Clay’s Corner for June 2015
Welcome to summer ….Well almost …I have to admit that these 70 + degree days are not hard to get used to. Meanwhile the media is full of stories about our drought and the impact this will have as we get later into the year. I have to wonder if we will have a really bad fire-season and with that restrictions on when we can go places like West Tiger. In the past 25+ years that I have been driving up there I’ve experienced a couple of times when the single access road to the site was closed. Then there are times you can only go up there during evening and night hours. This tends to make you give a lot of thought to maintenance while you have your fingers crossed.
Speaking of West Tiger, two new transmitters are schedule to be delivered on the 15th of this month….One for KING-FM and the other for KIRO-FM. The new Nautel GV30’s are being installed by Nick Winter and I who back in 1988 installed the first FM station on that site. Including both of the ATC Broadcast Sites on West Tiger the ‘who is buying or has purchased what’ scoreboard looks like this –
- Nautel GV30 – (92.5, 97.3 & 98.1)
- GatesAir FAX 30 – (94.1 & 96.5)
This represents 5 of the 13 stations installed on this mountain. A list is certain to grow as the installed FM transmitters reach the end of their life-cycle.
Back to the drought a moment…Did you hear the news that the City of Seattle has the nation’s highest water bills? Wow!…Betcha that statistic is hard for others in the country to fathom. (Add this one to your ‘talking points’)….If Seattle residents decided they need to cut back on water consumption it could lead to even higher water rates. I should stress that this is only in Seattle. This area has many different cities and towns and many of them have different sources of water etc. Take a look at this item from the Seattle Times –
Before I leave the subject of water, or lack of it….It is interesting to note what’s happening at Lake Tapps. That lake, created many years ago by Puget Power was a reservoir to feed the old power plant between Sumner and Auburn. The system was simple – Build a diversion dam on the White River, feed a flume to a lake created on a plateau above the valley and into a series of pipes down to a power house hundreds of feet below. Over the years the system worked well, but, in the end the cost of maintenance of the system caused PSE to abandon the project. The created lake had become ringed by some very nice, and expensive homes…Not wanting to see the Lake disappear, the project became part of the Cascade Water Alliance – http://cascadewater.org/lake_tapps_overview.php This new group recently embarked on a project to drain the lake, repair the flume (much of which was very old) rebuild a number of small dams that define the edges of the Lake etc. During this project the Lake was substantially drained giving home owners mud replacing water-front. Then came time to re-fill the Lake…and guess what – The amount of water flowing in the White River is less than anticipated and it was recently announced the Lake may well not be filled this summer. Another casualty of Mother Nature.
For more info – See – http://www.komonews.com/news/local/Ripple-effect-from-Lake-Tapps-lack-of-water-304882081.html
The recently completed NAB convention in Las Vegas had a number of ‘take-aways’…For TV is was IP and 4K. For Radio it was what to do about AM and Voltaire…
Let me start with AM Radio.
It appears that the realization that AM Radio, our first broadcast system, is in trouble has finally sunk in and the Government, aka the FCC, is attempting to come to the rescue. Along that line – We have become a society that has, in large part, assumed that the government is our ‘nanny’ and when things go wrong government will come to our rescue. A number of owners and operators of AM Radio stations are likely to feel the same way about their issues. After all didn’t the Feds dump truck loads of money into GM to keep them from failing? …Why should it be different for radio? What’s missing here, IMHO, is an unfortunately common problem….A lack of understanding of the science behind the issue. Now the ‘folks’ are awaiting what ‘magic-button’ the FCC is going to press that will suddenly turn things around. Unfortunately the FCC has been part of the problem with their approval of over-saturating the band with minimally effective stations while failing to control the devices that cause the coverage of radio stations to continue to shrink due to an ever increasing noise floor. What has become normal in terms of audio quality (Wide frequency response, Stereo and reasonable signal to noise levels) are not standard features of today’s AM Radio. For a while, a lot of stations placed their hope in the Ibiquity solution…however experience has shown that this is not the savior they were looking for. More recently everyone has come to believe that letting an AM have an FM channel was the solution…The very fact that this has taken place (to a limited extent) has been clear evidence that minds are changing about ‘fixing’ the AM band with thinking moving toward not just the application of ‘fixes’ or ‘Band-Aids’ but rather on a bolder approach. Unfortunately, not everyone is on board with this idea and with that I mean the FCC and certain other parties. Until such time as the Feds too start getting meaningful pressure from the industry, they will continue down the same road attempting to ‘shore-up’ something that is washing away. Thankfully, some broadcasters have been changing their minds.
