Clay’s Corner Providing news and views from a broadcast engineers perspective since September 1986
Looks like continued donations for KPLU as they strive to become community owned radio station. Helping with the process was a listener that said they would donate $500,000 if the listeners would do the same – It took them only 9 days to raise the million. One has to wonder if some big contributors are in the wings until deep in the process?
Last month I noted that we just experienced one of the wettest winters in history…One record we did not break was the number of days in a row with precipitation….That record, set back in 1950-51 of 125 days still remains. In April we often have what I call – teaser weather- i.e., a blast of warm/dry days. Mother nature did not let me down as we hit 89 degrees on one day setting a record for the warmest April day in history. (Meantime Denver was getting snow). There is no doubt about it –
So I was sitting at the Starbucks in Chehalis recently and this guy comes in wearing a bright yellow rain jacket….I glanced at it and did a double-take . Fortunately my cellphone has a camera – Thought you’d enjoy this one.
In last month’s column I mentioned that Alaska, the airline, was based in Seattle… Had no clue that they would go out and purchase another airline. It will take a while for all of this to come together….over the coming months we will find out whether those Virgin America vertical stabilizers will be sporting an Eskimo or not. Then there is the issue of all of those foreign (Non USA) built aircraft recent news has Alaska buying a number of new smaller jets built elsewhere.Recently the radio biz was all abuzz over the thought that the CBS Radio group would be sold off setting off waves of speculation as to who might buy what. Then the news that CBS may keep their Radio division and spin it off to a new division etc. Oh well. Likely one of their goals was met ….helping to establish value for their radio operations.Meanwhile the financial woes of Cumulus and iHeart continue to be making news with both firms doing the fast shuffle with those that deal with really big numbers. Still hard to fathom how big companies can avoid being sold off by their lenders for penny’s on the dollar. Apparently size does matter providing that not all things are treated equally.There is a bright side that many in broadcasting are thankful for…Political advertising. Not so much for the spots that are purchase by the candidates and parties (they are usually low) but in terms of ratings that help drive rates. In Radio….News talk stations are seeing their numbers go up, in TV the news channels are too.The FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler, continues to speak out on behalf of AM Radio citing its long history etc. etc. This may all be well and good, but all this ‘talk’ is not going to generate listeners for the medium that many feel is ancient technology on a par with Morse Code. My crystal ball says that the AM will survive and will, perhaps, end up looking more like it did in the late 40’s or early 50’s. Certainly the value of AM properties is falling making it attractive to those that simply can’t afford an FM station. Foreign languages are loving it.As perhaps a canary in the AM mine indicator….one of the west coasts legendary stations, KGO in San Francisco has just gone through a huge staff reduction and programming re-alignment thus ending 30 years of domination.As a person that’s been in this business for over 50 years, I can tell you that un-certainty seems to come with the territory. Of late, perhaps all due to the pressure for additional spectrum for more wireless gizmo’s, we are now on the cusp of the biggest change in TV broadcasting I’ve ever witnessed. Who would have ever thought that we’d see broadcasters be paid to go off the air…or be facing a channel change – downward in frequency (UHF to VHF) or, in some cases, sharing a channel with another broadcaster. 20 years ago if anyone had suggest that this was going to come to pass….You would have been openly laughed at. Then there is the other option – Your station may not be impacted at all. Now put yourself in the position of those that are presently working at a TV station where you have this looming over your head. Perhaps some talented people will see this as a sign to exit the business for something that has less uncertainty? Someone, long ago, said that there is nothing more constant than change….Indeed! Radio has had its share with consolidation….Now TV is getting it with both barrels. Looking at the winners and losers in this process – The winners will be the wireless carriers and users of this new, above 600 MHz spectrum as well as those that are able to cash-in on the changes required (Transmission systems makers and installers)…..The losers will be those that are displaced in the process. Guess one could say that this is the price of progress. Certainly there will be books written about this transition….Perhaps not hard-bound, but rather the kind you down-load via some wireless device using spectrum that used to be used by a broadcast station ?Speaking of changes…What about all the retirements at the ‘home team’. Just like baseball, you need a program to keep track. Understand a couple Engineers also were involved. At least the old folks got to experience the new digs.A good example of a winner is the satellite radio provider, Sirius/XM who recently announced they now have over 30 million Subscribers. Perhaps we should think of them as an OTA Broadcaster?On the technician side – I recently was asked to label the coax cables for a new installation for NWPR. I thought about this for a while and ended up walking the isles at a local office supply. My solution was a heavy, flexible, device used for holding badges etc. at gatherings. You have likely had one of these attached to your shirt many times. You can purchase these for cheap (without the safety pin). To start with I composed a message on my computer, cut out the text and slipped it inside and attached it with a ty-rap. In the field, you could do this – on the fly- by having the right size pieces of paper that you could attach text generated by a label maker. Wished I’d thought of this years ago. Nothing more frustrating in an RF plan like not knowing which cable belongs to whom.
