The Unglorious task of Vermin Control

Warm, unmanned buildings in the wilderness are very attractive to all sorts of uninvited guests; mice, rats, snakes, insects, etc. Unfortunately, these can do damage to equipment, as evidenced here:

Mouse infested power panel, remote transmitter site
Mouse infested power panel, remote transmitter site

Thus, some steps need to be taken to secure transmitter sites, generators, outbuildings and even vehicles from mice in particular. Mice can squeeze into a hole that is .7 inch (17 mm) in diameter when they are full grown. In many transmitter buildings, this leaves lots of opportunities; coax feed through ports, ingress holes drilled for wires, electrical service entrances, cooling fans, gaps under doors, soffits, etc.

Many people simply call the pest control people who will come and put poison out. That does not solve the problem and can in fact make it worse. If the poisoned mice go outside to die, they are eaten by the snakes and birds that naturally control mice in the wild. Those animals then die from the poisoned mouse. Meanwhile new mice are being reproduced every 20 days or so. Fairly quickly, the bait is consumed, the mice no longer have any predators to naturally keep the population in check and there is a mouse explosion.

Hole in cinder block building covered with aluminum rack panel blank
Large hole, formerly a vent for propane heater, covered with aluminum rack panel black.

The best way to keep them in check is to seal up building as much as possible. For some reason, coax entry ports are often left open. This is very easy to fix and whenever tower crews are running new lines, ensure that they apply the correct boot for the port and line.

Replacement door jamb
Deteriorated door jamb replaced with pressure treated wood

Another thing that happens; door jambs deteriorate or the bottom of steel doors begin to rust away. This opening is very attractive to insects, snakes, mice and even plants.

Screen covering generator ventilation opening
Chicken wire screen covering generator ventilation opening
Generator radiator opening covered with chicken wire
Generator radiator covered with chicken wire

Generators need special attention. Radiator and ventilation openings should be covered with chicken wire. This can be attached to the metal housing with self taping screws and fender washers. Be careful and look inside of the housing to make sure that the area inside the housing where the screws are being applied is clear of wires and hoses.

Stainless steel pot scrubbers filling space around conduit and pipes
Stainless steel pot scrubbers filling gaps around conduit and fuel line

Ingress for fuel, control and electrical conductors need attention as well. I found stainless steel pot scrubbers to be effective for filling gaps around these conduits and pipes. They are available on Amazon or many other places.

New Power Panel, an expensive lesson in pest control

Other openings can be filled with a combination of pot scrubbers and spray foam. Using spray foam alone often does not work, as the mice will crew through it.

I also keep a can or two of bee spray at most sites. Bees, hornets and paper wasps love to make nests in propane tank fill covers, ATU’s, under air conditioning units or anyplace else that is sheltered from rain.

Doing it with sound AND pictures

AKA: Television!

I am talking about the type of TV you need an antenna for. I have been installing a few of these low power digital TV transmitters at various places and it is good work.

Anywave MPTV 2.2 KW digital TV transmitter, WCRN Boston
Anywave MPTV 2.2 KW digital TV transmitter, WCRN Boston
LPTV antenna side mounted on tower in Quincy, MA  ERP is 15 KW.
LPTV antenna side mounted on tower in Quincy, MA ERP is 15 KW.

Anywave MPTV unpacking, rolling into building, Ellenville, NY

This transmitter’s dry weight is about 500 pounds, which was a little bit too much for our appliance hand truck, so we built a ramp. They have a nice set of wheels on the bottom, so they roll into place.

Carrier power after pre-correction files updated

There are a few differences in the way things are done. First of all, there is a different set of acronyms:

  • ASI- Asynchronous Serial Interface, format for MPEG transport stream, max speed 270 Mbps.
  • SDI – Serial Digital Interface – Similar to ASI but can run much faster, up to 12 Gbps.
  • TS – Transport Stream, Encoded video and audio streams into the exciter. Same idea as composite audio input on an FM exciter.
  • TSID – Transport Stream ID, a unique number assigned to each DTV station and encoded with the transport stream.
  • PSIP – Program System Information Protocol, carries program and system data about the transport stream.
  • ATSC 3.0 – recently updated ATSC standard that allows TV stations to do more with their transport streams than before. Will also change the modulation from 8VSB to COFDM.

Then, some things that look familiar are called by difference names, BNC cable vs ASI cable… I am a neophyte to the TV world, so there still many things to learn.

EAS is still EAS, but now there is locally generated video to go along with the audio.

A while back, some fool wrote their congressman because THE COMMERCIALS ON THE TEE-VEE WERE TOO LOUD, so there is something called CALM Act compliance.

However, at the output connector on the exciter, through the amplifier, filters, directional coupler, etc; it is RF and behaves like RF. Even more interesting; Mr. Doherty’s name is used to describe the RF amp. Doherty amplifier or Doherty modulation was designed by William Doherty for Western Electric in 1936. It was not until Continental Electronics began using it in there AM (317B) and Shortwave (420A) transmitters that it became known broadly. Old things are new again:

Continental Electronics 420A 500 KW Shortwave transmitter, Greenville site B

That picture is from my visit to Greenville, NC in 2017. This is the control console, the transmitter is behind the glass and takes up half the building. It was installed when the site was built in the early 1960’s. The new Doherty UHF amplifiers use LDMOS devices, notably the BLF888E in the Anywave units.

