August 2010
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I like my smart phone the way it is, thank you.

The NAB (National Association of Broadcasters), in trying to reach a settlement with the music industry, has decided that cellphones are part of the problem. No kidding, the fact that smart phones like the iPhone and Android do not have FM tuners seems to be a part of the negotiations, even though the cellphone industry has nothing to do with music royalties.  The argument is, more people will listen to, and more importantly, buy music if they have an FM tuner in their smartphone.

I don’t know about that.

My HTC Android phone does have an FM tuner, it also has a metal detector.  I have found both the be novel applications.   Even though I work in radio, I have used the FM tuner twice.  Technically speaking, I find it to be adequate.  In order to receive anything, a pair of headphones or earbuds has to be used, because the headphone wire acts as the antenna.

That being said, I cannot count the number of times I have used Pandora or other online audio applications.  Several times a day at least.  Why?  Because the content it better.

If consumers want FM tuners in their cellphones, they will ask for them.  Cellphone manufacture’s will gladly comply, and make them.  The real problem is, most people don’t care about radio because most radio programming is boring and uninspired these days.  Let me paraphrase that:


Offer a better product and listeners will return.  If there were a compelling reason to build FM tuners into cellphones, it would already be done.  Forcing the cellphone manufactures to do something they don’t want to do will simply drive up prices.

The NAB has led the radio industry astray for years now, we really should stop listening to them.

FM antenna mounted on the side of a smokestack

If a person were to drive south down I-95 through Bridgeport, CT and look off to the left, they would see a 500 foot smokestack for a coal fired power plant.  Side mounted on that smokestack is a 6 bay Shively FM antenna.  The antenna is more visible when driving south.  That would be the antenna for WEBE 107.9 Mhz.  This is right down town, therefore, I would imagine this station has no problems with reception.

Bridgeport Power Plant smokestack, viewed from the west

Bridgeport Power Plant smokestack, viewed from the west

WEBE is a class B FM with a full 50 KW ERP.  Most FM’s around here take advantage of a nearby mountain to gain some altitude and thus reduce the TPO a bit.  There are several class B stations that run less than 5 KW into a relatively small antenna, but they are way up in the 900 to 1000 foot HAAT range.  In this case,  the power plant is located right on the Pequonnock River bay, so the AMSL at the base of the smokestack is only 10 feet.  This means lots of watts out and a fairly large antenna.

They are using Broadcast Electronics FM35A for the main and backup transmitters.  They were installed in late 1986 and are a little long in the tooth.

Broadcast Electronics FM35A transmitter

Broadcast Electronics FM35A transmitter

They run near 12 KV plate supply, about 3.8 amps making 34 KW TPO.  That goes into a six bay Shively 6 bay 6813 antenna centered at 475 feet, which makes the HAAT 117 meters.

One of the problems encountered with at site is the smokestack emissions.  It seems that a fair amount of mercury comes out to the top of that thing.  In the past, this has caused major problems with the antenna shorting itself out and burning up transmission line.  Because of this, the entire antenna system, radomes, and transmission line is supplied with Nitrogen from this liquid nitrogen tank:

Liquid Nitrogen Tank

Liquid Nitrogen Tank

The antenna then intentionally bleeds N2 into the radomes continuously, overpressurizing them,  to keep the smokestack emissions out.  This type of tank is needed because a conventional N2 tank would last about a day, whereas the liquid tank lasts about 20 days.

The BE FM35A decided to blow a 200 Amp fuse on Friday afternoon:

Blown 200 Amp fuse

I had a BE FM30A that would randomly trip the 200 amp main breaker every once in a while.  I could never find anything wrong with the transmitter, it would just come back on and run normally again after the breaker was reset.  I even replaced the breaker thinking breaker fatigue.  Still happened.  In the end, we replaced that transmitter.  In this case, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

BE FM35A heavy iron:

Broadcast Electronics FM35A plate transformer

Broadcast Electronics FM35A plate transformer

I would not want to replace this thing, it must easily weight 1,000 pounds.

And rectifier stacks:

Broadcast Electronics FM35A rectifier stacks

Broadcast Electronics FM35A rectifier stacks

12,000 volts DC.  That will light up any dirt, dust, piece of fuzz, etc. in the transmitter.

It is one of the more unique FM transmitter sites I’ve ever been to.  Every time I see it, I am reminded of that song, Smokestack Lightning. My favorite version of that song is the live recording by the Yardbirds

The death of the Album Side

When I was a wee young lad, the local FM station in town did something called an “Album Side” every Wednesday night at 8 pm.  It was a great way to hear half of an album before plunking down five hard earned dollars at the record store.  It was also a way to sometimes get a recording of half of the songs on the album using the trusty stereo cassette deck.

