Clay’s Corner for May 2012

May 17, 2012
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By Clay Freinwald SBE Seattle Chapter 16Featuring News, Rumors and Views From Usually Reliable and Irrefutable Sources

Well the FCC came out with their latest rules for EAS, including a prohibition on what we have been doing here in Washington State since October of 2010….That is using a technique called Text to Speech, often called TTS.   Needless to say this did not sit well with many that have been involved with our EAS program on the SECC and various LECC’s around the State.    The good news is that there were others around the country that were in agreement and whom asked the FCC to re-consider their decision.….including FEMA that pointed out that TTS was a major component of upgrades to the EAS.    This resulted in something that I don’t recall seeing in my 50 years in this business, the FCC reversed themselves and suddenly TTS was (again) OK to use.

For those of you that have not followed this matter…Here’s a bit of history.   The Washington State EAS system, has relied on a system whereby the State EOC, or various county and city EOC’s or 911 centers could initiate an EAS message for the entire state or one of the local EAS areas by using the same type of equipment that’s required to be installed in broadcast stations.  This process would include having emergency personnel record the voice portion of the message.   This message (voiced message along with digital ‘Header Codes’) were transmitted to broadcast and cables systems using various analog distribution systems.   The result was often audio quality that was significantly below broadcast standards.   The solution to this problem became apparent with testing of a new system called the Common Alerting Protocol whereby emergency messages were typed into a computer and that message was ‘read’ by a text-reader at the broadcast or cable system. (A similar system has been in use for several years at the National Weather Service)  This completely eliminated the noisy, off mic, voice messages.   In October of 2010 the State of Washington deployed a number of EAS endecs around the state all connected to a central server hosted by MyStateUSA. (Often called a CAP Server)  The new system, dubbed – WaCAP was well received by the emergency management community as well as broadcast and cable systems.   As time went by, an ever increasing number of CAP-capable endecs were installed to the point that, as of this writing, about half of the stations in the State are now connected.    The bump in the road was the FCC announcing that TTS would not be permitted.   Now, thankfully, that bump has been removed and the State of Washington can continue to move forward with the on-going process of improving its EAS system.

The end of June another milestone will be the requirement that all broadcast and cable systems have installed a CAP capable EAS device.    With this will come a 2nd CAP-server that everyone will be monitoring, this one, hosted by the ‘Feds’.   When this process is completed, all broadcast stations and cable systems will be capable of receiving digital CAP messages and forwarding them to the public.    For Radio, and the aural portion of TV, this will mean a much improved audio message.   For TV and Cable this will mean that the EAS Crawl will, for the first time, contain the same text as in the aural message.   A huge improvement from where we started 15 years ago.

The EAS is far from stagnant, in fact, it’s an evolving system whose participation is required by the FCC and one that is that is largely administrated by those that volunteer to participate in the State EAS steering committee (SECC) as well as local committees called LECC’s.   As you know I have been involved with this since the start of EAS back in 1996.   This task is quite rewarding.   To be quite candid, we could use your help.   If you would like to ‘Give-Back’ by helping with the EAS here in our State, please let us know.   The more that participate, the less work there is for any one person to do and it gives you an opportunity to have direct involvement on what happens next.

Now that the snow has finally melted away from the West Tiger road, several projects are underway.    1> Replacing a number of culverts.    Doing this requires shutting down the access road to all the radio and TV operations on the site.    This has caused everyone to schedule all equipment failures to take place at times when the road is passible.  (Like that’s going to work).  2> Installing a new, and much larger, diesel tank at the ‘Summit Site’ (formally the Entercom Site).   This will provide two and one-half times more diesel on site and much longer run times before re-fueling.   3> The power line supplying power to the Summit Site, installed back in 1987 is being replaced with an intertie to the PSE system installed for the ATC site when that was built.   This is just in time as the old line has become a liability due to it being exposed due to erosion.

Sign at the entrance to the West Tiger Mountain access road –

Welcome back to the area Dave Ratener.    Dave has been hired to be the new CE at the Sandusky Radio cluster based in Bellevue.    For the past several years Dave was has been working in Spokane.