I am not new to this industry and to the idea that the ultimate solution to this problem is to look the VHF spectrum immediately below the FM Broadcast Band. The following is a re-print of a portion of my column that I wrote back in May of 2013. In light of more recent activity, I thought a re-print would be in order.
FROM THE MAY 2013 CLAY’S CORNER
During the show in Vegas there was a lot of talk about what to do with the place where broadcasting began, now getting attention by the Feds and others who are trying to figure out how to ‘save AM Radio’. At this stage of the game, it appears there are a number of folks are trying to fix it with a variety of band aids.
The decline in the popularity of AM, in my opinion, is due to a number of factors –
- The Commish gave into pressure for more AM stations many years ago leading to a band that crammed full of signals that, in many cases, clobber each other.
- Then they gave into those that thought that HD Radio would be their salvation and make AM work and sound like FM. (We all know how well that’s working.)
- No one has done anything to combat the ever increasing noise floor from devices that are demodulated right along with the output of AM Stations. In short, there are no noise police.
- AM stations have their frequency response limited due to channel separation issues and the FCC requirement to roll-off high frequency audio they used to be able to broadcast.
- The AM band does not have sufficient channel bandwidth to permit anything but Low-Fi audio transmission – In mono!
2) Receiver manufacturers
- Makers of receivers, for years, have made matters worse by limiting bandwidth effectively running AM audio through a low-pass-filter
- Antennas in today’s AM receivers are almost a joke. Only C Crane appears to care about making receivers with sensitivity and decent antennas.
- AM is subject to interference from acts of nature (Lightning and other static crashes).
- Amplitude modulation just can’t compete with FM (The point Armstrong was trying to make years ago) and it certainly can’t compete with today’s digital modulation schemes that were not even thought of when AM was developed.
- AM does not propagate into tunnels and under bridges.
…..And this is my short list based on a quick head-dump.
So how bad is AM doing? In the years I’ve been writing this column I’ve seen a steady drop in the ratings of AM Stations here in the Seattle area. One time powerhouse AMs (up until recently they called them Blowtorches) are becoming also-rans. Apparently power and dial position, once key ingredients for successful AMs no longer are factors. Here are some examples pulled from the latest 12+ numbers for Seattle-Tacoma (Market #13)
- The highest rated AM Station is Historic 50,000 Watt KOMO at #16.
- Legendary 50,000 Watt KIRO is now #21
- Famous 50,000 Watt KJR is now #23.
- KVI that sports 5,000 watts, full time, non-directional is at #25
- 50KW KIXI comes in at #26.
And here’s the clincher – KVI and KIXI are being beaten-out in the ratings by KNHC (FM) that’s run by bunch of high-school students!! Bottom line – This is a very sad situation, some would likely call it a crisis. It’s no wonder that the FCC is concerned…. they should be. So what should be done? Do we just let the AM band expire and dwindle down to just a few that are supported by their co-owned FM’s (Talk about a complete reversal) leaving the others to die, go dark, and join the famous ‘dust-heap of history”?? Or – do we do something that will pump new life into these operations?
I’m going to step out (with flack suit on) and lay out my recommendations.
1 – Open up the spectrum immediately below the existing FM band (TV channels 5 and 6 have been suggested) for aural broadcasting. (Now is the time to act before someone comes up with a use for the spectrum for more broadband).
2 – Enact an all channel radio rule that would require all receivers manufactured be capable of receiving the existing 88-108 as well as the new expanded band like we did with the expanded band AM Radios or the All-Channel TV rule.
3 – Create an allocation scheme that would insure that all existing AM stations would have priority and a level playing field being treated equally in the new-band.
4 – Set a date-certain for the process to start.
5 – Accept applications for the new band for 1 year.
6 – Grant construction permits with a required 2 year period to construct.
7 – Require simulcast operation for a period of 10 years.
8 – Sunset the existing AM band at the end of the 13th year.
9 – Perhaps require that all new-band stations operate Hybrid mode until year 13 when Analog FM could be turned off, leaving a digital-only band.
In the meantime –
1 – Do not grant more FM Translators to AM’s as all this does is clutter up the existing FM band. There is not enough spectrum for every AM to have translators anyway, especially after the FCC opened the band to LPFMs!
