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Transportation

Broadcast Engineering from a contracting stand point requires a lot of driving. I mean a lot of driving.  Since switching from full time Director of Engineering to a contracting field engineering position, I have already worn out two vehicles.  Having reliable transportation is a key component of this job. Of course, the other consideration is the price of gasoline which can range from expensive to horribly expensive depending on the warring or not warring that is currently taking place.

Thus, when it came time to replace my strange looking but roomy and reliable Scion xB, I did some research.  My complaint about the xB, other than the looks, was lack of ground clearance and lack of all wheel or four wheel drive.  After a bit of reading, it seemed the Subaru Crosstrek XV was a good choice.  Long story short, I got my car last week and got a pretty good deal, as the car dealer was looking to get rid of all their 2014 stock.

2014 Subaru Crosstrek XV

2014 Subaru Crosstrek XV

As I was leaving the dealership, the salesman had one final question.  The conversation went something like this:

Sales guy: “Mr. Thurst, can I ask what it was that sold you on this car?”

Myself: “Sure, it was the oil filter.”

SG: “What?”

Me: “The oil filter.”

SG: “No, I heard that, I just don’t understand.  It wasn’t the price or the fuel economy or the features?”

Me: “Nope.  To be honest, you did give me a good price, I like the all wheel drive, the ground clearance, the gas mileage and all that.  But when I popped the hood to look at the engine and saw the oil filter, I was sold.”

SG: “No one has ever said that before.  Welp, good luck and thanks for buying your car from us.” (now walking backwards into the dealership,  smile fixed on his face and nodding slowly)

Here is a picture of the Subaru FB20 boxer engine:

Oil filter location on a Subaru FB20 engine

Oil filter location on a Subaru FB20 engine

See the oil filter right next to the oil fill plug, up right and easy to get to.   Not only that, some design engineer put a catch basin around the filter mount, knowing that when the filter was unscrewed, all the oil would run out of it.  Without the catch basin, that oil would run down the engine block creating a mess that would get worse with each oil change.

Little things.  Little things mean a lot.

Transmitter repair

Sometimes it is obvious and relatively easy, other times not so much.  This summer we have had wave after wave of afternoon thunderstorms.  It is almost like living in Florida; almost, but not quite.  Anyway, with the storms occasionally comes some lightning damage.  At most of the transmitter sites we service, every step has been taken to ensure good grounding and adequate surge suppression.  This is especially true of sites that have been under our care for a few years.  Even so, occasionally, something gets through.  After all, those five hundred foot steel towers do attract lightning.

Broadcast Electronics AM5E output tuning section

Broadcast Electronics AM5E output tuning section

This is the output section of the BE AM5E transmitter at WROW.  The transmitter got pretty trashed; a bad PA module and power supply and this capacitor in the output section.  This particular transmitter is 14 years old and this is the first major repair work we’ve had to do it.

Broadcast Electronics AM5E output tuning capacitor

Broadcast Electronics AM5E output tuning capacitor

The capacitor was fairly easy to change out.  As a general precaution, both capacitors were changed.  There was a spare PA module and power supply on the shelf, thus the transmitter was returned to full power relatively quickly.

Broadcast Electronics AM5E output forward and reflected power meters

Broadcast Electronics AM5E output forward and reflected power meters

The rest of the antenna system and phasor were inspected for damage, a set of common point impedance measurements taken, which showed that no other damage was sustained.

Next, the 30 year old Harris SX2.5 A transmitter at WSBS.  This failure was slightly more exotic; the transmitter started randomly turning itself off.  The culprit in that case was this:

Harris SX2.5 remote control interface bypass capacitor

Harris SX2.5 remote control interface bypass capacitor

Literally, a two cent part.  The transmitter remote control uses opto-isolators.  The inputs to these opto-isolators are RF bypassed to ground on the back of the “customer interface board.”  After determining that the remote control was not malfunctioning, it was down to either a bad opto-isolator or something really silly like a bypass capacitor.  This capacitor was on the ground side of the remote off terminal.  It shows short on the capacitance meter and 4.1 K on the ohm meter, just enough to randomly turn the opto-isolator on and shut down the transmitter.  Being a Harris transmitter, removing and replacing the “customer interface board” was no easy matter.  Overall, it took about three hours to find and repair this problem.

Fewer owners means more diversity!

Alternate title: Less is more (and other non-sense)!

The NAB has come out with their latest interesting opinion on radio station ownership in comments to the FCC regarding the 2014 Quadrennial Regulatory Review.  They state that “Retaining the local radio ownership rule unchanged would be arbitrary and capricious” because the audio market place has changed radically over the last ten years.  The introduction of online listening via Pandora seems to have created competition that can only be adequately dealt with by further consolidation, it seems.  Also, the Commission cannot demonstrate that the current rules promote localism or viewpoint diversity.  That last sentence is a fair statement.  What the NAB does not say is that there is no evidence that further consolidation will promote localism or viewpoint diversity either.

