For all you southerners and west coast people, we have been having an average winter here in the Northeast. While many of our transmitter sites are drive ups, we have several located at ski area mountain peaks. Technically, those mountain top transmitter sites are a fantastic way to get the Height Above Average Terrain (HAAT) way up there. Logistically, they are much more difficult to deal with. Installing a new transmitter or even refueling a generator takes major effort. Working in the cold and wind is much more fatiguing and requires paying special attention protective clothing, hydration, exposure, etc.
Here are a few pictures from Killington and Pico mountain ski areas in Vermont
Your ride is here.
The snow grooming machine is the only way to bring anything up to the top of the mountain during the winter time. In this case, I needed to replace a BW Broadcast TX 1500 watt transmitter.
Trail from ski lift to tower
Even with the snow grooming machine, the last few hundred yards needs to be walked. Fortunately, the snow is packed and not too deep here.
Tower on Pico Mountain
Tower is encrusted with ice. I can tell the tower climber is having a great day:
Tower climber working on ice encrusted tower
Riding the chair lift back down the mountain gets plenty of strange looks from those skiers coming up:
Pico chair lift
Over on Killington Peak, conditions are actually worse.
Killington Peak tower
The ERI antenna heaters cannot keep up with the ice buildup.
ERI two bay antenna with ice.
The general manager insists that this winter is not too bad and everything should be working right. My statement to her: Based on my 27 years experience, your shit is fucked up. But if you know how to fix this, come on up and show me. She deferred.
Shipping container transmitter site from the early 1990’s.
I do not particularly like these. I know, they are relatively inexpensive, easy to come by, easy to install, etc. However, a shipping container was not designed to house a transmitter, they have certain drawbacks. These are, in no particular order:
Air conditioning. Using a traditional Bard type equipment shelter HVAC unit requires cutting through a lot of fairly heavy gauge steel. What’s more, the steel walls are uneven, requiring filler.
They are by necessity, fairly narrow. Arranging racks and transmitters along the length of the unit restricts access to either the front or the back of the equipment. Meeting NEC clearance requirements for electrical panels, transfer switches and disconnects can pose problems.
They are not very tall. Mounting overhead equipment can be problematic as one does not want to drill through the top of the container. Crosswise unistrut is one solution, but it lowers the overhead considerably.
Electrical work is slightly more dangerous. Doing any kind of electrical work, trouble shooting, repairs, etc is a little more nerve-racking when everywhere around you is a metal surface at ground potential.
They are difficult to insulate against cold and heat.
The door latching mechanisms bind, wear out or otherwise fail over time.
All of those things being said, I am now rebuilding a transmitter site in one of these shipping containers.
Inside view of shipping container transmitter site
Fortunately, the original electrical work was not bad. The transmitter is a twenty year old BE FM10B, which will be retained as a backup. The new transmitter is a Gates Air FAX-10. We have installed several of these Gates Air transmitters in the last two years or so and they seem to be pretty solid units. This is the second 10KW unit I have installed.
Gatesair FAX-10 transmitter in Middle Atlantic Rack
We decided to install the FAX-10 in a Middle Atlantic rack, since we did not have a whole bunch of extra room for a separate transmitter rack. The 1 5/8 inch coax switch is installed in the top of the transmitter rack along with a Tunwall TRC-1 switch control unit. The other rack will have the STL and all other ancillary gear. My idea is to have nothing in between the door and the FM10B so it can be easily removed when that day comes. Something, something about planning ahead since it will be likely myself removing the FM10B.
Now where have I heard that before? I know that this is in the heart of Socialist Europe, but could this be what is in store here? I wonder how much longer the US radio stations will survive with shrinking revenue and lack of entertaining programming.
One bright spot; I have been thoroughly enjoying the unintentional humor of NPR’s (National Public, not Radio) “AHHHHH, TRUMP!” coverage. The Albany, NY outlet has really outdone themselves in this regard.
On a personal note; I have been feeling the urge to write more, so stay tuned!
Westwood One, Premiere, Skyview Networks, et al. will be changing their satellite from AMC-8 at 139° W to AMC-18/SES-11 at 105° W longitude. More from AMC8transition.com. There are several considerations for this move:
Dish design and two degree compliance
Two degree compliance is going to be an issue for many stations. Those old 2.4 and 2.8 meter mesh dishes are going to have issues with 105º West because that is a very crowed part of the sky. From New York, it looks something like this:
TELSTAR 12 (ORION 2)
TELSTAR 12 (ORION 2)
Generally speaking, dishes need to be 3.7 meters (12.14 feet) or larger to meet the two degree compliance specification. For many, this means replacing the current dish. This is especially true for those old 10 foot aluminium mesh dishes that were very popular in the 90’s because of the TVRO satellite craze.
