Clay’s Corner for February 2018
Providing news and views from a broadcast engineers perspective since September 1986
In keeping with my recent series of pretty pictures…This one, supplied by Ralph Sims of Accel Net, taken by one of their Tower Cameras at West Tiger the day after Christmas. Here we are looking east, at sunrise. The two towers in the upper right are what we call, Tiger-2, home of TV Transmitters for DayStar and Ion Media, as well as the following FM Stations – 94.1, 92.5, 96.5, 98.9, 102.5 and 106.1. The clear-cut area was logged about 3 years ago. On the lower left is the road going to the summit site.
That time of year is rapidly approaching when a bunch of us die-hard scroungers head to Puyallup for the annual Mike and Key Club Electronic Flea Market. This year it’s on Saturday March 10th. If you are an electronic tinkerer/collector or just like to visit old friends, it’s a great fun time. For the past several years, a bunch of us have gathered at Odd Fella’s in Auburn at 7 a.m.for breakfast and then headed to Puyallup. Hope you can join us. One sad note however…All the friends you used to see there that are no longer with us. This is the 37th year for the event.
In this picture, taken from the same tower as above, we are looking Northwest. The tower you can see on the peak in the distance is on what’s call West Tiger #2. The tower belongs to Boeing. I love how the early morning sun causes the sky to look yellow.
The Main Studio rule is now something for the U.S. history books. This change has made a lot of people happy…and some not. I’ve read a number of comments from those that feel the FCC made a bad decision and this will end up being harmful etc. Here’s my question: If having a local studio, in the city of license is a great idea, what’s stopping a broadcast station from continuing to do so? Is it possible that a broadcast station whose COL is in a smaller town near the ‘big city’ could continue to have a ‘local studio’ and reap the benefits that it would provide? That is assuming that those benefits are real and not just imaginary. Here in the Seattle area KCPQ and KSTW-TV and KBKS, KHTP, KIRO-FM could open Tacoma Studios and KRWM could open one in Bremerton. Would this automatically mean that those locations would benefit? Would the citizens and businesses in those cities be happy to make sure that such a move is economically viable? Perhaps what’s missing here is a clear understanding of what it takes to keep a broadcast station operating….INCOME! The income can come from various sources….In the case of a Non-Commercial facility it’s called ‘underwriting’ or contributions. Commercial stations almost all rely on advertising. I will grant you that there is something at play here called ‘Big City Magnetism’ (aka – the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence). Many businesses that are on the outskirts of a major city often strive to be identified with a nearby or adjacent larger city. Some of this may be based more on desire than good economic sense. Then there is the perception of the broadcast operation in the mind of the consumer. Consumers too, like to be identified or connected with the largest city in the region. You could have two stations with the same programming and find it likely the one associating themselves with the major city in the region will be more successful. Once you get out from under the influence of the big city and into a community with its own strong identity, you find that facilities there tend to attract consumers that don’t feel as concerned with the big city in their area. I recently wrote about a good example of this, KNWP in Port Angeles.
One of the latest iterations of radio stations are what’s called LPFM’s or Low Power FM stations. These little operations rely on contributions and volunteers as they are non-commercial in nature. Many of these new operations are shutting down as the financial reality of operating a broadcast station sinks in. Then there is the struggle of AM Radio, where their continued operation is becoming increasingly questionable.
Regardless of the City of License or where the studio is located…. Perhaps it’s too easy to be critical of something that you know little about? Many continue to view broadcasting as something other than a business that, like other ventures, have bills to pay and are forced to make decisions based on that, their greater need.