The comment then goes into a lot of information and statistics on smart phone usage; who has them, what they are using them for et cetera.  It is very interesting to note that there is no reason given for the sudden and alarming upswing in mobile online listening.  But, let us examine a few interesting data points first:

  • Mobile data is not free.  There are very few unlimited mobile data plans out there anymore, most everyone now has some sort of data cap.  Extra data can be purchased, but it is expensive
  • On line listening uses data at a fast rate.  According to Pandora, they stream at 64 kbps, or 0.480 megabytes per minute or 29 mega bytes per hour.   Spotify uses quite a bit more, 54 megabytes per hour.

Let us assume that the average commute to work these days is one hour.  That would mean two hours per day of driving and mobile listening.  That adds up to 1.16 GB of data per month just in on line listening.  Assuming that the smart phone functions as more than just a radio and will be used for email, maps, news, web browsing and other downloads, a fairly hefty data plan would be required of the smart phone user to accommodate all this data.  Why would somebody pay considerably extra per month just to listen to online radio?

Do you get where I am going with this?  Good, compelling programming is what people are searching for.  If they cannot find it on the radio, they will go elsewhere.  Nature abhors a vacuum.  Want to compete against Pandora, Spotify, XM or whoever?  Offer up something good to listen to.  These days, competition seems to be a dirty word.  Yes, competition requires work, but it, in and of itself, is not bad.

The NAB seems to be saying that relaxing ownership rules and thus, presumably, allowing more consolidation will promote diversity.  In my twenty five years of broadcasting, I can say that I have never seen this to be the case.   Some of the most diverse radio stations to be heard are often single stations, sometimes an AM/FM combo, just out there doing their thing.  Stations like WDST, WHVW, WKZE, WHDD, WJFF, WTBQ, WSBS, WNAW… I am sure that I am forgetting a few.

You can read the entirety of the NAB’s comments here.

On being responsible

No two days are alike. Sure, there are days that are similar in nature, office work, filing, FCC compliance, etc.  However, there is always something different, some new problem, person, fault, error, client, site or situation to deal with.  It helps to be well versed.

So, when the tower climbers started climbing a 1,000 foot (304 meter) tall tower to find a damaged section of transmission line, I thought; Just a routine day.

Even when they encountered a hornet’s nest at 50 feet (15 meters) AGL, still, fairly routine:

Tower climber applying bee spray to paper wasp nest

Tower climber applying bee spray to paper wasp nest

Tower climber A received a nasty bee sting to his left arm. He climbed part way down the tower and is in the lower part of the picture hugging the tower face. Tower climber B moved up and killed the nest with Wasp and Bee killer.  All is well and work resumes, right?  Except, no.  Tower climber A is apparently allergic to bees.  He states he is not feeling well and his arm begins to swell up.  He comes down the tower and I start looking for Benadryl.

Now, we have a problem.  This is a mountain top tower site, there is a long dirt road with a locked gate at the bottom of the hill.  There is almost no way an ambulance will be able to find its way up here.  The tower climber says the he has not been stung in many years.  I also notice his face is beginning to swell up.  Right, so lock the door, in the truck and get to the bottom of the hill as fast as possible.  It took about five minutes, but at the bottom of the hill, we were in a much better position if things got worse and an ambulance needed to be called.  Fortunately, his condition was the same, so we drove to an urgent care facility were he was treated.

Benadryl, something else to add to the go bag.

Always keep ahead of the situation.  Even if we drove to the bottom of the hill and his symptoms completely disappeared, it still would have been the right decision.

I wonder

Update:  Apparently the pictures in this post have upset some people. Even though there is no identifying information; no call letters, no company name, no location given certain folks have been putting a lot of pressure on the guy I work for. I do not want to make any problems for him, so I removed the pictures.  After all, the last thing we would want to do is acknowledge there is a problem.  The commentary stays.

Well, we have returned from our semi-vacation. Sumat to do with the other side of the family;  a road trip to Canton, Oklahoma, a brief study on mineral rights,  then a family reunion.  On the return home, several side trips to interesting things like the Abraham Lincoln museum in Springfield, Illinois and the Gateway Arch in Saint Louis.  We also stopped in Springfield to see Santa Anna’s leg, which seems to be generating some controversy of late.  I do not like to announce such things ahead of time because it seems like an invitation for a house break in.

But, all good things come to an end, so back to work it is.