2 – Admit that AM HD and AM Stereo are failures and eliminate any further use of HD on the existing AM Band.
So what’s your idea for saving the legacy band?….Got a better idea? I’d love to hear it.
Oh Yes – What to do with the existing AM Band after this is all concluded? Here are some, off the top ideas –
1 – Let Amateurs (Hams) have it. Think of it as an expansion of the 160 Meter band.
2 – Create a series of true – clear channels – to be used for emergency message distribution.
END OF REPRINT
I am encouraged that many others now support much of what I proposed 2+ years ago. Certainly there are those that are opposed –
- Manufacturers of AM Radio Equipment
- Those that feel they can’t afford the money that such a switch would require.
- Those that feel that they will ‘sit-tight’ and wait for the Feds to send them money to make the change.
- Some other solution from the FCC’s secret ‘Skunk Works’
Another factors have surfaced since I wrote this piece – The fact that the land under many AM Antenna systems can be sold for more money than the AM could reasonably expect to make. This situation is underscored by the announcement of sales of property under large, major market stations.
In my opinion, the FCC, regardless of the rhetoric coming from WDC is – NOT- going to be able to pull the rabbit out of the hat and come up with some new policies that will magically repair the problems impacting AM Radio….Those that think this will happen are delusional and also believe in the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus.
One last thought – If we did not have an AM Broadcast band…and the FCC were to announce a process for creating a new aural broadcast band- Here are some questions for yah –
- Would we choose the existing spectrum?
- Would we choose Amplitude modulation?
- Would we try and cram as many stations into this new band as there is now?
I submit that the answers are all ‘NO’….Therefore, perhaps, we should ask the questions make famous by a well-known TV personality –
- What were you thinking?
- How’s that working out for you?
We have an opportunity to actually address this issue – What are we waiting for? – Please do let me know what you think.
Now about Voltaire –
This new gizmo was one of the hot-topics at NAB. Basically it’s a device that a station can purchase to deal with certain aspects of the Nielsen rating system. There appears to be a couple of ‘schools of thought’ about this gizmo. Some feel it may help with certain types of radio programming where certain aspects of audio could possible result in lower ratings…Meanwhile, there are those that feel it’s nothing short of ‘snake oil’. There are a lot of questions and a shortage of answers –
- What does Nielsen think of this? (Reportedly they have one for testing)
- What about the broadcast companies whose economics are influenced by the Nielsen ratings system? How are they going to deal with the possibility that previous ratings were not be telling the truth?
- What about advertisers and agencies who have relied on the Nielsen results?
- What about those stations that have purchased the device, has the ‘playing field’ been tilted?
- (The big question) who is going to sue to for damages?
As we used to say in this business – PLEASE STAND BY!
Now some thoughts about TV –
As you know, I have been working on the radio side of things for the last half of my career…However my interest in TV has never gone away. Interestingly there are many things that today’s radio and TV have in common…..The invasion of everything IP. For Radio the changes have come in one area after another to the point now that many stations are IP all the way from the studios to and including the transmitter….(That is if you are operating HD Radio). Radio is still, in many cases, stuck with Analog due to the lack of a mandated mode change as happened in TV. Both sides have seen analog systems disappear to be replaced with IT gizmos. Where we both once had tape for storage we now have servers. Multicasting is now the norm for both with TV having .2’s and Radio their HD-2’s. For some time Radio has been streaming their content on-line – Now you can find TV programming their too.
The fact is – Both TV and Radio have become content providers with many distribution methods other than OTA. One place TV is ahead of Radio is in the area of quality. TV can thank the move to HD and much larger display devices for that. On the Radio side there are those that are still clamoring for help to perpetuate low quality AM Radio…Meanwhile on the TV side –The big talk is 4K. Some FM stations are still refusing to invest in HD Technology leading us to see a sharp contrast between the two broadcast models. One thing is certain….The future Radio – OR – TV plant will be pretty much all IT – As they say…”It’s where it’s at”. And finally….Who would have ever dreamed that the BNC or XLR connector would be essentially replaced with an RJ45?