Technics SL-1200 turntable

Technics SL-1200 Turntabe

By way of these unauthorized recordings, I accumulated a bunch of cassette tapes that had bands like Aerosmith on one side and Foreigner on the other.  Often, the last 8-10 minutes of a cassette tape side would be silent.  This, coupled with the auto reverse mechanism on the cassette deck often lead to confusion with my high school sweet heart… the music ends, then while we were otherwise distracted and several minutes later, the music begins again at high volume.

I grew up in much simpler times than these.

In any case, the advent of the CD pretty much ruined the concept of album sides.  It means much less to somebody to have a show where one would play “half the songs on a CD, one after another, without commercials or liners.”  When CD’s became the norm for music playback somewhere in the late 1980’s early 1990’s so went the album side.  These days, with computers, MP3’s and all the other music storage mediums, most people wouldn’t even know what an album side was.  The shame of it is, it was a great selling tool for the record industry.  Even though I owned those bootleg cassette tapes, later on, I went out and bought almost all of the albums that I had illegally recorded off of the radio.  To get the other side.

Western Electric 212E vacuum tube

The company I work for is in the midst of cleaning out a studio location.  Most radio engineers are some form of pack rat.  I know I have been guilty of this myself, not wanting to throw something away because tomorrow, it might be needed.  That was carried out to the extreme at this location.  One of the things that I found in my clean out was a Western Electric 212E vacuum tube.

Western Electric 212E vacuum tube

Western Electric 212E vacuum tube

It is an impressive thing, measures about 12 1/2 inches tall, including the pins.  I am thinking this is pretty old, it probably came from a pre-WWII Western Electric AM transmitter.  This would make the most sense, as the station signed on in 1926 with 250 watts.  Back in the day,  Western Electric was the patent holder for AM technology.   In fact, there was some talk of suing General Electric for patent infringement after the airing of the world series by WJZ and WGY in 1922.  Parent company AT&T was working on radio modulation techniques to implement with their telephone system.

These tubes were used for audio amplification, according to the spec sheet, the plate could dissipate 275 watts.  Filament voltages is 14 volts at 6.2 amps, the plate voltage was 3,000 volts, maximum.  It is a tetrode.  The RF counterpart to this tube is the WE 308A.

From what I am to understand, these have not been made since 1960 or so.   I also understand there there is quite a cult following for this tube amongst Asian audiophiles.  There are several examples of extremely low distortion class A and AB amplifiers using this tube type.  Some prices on Ebay are in the $1,500 to $2,000 per tube range.  Unfortunately, I don’t think this one works anymore as there is a loose screw and little bits of what looks like control grid wire in the bottom of it.  It does light up with 12 volts on the filament, however.

IBOC update, part II

In a way that never ceases to amaze me, Bob Strubel spins another yarn about HD Radio.™  According to Bob:

Tom’s experiences at the Ford dealership are disappointing. We believe they reflect the growing pains which often occur when companies launch new technologies. Tom hit the lot as factory installed HD Radio receivers were just launching.

Well, then, I guess that explains that.  If I went to a Ford dealership today, I’d find plenty of models with HD radio(s)™ stock, right?

As far as new technology and growing pains, let us pick that apart piece by piece:

  • IBOC has been in development since 1990 or thereabouts.  Not really new technology.  Apple’s iPhone and iPad are new technology (2 years and 3 months respectively).
  • Ford Motor Company has been an HD Radio™ partner since 2007.  One would think that all the kinks would be worked out by now.
  • The IBOC roll out hit a wall around 2008 and hasn’t grown since then, both the AM technology, which appears to be shrinking, and the FM technology, which appears to be subsidized by the US government.

To test Mr. Strubel’s next statement:

Had he been able to hold out with his old Explorer for another couple months, he would have been able to purchase an Escape with a factory installed HD Radio receiver as these vehicles hit dealerships the first week of August.

It is now the third week in August, I stopped by three Ford dealerships in reasonable sized cities around here.  Not really wanting to waste a sales person’s time, I cut to the chase and asked about vehicles with HD radios.  Here is the response:

  • Dealership #1 said they knew about HD radio, but none were in any of their stock vehicles.  They also could not give me an idea of how long I’d have to wait to receive one, if ordered separately.
  • Dealership #2 pointed me in the direction of SiriusXM, saying that satellite radio was digital radio, or HD Radio™ or whatever it was
  • Dealership #3 never heard of HD Radio™ and said that all their radios were digital (Like, Duh!)