And then there is this:

transmitter site

transmitter site

A transmitter site for a group of stations not too far from here.

transmitter site

transmitter site

Class B FM station (50,000 watt equivalent) running 100 watts.

transmitter site

transmitter site

And filth, lots of filth.

transmitter site

transmitter site

As more full time broadcast engineers drop off line, we seem to be picking up more and more work.  That is good for business, but some of these sites are downright depressing.

It is very sad to see such disrepair and makes me think that we are in the last days of terrestrial radio.  Truth be told, the end may be many years off, but the decline gets steadily steeper every year.  In the end; Television, Video, Satellite, the internet and took small bites of radio, but radio owners are the true culprits when it comes to who killed radio.

It is hard to make predictions; so many have failed in the past, but ten years maybe.  Perhaps a few more.  It will depend on whether or not business still find value in radio advertising.  Right now that looks pretty far fetched, but who knows…

Happy Independence day, Extremist

Today is July 4th. We here in the United States like to remember this as the day when a bunch of upstart yokels from the colonies had the unmitigated gall to decide we wanted to rule ourselves.  Terrible thing, that.  It sets a bad precedent for the other subjects, some of whom may decide that they want self rule as well.  Allow that to happen and pretty soon, the whole empire will be in shambles.

So, there was a war.

It became pretty brutal in this area; loyalists and indians banded together to pillaged the countryside.  Families massacred, women shot down, children scalped, old men hung from trees, etc.  Part of the local history, although not really the stuff they teach in school these days. It happened, none the less.

Therefore, we celebrate our independence and revel in our freedoms that were so hard won.  Freedoms to do things like speak our mind, own firearms, enjoy limited government intrusion in our lives.  As human beings, we have rights to legal safeguards that ensures the legal system will not be abused.  We enjoy the freedom to travel within our own boarders unmolested.  We can worship or not worship in anyway we choose.

We are free, for example, to exchange ideas and develop technology that benefits us and others.  Free to learn about things like open source software and even help write the code.  Imagine my surprise then, to find out by visiting a website called “Linux Journal,” I am now an extremist?  I have frequented many such Linux websites, forums, subreddits, and so on over the years, all in an effort to better understand and apply the open source operating system.  I am now, apparently, on a watch list.

This is an article from ars Technica that outlines the NSA program: The NSA thinks Linux Journal is an Extremist Forum.

This is an article from the Linux Journal website: Are you an Extremist?  WARNING: If you click that link, then clearly you are.

My only conclusion to this is open source software is bad because of TEH TERRORISM!!11!!! Well, that and it appears to be eating into Microsoft’s and Apple’s market share.

LJ-Extremist-black-stamp

So, put me on a watch list and make sure you spell my name right. You can track everywhere I go.  Hell, I’ll even making entertaining for you.

Happy Fourth of July, Extremist!

The efficacy of the computer generated voice

I was just listening to the latest broadcast of severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings rolling in across WXL-37 for upstate NY:

Trouble is a brewing

Trouble is a brewing

It looks a little bit hairy to the north.  There is a lot of rumbling around to the west of us and we are prepared to head for the basement in event of a tornado in this area.

At some point in time, somebody decided that computer generated voices were exactly right for emergency communications. Never mind some of the quirks that can be encountered.  These are mostly pronunciation errors for places like Saugerties, normally spoken as Saw-ger-tees but the NOAA computer voice says S-ouw-jer-tees.  That is understood well enough, but frankly, there are other place names that go by so fast that I cannot make sense of what the computer is saying.

Another good example of this is the Coast Guard’s computer voice confusion around the word “November.”  In the military (NATO) phonetic alphabet, November is the word used to express the letter N.  For some reason, the word itself seems to be a bit of a mystery to the computer, which sometimes renders the word November as “NOVEMBER OSCAR VICTOR ECHO MIKE BRAVO ECHO ROMEO.”  For those of us who have been in the military, this makes perfect sense.  Why just say “November” when you can say much more, waste time, and confuse the unaware.  This particular computer voice is nick named “Iron Mike.”

Computer generated voices can be hit or miss.

Then there is the computer voice from Shannon VOLMET:

Even on HF Single Side Band, that voice is clearly more understandable than the NOAA voices in use today. The issue is, many broadcast stations now use the NOAA computer voice to broadcast weather alerts to their listeners.  If I were driving in my car with lots of background noise, I likely would not get most of the information being relayed by the broadcast station via EAS.  I suppose gone are the days of a professional broadcaster’s voice clearly imparting information and comforting the listeners during time of calamity.  Sigh.