Antenna sweep, channel 30 UHF slot antenna, WCRN Boston
Antenna with channel band pass filter, Channel 30 WCRN Boston

The Channel Band Pass Filter is required by the FCC, basically it ensures that the TV transmitter is staying in it’s allotted 6 MHz channel. They add phase rotation, as noted above. This is why pre-correction is needed to keep the ATSC signal linear across the entire 6 MHz bandwidth. RF is RF and we like RF.

All Digital AM?

I have been reading, with interest, the saga of HD Radio on the AM (AKA Medium Wave) band. First question; if it goes all digital, will we still call it AM? Of course, there are other questions and concerns:

  • The proprietary nature of HD Radio, AKA MA3 or NRSC-5D as they are now calling it, is problematic. Xperi, the latest patent owner, currently (their word) has agreed to waive licensing fees for AM station owners who install their system. Is this a limited time deal for early adopters or in-perpetuity for all stations?
  • The NRSC-5D tests on WWFD, Fredrick, Maryland are hopeful, but as I pointed out before, it is one station with a well functioning antenna system. Many AM antenna systems are defective either in design or due to deterioration. Is the FCC going to start policing the AM band again to cure these self inflicted wounds?
  • Of course, the NAB wants zero oversight on the entire adventure. Under their proposal, small ownership AM stations would have a difficult time remediating interference issues from all digital co-channel stations be eliminating any required notification period, as proposed by the SBE.
  • The NAB also wants to nix a 1 Hz carrier frequency requirement, which would help with both the analog and digital interference issue, saying it would be too expensive. I disagree. In this day of universal GPS time keeping, it would be easy to implement this on all modern transmitters, especially if they were already installing an HD Radio exciter.
  • Denis Jackson’s Radio World Article states that reliable coverage can be had out to 0.1 mV/m. This seems very, very optimistic given that ambient electrical noise (non-broadcast related) on the AM band is at very high levels and still climbing. Further, once the all digital conversion starts, more and more co-channel digital interference will happen, likely cutting down that contour to a great extent. It works now, but may not work later. These types of statements seem naive or perhaps disingenuous. Again, WWFD is one digital signal in a vast ocean of analog carriers.

While I am skeptical of some of the statements made in various articles and comments before the FCC, I do believe that converting the Medium Frequency band to all digital will have benefits. The BBC DRM tests carried out in 2007 (The Plymouth DRM long term trial) show that digital on MF can work. DRM has been implemented in various countries with good results.

Getting rid of the hybrid IBOC/Analog is a step in the right direction.

My concerns are the small owners who are still making a go of it on AM. Those guys still doing community radio and serving the public interest. If they choose to wait, are they going to get buried under a digital dog pile and then have to pay the full license fee later? Something like that might be the end for them.

HD Radio in and of itself is not the panacea for the AM band. Other things have to happen to make it work right. The SBE speaks extensively about ambient noise on the MF band. They are entirely correct. In addition, there are many, many AM stations that do not have compliant antenna systems. There are stations operating a DA-2 system full time on the night pattern. There are stations operating a DA-2 full time on the daytime pattern and power. There are stations that are supposed to turn off at night, which stay on 24/7. There are stations not reducing power to night time levels. The list goes on. Simply putting digital carriers on everything will not reduce the station-to-station interference, especially at night.

I am cautiously hopeful that the FCC will look into the ambient noise problem, which simply cannot be over emphasized. They would also need to re-invigorating the Enforcement Bureau. Since they closed down most of their field offices, it has been kind of a free for all out here.

In this time of COVID-19

As most of you man know, I live in New York State (Hudson Valley region).  This is very close to the COVID-19 outbreak in Westchester County.  There has been one confirmed case in my town.  As such, we are experiencing the outbreak ahead of the curve from the rest of the country.  School has been cancelled for at least two weeks and perhaps indefinitely.   All public gathering places are closed; restaurants, bars, movie theaters, malls, churches, etc.  As a radio engineer, the COVID-19 virus has a several implications:

  • Things are still going to break and will need attention. The good news is that most transmitter sites are unmanned. The only social interaction my be during the travel phase (getting fuel, food, etc).
  • Many studios and offices are being abandoned as well. Over the last few days, we have set up DJ’s to operate from their houses.  Most sales and office staff have been told to work from home.
  • Broadcasters have been designated critical communications infrastructure, The Department of Homeland Security has issued letters that allow travel and procurement of fuel during the national emergency for critical personnel.
  • I managed, prior to the store shelves being emptied this weekend, procure some PPE.  I don’t know how effective it will be, but anything is better than nothing.
  • Since Hurricane Sandy, I have had in place many emergency supplies and equipment needed to restore service in the event of a long term interruption of basic services.

There are many long term economic implications. For commercial radio stations, the loss of income is going to be extreme.  As the virus has spread, businesses have cancelled pretty much all advertising.  During past disasters, radio was often the only means of getting information to the general population.  I am not sure if this is still the case.  How relevant is radio these days?