Clay’s Corner for June 2013

May 27, 2013


Once again our country has experienced a tragic disaster….This time in Oklahoma where a huge EF5 Tornado tore a swath, reportedly 2 miles wide and 20 miles long.   Reports are that debris that was picked up by the storm was dropped almost 100 miles away.   And again Broadcasting was not only providing coverage to the rest of us but were lifelines to those that were in harm’s way as Cellular and Land-line telephone services were disrupted.  I recall seeing one TV piece where you could hear just the end of the EAS header codes in the background.

One scene was shot from an aircraft where you could see the tornado churning along with a constant series of flashes as it chewed its way through overhead power distribution.  (Talk about current overloads) The amount of transients on the power lines in that area must have been something.  I have not heard of any damage to broadcast stations, however, reportedly the storm missed KOKC-AM’s tower by only about 300 feet. 

In addition to providing storm warnings and coverage, many broadcasters across the country have been assisting with fund-raisers and PSA’s urging support of efforts like the Red Cross, Salvation Army and Federal Way based World Vision.  According to the FCC, even NCE facilities can raise money for causes like this.

 These storms are unlike Hurricanes or the Pacific Storms that we have here as they can destroy everything in their path and yet leave almost untouched a structure across the street.   I was watching a lot of the coverage sitting in the ER at my local hospital waiting to get some stitches (they decided to use glue)…I had to wait a number of hours to get seen.  According to the staff there, Monday’s are when they get slammed.  Wonder what they would do if a tornado struck around here?   If you noticed, the local hospital got it also.   The thought that kept running through my mind was why everyone did not have storm cellars….especially the schools.  In this case the enemy was not some crazed guy with a gun, but rather Mother Nature….

It is my understanding that most of the homes and structures in that area are built on slabs.  The lack of basements and storm rooms/cellars is based on the belief that they will leak and this is based on older construction techniques.   Disasters can be great teaching tools with lessons learned resulting in changes in building codes.

We have a lot to be thankful for here in this area where we only, on rare occasions, have experienced a very small twister.   Thunderstorms here are also quite rare and when we have them, they are usually very mild compared to those in the Mid-West and Tornado Alley.  That being said – We had a pretty nasty T-Storm/Squall run through this area in Mid-May.  I just happened to be on West Tiger at the time where it was pretty nasty.

In a recent column I expressed considerable concern that our broadcast stations in the Seattle area are not going to be able to be able to provide the citizens with vital/needed information after we have our ‘big event’….In our case – a major quake – Brother Dwight Small recently forwarded me this item that underscores the concern I expressed with a very sobering view of the damage we could expect –

Whereas many of my readers are Engineers – Let’s look at the math –

According to the USGS, there is an 87.561% chance of a major quake (5.0) within 50 miles of Seattle during the next 50 years.   (The last big one was the Nisqually quake in 2001, it was a 6.8) The probability of larger quakes drops off with severity (guess there is good news here?) 

Unlike other Tornados, which have a few minutes warning, or Hurricanes, which have tons of warning and loads of media hype – Earthquakes have – NO – warning.  Perhaps like tornados, quakes magnitude can vary considerably….they have their EF numbers, quakes have theirs, both provide some way to tell how bad it was.   Unlike tornados, quakes can, and usually do, impact a very large area.   Tornados impact mainly things on top of the ground, quakes impact everything.

My thanks to Andy Skotdal for his understanding of my concerns about getting in-place post disaster planning.  Major disasters have taught us that us that we are likely to end up with a bunch of pieces that need to be re-assembled into something that will work to get vital information to the public. It would be far easier to sit back and – assume – that the major TV and radio stations with big news departments will survive and will all be on the air transmitting all this information as if were a minor event.   Unfortunately if we make this assumption we will be ignoring the fact that Murphy will be in command and he has other ideas.   What we are likely to end up with is just a few surviving transmitter plants that have adequate long-run fuel for their generators, an a few studio locations that may or may not be connected to their customary transmitter plant…and add to that, Murphy will probably make sure that those news staffed operations are connected to nothing.  My goal is to try to out-smart him by having, in-place, some systems that will enable this information flow to go on.   We may well have to connect un-familiar pieces together to get something that will work.  This requires thinking outside the conventional political and technical boxes.   Let me give you some examples – Suppose we find out that the only surviving TV transmitter in the area is the ION facility on West Tiger….Yet the KING-TV building and its news abilities are ready to go with no way to broadcast.   On the Radio Side – What would happen if the only radio transmitter that’s operational is a Clear Channel Station that has no news department while the KIRO Radio facility is fully operational and yet can’t communicate with its transmitter?   