How many times have you heard an Apple computer user brag about how much more secure and immune to attacks that the PC? Time for a bit of rain on that parade as a new study recently discovered that this is no longer true. Apple’s I-Phone however is still much harder to hack than an Android device. Now if I could figure out how to stop getting calls telling me I have won a trip to the Bahama’s or that my credit-card is – – – – – – Hacking is one thing, spam (of any flavor) is another.
Speaking of hacking ….A couple of radio stations became the targets of hackers recently. In one case, a hacker got into the stations IP connection between their studio and transmitter site and took over the stations programming with some ‘naughty stuff’ …and in the process prohibited the station from turning off their transmitter because it used the same internet based system. (Talk about putting all your eggs in one basket!). The availability of modestly priced codecs coupled with the fact that internet service is available almost everywhere has been a marriage made in heaven for those wishing to do more with less. Apparently there are some that install these things for connecting their studios to the transmitter either are given strict financial limits, or, they don’t fully grasp the fact that these devices are like hanging out a sign ‘Hackers Welcome’. This reminds me of the Zombie attacks were hackers were able to get into EAS equipment and create a mess for some stations. Indeed there are a number of lessons in common here. Not installing –open to the whole world – equipment using the manufacturers default password is a good start…followed shortly by a short course in why and how to use firewalls. But the fact is – Some lessons are best (and at times only) learned via the school of hard knocks. Betcha these stations that were taken over by hackers have been on a quick learning curve and have opened the mind of the party controlling the purse strings! Unfortunately there are those that view insurance – in any form – as waste of money.
Perhaps some FCC action will help with the ‘lesson plan’ ( :-o)
On the topic of hacking….What’s to be done when radio spectrum is hacked? What I’m talking about is – Pirate Radio – or, simply put, un-licensed operation of a radio station. Unfortunately the FCC (remember them when they were an enforcement entity?) appears to be largely toothless these days. They are dealing with this issue (a major problem in some cities) similar with trying to stop a groundhog or mole from tearing up your lawn by stomping on that mound of freshly mined soil. Stomp here, and it comes up there. Add to this the fact that many of the fines they hand out are never paid you have recipe for encouraging the behavior. Even the FCC recognizes the problem and is asking congress for help. Perhaps I am beginning to understand why the FCC closed all those offices …Perhaps it’s because of the fact that too many are ignoring their actions anyway? A technique they are exploring is being able to go after the property owner where the pirate has his station. Remains to be see if this idea will prove effective. This all seems to boil down to whether or not the Feds will have a means of actually collecting their penalties. Some states have passed laws making pirate radio operation a criminal act…but compared to much more serious crimes, it’s hard to find a prosecutor that will find this type of infraction worthy of his time.
Congrats to Hubbard (Owner of several stations in the Seattle market) on re-claiming it’s position of owning the top billing radio station in the country with their WTOP in WDC…Their $65 Million in billing for 2015 edged out KIIS-FM in LA who only billed 64.7. Stop and think about it – That’s an average of $178,082 per day. Not bad for a radio station !! Market size has a lot to do with the amount a station bills, for example – Half of the top 10 billing stations are located in NYC while 3 are in Los Angeles.
