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November 2015
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I love this

Somebody sent me a link to this video, I thought I’d share:

The inglorious task of AM antenna array maintenance

AM radio stations are rough customers. They frequently operate on the margins, both in terms of ratings and revenue. Their transmitter plants are complex and very often have been on a reduced maintenance schedule for years, sometimes decades.  Those of us that understand the operation of AM transmitter plants and all their quirky behaviours are getting older.  I myself, feel less inclined to drop everything and run off to the AM transmitter site when things go awry.  Seldom are such efforts rewarded, much less acknowledged.  Station owners are also finding that their previous demands are unrealistic.  For example, time was that any work that takes the station off the air had to be done after midnight.  These days, I can tell you, I will not be working at your radio station after midnight.  You can find somebody else to do that work.

Thus, today, we took this particular AM station off the air from Noon until 3 pm to diagnose and repair a problem with the four tower daytime array.  Once again, this involved a shift in common point impedance and a drastic change in one tower’s current ratios.

Antenna Tuning Unit, mice have made a mess

Antenna Tuning Unit, mice have made a mess

In all fairness to the current owner, this ATU reflects years of neglect. At some point, mice made a home in here and created a mess. The ATU smells of mouse shit, piss and mothballs.  It is full of mouse droppings, grass seeds and fur.  All of the ATUs in this array are in similar condition.

Paper wasp, inside ATU

Paper wasp, inside ATU

It was warm enough that the wasps were active, if not a little bit lethargic.

Broken stand off insulators in ATU

Broken stand off insulators in ATU

This coil is being held up by the tubing that connects it to other components. When the ATU was built, no nylon or cork bushings were used between the insulators and the wall of the ATU they were mounted on. Heat cycling eventually did all of the insulators in.

Catwalk to the other towers

Catwalk to the other towers

Catwalks to the other towers. At least the swamp grass has been cut this year, it is only four feet tall instead of ten.

Tower base

Tower base

The tower bases are all elevated above the theoretical maximum water level. The ATUs are also up on stands with platforms build for maintenance access.

ATU Work "platform"

ATU Work “platform”

I cannot even blame the current owner, who has spend considerable money to make repairs and upgrades to this site. It is very difficult and very expensive to catch up with deferred maintenance. Sadly, most AM stations we encounter have similar or worse problems.

I think it is too late to save many of these AM stations.  The technical issues, lack of revenue, perceived poor quality, lack of good programming are all taking their toll.  At this point, the hole is so deep there is no hope of ever getting out.  The FCC’s faux interest in “revitalization” followed by two years of stony indifference seems to be a final, cruel joke.

Microsoft: I am so done with you…

Except for the two applications that only run in Windows…

I lost use of my Windows 7 partition on my laptop last week after a Windows update.  They have been pushing Windows 10 for a while now, but I have ignored it because Windows 7 is just fine for me. I tried to ignore the latest nagging update and: Oh, joy! Computer stuck in an endless reboot loop. Fortunately, I had a dual boot system and the Linux OS booted right up. Go figure! I was able to mount the the Windows partition from Linux and recover all of my files.  This is a good reason to have a dual boot system, or keep a bootable thumb drive handy.  At first, I thought I might be loosing sectors on my hard drive, but no.  It turns out, one of the files changed during the update was corrupted.  No big deal, I can reload windows and be back in business.

It will only take an hour or so.  An hour that could be better used for something else, something akin to billable hours, which is how the mortgage gets paid. My computer is not a hobby, it is a tool. I don’t have time to play around with things for fun.

Then I thought, why bother?  I am using Linux with no serious disruptions.  In fact, it boots faster, runs faster, is more secure, and generally has fewer hangups. LibreOffice has all of the applications I need for general correspondence and business administration.  I can run Win 7 as a virtual machine in VirtualBox as long as I can get the USB device I need to be recognized by Linux then passed through to the virtual Win 7 OS.

So, to hell with Windows and all its nonsense. Goodbye you inferior, expensive and buggy piece of garbage. I will not miss you.

North Adams tower update III

And final.

It has been a year and a half since the tower collapse in North Adams, Massachusetts.  Since that time, WUPE-FM (Gamma Broadcasting), WNNI and W266AW (New England Public Radio) have been operating with STAs at lower than licensed power.   We have completed the installation of the combined antenna, filters and combiners and now all stations are back to full power.  Here are a few pictures of the transmitter room:

WUPE-FM and WNNI transmitter racks, North Adams, MA

WUPE-FM and WNNI transmitter racks, North Adams, MA

WUPE-FM (left hand rack) is using a Crown FM-2000 transmitter, loafing along at 1,060 watts. WNNI (right hand rack) is using a Gates Air Flexiva 2 running at 1,650 watts. Those stations are combined with a Shively Combiner:

Shively combiner

Shively 2 way star junction combiner

We are still doing some grounding and neatening work behind the racks:

Behind racks

Behind racks

The Shively versa tune antennas that were mounted to the wooden utility pole as emergency antennas will be retained as backup antennas for both stations.