If the existing dish is acceptable, then the next issue may be obstacle clearance. Generally speaking the 105 degree west slot (south of Denver) will be easier to see that the 139 degree west slot (south of Honolulu) for much of the United States. Still, there may be trees, buildings, hills, etc in the way. Site surveys can be made using online tools (dishpointer.com) or smart phone apps (dishalign (iOS) or dishaligner (Android)). I have found that I need to stand in front of the dish to get the best idea of any obstacles. While you are there, spray all the dish holding hardware with a penetrating oil like WD-40, Rostoff or something similar. Most of these dishes have not moved since they were installed, many years or decades ago.
Transponder frequencies will not be the same, so when the dish is aligned to the new satellite, those frequencies will need to be changed. The network satellite provider will furnish this information when it becomes available. This generally requires navigating around various menu trees in the satellite receiver. Most are fairly intuitive, but it never hurts to be prepared.
The window of opportunity is from February 1, 2017 (first day of AMC-18) until June 30, 2017 (last day of AMC-8). Of course, in the northern parts of the country, it may not be possible to install a new dish in the middle of winter. It may also be very difficult to align an existing dish depending on how bad the winter is. Therefore, the planning process should begin now. A quick site evaluation should include the following:
Network Satellite Receive Location Evaluation
Dish is 2°compliant? (Y/N)
Distance to receiver location:
Dish Azimuth (T):
Dish Azimuth (M)
Dish Height AGL:
(permanent or removable? Owned or not owned?)
A .pdf version is available here. Based on that information, a decision can be made on whether or not to keep the old dish or install a new one. We service about 25 studio locations and I am already aware of three in need of dish replacement and two that have obstructive trees which will need to be cut. This work cannot start too soon.
I have been tasked with fixing one of these glorious contraptions. Aside from the usual Energy Onix quirks; design changes not reflected in the schematic diagram and a company that no longer exists, it seems to fairly simply machine. Unfortunately, it has spent its life in less than ideal operating conditions.
Energy Onix Pulsar 1000 in the wild. Excuse the potato quality photo
Upon arrival, it was dead in the water. Found copious mouse droppings, dirt and other detritus within and without of the transmitter. Repaired the broken start/stop switches, fixed the RF drive detector, replaced the power supply capacitors and now at least the unit runs. The problem now is the power control is unstable. The unit comes up at full power when it first switched on, then it drops back to 40 watts, then after it warms up more goes to about 400 watts and the audio sounds distorted. This all points towards some type of thermal issue with one of the power control op amps or other composite device.
After studying the not always accurate schematic diagrams, the source of the problem seems to be carrier level control circuit. This is based around a Fairchild RC4200AN (U10 on the Audio/PDM driver board) which is an analog multiplier chip. That chip sets the level of the PDM audio output which is fed into the PDM integrator circuit. Of course, that chip is no longer manufactured. I can order one from China on eBay and perhaps that will work out okay. This all brings to mind the life cycle of solid state components. One problem with the new technology; most solid state components have a short production life, especially things like multiplier chips. Transmitters are generally expected to last 15-20 years in primary service. Thus, transmitter manufactures need to use chips that will not become obsolete (good luck with that), or purchase and maintain a large stock of spare parts.
In the mean time, the chip is on its way from China. Truth be told, this fellow would be better off with a new transmitter.
In my spare time (lol!) I have been fooling around with one of those RTL 2832U dongles and a bit of software. For those that don’t know, the RTL 2832U is a COFDM demodulator chip designed to work with a USB dongle. When coupled with an R 820T tuner a broadband RF receiver is created There are many very inexpensive versions of these devices available on Amazon, eBay and other such places. The beauty of these things is that for around $12-30 and a bit of free software, one can have a very versatile 10 KHz to 1.7 GHz receiver. There are several good software packages for Windoze, Linux and OSX.
The one I recommend for beginners is called SDR-Sharp or SDR#. It has a very easy learning curve and there is lots of documentation available on line. There are also several worth while plugins for scanning, trunking, decoding, etc. At a minimum, the SDR software should have a spectrum analyzer, water fall display and ability to record audio and baseband PCM from the IF stage of the radio.