Starting with the first step – In many disasters around the country, it’s common for those music only radio stations to re-broadcast any station that’s on the air with full news coverage.   How would we do that in this market?   How many political and technical plans are in place that would permit this to take place quickly and easily without having to create something on the fly while grumbling that this should have been done long ago?

In my opinion –

Ø      This is a great project for the WSAB and SBE to dig into.    

Ø      This is something that could/should be implemented in other markets as well.

Food for thought?

Just prior to me sending this column off to the electronic wonderland that allows you to read it…A truck with an oversize load struck the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River between Mt Vernon and Burlington sending one span into the river thereby forcing 70,000+ vehicles per day (Including a large number of trucks) onto detours.  The result of this is apparently huge backups.   Of course I have trips schedule this coming week to the Bellingham area.

An interesting tidbit was recently sent out by my local power/gas provider (PSE) called ‘Your guide to choosing the right bulb’.    In this they deal with color choices, wattage comparisons etc.  One interesting item – A 100 watt incandescent bulb replacement in CFL – and – LED both consume 23 watts…..However in the 40 watt size, the CFL uses 11 watts and the LED only 8. Wonder why the difference?

According to a survey by SSRS more people watch news or educational programming than comedy 26 to 17% for those 18-49 and 38 to 11% for those over 55.    In terms of popularity of 4 types of programming, its #1 – News/educational, #2- Drama, #3 Sports and #4 Comedy?   Sure seems to me that the popularity of programs is not reflected in the amount of each type that’s offered.   Not good news for TV Broadcasters is the finding that 33% of those 18-49 watch TV shows on their computers and 16% use their tablet.  To think that it was not that long ago that those bit TV towers were the ONLY source of video programming.

While digging through some old stuff (At this age, I have a lot of that) I ran across a brochure on a product offering by Teledyne Semiconductor for the Fetron….You do remember the Fetron don’t you?….for those of you that don’t…These were JFET devices that were physically constructed to plug into 7 and 9 pin tube sockets to permit quick conversion to solid-state circuitry.   You missed it?    1972-1973.   This was during the era when a lot of equipment in use was using vacuum tubes and no solid state replacements were on the market or desirable.  Teledyne saw an opportunity to market devices that would provide an upgrade path – Anyone remember this?

Speaking of looking back – it was 1985 that Microsoft first shipped Windows 1.0….only 28 years ago.

One of the biggest Amateur Radio events of the year takes place this month – Field Day. (June 22-23 this year).  This is when many hams leave the home station behind and set up antennas, temporary shelters and operate for 24 hours on generators as a demonstration of their ability to perform during emergencies.    To make life more interesting, all the while it’s a contest to see how many other stations you can contact within that period.    The size of these efforts range from just one station – to many – all operating at the same time and location.  All kinds of modes are used, but mainly SSB and CW (Morse code).   One of the best Field Day operations in these parts has been the Mike and Key Club’s operation from Ft Flagler State Park on Marrowstone Island.   I have a lot of fond memories of that location.   It’s great fun, if you are a ham…and have not participated with Field Day – Hope you can get out and participate.  

Are you like me and have registered your cellphone number on the National Do Not Call Registry and STILL get unwanted voice and text messages telling you that you have won a trip etc.?   According to a recent news item – There is a rising threat of mobile malware as hackers are now honing in on your smart phone. Perhaps those that still use their trusty old flip-phone are on to something?

History was recently made at the FCC as Mignon Clyburn became the first woman to lead the FCC.    It’s a short term job as the new FCC leader; Tom Wheeler has been picked by the President.   He has to be approved by the Senate.  