The recent public warning screw-up in Hawaii certainly got world-wide attention. Emergency managers, everywhere are being questioned by the media with ‘could it happen here’ questions. The fall-out over this one will serve as a great lesson for many years to come. Here in Washington State, the matter is being taken very seriously. State EMD is working with the SECC and all the stakeholders to make sure that we are learning from the mistake. It would be unfair to draw conclusions until the ongoing investigations are completed, however, preliminary findings are pointing to human error. As happens in events of this magnitude….Congress wants an investigation. What will result from that is anyone’s guess. One part of this drew a lot of fire. The fact that it took Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency 38 minutes to send a correction. You can just imagine the panic that filled the minds of those that saw this message on their smart phone –
One of the big questions is – Who should be initiating an attack warning? There are those that feel that this should come from the Federal rather than a State government. The issue is that, other than an EAN/Presidential Message, we really don’t have a mechanism set up to handle this since the end of the Cold War. My guess is that this will all change, certainly the States will be pushing in this direction. Those of us that have been at this for a long time, well remember the days of EBS when we had Attack Warning messages. Unfortunately, here we are again. Makes me wonder if the shelters that people were installing in their backyards will make a comeback?
Many times bad things happen for good reasons. I recall back when Mt. St. Helens erupted that we suddenly received the funding for our State Relay Network that we’d been asking for…for a long time. One of our public warning system’s greatest weaknesses is a lack of training – at all levels. The timing of the Hawaii event uniquely occurred about a week after our SECC Meeting, where recently retired from NOAA, and SECC Vice Chair, Ted Buehner agreed to on the matter of training in Washington State. This training will need to involve all levels of public warnings. Those that initiate messages (Emergency Managers and 911 Centers, as well as Broadcasters and Cable Systems, whose job it is to distribute warnings to the public. There will be much more to come on this topic…Stay tuned!
JUST AN OBSERVATION DEPARTMENT –
As you can likely guess, my entire life has been one of great interest in science. In the past year or so, we have been hearing the word ‘Fake’ all too frequently. In fact, I’ll wager that we have heard that word more in the last year than all the years previous. This got me thinking….
Have you noticed how those that are constantly speaking out about ‘Fake News’ are also great believers in ‘Fake Science’?
…..Like I said – Just an observation.
I was recently having a conversation with a fellow broadcast engineer regarding the life cycle of equipment. Being of an older generation, we tend to place a very high value on this matter when selecting equipment.
For example – I recently purchased a new vehicle. I did a lot of shopping with one of the most important criteria being – How long is this likely to last. I submit that this is not always a prime decision making component when you are buying a new vehicle…Chances are, higher on the list are things like – Features, safety, color and style etc.
Many of the items used in a broadcast station these days appear to have relatively short life-cycles. Perhaps one of the drivers for this are the rapid changes in technology that tend to make something obsolete sooner. Another is the lack of demand for long term reliability coupled with the willingness to pay for it. Who is doing the buying is also a big factor. When the person that is charged with maintaining a piece of equipment makes the final decision, they are likely to be looking at a purchase through a different lens than would be a person in, say, accounting. Service after the sale, long term support and parts availability are not valued as they once were. In the ‘old-days’ we did not have the two views of purchasing we have today. Operating and Capital Budgets…back when…there was only one pocket of money.
Something the ‘old salts’ have a problem with is the fact that many items today are not repairable. This is for several reasons….1) They are designed to be thrown away when they no longer function. The manufacturer does not want you to repair them, as this lowers their profit margin. 2) The cost of repair in terms of knowledge and equipment makes repair not economically feasible.
Short life-cycles have become acceptable in this ‘throw it away if it does not work’ society’. It’s all about change. Just don’t be surprised to hear some old guy say something to the effect of …In my day, we would fix that. Those days are gone and with it many of the jobs that used to be.
Before I leave this topic – a couple of changes in our area to note – Marty Hadfield is no longer with iHeart Media as he ponders what to do now that he has become an official senior citizen . Tom Pierson has announced that he is retiring this summer from Bonneville (KIRO/KTTH etc.).
Now that we are entering another phase in the world of TV Repacking, stations are asking for more repack money….Like 2 Billion Dollars’ worth….Twice the amount that was allocated for the big shuffle. ‘Tis also interesting how the demand for spectrum from this big shuffle has turned out to be lower than some were saying, leading many to ask if all of this was really necessary? There will likely be some books written about this one.
