More failure, please…

Sounds kind of silly, but in some cases, failure is good.  Companies that are inefficient, poorly run, poorly conceived, have substandard products, do not serve their clients, and so on should be able to fail.  This allows good companies, that do thing right, to thrive.

Too big to fail is too big and those companies should be broken up.  This holds true in the radio business as well as the banking industry, the auto industry and so on.  What is truly unfortunate is that the people most responsible for the failure, the upper management and CEOs, often get away with millions while the people who had their back into it get to go to the unemployment office.

That being said, radio is in for some drastic changes soon.

NO BAILOUTS FOR RADIO

Enough already with the bailouts.  Radio is not some precious national resource, it does not funtion for the betterment of society, nor does it provide vital information in the time of emergency.  It stopped doing those things years ago when deregulation kicked in, deregulation which was lobbied for extensively by the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) at the behest of radio and tv stations owners, by the way.

Once deregulation took effect, station management went on a hunt for pennies, often tripping over dollars to get them.  By staff reductions and cost cutting, the product was deluded and the medium was marginalized and that is where we are today.

Not everyone followed the above narative, there are some operators who stuck to the frame work of public/customer service and kept good programming on the air.  Those stations are few and far between but they are out there.  Why should they not reap the benefits of there forward thinking?

The Society of Broadcast Engineers

The Society of Broadcast Engineers or SBE is an organization that is supposed to further the art of broadcast engineering.  Once upon a time I was a member, I attended meetings, got my Certified Senior Radio Engineer badge, I kept track of my professional development, and so on.  As the decay advanced, I realized that the SBE looks and sounds good, but actually does little.

What are the issues facing Broadcast Engineers these days:

  1. Too much work.  As consolidation changed the radio business, the engineering department was not immune to staff cuts.  Add to this the increasing dependence on automation and computers to program and run entire radio stations from studio to transmitter as additional responsibilities.
  2. Lack of maintenance budgets.  Particularly in this recession, money that should be spent on preventative maintenance is gone.  The result, more reactive maintenance, off air incidents and the like.
  3. Lack of pay for increased hours.  Goes with the above, more stations, more responsibilities, same or less pay and benefits.
  4. Lack of new talent in the radio engineering field.  There is money to be made if  you are a technical person, just don’t go into broadcasting.
  5. Lack of personal life.  Being on call 24/7 for 20 years has taken it’s toll.

So what has the SBE done to alleviate these problems?  Granted, most of them are management issues with the radio station staff, but has the SBE even tried to educate station owners and management.  How about helping engineers learn how to negotiate pay raises?  A better support network?  Perhaps, (gasp!) some type of organized labor?

I know the more work for same or less pay is almost universal and is a contentious issue among fellow engineers, so much so that many have left to pursue other careers.

Then again, perhaps the radio engineer is a dying breed.  Eventually, everything in a broadcast studio will be run by computers and distributed over the internet, so some type of computer guy could do the job.  Broadcast engineers will have to re-invent themselves to stay in the field because I think terrestrial radio’s days are numbered.  Eventually RF guys like myself could go work for the cellphone company, or go do something else.

AM transmitter preferences

Engineers are funny.  We all have our likes and dislikes and our reasons for both.  I don’t really like Harris products.  Even when I was in the military, their stuff seemed a little “light.”  I suppose having to deal with an MW-50B transmitter at my first full time chief engineer gig didn’t help that impression.  The MW-50 would “blow up” every six months or so.  I say blow up because that is the only way I can describe it, no overload lights or any other indication of trouble until the blue lightning flashes and thunder from the PA section.  What a POS.

Other Harris transmitters, such as the SUX-1, FM20H, Gates-1 etc have also left me less than impressed.

In order of preference, my choice of AM transmitters would be:

  1. Any Nautel solid state unit.  Nautel makes good equipment that is well supported.
  2. Any BE solid state transmitters.  I favor the A model over the E model, but both are good.  One condition, they must absolutely be well grounded and all of the toroid filters provided by the manufacture must be used when installing.
  3. Any tube type Continental transmitter.  There are older units, I believe 816R but they work well and sound good on the air.

Really, that is about it.

Underground Electrical feeder burn out

In the never ending saga of things I have not yet seen, we had a 350 kcml 3 phase underground feeder burn out yesterday at our AM transmitter site.

Actually, it happened the day before, around noon.  I received a call from the remote control that we were on the backup generator.  Upon arriving at the site, I found several trees down on the three phase primary down the street.  I figured that was the cause.  After checking the generator fuel supply, oil pressure, temperature, phase volts/amps, I decided that everything was okay and the power company would be along shortly to restore power.  I then continued up the road to our FM site to do weekly maintenance.

Upon returning to the office several hours later, I looked at the utility company website.  They have a pretty cool interactive map application that shows all outages and give restoration times.  The area around our transmitter site showed no outages, therefore I figured it had been cleared.

I committed two errors here:

  1. Not calling the utility company myself to ensure that the outage was reported.  I assumed that the tree across the three phase primary was the cause, it was not.
  2. Not calling the transmitter site remote control to check the generator status after I checked the website.

To be honest, I don’t know if I am coming or going these days.  With seven radio stations, each with it’s own transmitter site, three of them Directional AM stations, and three studio locations spread out over a 75 mile stretch, it is difficult to keep up with the small details.  Did I mention that I am solo, the engineering assistant position was cut two years ago.  But, I am not here to make excuses…

The net result is the generator ran all night long.  The next day, when I checked the transmitter in the morning, I was surprised to find the generator still running.  Unfortunately, I had an FM station on low power (see post below) that needed to be taken care of first.  When I finished replacing the RF module in the FM transmitter, I made my way to the AM site.

I called the power company then checked the generator fuel, the propane tank was down to 10%.  Yikes, better get this taken care of fast.  I will say the power company showed up pretty quickly.  After some measurements with a hand held meter, it was determined that the under ground feeder was open between the pole and the transmitter building.

The line man was not at all surprized, in fact, he called it before he even went up in the bucket truck.  After some back and forth with his supervisor, who came out in a pick up truck, it was decided that they would run a temporary overhead feed to the meter can.

temporary overhead electrical feeder
temporary overhead electrical feeder

They also did some research in there records and discovered that they (the utility company) own the underground cable and therefore they would dig it up and fix it.  That’s nice because otherwise it seems like it would be an expensive repair job.  On a station that makes not a lot of money.