According to Public Policy Polling – 15% of voters say the government or the media adds mind controlling technology to TV broadcast signals.   That’s pretty scary.   Nothing in the survey about TV programs that are ‘mind-less’.

According to Neilson 62.8% of worldwide advertising goes to Television.    No mention what percentage goes to OTA TV vs. other means of distribution.   Radio gets 5.2% while newspapers (that are supposed to be going out of business) get 19.5 %.   The internet (where all the money is reported to be flowing these days) only comes up with 1.9%

More Seattle rankings….But this one is not good.   INRIX, an outfit that tracks these things, comes word that Seattle has the 8th worst traffic in the country.  Guess this is good news for one segment of our business – Radio.  Nothing like listening to those traffic reports that tell you what you already know.    Since I left Entercom as a FT employee over 3 years ago I, thankfully, no longer have to commute from Auburn to Downtown – However WSU has me driving all the way through to get to Mt Vernon and Bellingham.   Thank goodness they don’t charge for parking on I-405…..Of course now that the I-5 bridge over the Skagit is broken, those trips to the north will be taking longer.

Still more Seattle rankings – Mens Magazine is out with a survey about cities they deem to be the most active.    Portland is ranked #1, Denver #6 and Seattle #7.   Wonder why Portlanders are more active than Seattleites – You’d think with all the caffeine in our blood that it would be the other way around.

According to another survey Washington is the least foul-mouthed state in the country.    In the event you feel deprived of 4 letter words…You can move to Ohio, Maryland, New Jersey, Louisiana or Illinois as they were ranked higher in the use of %$# !!  Etc. 

And ….Washington State is the most bicycle friendly state for the 6th straight year.  (Mayor McSchwinn should be proud) Following behind – Colorado and Oregon are ranked #2 and 3. The source is the League of American Bicyclists.  If you have any doubt of how popular biking is – Check out the number that rides the STP in July.   For those of you not in this area, this is the annual Seattle to Portland bicycle event.   One avid fan of this mode of transportation has a quote worth re-quoting – “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad choices in clothing’ … Uh-Huh!

 The Internet World has recently given birth to yet another Billionaire.    A 26 year old, high school drop-out David Karp, who started Tumblr in his mother’s NYC apartment in 2007 just sold the blogging site to Yahoo FOR 1.1 Billion – Cash!

 Was recently thinking about the plight of newspapers.   Perhaps it’s time for a Superman reversal….He could become a mild-mannered crime stopper and use his super-skills to help the newspaper?

 I recently received one of those emails where the writer demonstrated that you can read text even though a number of letters are left out.   This got me thinking about this crazy language of ours…

 Why do some words have useless letters? .., For example – Why is there a ‘K’ in Know and Knife?   And why is there a G in Gnat?.   Why don’t we write [Now I no why the man used a nife to kill the nat]?

 How about the L in Salmon (it’s only pronounced in the deep south)  Speaking of L’s – Why in the world is there an L in the middle of Colonel?…What’s wrong with writing [the cernal (or Kernal) caught a samon]?

 Or a Q in Unique or torque?  [The motor had a uneek tork curve]?  Then there is the useless H in the word Chord.

 Then there are all those words that have gh in them where we ignore the ‘G’.  Think about how much easier it would be for everyone with the following changes – Tough/Tuff – Slough/Slew

Brought/brot – Thought/thot – Throug/thru  etc.

 And we wonder why it’s so difficult for those that come here from other lands to master our language? Come to think of it…..Now that Texting and emails have become the new means of communication, we may well see this happen.

 Just when we thought that Heathkit was dead and gone and a part of American History comes word that someone is taking a serious look at putting the ‘paddles’ to the legendary brand.   If you are like me, over the years, you built and enjoyed a number of Heathkits….and, perhaps, still have some of them going.   I know where there are Heathkits still doing the job at stations in this area.   Granted there are a lot of newbies that don’t recall these Benton Harbor gems.

From the questions in an on-line survey, whoever is behind the effort is looking at Computers and Ham Radio items.    If you would like to see Heathkit return – go here –

 Senator Rockefeller has order a study of Local TV Combos.  Apparently the WV Senator is concerned that JSA’s and SSA’s are an end run around the FCC’s rules on the number of stations a firm can own.   NAB says that the arrangements benefit viewers.   Media ownership rules are routinely under attack by someone.