Some fun things to do; look at the output of my reverse registering smart (electric) meter (or my neighbor’s meter), ACARS data for the various aircraft flying overhead, a few trips through the EZPass toll lanes, some poking around on the VHF hi-band, etc. I also began to think of Broadcast Engineering applications and a surprising number of things came to mind:
Using the scanner to look for open 950 MHz STL frequencies
Inexpensive portable FM receiver with RDS output for radio stations
Inexpensive Radio Direction Finder with a directional antenna
Inexpensive Satellite Aiming tool
Using SDR sharp and a NooElec NESDR Mini+ dongle, I made several scans of the 945-952 STL band in a few of our markets. Using the scanner and frequency search plugin, the SDR software very quickly identified all of the in use frequencies. One can also look at the frequency span in the spectrum analyzer, but this takes a lot of processing power. The scanner plugin makes this easier and can be automated.
Analog and digital 950 MHz STL frequencies, Albany, NY
I also listened to the analog STLs in FM Wideband mode. Several stations are injecting their RDS data at the studio. There is one that appears to be -1500 Hz off frequency. I’ll let them know.
Next, I have found it beneficial just to keep the dongle and a small antenna in my laptop bag. Setting up a new RDS subcarrier; with the dongle and SDR# one can quickly and easily check for errors. Tracking down one of those nasty pirates; a laptop with a directional antenna will make quick work.
Something that I found interesting is the water fall display for the PPM encoded stations:
WPDH using RTL 2832U and SDR Sharp
Not only can you see the water marking on the main channel, you can also see the HD Radio carriers +/- 200 KHz from the carrier frequency. That is pretty much twice the bandwidth allotment for an FM station.
WDPA using RTL 2831U and SDR Sharp
Those two stations are simulcasting. WPDA is not using Nielson PPM nor HD Radio technology. There is all sorts of interesting information that can be gleaned from one of these units.
Aiming a satellite dish at AMC-8 can be a bit challenging. That part of the sky is pretty crowed, as it turns out. Dish pointer is a good general reference (www.dishpointer.com) and the Dish Align app for iOS works well. But for peaking a dish, the RTL 2832 dongle makes it easy to find the correct satellite and optimize the transponder polarization. Each satellite has Horizontal and Vertical beacons. These vary slightly in frequency, thus, but tuning to the correct beacon frequency, you can be assured that you are on the right satellite. All of the radio network programming on AMC-8 is on vertically polarized transponders, therefore, the vertical beacons are of interest. Here are the vertical beacons for satellites in that part of the sky:
C band Vertical beacon (MHz)
L band (LNB) Vertcial beacon (MHz)
For those in the continental United States, there is not much else past 139W, so AMC-8 will be the western most satellite your dish can see. Of course, this can be used in other parts of the world as well, with the correct information. Bringing a laptop or Windows tablet to the satellite dish might be easier than trying to drag a XDS satellite receiver out.
AMC8 vertical beacon output from LNB
In order to use the RTL-2832U, simply split the output of a powered LNB, install a 20-30 dB pad in between the splitter and the dongle. Using the vertical beacon on 949.25 MHz, adjust for maximum signal.
Some other uses; look for the nearest and best NOAA Weather radio station. Several times the local NOAA weather station has been off the air for an extended period of time. Sometimes, another station can be found in the same forecast area. Heck, couple these things to a Raspberry Pi or Beaglebone black and a really nifty EAS receiver is created for NOAA and broadcast FM. One that perhaps, can issue an alarm if the RSL drops below a certain threshold.
I am sure there are plenty of other uses that I am not thinking of right now…
That season is here again; long practices, long drives to out of the way places, hotel rooms, cold arenas, and smelly locker rooms. Why do we do all this? Hopefully there is a life lesson in there somewhere. There will always be somebody faster, bigger, better with the puck, meaner, dirtier, etc. It is the competition that matters, teamwork may or may not overcome those obstacles. In the end, the reward will be equal to the effort put into it.
Second post in the series, “things to do with a truck body tool box.”
We have this client who, several years ago, moved their translator to their AM tower. All is well for a few months, then the much beloved Harris SX2.5 transmitter begins burping. The SX2.5 transmitter being of an age when, apparently, VSWR fold back circuits were just a gleam in Hilmer Swanson’s eye. The correct description of the sound made over the air during this event would be “motor boating,” because that is what it sounds like. Obviously, very undesirable.
Thus, the isocoupler was removed from the tower, dried out, water proofed and replaced. That lasted about six months.
Once again, the isocoupler was removed from the tower, a capacitor was remounted, drain holes and a small vent added to the top of the unit and it was replaced. That lasted about a year.
I am getting a little tired of this and so is the client. Time to rethink the entire set up.