The FCC continues to fill up the FM Band – For a while the only signal you could hear in the area on 94.5 was KRXY based in Shelton/Olympia. Then came the co-channel AM Translator for KTTH (Located on Cougar Mt.). Now there is a CP for another on 94.5, translator (BNPFT-20171201AMU), this time to be located on the 1450 AM Tower in Puyallup. As expected KRXY (Olympia Broadcasters) has petitioned the FCC to deny it. Pretty clear that existing radio stations are going to be busy just watching the application process in an effort to protect what has been their exclusive turf.
It’s hard to imagine in a year when we essentially went three months with only a few hours of drizzle, but Seattle is about to cross a soggy mark for 2017. As the rain fell Friday, Seattle was moving over 47 inches of rain for the year in the morning. If and when it passes 47.49 inches, we’ll be officially 10 inches above normal rainfall for the year. Summer might have been dry, but a very soggy winter and spring was enough to counter balance, and this year’s autumn ended up doing well in the rainfall department as well. For those of you that read this and feel that Seattle is all about rain – Here are some things to consider –
1. Mobile Alabama receives an average of 67 inches of rain per year.
2. Buffalo, N.Y. holds the title of cloudiest city in American (yes, more than Seattle).
Here’s my view on the latest Radio Ratings – (all 6+)
- Hubbard’s KRWM had some impressive numbers –#1 and into double digits
- Sinclair’s KPLZ jumped up to #4
- The bottom appears to have fallen out of the Country Format with KKWF at #15 and new-comer KVRQ well below that
- The two big non-com’s continue to do well with KUOW at #2 and KNKX at #10
- AM’s continue down the same path, downward. Interesting that KIRO is now ahead of KOMO.
- 13 stations at the bottom with a 1.0 or lower…5 of them are AM’s
There have been changes in Pullman – Washington State University has been busy re-branding their Radio and TV broadcast operations. On January first they rolled out their new Logo. This action combines Wazzu’s Radio and TV operations under a common name – Northwest Public Broadcasting…Perhaps a good thing as there was a lot of confusion between NWPR and NPR..
From time to time we read about how Europe is dumping FM radio in favor of some form of Digital Radio system. Apparently not everyone is marching in lock-step, with word that Sweden is granting new licenses for commercial FM Stations.
In the U.S. FM Radio continues to grow with over 600 new signals on the air in 2017. The biggest area of growth has been with Translators, Boosters and LPFM’s. All you have to do is tune around the FM band to hear for yourself how the FM band is being filled up. On the TV side, the number of VHF TV’s increased (part of the big shuffle). Not surprising, the number of AM stations continues to fall with 30 less last year. My prediction is that number will continue to fall to the point that the number of AM’s more truly represents the demand for that service…A slide that will continue for the next several years.
Here, locally, the owners of the 1230 AM in Everett are planning on adding an FM on 102.1 with 180 Watts. Site appears to be their AM tower just east of downtown Everett. The same group is planning an FM Translator on 94.5 at the site of their Puyallup 1450 AM operation.
KZQM is a new FM for Sequim. They will be on 104.9. A good deal of paperwork being exchanged in that one from a neighborhood organization who has been opposed.
On a site known as Green Mountain, east of Kalama, local Kelso station KLOG is planning a translator to be on 100.7. At over 2000 feet, that 250 watt operation will be quite impressive.
ANOTHER FROM THE OBSERVATION DEPARTMENT –
If women do the same job for less money, why do companies hire men to do the same job for more money?
In the category of ‘who wudda thunk?’….Did you ever think there was would be such a device as a SMART SPEAKER? Speakers where usually inside a Radio or TV…Component Stereos may have had external speakers….But those, even though they might have been expensive, were hardly ever considered – smart. Of course now we have gone from just plain Phones to Smart Phones. .Anyway we now have a battle brewing between the makers of Smart Speakers. In the event you missed it, these are speakers that are interactive, that you speak to. Makers include Google and Amazon. Radio has discovered these gizmos in a big way because you can ‘talk’ to your smart-speaker and request a particular radio station be played. This requires the Radio industry to figure out how to make these things work to their advantage.
Congrats to David Field, the CEO of Entercom who was recently named by Radio Ink as their Executive of the Year. Perhaps credit is due, as his company was able to gobble up CBS Radio and end up becoming a major player in Radio, while others in the industry (iHeart and Cumulus) struggle.