 Talk continues to how to breathe more life into AM Radio.  One idea has recently been tested.   Dropping AM in favor of OFDM or HD-Radio’s Digital Mode.   In this case they actually took an AM station and ran digital only modulation and they went out and determined what the coverage would be compared to analog.    The results appear to be encouraging, especially to those that want to stay in the same portion of the spectrum.  Like most things Digital – as you got near the edge of the stations coverage area…it just quit, unlike AM which would get progressively more noisy until you ‘wanted’ to quit listening.   The $64,000 question is – would anyone actually suggest that AM be phased out and Digital be phased in?  How in the world would you do that? 

We all know what happens to the AM band when you mix analog and digital systems now.   My thought is fine – Convert the existing spectrum to all digital – after – you transition all the existing AM stations to new spectrum as I outlined in last month’s column.

 We have been hearing about how bad broadcast towers are for birds…With Federal Action as a result.   Finally there is a study out on the impact of wind generating equipment on birds.  To underscore their point, the study makes it a point explain how these big machines are killing golden eagles.   Interestingly, wind generation is a favorite of much of the political establishment that finds these green-machines not doing green things.   Perhaps like hydro-power killing fish but having an acceptable carbon footprint.    According to a study over half a million birds are killed each year by the country’s wind farms.   Conservation groups are obviously faced with an interesting issue.    My solution is simple require the elimination of electricity consuming devices of all kinds and then the problem would go away.  

 Family Radio, which owns a radio station in the Seattle area, has reportedly been selling off some of their major stations to compensate for lack of donations.   If you recall the founder, Harold Camping, back in 2011, predicted the end of the world, since that did not happen, donations are down 70%

 On the technical front – Silicon Labs has introduced the first – Single Chip Digital Radio Receiver.  Translation – A tiny device that will economically enable digital radio receivers to be created or installed in other equipment.   The firms felt that digital radio technology was the next generation of radio broadcasting and was worth the effort.    Despite what many continue to say…Analog radio’s future, in the long run, is not all that bright.   Just look at the efforts to figure out what to do to pump new life into the place where broadcasting began, the AM Band!  If you want more information – Check out Silicon Labs model Si468x.

 Well it’s happened again – Someone has come up with a new key-board.   This one is called the KALQ (Sounds like call letters to me).   According to the developers enables faster typing that QWERTY.    Check it out at –    On that topic….What happened to the folks that used to proudly state they don’t type?   Or those that do, using two fingers?

 Today we have a car maker named Tesla in honor of the electrical pioneer Nikola Tesla.   Did you know that he was interested in the planet Mars?   About 100 years ago Tesla believed that his ‘Magnifying Transmitter’ had detected radio signals from Martians.

 And finally, in closing this month’s column, some  Punography, aka, adventure in Groaners.

 When chemists die, they barium.

 Jokes about German sausage are the wurst.

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

 I know a guy who’s addicted to brake fluid.  He says he can stop any time.

 How does Moses make his tea?  Hebrews it.

 I stayed up all night to see where the sun went.  Then it dawned on me.

 This girl said she recognized me from the vegetarian club, but I’d never met herbivore.

 I’m reading a book about anti-gravity.  I can’t put it down.

 I did a theatrical performance about puns.  It was a play on words.

 They told me I had type A blood, but it was a Type-O.

 Why were the Indians here first?  They had reservations.

 Energizer bunny arrested.  Charged with battery.

 I didn’t like my beard at first.  Then it grew on me.

 Did you hear about the cross eyed teacher who lost her job because she couldn’t control her pupils?

 I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger.  Then it hit me!

 What do you call a dinosaur with a extensive vocabulary?  A thesaurus.

 England has no kidney bank, but it does have a Liverpool.

 I got a job at a bakery because I kneaded dough.

 Earthquake in Washington obviously government’s fault.

 I used to think I was indecisive, but now I’m not so sure.

That’s it for this month – Time to go hide – Lord willing, see you next month in most of this same location.

Clay Freinwald, K7CR, CPBE

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