In one of our past Chapter Meetings we discussed the, all important, Public File.  In that meeting the move to have TV station put their Public Files on-line was discussed.   Well, it’s happening…The FCC just approved rules that will require TV’s to provide info on line about political ads they carry.  This new method will be phased in, starting with the Top 50 markets.  Whereas Seattle is #13 – here we go.   Word is, in time, the Commish will require more Pub-File info be placed on-line at not only TV but radio stations as well.  As is the case with other FCC required changes, the broadcaster will be asked to foot the bill.  Look for some broadcasters to fight back on this one as they feel singled out.

At the recent Broadcast Engineer Conference at NAB, SBE President John Poray gave a presentation highlighting the shortage of broadcast engineers.  In his presentation, John mentioned several causes.   1) Retirement, 2) The economy, 3) Shifting importance to computers and related technologies.

In the 50 years I have been working in this market I’ve seen a number of additions to John’s list-

1>     Consolidation – It’s no longer one set of call letters per company.  Radio and TV stations now often have more than one ‘station’ under one roof, with that comes economy of scale (translation, we don’t need as many engineers anymore)

2>     Equipment reliability – Back when, everything was full of vacuum tubes and reliability of equipment was a fraction of what it is now.

3>     Money – Many of my former co-workers left this industry moving to other fields that paid better, in some cases, much better.’

4>     Working conditions – In all too many cases, broadcast engineers are expected to do more with less, work longer hours, work on dangerous equipment alone etc. and do so for, in some cases, less money.

5>     Respect – In some instances, Engineers are thought of as an ‘expense’, i.e., they don’t create revenue etc. Remarkable how other employers don’t require their technical employees to change light bulbs or do plumbing!

6>     Contracting – In days past, all stations….Even small radio operations, had a full-time engineer.   For reasons already stated, stations have been quick to get rid of their full time engineer in favor of a contractor that they can call when needed, just as they do with their copy or coffee machine.

7>     IT – With computer based equipment taking over the conventional analog chores, stations have hired ‘IT personnel’ and have, in many cases, not fully integrated these people into the engineering department, resulting in less engineers, perhaps not less people.  (Shame on us)

These are my thoughts, what are yours?

Will July 9th be ‘Internet Doomsday’?   Some are saying that the DNSChanger Malware may impact many.   I don’t know if this is all true or not…Apparently the FBI is involved.

The SBE is again pushing the FCC to get more technical minds on board at the Commish.   This time the Society is asking for letters be written to Members U.S. Representatives to support HR 2102.  The goal is to reduce time-consuming and sometimes costly FCC errors.   I’m shocked, how could a political appointee make a mistake dealing with a technical issue?

Do you feel the peace?    You should, The Institute for Economics and Peace recently ranked the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett area #3 …Tacoma came in #4.   Most peaceful place?   Cambridge-Newton-Framingham, Mass.   Washington State is ranked the 7th most peaceful state.

Received the sad news that Steve Mendelsohn has entered hospice for pancreatic cancer.   You may not know Steve, so some background would be helpful.   He has been involved with ABC in New York for many years where he also served a Game Day Coordinator for the NFL.  Steve was very active with Amateur Radio and the ARRL where he served in various positions with that organization.   My path crossed his when we were both on the VHF Repeater Advisory Committee back in the 70’s….and several times at NAB.    A giant in our industry.   Our prayers are with you my friend.

Nick Winter and Lowell Kiesow, recently completed the upgrade of the KPLU computer based delivery system.   Lowell pointed out that they went from a 1996 Win 98 system to one running Win7.

Understand that attendance at this years NAB show in Las Vegas was just a bit over 92,000.  At the show, Radio World presents it’s ‘Cool Stuff’ awards.   Could not help but notice that the Broadcast Tools Audio Sentinel was named.    Broadcast Tools products are made in Sedro Woolley under the leadership of former Seattle Chief Engineer, Don Winget.

The world of copper theft continues.   One of the most egregious acts impacted KIMT-TV where reportedly damage ran half a million dollars.  In this case the thieves made off with 700 feet of transmission line. The good news is that they were caught.    I can’t help but wonder when the time will come that we will hear of a broadcaster getting hit by someone wanting to cash-in on the copper from a station in this area.