Speaking of Cumulus – They recently announced they were dropping their sports deals with major Chicago teams as well as canceling a deal to buy a couple of additional FM’s in that market, all while negotiations continue in their bankruptcy processes. Recent price for a share of Cumulus was 5 Cents!
Recent news from the FCC, with the announcement that Al Shuldiner has been named to head up the Commission’s Audio Division. Mr. Shuldiner replaces Peter Doyle. His experience includes stints with Ibiquity/DTS (The parent of HD Radio). The U.S. Radio industry will be watching this move very closely.
So what’s going on with Sinclair and Fox? Rumors are that the two are about to do a deal that will, in part, satisfy the FCC’s concerns about numbers of stations in certain markets as a result of the Sinclair/Tribune deal. Here in Seattle, could it be that KCPQ/13 could become a Fox O &O? This could impact a number of other markets as well, for example….Denver. Stay tuned!
For some reason I keep thinking about the old saying about being too late to close the barn door because the horse is already gone. Then there is better late than never. The deal is the FCC has apparently showed interest in a North Dakota car dealership that they feel is causing interference with Cellphone reception from their outdoor lighting system. Apparently Verizon has a nearby cell site and they have determined that the source of their interference is the car dealership’s outdoor lighting system, because when it was turned off the problem stopped. When the problem could not be resolved, the FCC got involved. They told the dealership to fix it or start paying a fine for every day they refuse to act. (Time to go back to incandescent?)
Is this a simple matter of whose Ox?. Seems to me if you are the FAA, Public Safety or a Wireless carrier you can get FCC action. What about the poor Ham Operator that can no longer hear any signals because of the ‘Grow Lights’ in the neighbor’s basement? Or what about the AM Station whose coverage has been reduced due to all manner of un-regulated RF noise generating devices? Appears to me that what’s needed here is a level playing field when it comes to dealing with sources of RF pollution. The SBE, NAB and ARRL have been trying to push this rope up-hill for many years. Hopefully the new FCC Chair will be in listening, and more importantly, action mode. Time will tell.
Sad news this past month with the announcement that legendary Keith Jackson has passed at 89. Many of us who have been in the Seattle area for many years recall him at KOMO where he worked from 1954 to 1964. Not only was Keith a fixture in Seattle Broadcasting…He was a Cougar…A WSU Graduate. It was just a few years ago, in 2014, that a building in the Murrow College was named in his honor.
Mike Brooks from KING-FM is a frequent contributor to my column. This time something for the ‘techies’ in the group. Who will be the first one to properly identify this item?
One thing that Broadcasters are always concerned about is airing something that they should not, for fear that the FCC would make them subject to a sizable fine. The question is now…What do you do when the person that utters the subject to fine word is the President of the country? Perhaps the fact the FCC understands there are differences between newscast language and entertainment programming? Never a dull moment in this industry.
For some time FM Broadcasters have been installing Boosters, lower powered transmitters operating on the same frequency as their main transmitter…Especially in areas where there is significant terrain shielding. In the area South of Seattle, Bustos Media has recently been installing a few on-channel boosters. Initial reports are they are working reasonably well. All this to fill in terrain shielded areas from their South Mountain transmitter some 50 miles away.
HD Radio opens up some interesting possibilities for Radio with some recent articles been written. In these cases the term ‘Single Frequency Network’ or SFN is used. For television, new technologies are opening the door for SFN’s. Recent reports are that Sinclair and some others are about to build an SFN in the Dallas Area. This all to validate the concept. If this works, as some hope, it could make some major changes in the way TV is delivered to consumers – Everywhere.
How about a couple of TV memories?
In the category of look who is retiring – Don Imus is apparently hanging up his spurs. Don has been a fixture in New York radio since 1971 and was widely seen on TV as well. Don represents an inspiration for us older-types, working well past the point that many retire. He’s 77. And that is older than me (by a little).