We had several left over parts from various AM decommissionings over the last few years which included these nifty sample loop isolation coils:
AM antenna system sample loop isolation coil
Why not repurpose one of these to make an isocoupler for the translator?
Enter; the truck body tool box. This one is slightly smaller than the last one, measuring 23.5 x 18 x 16 inches (60 x 45 x 40.5 cm).
The isolation coil consists of 35 turns of 3/8 coax on an 11.5 inch diameter form. The coil length is 15 inches. I calculate the length of the coax on the coil to be out to be right around 100 feet using the π x D x (turns) formula. I measured the inductance with my analyser, which came out to 200 μH. Not to shabby.
Checking length of cable with TDR
The coax is Cablewave FCC38-50J which has a velocity factor of .81 and the TDR shows it to be 100 feet also.
Simple coil impedance and reactance
At 860 KHz, the isolation coil presents 1,200 impedance. I don’t think that will be good enough for that cranky old SX2.5. I decided to make a parallel LC circuit (AKA a tank circuit) to bring up the impedance some.
Tank circuit formula:
FR = Resonance frequency in Hertz L = Inductance in Henrys C = Capacitance in Farads
Given that I have two left over capacitors, one is a .001 μF and the other is a .0012 μF, those values determine where the coil needs to be tapped. I also wanted to have a good bit of coil in the circuit on the tower side before the capacitor tap to dampen any lightning strikes on the tower. Thus the inductance needs to be about 28 μH.
Using Wheeler’s coil inductance formula:
L= (d2 x n2)/(18d+40l)
L = inductance in micro Henrys
d = coil diameter in inches
l = is coil length in inches
n = is number of turns
I removed a small portion of the outer jacket on the coil at approximately the 28 μH point (12 turns) then installed a .0012 μF capacitor. I used a small variable capacitor to tune for resonance on the carrier frequency. With this set up, at 860 KHz, there is >47,500 impedance. That goes down to about 16,000 ohms +/- 10 KHz.
That should make things better.
Then I mounted the coil and capacitor in the truck body tool box. There is a fair amount of stray capacitance from the box itself, which raised the resonant frequency by 5 KHz.
Device Under Test; initial testing of isocoil after fabrication
Resonance is slightly above the carrier frequency with the permanent fixed .0012 μF capacitor. I think this will change once the unit is connected to the station ground plane. The network analyzer indicated there is too much capacitance in the circuit. Unfortunately, this may be as good as it gets, however, the analyzer shows the impedances are still pretty high:
Deviation from Carrier (KHz)
The base impedance of this tower is 34 ohms on the carrier frequency, so the isocoupler should be invisible to the transmitter across the 20 KHz occupied bandwidth of the station.
The FCC38-50J cable has a loss of 1.04 dB per 100 feet at 100 MHz, which is the figure I will use to calculate the insertion loss on the FM translator antenna system.
The old isocoupler is made with RG-214, but likely a somewhat shorter length. RG-214 cable has a loss of 1.9 dB per 100 feet at 100 MHz.
Isocoil mounted on back of ATU
Isocoil mounted on back of ATU
Before and after measurements with the network analyzer show a very slight change in the reactance at the tower base. Nothing major and easy enough to tune out with the series output inductor of the ATU.
If I where to do this again, I would simply tap the coil at ten turns from the bottom, measure the inductance and install the proper value capacitor. Since this had to be constructed with the parts on hand, less the truck body tool box, it because a bit cumbersome to get close to the resonant frequency.
All this got me thinking; there are other possible uses for such a design. Crossing a base insulator with Ethernet cable always presents some unique problems. I know the WISP forum that I read, they are always talking about how difficult it is to mount an antenna on an AM tower. What if… armoured Cat5e or Cat6 cable was used with water proof RJ-45 jacks? Something like that could carry Ethernet data and DC voltage past the base insulator to a three or four around sectorized access point and an edge switch or router mounted on the tower.
Armoured category cable specifications
Anyway, it would not be hard to make coils and install capacitors for the right frequency
This information is from an occasional reader who wished to remain anonymous.
Another AM station surrenders its license, this time from north of the border. CKSL, London, Ontario, Canada is gone for good. Current owner, Bell Media, has determined that it would cost more to repair the deficiencies with the antenna system than economically feasible, especially considering it’s low ratings. Here is their filing with the CRTC:
Bell Media is the licensee of CKSL-AM 1410, assuming stewardship of the station in 2013 as part of the Astral Media acquisition.