The rotary phase maker

I alluded to this in an earlier post: Open Delta three phase service.  Some transmitter sites are fairly remote and three phase power is not available.  Occasionally, with lower powered radio stations, this is acceptable because those transmitters can be configured to run on single phase power.  However, almost any transmitter above five kilowatts or so will require three phase power.  This is the case at the WQBJ transmitter site in Palatine Bridge, NY.  The site is located in the middle of farm land and only has single phase service.  The nearest three phase service is several miles away and the utility company wants several hundred thousand dollars to upgrade the line.

WQBJ transmitter site electrical service

WQBJ transmitter site electrical service

The station is a class B FM with a six bay full wave spaced antenna.  Even so, the TPO is 17 KW, which makes some type of three phase service a requirement.

WQBJ six bay Shively 6810 antenna

WQBJ six bay Shively 6810 antenna

The main transmitter is a Broadcast Electronics FM30B, which is now 25 years old.

WQBJ main transmitter, Broadcast Electronics FM30B

WQBJ main transmitter, Broadcast Electronics FM30B

The backup transmitter is a CSI FM20T, which is almost forty years old.

WQBJ backup transmitter, CSI FM20T

WQBJ backup transmitter, CSI FM20T

Rather than do an open delta service, which is not desirable for several reasons, both transmitters have their own rotary phase makers.  From a reliability and redundancy standpoint, this is the right way to equip this site.  The rotary phase makers are essentially a motor generator combination which takes the split phase power and generates a third phase.

WQBJ phasemaster, backup three phase converter

WQBJ Phasemaster type T, backup three phase converter

Phasemaster parallel connection diagram

Phasemaster parallel connection diagram

The phasemaster is is a 40 KVA unit and is connected to the backup CSI transmitter

WQBJ Roto Phase, main three phase rotary converter

WQBJ ARCO Roto Phase, main three phase rotary converter

The Roto Phase unit for the main transmitter is actually two 40 KVA units connected in parallel through dry core isolation transformers.  Incidentally, the Roto Phase units need to have their bearings changed every ten years or so.  This requires the units be disconnected, placed up on their end.  To get the old bearing out, the housing has to be cooled with liquid CO2.  Both units are due for new bearings soon, which should be a pleasant job indeed.

Repairing the Nautel VS2.5 transmitter

The newish Nautel VS2.5 transmitter installed at WJJR had an RF module failure. This particular model transmitter does not have slide in RF modules as other Nautel transmitters do.  To fix this transmitter, it has to be pulled out of the rack, flipped over and opened from the bottom. The module replacement is very straight forward, there are five solder pads that connect to wires carrying the input, output, power supply and bias voltages.

Nautel VS2.5 transmitter RF modules and combiner

Nautel VS2.5 transmitter RF modules and combiner

The troubleshooting guide gives good instructions on how to check the PA MOSFETS with a DVM. I found that 1/2 of the device in PA1 was bad:

Schematic Diagram, NAPA31

Schematic Diagram, NAPA31

All in all, not a very hard repair. This was under warranty, so a replacement RF pallet was sent to the station without charge. The problem is more about where the transmitter is located:

Killington Mountain, Killington, VT

Killington Mountain, Killington, VT

Killington Peak is the second tallest mountain in Vermont, topping out at 4,235 feet (1,291 meters). In the winter, one can take the chair lift to the top. In the summer, the road is drivable with a four wheel drive. In those in between months, access to the top can be very tricky at best. We had a pretty wet spring this year, so the roads up the mountain are just now becoming passable for vehicles.

Even after reaching the parking lot, there is still a 10 minute walk to the peak, another 200 or so feet up a steep, rocky trail.

Further complicating things, this transmitter is wedged into this little shack, which holds; a BE FM3.5A transmitter (defunct WJJR), a Harris HT3 transmitter (WZRT), an ERI combiner, two racks of equipment (STL’s, Exciters, remote controls, etc) a backup QEI transmitter, an Onan generator transfer switch:

Killington Peak fire tower, WJJR WZRT transmitter building

Killington Peak fire tower, WJJR WZRT transmitter building

Both stations run into this ERI half wave spaced antenna:

WJJR WZRT ERI antenna

WJJR WZRT ERI antenna

It is very tight in this transmitter room. There is a new tower on Killington Peak, which is still under construction. At some point, the plan is to move into the larger building next to the new tower.

Killington Peak tower

Killington Peak tower

On a clear day, the view from the top is spectacular. On this day, the peak was in the clouds, so not so much:

Killington Peak view

Killington Peak view

It is a great site, the HAAT is 2590 feet (790 meters) and the stations carry forever on relatively low power outputs.

Friday Funnies; GOT edition

Nothing at all to do with radio, however, those who have been watching the HBO series Game Of Thrones will get this:

Winter is coming

Winter is coming

With a tie in to current events. I do hope this gets straightened out for the sake of our European friends.