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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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 –
Anyone have an idea of what this machine is and what year the picture was taken?
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!
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.
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