Transmitters for WUPE, WNNI and W266AW

Transmitters for WUPE, WNNI and W266AW

We share the room with Access Plus, which is a wireless internet service provider in western Massachusetts. There stuff is in the open frame racks to the right of WNNI.

Another view:

Transmitter racks for WUPE-FM, WNNI and W266AW

Transmitter racks for WUPE-FM, WNNI and W266AW

TL;DR: Tower collaspes, facility is rebuilt better than before.

Radio is dead? Don’t tell these guys then…

WXHC in Homer, New York will never be listed on the NY Stock Exchange. Is that bad?

WXHC, Homer, New York

WXHC, Homer, New York

They don’t think so. A small class A FM station, one of many that signed on in the early 1990’s as part of the 80-90 drop ins (FCC docket 80-90, for those unfamiliar). Many of these stations did not fair too well and ended up being absorbed by larger stations and groups starting with the first wave of ownership deregulation in 1993.

WHXC has remained under the same ownership since it signed on in 1991. Eves Broadcasting is a family operation, employing maybe half a dozen people. Their studios and offices are on the third floor of the Bank of Niagara right in the center of town.  The facility is very nice.  Like any successful radio station, their focus is the community they serve. The format is “Oldies” but they also broadcast high school football, Syracuse sports and so on. They host a yearly Blue Grass festival on the village green.

WXHC air studio

WXHC air studio

The air studio has an Arrakis console and uses BSI Simian automation software. They have live DJ’s from 6am to 6pm, local news, weather, sports, etc.

WXHC production room console

WXHC production room console

The production room has a BE Spotmaster 8S200A console from 1978. Aside from needing some power supply capacitors, it still works relatively well.  However, as the owner’s son said; that thing belongs in a museum.

BE Spotmaster line input card

BE Spotmaster line input card

BE Spotmaster line input card. Probably can still get all these parts if we wanted to.

I forgot to take pictures of the transmitter site when I was there.  Next time.

We will be working on several projects for these folks, so I will keep  you posted on the progress.

As my Russian friends say:

Political Warning! Turn away now if you wish to remain blissfuly ignorent.

На сей раз Путин прав.

Who do you think you're foolin' with?

Who do you think you’re foolin’ with?

For those of you who don’t govoroo pa Rooski (speak in Russian), it says: Na sey raz Putin prav.

What, specifically, is he right about? Syria: Who caused it, the resulting humanitarian crisis, the refugees in Europe, and so on. Also, the question: What is the difference between a moderate rebel and an immoderate one? Well… Starting with the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the US involvement in the region has been either grossly incompetent or blatantly evil or perhaps a combination of the two. Remember the humanitarian bombs in Libya? The opening salvo of 138 tomahawk missiles ($1.2M each)? To be sure, Muammar Gaddafi was no saint, but compared to the people who are running Libya now, he was Ma Teresa.

The US has spent approximately $500M training these “moderate rebels,” but according to the CENTCOM commander, number only “four or five.”  They are just pissing away money and our kids are going to have to pay it back.  When will somebody stand up and ask: What the hell is going on around here?

By the way; Путин не мой герой, which makes it even sadder still.

Dun Dun DUN!

UPDATE:Turns out it was nothing…

Hurricane Joaquin, 1800 UTC, October 3, 2015

National Weather Service, Hurricane Joaquin, October 3, 1800 UTC

Could be something. It might be nothing. Better top of the fuel tanks just in case…

National Weather Service, Hurricane Joaquin, September 30, 1800 UTC

National Weather Service, Hurricane Joaquin, September 30, 1800 UTC

On top of all the other scheduled projects taking place, we have a bad generator fuel transfer pump at one of the E911 sites that should be replaced before Monday, apparently.

Winter is coming…

To sort of offset the previous post; not all is bad. We have been able to install some backup power solutions before winter. The best part, we got this work done before the temperatures moved to the negative digits.

The 18 KVA UPS:

Eaton Powerware 9170+ 18 KVA UPS

Eaton Powerware 9170+ 18 KVA UPS

I like this unit. It is completely modular, with removable battery packs and hot plugable power modules, this thing looks pretty bullet proof. Here it is with the covers off:

Eaton Powerware 9170+ 18 KVA UPS covers off

Eaton Powerware 9170+ 18 KVA UPS covers off

The top six positions are power modules, each one handles 3 KVA. The bottom are the battery packs. Right now the load is about 6.5 KW and the run time is 18 minutes.  Mounted on the wall to the right, a make before break bypass switch and a 25 KVA dry core isolation transformer.