A technical review of the transmitter site was recently completed both by Bell Media and contractors, which has resulted in the determination that the AM array poses an unacceptable risk from a health and safety perspective. The five towers are experiencing serious structural degradation and also require repairs to the aviation safety lighting system. In addition, the building which houses the transmitter has shifted off its foundation (as have several of the individual tower sheds).
Given these problems, Bell Media would need to make a significant financial investment to bring CKSL-AM’s transmitter up to compliance with Human Resources Development Canada, Industry Canada and NavCanada operational codes and standards, all of which is estimated to exceed $3 million dollars.
From a market perspective, CKSL-AM has consistently ranked last out of all ten commercial stations in the London market, both in audience share and revenue generation, over the last several years. In fact, since 2013 the London market has seen radio revenues drop 4% and CKSL-AM generates the least amount of revenue of the stations in the market. Even with a significant investment in programming, this trend is unlikely to be reversed.
In light of the significant capital costs coupled with the absence of revenue and audience share, Bell Media is respectfully requesting the revocation of the CKSL licence.
Well, 24/7 comedy will do that to you. Somebody in the business said to me recently “The listeners are abandoning radio!” No, it is the broadcast station owners who are abandoning their listeners and their cities of license. I have a news flash for all current broadcast station owners; as surprising and radical as this might sound, bland, boring, canned, completely irrelevant, dismal, uninformative, unimaginative, unentertaining, dreary, stale, unenjoyable programming will drive away even the most loyal listeners. People really want to listen to radio, it is an easy habit and readily accessible. Radios are ubiquitous; they are in our kitchens, bedrooms, cars, hotel rooms, offices, restaurants, barber shops, etc. That, however, may not always be the case, as more and more people move Spotify, Pandora, or Apple radio when they are tired of the disappointment. I was listening to a certain sports radio format the other day and I kept waiting for something interesting to happen. I waited and waited. I would say to myself; okay, this will be the segment when I will learn something or be entertained. This upcoming guest will say something interesting. Sadly, those expectations were never met and I will never tune into that station again. Elevator music would have been better. Worse than sports radio, 24/7 comedy is the absolute death knell. This is like saying; we are out of ideas and we do not care.
Here are a few pictures of the former CKSL-AM transmitter site:
CKSL antenna array
CKSL transmitter building
CKSL transmission line bridge
CKSL tower base
Actually does not look too bad, at least the field is mowed. I have seen much, much worse. Those bolt together towers, though. I would bet that they are the real problem, bolts are deteriorating faster than the tower steel. Very likely all the towers need to be replaced and that is why the license is being surrendered.
If you are a radio geek, get out there and take some pictures of your favorite radio station. If the current trends continue, eventually they will all be gone.
We are extending LANs out to transmitter sites for many reasons; backup audio, control and monitoring, security systems, VOIP phones, etc.
I am casually (very casually) toying around with creating my own Linux based remote control system. The ongoing Windows 10 upgrade debacle continues to not end, I can’t help but think that there are many potential clients who could use a reliable transmitter/studio remote control and monitoring system based on a stable operating system. Hmm, sounds like a sales pitch 😉
Anyway, I have run across several Ethernet board manufactures that offer a variety of boards with 8-12 contact closures and a variety of analog and digital inputs. Most new transmitters have some sort of web GUI which are great for transmitter control and monitoring. As we all know, there is more than just a transmitter at any given transmitter site. In addition to the transmitter, I would like to control and monitor things like tower lights, interface and control of coax switches, temperature monitoring, generator status, the old non-web interface backup transmitters, STL signal strength for those old 950 MHz links, etc.
That particular PC board is made in Bulgaria, which is home to this: Mount Buzludzha
What I like about these particular boards is the DRM software (DRM has, apparently, many different meanings) which will run on Linux or Windows. There are also iOS and Andriod applications that can be used as well. It appears that the GUI can be customized for various uses. This seems like it is written in Java, so perhaps I could have some Java expert customize it for radio use. It looks like up to 32 boards can be controlled by a single instance of the DRM software. Alarm reporting would be via SNMP trap and email.
I don’t know, there is one particular cluster of stations that needs new remote control gear at almost every transmitter site. Perhaps a little alpha testing is in order? It could be fun…
A pessimist sees the glass as half empty. An optimist sees the glass as half full. The engineer sees the glass as twice the size it needs to be.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
~1st amendment to the United States Constitution
Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. To be your own man is hard business. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers
~Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, Article 19
...radio was discovered, and not invented, and that these frequencies and principles were always in existence long before man was aware of them. Therefore, no one owns them. They are there as free as sunlight, which is a higher frequency form of the same energy.