There are those that are claiming that we are turning the FM radio band into an overcrowded mess….These folks have some numbers to support their contention too. As of March 31 there was a 31% increase in low powered stations (LPFM’s) many of which are operating in major markets contributing to the fact there is likely a station on every channel. FM translators and boosters are increasing in numbers too with over 6500 of them now on the air, some of which are related to AM stations. The mainstays of FM, commercial and NCE’s were pretty much static. Meanwhile, on the AM side there are 22 less stations compared to last year…a total that is certain to increase
SBE is out with a new publication – The SBE Broadcast Engineering Handbook.” Perhaps the most expensive publication yet in the SBE Library at $199. I’ve not had my hands on one yet…Those that have –Let me know your impressions.
Here’s an item that really grabbed my attention. Kudo’s to the folks at Sears for coming up with a wonderful spoof:
Entercom has still not filled the slot once filled by now retired Dwight Small. While they search for his replacement they have been rotating folks from other Entercom markets into the station. One of those folks (Name withheld) had never been in this neck of the wood before and asked me an interesting question – ‘How do you folks prepare for Earthquake and Volcano’s?” Whereas he is from the other corner of the country…I guess I can understand that he might be apprehensive about what we live with. I sent him the link to the Mt St Helens Camera as well as to the USGS Earthquake site.For some time we have been writing about the plight of Tribune Publishing (owner of 2 TV Stations in Seattle) Recently it was reported that Gannett has offered $815 million to buy Tribune.Many people with Amateur Radio (HAM) Licenses have their call letters on their license plates (Technically not a vanity plate). From time to time you have someone ask about it. Recently I had a most un-usual question from a fellow – He asked if the K7 had something to do with KIRO-7 and wondered what the CR meant. I like to tell people that the license plates are my email address (sort of true).Here’s an interesting statistic – Today people are spending more money on electronics than they do their clothing.
Climate forecasters are again at work releasing projections on the impact of climate-change and sea-levels….This time they are warning us what the world will look like in 2100 at the present rate due to melting ice in Antarctica – IF – nothing is done to curb the generation of greenhouse gases etc. The big issue is, of course, rising sea-levels. Some projections have sea-level rising by more than 6 feet by 2100 and perhaps as much as 50 feet by 2500.
Just for fun – I looked at the impact on broadcast operations in the Seattle area – the following facilities would be underwater.
VASHON ISLAND –
Ø Transmitter sites for 570/710/770/1090
o 820/950/1000 would survive
Ø 850/1300 and 1360
Ø The new KING5 Studios (as well as the stadiums in Sodo)
o 333 Dexter would look attractive
Ø Queen Ann and Capital Hills would become islands
Portland Oregon, several miles up the Columbia River from the Ocean, experiences tidal variations…Likely many facilities there, in low lying areas, would be impacted.
The good news – Folks in Denver have nothing to worry about (at least from rising sea-levels)
As usual, I light to write about the Seattle area …Finding most interesting results of surveys etc. A recent survey for the best cities for Coffee fanatics got my attention… No surprises here. Seattle is known for being a coffee town and the survey confirmed our reputation with our city ranking #1. So who are the others?
#2 – (surprised) New Orleans
#3 – Our neighbor to the south – Portland Oregon
#4 – San Francisco
#5 – Oakland (across the bay from S.F.)
#6- San Diego
#7 – Austin, TX
#8 – Denver
#9 – Honolulu
10 – Washington D.C.
What they said about Seattle was interesting – Here are the highlights-
Ø Long, gloomy winters
Ø Glorious coffee culture
Ø Birthplace of Tully’s and Starbucks
Ø 1,600 cafes and coffee shops
Ø 3rd highest concentration of coffee sellers of any U.S. City
Major events taking place in the world of EAS –
Ø NPT and ETRS coming soon (is your station ready?)
Ø Major changes proposed in the new NPRM
If you are the person designated to make sure you are EAS Compliant – You have been warned.
In the good EAS news department…I’ve been working with a CSRIC group on overhauling the EAS Handbook (you know, that thing that is required by the FCC to hang on the hook at your control point). I think you will appreciate the new one. Can’t tell you more as the CSRIC group only makes a recommendation to the Commish and then they do what they want J
Reminder – The next SECC (State EAS Committee) will be on May 11th…This time in Ellensburg. If you are interested in attending, we will be car-pooling from North Bend, as always, you can listen in on the conference bridge. Full details on the Washington State EAS Remailer.
The FAA has opened a web-based registry for drone users. One of the engineers at WSU’s NWPR, Martin Gibbs has one of these and has been using it for tower site projects. Very cool. Question for my readers – Who in your area is using drones for TV News and/or spots?