Another generator replacement:

The old and slightly long at the tooth Generac genset being hauled away.

Old generator, off to generator heaven

Old generator, off to generator heaven

New Cummins Power GGHE-1515890 60 KW propane genset, test under load:

Cummins power generator, test with 35% load

Cummins power generator, test with 35% load

With gas powered generators, it is fine to break them in with fairly light loads. I think the maximum load this unit will see with current transmitter equipment is 60%, and that is if all AC units are running, the main transmitter, the HD transmitter and the backup transmitter being tested into the load.

I accidentally the whole transmitter site

Oh jeez, make it stop:

Somebody got busy...

Somebody got busy…

Station has been “flickering on and off…” for the last three days…

Another mouse nest

Wonder why?

Hey, you know that stuff that has been laying around the shop for the last three years? Why don’t you store it at the transmitter site?


Great idea

No matter what you do, save everything. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever throw anything away ever.

You never know when you will need a leaking capacitor with a hole in the side of it...

You never know when you might need a leaking capacitor with a hole in the side of it…

The company I work for is taking over engineering for more and more radio stations. That is good for business, and good for us as contract engineers, but Great Caesar’s Ghost, some of these places are downright dangerous.  Why, just the other day, while I was working at a transmitter site at which both the main and backup transmitters were fed with one fused disconnect, the contact fingers severely overheated to the point of crumbling and I was standing on an aluminum ladder, inside of a steel box (shipping container) using a wooden broom handle to push the contact arms back into place because the station was off the air all the while thinking to myself; there has to be an easier way to earn a living.


iBiquity sale to DTS

DTS, Inc (NQ:DTSI) is to acquire iBiquity for $172M USD.  This was the headline about the middle of last week.  With that announcement, we get to see some of iBiquity’s financials; revenue of $40-50 million this year with a margin of 30-36%.

My question is, who or what is DTS?  DTS was initially known as Digital Theater Systems, Inc.  They specialize in digital surround sound technology, by developing or acquiring companies that created various CODECs and surround sound technology.

35mm film audio macro

An image of 35 mm film showing four audio formats, from left to right: SDDS (blue area to the left of the sprocket holes), Dolby Digital (grey area between the sprocket holes with the Dolby “Double-D”), analog optical sound (the two white lines to the right of the sprocket holes), and the DTS time code (the dashed line to the far right).  The DTS time code syncs picture to a CD-ROM that contains the surround sound sound track.

DTS continues to develop surround sound technology and makes money by licensing that technology to consumer and professional audio clients.  According to their 2015 Q2 financials, they are on track to make $140-145 million this year with a 25-30% margin.

My next question is, what does this mean for HD Radio?  It is much harder to answer this question, but here are some general observations:

  • DTS is a publicly traded company.  Financials and other information are a matter of public record.  It seems likely that the operation will be more transparent.
  • DTS operates with higher revenue and lower margins.
  • DTS has a high interest in mobile markets; devices and dashboards.
  • DTS has a history of continued development and marketing of technology it owns.

There are a couple of different scenarios possible; the first is business as usual. I think this is the least likely situation.  IBiquity as a company and HD Radio as a technology basically flat lined ten years ago.  A successful company like DTS would not likely purchase something that does not have growth potential.

Second possibility, DTS will keep the same licensing structure, but upgrade the HD Radio technology.  From a audiophile’s perspective; HD-1 sounds good, HD-2, 3, and 4 channels not so much.  This is especially true as more channels are added and the same size pie (aggregate digital bandwidth) gets divvied up into smaller and smaller pieces.  One area where HD Radio could shine is to get rid of the HD2-4 channels and create an IP multicast system.  IPv6 has greatly improved multicast performance which might enable a free data stream download, minimal data back haul via mobile data for an interactive, low data usage digital experience.  That would free up a lot of translators.

Third possibility, DTS will reduce the licensing fees for broadcasters and consumers and accept a lower margin on existing technology.  DTS will use HD Radio as a route to get their technology into dashboards, which is where they see their future profits.  Remember, the self driving car is only a few years away and mobile entertainment will be all the next rage.

As far as AM HD Radio goes, I don’t see anything happening with that.  Medium wave broadcast channels do not offer enough bandwidth to facilitate reliable digital transmission.

In any case, for better or for worse, change is coming to terrestrial radio.