The well-known feud between Pacific Lutheran University and their radio station, KPLU has been the subject of much press, and national attention. It all started when the University decided to sell KPLU. This effort backfired resulting in an uproar and a lot of negative press for the Parkland-based school. Ultimately the station was purchased from PLU by the listeners and the call letters changed to KNKX. Making this a bit more complicated is the fact that the station operates from a building owned by PLU from which they are making plans to move.
More recently another issue has come up. The matter of funds left in wills by the station’s listeners. Both parties claimed the money was theirs. Near the end of January, a Court Commission ruled in favor of the radio station adding that the station, and not the former owners are entitled to the money, as well as any future funds that have been earmarked for KPLU. Whereas this is not pocket-change, the matter may not be settled yet, as the University may well appeal. The station is looking at a couple of options for relocating their operation, all in Tacoma. Reports are they will maintain their Seattle operation as well.
Congratulations to Kent Randles of Entercom Portland on his promotion to Director of Technical Operations for the Rose City Cluster of radio stations where he has worked for a number of years. Kent has been a longtime friend.
FM Translators have become a hot commodity in the Radio business, especially since the FCC started allowing them to be added to AM Radio stations. The demand for these relatively low-powered FM add-ons has driven the price skyward. Recently half a million dollars was paid for a 250 watt FM translator in Puerto Rico. Doing the math, this price represents some $2,000 per watt. Perhaps this is an indication of the recovery taking place there?
Looking for a job in Radio? Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) has an opening. Here is how their notice reads:
OPB is looking for someone with broadcast experience who embraces the ever-changing media landscape to lead the team responsible for the media creation pipeline at our network center in Portland and the RF distribution technology at our remote sites located between The Dalles and Astoria, OR. For more information and instructions on how to apply, visit OPB’s careers page http://www.opb.org/about/jobs/. OPB is an Equal Opportunity Employer.
Here’s an item for Broadcasters in Washington State –
Question – Is your Washington State EAS Plan up-to-date?
In this State, the EAS plan is designed to occupy a 3-ring binder. What’s unique about our Plan is that it is not just a single document, but rather a number of them, called Tab’s, addressing various aspects of EAS. The State EAS Plan is constantly being updated with updates distributed via the WaState EAS Remailer, additionally, they are posted on the WaState Emergency Management Web Site.
To determine if your plan is up-to-date – all you have to do is check the latest Tab Index (Tab 31) Dated 1/26/18 and compare the release date for each Tab to the one you have in your binder.
Here is where you get connected –
The Washington State EAS Remailer – http://sea.sbe16.org/mailman/listinfo/eas-wa
The WEMD Web Site – https://www.mil.wa.gov/other-links/emergency-alert-system
Any and all questions about EAS in Washington State should be posted to the EAS Remailer.
Before I leave the topic – The next Meeting of the SECC (State EAS steering committee) will be March 13th at Clover Park Technical College. You are welcome to participate in person or via conference bridge. Full information for the meeting will be distributed on the EAS Remailer.
Many of my generation have come to learn that there are many ‘younger folks’ that don’t know how to tell time using an analog clock. (Seriously!) Apparently this is not something that many youngsters are no longer taught in school (along with how to write in cursive). The concept of the Big-Hand and Little-Hand is fading away. The other day, while getting a medical check-up, a nurse whips out her smart phone and selects an app. having an analog clock, complete with second hand, and checks my pulse. Cool! I have to admit that I have not warn a watch for several years. I use my Smart Phone for time telling. Thinking about my future years and those that have retired already….There is this option – The ONE-HAND WATCH.
Perfect for old folks that don’t need to count seconds and very reasonable for those that know how to read an analog clock, or Engineers that know how to read analog Meters. For those of you that prefer, it comes in a 24 hour model as well.That’s it for this month- Looks like we can look forward to an early spring as trees in my neighborhood are getting leaves already, not mention the bulbs are sprouting and my grass needs cutting. Better believe in climate change!! It’s happening.
That’s it for this month- Looks like we can look forward to an early spring, as trees in my neighborhood are getting leaves already, not to mention the bulbs are sprouting and my grass needs cutting. Better believe in climate change!! It’s happening.
Lord willing, till next month, thanks for the read
Clay Freinwald. CPBE, K7CR etc.