A while back it was announced that Radio Disney would be selling most of their stations. In this area this meant 1250/AM. Along the way the station lost it’s night-site in Kirkland leaving it to operate with 5,000 watts daytime and just over 1kw from their Pigeon Point site in West Seattle via an STA. It was recently announced that Disney has sold the station for $500, 000 to Universal Media Access. This firm lists it address as San Jose California. From what I could find, they operate a couple of radio stations in the bay area where they focus on multiple foreign language programming….Perhaps this is what we will be hearing on 1250. As a side bar – I worked at 1250 AM back in the 60’s when it was KTW.
Another deal worth mentioning is the sale of 34 Morris Communications radio stations to Portland Based Alpha. In Washington State the deal will involve the following two markets –
KXRO-AM, Aberdeen, WA
KWOK-AM, Aberdeen, WA
KXXK-FM, Hoquiam, WA
KDUX-FM, Hoquiam, WA
KWIQ-AM, Moses Lake North, WA
KWIQ-FM, Moses Lake, WA
KKRV-FM, Wenatchee, WA
KKRT-AM, Wenatchee, WA
KWLN-FM, Wilson Creek, WA
Counting some other recent acquisitions, Apha has quickly grown to a 135 station group.
The firm formally known as Harris has been on the move with the recent announcement that they are going to be working with Montreal based Incospec Communications to distribute GatesAir products in our neighbor to the north. In addition to Radio and TV equipment, GatesAir will be involved with LTE Mobile, Mobile TV and other related areas.
A couple call letter changes to note –
- KXOT (91.7) has been sold to BBN (Bible Broadcasting Network) and the new call letters will be KYFQ.
- KAHC-LP in Aberdeen, owned by Grays Harbor Educational Media, will become KCFL-LP
- KMCQ is becoming KLSW (Note the picture below)
As you all know, the FCC is closing a number of their offices across the country, including those in Seattle and Portland. I suspect that their new method of dealing with rule infractions will be via huge fines. Just for a moment, suppose it was announced that the Washington State Patrol was going to reduce the number of patrol vehicles to 8 for the entire state – BUT – they would be increasing fines to try and achieve the same result. As a start- Speeding would cost you $1000 per mile over the limit…Do 10 over the limit and you pay $10,000. Don’t you think the State Government could make a case for that? I have no insight into their FCC’s thinking for their E.B….However I suspect that their recent announcement that iHeart Media will be paying $1,000,000 for ‘allowing’ the Bobby Bones show to run EAS tones as part of their shows ‘entertainment’ could be considered by some as a shift in that direction. Now don’t get me wrong – I am VERY interested in EAS rule compliance and don’t think what they did was necessarily a good idea….But was it a MILLION DOLLAR screw up? Too bad that the FCC can’t use a portion of the fine money to educate broadcasters on what’s right and wrong and not just on punishing them for infractions. While I’m at it – Why did it take fining iHeart a mega-buck for them to institute a 3-year compliance and reporting plan?
I wished all of this would increase the level of interest and participation in the EAS – But again- I’m just the SECC Chair and I can only hope.
While in Bellingham recently, the crew working on installing the new NWPR translator on King Mt stopped by to give Mike Gilbert a hand at the KUGS transmitter on Sehome Hill. On the left Martin Gibbs from WSU/NWPR and on the right Mike Gilbert:
Can it be?? Understand that Dave Chancey of Moseley has retired. For many years Dave was the go to guy at this legacy company. Always enjoyed chatting with him on the NAB show floor. Understand that Bill Gould is still there however. (Thanks Dwight Small)
Things are still buzzing over on Mercer after the termination of a number of Channel 9’s production staff. Apparently a sign of the times.
Here’s a picture of the freshly painted ATC Site # 273581 on Cougar Mt. This site is used by 8 FM’s as an auxiliary for their West Tiger Mains as well as 2 FM’s for their Mains. The tower was erected by Entercom in 1999. Note how the transmission lines are now painted to match. The Tower is a 300 footer made my Microflect in Salem Oregon.
Should have known that this would take place…..The FCC is – already accepting comments on a petition that would increase the power of certain LPFM’s from 100 to 250 watts. Talk about getting your foot in the door !! Sounds like a continued march toward the ‘AM’ing of the FM Band continues.
I recently ran across a list of the 10 worst jobs in America – Guess what came in at #5? Yup,
BROADCASTER – (I am assuming they were not talking about Engineers) Here is what they had to say –
Competition for broadcasting jobs is already fierce — and it’s only going to get tighter. The job market for broadcast reporters and news analysts is shrinking by about 13 percent over the 10 years ending in 2022, according to the BLS, as television stations, radio stations and other news outlets face dwindling advertising dollars.