Great to see one of the areas IT engineers get interested in Ham Radio. As reported last month Lowell Smith at Entercom recently passed his Tech exam and has received his license…Additionally he now is sporting a vanity call – N0LCS. What a Zero call I asked.
He explained that he is from Kansas, so guess that’s OK J
Congratulations to KPLU on winning 4 Murrow’s. Speaking of which, at this writing, they have raised over 4 million on their way to 7 so the station can be purchased from Pacific Lutheran University rather than becoming part of KUOW. Interestingly KUOW, upon announcing the agreement to purchase KPLU, said that they would not need their news department. Many of those that objected to the sale citing KPLU’s news as one of their reasons for opposing the sale. winning the Murrow’s re-enforces these comments.
An ownership shuffle at long-time broadcast equipment maker, Broadcast Electronics, usually referred to as B.E. Instead of yet another in a string of venture capital groups buying the firm, this time the new ownership is headed up by their VP of Engineering, Brian Lindeman. There are a lot of people that have openly expressed concern about the viability of B.E. as a company. This time the ownership change appears to be bringing smiles. B.E. started out in 1959, then known as Spotmaster known for their audio cartridge tape equipment. Certainly having an Engineer at the top is not that common. Then again the big-office at Nautel is occupied by their former service manager that is also an engineer. We wish them well.
Recently spotted this sign at Cougar Mountain – Hmmm guess it’s meant to protect the croakers in the nearby stream.
I did not make it to NAB this year due to a very full plate here at home. I have, however been looking at what’s new in the world of TV. Perhaps there is still some TV blood in my veins from many years ago. Here are a couple of thoughts to share –
Ø Lots of activity regarding ATSC 3.0. Repacking etc.
Ø The evolution of TV continues as TV evolves into something more like a fusion of IP and OTA distribution systems.
Ø Yet to come are the consumer products that will dazzle everyone and make todays systems look crude.
Ø Like everything else, TV is rapidly moving away from the concept of racks full of devices having a specific purpose toward a system whereby everything is IP based and that data is stored and moved around using systems that could be found in plants dealing with the movement of a large amount of data.
Ø Radio and TV are both moving in this direction. Audio consoles and Video Switchers are now just control surfaces that happen to have the right kind of knobs and switches to get the job done where a display and mouse would work too. XLR and BNC connectors are being replaced with RJ45’s with most of the wiring being done via CAT___ cable.
Ø Thankfully storage is advancing at a rapid rate as tons of that is required. I could not help but notice that one firm was talking about the fact that they can have 504 TB of memory in only 5 RU of space. (Try and convert this number to reels of tape)
Ø Let us not forget those that are very resistant to change that view change as a threat rather an opportunity. I suspect some old-timers (I understand them well) will want to get out before the tidal-wave of changes hits. For the rest of us – These are very exciting times.
A blizzard of changes. to be sure. What’s amazing is the rate of change in the last couple of years and the rapid adoption of IP everything. The days of a computer controlling a dedicated piece of hardware is going away with the computer now doing all the work. It does not seem all that long ago that I got my first 286 !
The totals are in from the Big Show in the desert – NAB has announced that just over 103,000 were in registered. (More than that attended via exhibit only passes etc.) 26,000 were from 187 other countries looking at exhibits from 1,874 companies. If you work in this industry and have never attended this event – It should be very near the top of your bucket list.
The following item was posted on a popular Remailer by Adrienne Abbot. She is the Nevada SECC (EAS)Chair as well as the states ABIP inspector – I read it and ask her for permission to reprint it here. It has to do with her walking into a (in this case TV) station to do an inspection – I will this speak for itself.
Autopilot or not, somebody better be there when I arrive or the station doesn’t receive a certificate!
True story…ABIP Certificates are renewed every three years. You and I know that a lot can change in three years. The engineer for a station I inspected recently met me in the lobby, explaining that when she retired the long-time receptionist was replaced with security cameras and microphones. As we walked through the silent hallways the engineer noted the empty offices where jobs had been eliminated, automated, consolidated, transferred to corporate or “hubbed” to a central location serving multiple sister stations since my last visit.