Finally, there is this standard iBiquity statement that seems to go well in any situation:

…it’s ironic that his negative experience happened at a time when the consumer rollout of HD Radio Technology is stronger than it has ever been. We are seeing dramatic receiver sales increases across all segments – OEM auto, consumer electronics, and the new portable HD Radio category. Overall sales of HD Radio receivers will more than double in 2010, and that is on top of a doubling from 2008 to 2009. Can anyone point to any other facet of AM/FM that has seen this sort of growth over the last several years?

Sure, analog AM and FM receivers continue to fly off the shelves in all the markets quoted above too.  Furthermore, doubling receiver sales from one small number to another small number is not that dramatic.  Like Mark Twain said: “There are three kinds of lies; lies, damned lies and statistics.”  It’s like the rookie batting 1000 after his first time at bat; it happens occasionally, it is really not that dramatic or remarkable.

Comparing new technology such as the iPad to middle aged technology such as IBOC is silly.  The iPad has all sorts of neat features, interactive programs, applications, etc.  IBOC is just a one way radio that does sound any better than the old style radios.

Remotes using a Smart Phone

I was fooling around with my HTC  Android phone yesterday and discovered something that has a definite use for radio remotes.  An Application called Hertz will record .wav files, which can then be transfered via e-mail or ftp to the studio and played back on the air.  The program is pretty slick, it allows sample rates from 8 to 44.1 khz.

I made a sample recording, the microphone in the HTC phone is okay, a better microphone would sound better.  After it was done, I emailed it to myself and listened on the laptop.  The email took about 4 minutes for a 20 seconds of a 32 kHz .wav file.  One could cut that down by choosing a lower sample rate.  I have found that 32 kHz it the minimal acceptable sample rate for analog FM.  Anything lower than that sounds choppy.

In another potential use, a news reporter could use this to record audio to save and transfer to a computer using a USB cable.  The recording time limit depends on the size of the SIM card and the sample rate.  Additionally, my HTC Android phone will detect and use WiFi networks, where available, for data services.  Using a WiFi network will avoid those 3G data charges and also increase download/upload speeds.

My Verizon plan has unlimited data transfer, so it really doesn’t matter what sample rate I use, your mileage may vary.

Couple the Hertz app with the VNC app mentioned previously, and a person could do all sorts of things remotely with a radio station.  The Hertz app is available for free download from the Android app store.

East wind rain

Yesterday, August 14th, was the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II.  Prior to the start of the US involvement in WWII, the Army and Navy had been intercepting and decrypting radio messages between Japanese military units, consulates, embassies and other overseas locations.

Back in the day, most everything was sent via Morse code over HF radio circuits.   It was the fastest way to send information from one point to the next.  These messages would be encrypted off line, either by hand or special typewriter.  The message text would then be altered into 5 number, seemingly random, groups.  On the other side, they would be decyphered using a key that matched the encyphering key.   There were several different cyphers systems being used, some for diplomatic traffic, several others for military, merchant marine, etc.

Since the messages were transmitted via radio, they were easy to intercept.  Everyone knew that the other side was listening.  The Japanese assumed that there codes were secure because a “caucasian mind could not possibly unravel the intricacies of a Japanese code.”  An assumption the Navy cryptanalysts had different ideas about.  Through the 1930’s and early 1940’s they had broke some of these codes, not all of them.

The Japanese diplomatic code was called “purple” by the US cryptanalyists.  It relied on a machine called system 97 (by the Japanese) which used telephone stepper relays to generate an ever changing stream of random code groups.  It was considered too secure to break.  William Friedman, a mathematician working for the Army, studied the purple messages and deduced that it was a machine generated code.  He then went to work on duplicating the machine and after a year or so came up with a perfect replica of the Japanese system 97 machine in early 1941.  From that point on, almost all of Japan’s diplomatic message traffic was being read by the Army, Navy and state department.  This work was top secret and carried out at the war department in Washington.  Information gleaned would be sanitized and transmitted to major commands as needed for tactical intelligence.

In early November 1941, the Japanese foreign office came up with the following code to be transmitted to the embassies in the event of the outbreak of war:

HIGASHI NO KAZE AME (East wind rain) = Japan – US

KITA NO KAZE KUMORI (North wind cloudy)= Japan – USSR

NISHI NO KAZE HARE (West wind clear)= Japan – Britain

It is believed that on either December 4th or 5th, East wind rain message was received and decrypted.  This was testified to congress in 1945 by the head of the Navy COMMINT section, however, no record of the decrypted message exists.  Instead, there is a blank page and a missing message number (JD-7001) in the Japanese diplomatic intercepts file.

