to certain days of the week.  For example, what happened if I were to announce that I wanted to only work 4 days a week (3 day weekends every week have some appeal).  The problem is that something would happen that would demand my attention and my desired schedule would be trashed, at least for that week.  You see the problem with broadcast engineering is with the fact that broadcast stations expect you to be on call 24/7/365.  The other alternative is, if you work for more than one firm, you cut back on your client load by eliminating one of the firms you have been doing work for.  This would be an easy decision to make if you were not being treated fairly or were being paid poorly, if not – it’s tough…and that’s the boat I’m in. Thinking back to when I was first exposed to electronic products made in countries not in North America – The first ones were German.  Fancy pushbutton multi-band radios etc.  Then the next wave came from Japan with a huge impact.  Now it appears that the Japanese manufacturers are facing stiff competition from Korea with such names as Samsung and LG.  In Broadcast TV Japan, historically, has been a leader and early adopter.  Now that seems to be shifting to South Korea – An example of that is the news that South Korea has adopted ATSC 3.0 over options including Europe’s DVB-T2.     Now here is something that does not happen very often – Radio stations sharing a frequency.  Apparently that’s what is going to happen in San Francisco with a pair of LPFM’s.  Apparently the Commish has resolved a mutually exclusive dilemma by having these two applicants share the same 102.5 frequency with each station taking turns and operating six-hour shifts.  Not exactly the same I recall WBAP and WFAA in Dallas doing something funky many years ago where they would swap between two AM frequencies.  Sharing used to be S.O.P. in the early days of AM radio. A couple of other radio happenings in the Golden State…In these cases stations going silent.  KPSI and KWXY (two AM’s) are going off the air.  The owners have requested permission to go silent while they seek buyers.  KUSP in Santa Cruz recently went off when it could not find a buyer, ending 45 years of operation.  The station was reportedly some $700,000 in debt.  Small potatoes compared to the debt carried by iHeart Media….making us wonder if they are like the term used for certain firms during the recession – “Too big to fail”. One technique that’s been used by more than one radio broadcaster facing hard times has been to get permission to remain silent or to come up with something to justify not operating.  Well this is not sitting well with Peter Doyle, chief of the Audio Division of the FCC and he made his position quite clear recently stating, “Silence instead of licensed operation is a fundamental failure to serve a station’s community of license,” Doyle wrote, “because a silent station offers that community no public service programming such as news, public affairs, weather information and Emergency Alert System notifications.  Moreover, brief periods of station operation sandwiched between prolonged periods of silence are of little value because the local audience is not accustomed to tuning in to the station’s frequency.” He noted that in 2001, the FCC issued a decision cautioning that “a licensee will face a very heavy burden in demonstrating that it has served the public interest where it has remained silent for most or all of the prior license term.”  In his view, licensees have been on notice since then that the eventual resumption of operations after long periods of silence “does not necessarily resolve the renewal inquiry as to whether the licensee served the public interest during the preceding license term.” Eventually economic reality takes its toll and so will it be with the folks with some LPFM’s.  I feel it’s likely quite a few of them will go away as the newness wears off and the financial aspects are learned.  With no sources of income, the picture is not that rosy.  Look at AM Radio – The station totals are now down to 1980’s level.  I suspect that in a few years we will see the number of AM’s shrink back to levels similar to decades before.  All of this despite the FCC’s attempts.  In this society, money talks and the lack of it often speaks the loudest! I suppose you heard that Seattle City Light is going to replace the historic neon sign at 4th and Spokane with a new one with LED’s.  Guess this is another example of where solid state devices replaces tubes? I recently read that broadcast companies are looking toward diversification as a means to spur growth.  Wait a minute!!!  What happened to the idea that if something did not match your core business it should be sold off and the money used for something within that core?  Seems to me that this was the rationale for many stations to sell their towers.  In some case these towers represented considerable income.  Could it be that this thinking was, at least in some cases, wrong?  Could it be that broadcast companies are starting to think outside the box and would be receptive to doing something outside their core to benefit their bottom line?  Stranger things have happened. Over the years I’ve used several shipping containers for transmitter enclosures for radio stations, so I found it interesting that these ‘cans’ (as they call them in the shipping trade) are finding uses for all kinds of things…In some cases some pretty interesting homes.  I was surprised to see a couple of these put to use by Starbucks.

Starbucks Ships

Do you ever wish you could pick out a T-shirt that has a message on it that you’d like to show off?  In keeping with my comment in this month’s column about retirement, consider this gem –

Lazy

I talk a lot about Radio, as this is where I found myself for the last many years.  I just want to make sure that you all understand that being a Television Broadcast Engineer can be an equally rewarding experience – As the following picture of Terry Spring certainly demonstrates.

Terrie Sweeps

Speaking of TV – could not help but notice that Pay-TV is losing a large number of subscribers.  The Satellite and Cable providers are being impacted by what are called ‘cord-cutters’.  Then there are those that are ‘cord-nevers’.  I suspect that the Cable firms know all about this and this is what’s behind them pushing the IP side of the business.  Having a bigger pipe down main street represents a lot of future value.  I did find it interesting that there has been some movement to be more flexible in the world of cable – In some cases you might be able to subscribe to Cable-TV and not be forced to pay for channels that you will never want or watch. Not often do you hear about the FCC hitting a Ham Radio operator with a huge fine…but that is exactly what they did to W6WBJ in California for broadcasting music and intentionally interfering with others.  He has been asked to contribute $25 Grand to the Treasury.  In the end he may end up also losing his license. Finally – In keeping with my tradition of occasionally providing you with something at the end to bring a smile or two – I present these items for your consideration – I find it ironic that the colors red, white, and blue stand for freedom, until they’re flashing behind you. I changed my password to “incorrect” so, whenever I forget it, the computer will say, “Your password is incorrect.” Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity. I’m great at multi-tasking — I can waste time, be unproductive, and procrastinate all at once. If you can smile when things go wrong, you have someone in mind to blame. Never tell your problems to anyone because 20% don’t care and the other 80% are glad you have them. Doesn’t expecting the unexpected mean that the unexpected is actually expected? I hate when people use big words just to make themselves sound perspicacious. Television may insult your intelligence, but nothing rubs it in like a computer. I bought a vacuum cleaner six months ago and so far all it’s been doing is gathering dust. Every time someone comes up with a foolproof solution, along comes a more-talented fool. Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes. If you keep your feet firmly planted on the ground, you’ll have trouble putting on your pants. A computer once beat me at chess, but it was no match for me at kick boxing. Ever stop to think and… forget to start again? My wife got 8 out of 10 on her driver’s test – the other two guys managed to jump out of her way. There may be no excuse for laziness, but I’m still looking. Give me ambiguity or give me something else. He who laughs last thinks slowest. Is it wrong that only one company makes the game Monopoly? Women sometimes make fools of men, but most guys are the do-it-yourself types. Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine. The grass may be greener on the other side, but at least you don’t have to mow it. I like long walks, especially when they’re taken by people who annoy me. I was going to wear my camouflage shirt today, but I couldn’t find it. If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you. If tomatoes are technically a fruit, is ketchup a smoothie?   Thanks for taking time to read my stuff – Hopefully we can do more of this next month.  Meanwhile – Remember that Christmas is not far away…..You can tell as retailers have already got on display items for Halloween Clay, K7CR, CPBE

 

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