My inspections include a tour of the station news facilities. In this case, there was a brand new news studio, full of bright and flashy technology–new robot cameras, LED lights, green walls that could put the weatherman in any part of town the producers wanted, a morning news set, a set for the noon news, a set for the evening news, an interview set, all with sleek desks in front of massive city scapes. The producer’s booth had a wall of HD TV screens and computers on desks, no boards to punch, no tape machines to load, no Teleprompter to run. The engineer shook his head as he told me how many news positions had been eliminated by these latest whiz-bang gadgets.
I expected to find the newsroom as empty as the rest of the station. Instead, we stepped into a large, open room that was humming with the voices of dozens of people, many on headsets and cell phones, editing video and writing stories. Waves of people washed around the raised island of The Desk, rolling out the back door or to a row of glassed-in edit bays. Before I could ask, the engineer answered: “Social Media. Social Media is a big part of our news department now. They’re 24/7, just like our news folks.” I asked how many Social Media staff they had. The answer was a number very close the running total I was keeping of jobs that had been eliminated by the switch to automation-consolidation-corporation–hubbing. The new Social Media department had even absorbed a few of the employees whose jobs were lost in the all the changes.
Out in the garage, it was a little sad to see the old consoles, mixers and tape players piled around empty file cabinets, broken chairs and bundles of wire. The equipment that was once state of the art and dearly purchased had done its job, told its stories and was now set aside, silent, next stop the recycling center. Our generation struggled to learn that equipment, making the transition from one inch tape to Beta and VHS, from cameras with decks and mic booms to cameras with cassettes and shotguns, from analog to digital.
The current generation, our kids and grandkids, were born digital. They learned to shoot and edit right after they learned to talk and text on their cell phones. It seems to me like they haven’t had the challenges of trying to coax a cold transmitter to life at 5:00 AM, load a 12-inch tape reel from a pancake or untangle a cassette with a pencil or edit with a razor and block or build a crawl from a roll of black paper and sheets of white rub-on letters.
Where am I going with this? Maybe we made it too easy for them. Maybe in all this automation and computerization we should have provided the Next Generation with a struggle to learn something. Maybe we went from Ohm’s Law to Windows 10 too quickly. We used to build boards, now we grow black boxes.
Maybe we’ve forgotten that there’s a place for responsibility, that someone has to take charge of the machines and not depend on them to do everything and that there’s no such thing as a perfect computer program. We forgot to show them how to turn off the equipment. We certainly had a lot of warning. Remember those old Sci-Fi B movies we watched on Saturday afternoons?…Now the alien monster isn’t some oversize scaly reptile from the back side of the moon or militant automatons from Mars, it’s the enormous lack of passion and dedication to future of the business of entertaining and informing the community.
I think I have laundry to do…
And in keeping with my tradition – I want to leave you with someone to smile about – In this case – Some signs –
Sign in a shoe shop in Vancouver:
“We will heel you
We will save your sole
We will even dye for you.”
In a Podiatrist’s office:
“Time wounds all heels.”;
At an Optometrist’s Office:
“If you don’t see what you’re looking for,
You’ve come to the right place.”;
On a Plumber’s truck :
“We repair what your husband fixed.”;
On another Plumber’s truck:
“Don’t sleep with a drip. Call your plumber.”;
At a Tire Shop in Milwaukee :
“Invite us to your next blowout.”;
On an Electrician’s truck:
“Let us remove your shorts.”;
On a Maternity Room door:
“Push. Push. Push.”;
At a Car Dealership:
“The best way to get back on your feet – miss
a car payment.”;
Outside a Muffler Shop:
“No appointment necessary. We hear you coming.”;
In a Veterinarian’s waiting room:
“Be back in 5 minutes. Sit! Stay!”;
At the Electric Company:
“We would be delighted if you send in your payment
on time. However, if you don’t, YOU will be de-lighted.”
In a Restaurant window:
“Don’t stand there and be hungry; come on in and get fed up.”;
In the front yard of a Funeral Home:
“Drive carefully. We’ll wait.”;
At a Propane Filling Station:
“Thank Heaven for little grills.”;
That’s it for this month – Keep your fingers crossed that summer returns (that week of it we had in April was a cruel trick). Till next month on most of these same computers –
Clay, CPBE, K7CR, OM