From time to time you find a You-Tube link that creates a good deal of attention.   This one is one of the best.    http://youtu.be/neHreW-PNtw     After looking at this tell me you don’t have the temptation to have one of these in your ‘Ham Shack’ or perhaps in the engineering department at the station?

HD Radio took another technical step forward with the announcement of a new low-power, low-cost, HD Chipset.   The proponents say this will help with getting HD Radio into portable devices such as cellphones etc.   To give you an idea of how far we’ve come – check out this item on You Tube – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJZi-gYQN4A

WTOP-FM in Washington DC continues to lead in terms of billing.   The station reportedly billed $65 Million in 2011; this is up from $57M in 2010.    That’s $5.416 Million per month.   A pretty cool number for a radio station I’d say.

In my April column in mentioned the effort of Frank Foti of Telos-Omnia to promote changing the FM stereo subcarrier to SSB.    Jon LeBlanc emailed me with the following item.

http://ham-radio.com/k6sti/ssb.htm    I understand that Mr. Foti did a presentation at NAB this past month.    I expect that we will be hearing more about this item.

Congratulations to the following local stations for being 2012 Regional Edward R. Murrow Award winners in Radio– KOMO-AM, KIRO-FM, KPLU-FM….and in TV – KING-TV,  KIRO-TV,  KOMO-TV/   In Spokane, KREM-TV , KXLY-TV and KHQ-TV were winners as well.

The FCC has issued radio station totals in the U.S. as of March 31 –

Ø      Full power radio stations – 15, 029

Ø      FM Stations – 6,555

Ø      AM Stations – 4,762

Ø      Non-Com FM’s – 3,712

Ø      FM Translators and Boosters – 6,097

Look for big changes in the last category as the FCC starts processing applications for translators that have been frozen since 2003 as well as an expect flood of app’s for new Low Power FM’s.

A Federal Appeals Court has determined that the FCC cannot prohibit political ads on public TV and radio stations.   The question is now….Will we see/hear them on these stations?    NWPR, operated by WSU, has said it will not.   One thing is for sure, we will all be hearing plenty of political ads as we swing into another election cycle..

Sony has been losing money and has determined the route back to profitability will mean concentrating on mobile devices, digital imaging and games and less on making TV sets.

Ken Broeffle, local Seattle broadcast engineer, reminds us that not all ‘broadcasting’ is over the air.    Take a look –

http://www.allaccess.com/net-news/archive/story/104741/seattle-s-all-star-crew-launches-jet-city-stream?ref=search

Perhaps a sign of times and the fact that electronic equipment is getting smaller and smaller to the point that Mid-Atlantic and Extron Electronics are proposing a new standard that’s half a rack wide, in other words, 10 5/8 wide instead of the standard 19 inches.  My thoughts flashed back to the days of vacuum tube based equipment that would often require two men to remove from a rack.   Perhaps we will see the day when you will have to specify half or full rack.   This might be a tough sell.   First market will likely be audio-visual type equipment.

Some musicians and audiophiles are hanging on to the sound produced by tube-type equipment I recently ran across this item that gives the movement a cute visual –

One could quote Darwin here –

“It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”-

With permission to share from my boss at WSU, Don Peters –

Peters’ Principles

1.        If it’s not broken don’t fix it.

2.       Don’t attempt major changes on a Friday unless it’s an emergency.

3.       Always inform master control before doing work that could or will take a station off the air.

4.       Always check with master control before you leave the site to insure proper operation.

5.       Take a picture BEFORE you disconnect.  It helps to put it back correctly.

6.       Work from a check list (pre flight) before departing for a work site.

7.       Measure twice, cut once.

8.       Pick up your tools when you are finished.

9.       Report results both good and bad.

10.   Most important—Work safely—fall protection, weather issues, high voltage, etc.

Don’s Corollary:  It’s always the last thing you try that fixes the problem.

That’s it for this month –

Catch you next month in most of this same location

 

Clay Freinwald, K7CR, CPBE

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