Consumers are getting more of their news online, and radio and TV stations are replacing local content with syndicated fare. Those are trends resulting in fewer broadcast jobs and more responsibilities for those who are still employed.
The pay isn’t great
CareerCast’s research finds median pay in this field is a little over $29,000 per year, while the most recent BLS statistics show median salaries of about $37,000 for correspondents and analysts and $27,750 for announcers.
Broadcasters face constant deadlines and long and erratic working hours, particularly when major events and breaking news unfold.
Will climate change and/or global warming be impacted by the Sun? As we move beyond the last peak in solar activity, called Solar Cycle #24, there are those that the move toward a solar minimum may result in a cooling of global temperatures. The fact that this has happened in the past is one of the foundations for this train of thought.
The phasing out of legacy light bulbs continues to make progress….However the switch to CFL’s as an alternative has encountered a fork in the that path with the reduction in costs for LED’s leading to perhaps a shorter that expected life for the mini-fluorescent’s. The US is not the leader in this change however…Actually Cuba banned the old ‘Light Globe’ back in 2005.
Speaking of which – The FCC has stated that despite their cutbacks that RFI will remain a top priority which leads this writer to wonder where they have been considering the RFI that’s created by these now sources of illumination? Want to bet the FCC’s level of interest in RFI would have been greater if it had impacted wireless/broadband devices?
In my last column I mentioned a number of AM stations that were off the air – Well the group of stations in Lacey, Lakewood and Bremerton are being sold to Iglesia Pentecostal Visperia Del Fin for reportedly $600K. What they will be doing with the 1480 Lakewood AM and its related translator remains a mystery. My sources tell me that the transmitter site for the AM will still be replaced with a housing project. Rumors are they are in the hunt for a place to locate the transmitter. It’s interesting to note how many stations in the Seattle area are being sold to religious broadcasters. Apparently they have a formula for solvency that eluded the previous owners?
Can’t resist sharing this beauty with you all – From the vast collection of Mark Huffstutter, transmitter engineer at KING & KONG TV. I even got to see it work. How many are old enough to remember these things at the grocery or drug store?
Congratulations to the engineering department on the arrival of a new Toyota Tacoma 4×4 pickup for accessing their facilities all over Western Washington. Their old truck, made sometime in the last century, certainly got a work out.
Recently I was at a transmitter site used by multiple cellular providers. My attention was drawn to a metal box with a couple of cables going into it –
Upon close examination I found this little sign….
I guess if a cable is too long and you don’t want to re-terminate it…..You mount a metal box to house the excess cable and label it as such. Now, my fellow engineers, you know what a ‘SLACK BOX’ is!
WSU’s Northwest Public Radio recently added another translator to their network of stations in Bellingham. K267BS/101.3, located on King Mt is now re-broadcasting KZAZ HD-2
A bit late on this picture – Taken at the Mike and Key Flea Market a couple of months ago….How many remember this item? Nice of him to hold this for me ….After I left, in understand he laid it down
Time to say happy birthday to Microsoft. A lot of folks think this Seattle area firm started in this area…Not so! Bill Gates and Paul Allen actually founded Microsoft back in 1975 in Albuquerque New Mexico…They moved to Bellevue in ’79. Over the years they have grown, a lot, to become a company with just under 120,000 employees and $86 Billion dollars in annual revenue. Over the years, Microsoft has been near the top of the list of large, very well known, firms in the Seattle area.
From the ‘recommended reading department’…..Check this out –
I could not resist this one – a picture of the legendary Collins 20V2 – 1Kw AM Broadcast transmitter.
This transmitter, sporting a custom paint job and some more powerful components on the inside is no longer in Broadcast service but rather on the Amateur Radio bands. This particular model will always have a warm spot in my heart as it was a 20V2 at the station where I got my start back in 1961.
Thanks to Radio World who ran the picture and to James O’Neal for the photo. Before I forget it, rumor is a local broadcast engineer, whose name you will recognize, is about to make a trip, out of state, to pick up his 20V that will too end up in his Ham Shack….Perhaps more on that next month.
They say that all good things must come to an end….and hopefully this month’s column is in that category. Thanks for the ‘read’ …Have a great Summer – Hope to see many of you the during the annual Amateur Radio event in Seaside – June 5,6 &7.Lord willing, till next month Clay, aka K7CR, CPBE.