The fleet commander at Pearl Harbor knew none of this, as the information was kept under close wraps by the Navy department in Washington.  In early December 1941, most everyone figured that war with Japan would happen very soon.  Most of the Washington set believed it would start in the Philippines, then a US territory.  No figured that the Japanese would steam 3,900 miles undetected and launch a sneak attack on the US military base in Hawaii.  The attacking planes homed in on the signal from KGMB (after war reading of Cmd. Fuchida’s (IJN strike leader) diary indicates the actual station was KGMB on 590 KHz, and not KGU as their website claims), to help find Hawaii from carriers still 230 miles away.  The station had remained on the air overnight to assist a group of B-17 navigate from the west coast.  Unaware of the impending danger, the Hawaii military bases were enjoying a peaceful Sunday morning until 7:48 am, when the first bombs began to fall.

Of course, had the Japanese pressed the attack and launched a third wave to take out the fuel storage and repair facilities, indeed, history might be different.  The Pacific Fleet would have had to retire to California, leaving Hawaii exposed and quite possibly invaded.

Most people on the mainland first heard about the attack via radio.  At 2:22 pm eastern time, the AP issued a news bulletin and at 2:27 pm CBS broke into their Sunday afternoon programming to announce the attack.  Radio played an important part in WWII from start to finish.

VNC for Android phone

With the advent of computer file storage and automation came the unmanned operation.  Unfortunately, what often happens with unmanned operations is somehow the engineer becomes responsible for station operation and ends up getting all the phone calls when anything goes wrong:

  • Traffic forgot to transfer the Sunday log and the station is off the air at 12 am Sunday morning.  Call the engineer.
  • Part time DJ didn’t read the directions on merging logs, call the engineer.
  • Widows has encountered a problem and needs to reboot, call the engineer.
  • The server has locked up, call the engineer.
  • Silence sensor, engineer’s phone number

I got sick of driving to the radio station when things got out of whack with the AudioVault, so I installed VNC on all the machines.  From that point, I could log on from home and see what the problem was.  It was great, when traffic goobered up the log transfer, I called the traffic director at home and had her go in a fix it.  Untrained operators, called the program director.  Unfortunately, I don’t have Bill Gate’s phone number, so the windows issues are still on me.

All of this was great as long as my laptop was around.  Being married, however, I had to occasionally listen to my wife, who insisted that we not take the laptop to diner or the movies with us.  There were those occasional times when it would have been nice.

With the purchase of the Android phone, however, I no longer have to worry about that.  Android VNC is a free app that allows an Android phone to connect to any VNC server application.  The user can save all the VNC connection information in the phone.  It has several mouse options including touch pad, touch pad mouse, mouse track ball, etc.  It connects to most VNC servers: incl TightVNC, RealVNC on Win and Linux, x11vnc, and Apple Remote Desktop on OS/X. 0.4.3.  Special commands such as ctl-alt-del are available through the menu.  It is also fully zoomable.  All in all, I can do almost anything with the Android phone that I can do on the laptop.  My wife is thrilled.

It is a time saver.

Oh. My. God. Becky, look at her butt…

This is The Stairway to Heaven for a different decade.

It is so big. She looks like, one of those rap guys’ girlfriends. But, you know, who understands those rap guys?
They only talk to her, because, she looks like a total prostitute, ‘kay?

Ordinarily, I don’t much go in for such things as rap music.  But this is entertaining, and somewhat universal.

Hard to believe that it was almost twenty years ago. Almost every lyric in that song is innuendo for some sex act. Like it. Dislike it. No rules were broken when making this song. It went to number 1 on the billboard chart in the summer of 1992 and no radio station anywhere ever received a fine for playing it.  It was quite scandalous at the time, of course, we were young and naive then.   Things have changed.

To the beanpole dames in the magazines: You ain’t it, Miss Thing!

I occurs to me that part of the reason that the radio industry sucks is because the music industry sucks.  The radio and music industry used to have a symbiotic relationship, each benefiting greatly from the existence of the other.  Of course, the greed and poor business practices of the last decade have driven every fun and thus entertaining element away from both industries.   Leave it to the bean counters, who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

Sadly, no hit that I have heard on the top 40 station these days even comes close to the entertainment value of this 18 year old song.

IBOC update

Harris Dexstar exciter

Harris Dexstar Exciter

I was reading several very interesting IBOC related articles and posts today.  First of all, if Tom Ray, engineer from WOR and strong proponent of AM HD Radio seems a little reticent lately, well, perhaps this explains a few things:

Tom Ray finds himself discouraged based on a Ford shopping experience.

I’d recommend reading the whole thing, however, here are some of the highlights:

  • Fear of HD radio going the way of FM Quad and AM Stereo
  • Asks for a HD radio at the Ford dealership, no one can figure out what HD radio is
  • WOR news director states “HD radio sucks” then asks to have his car radio programmed for analog only
  • HD radio less known than Apple iPad product
  • Joe consumer would not be able to make heads or tails out of it.

RBR has more here.

It is telling that one of the most vocal proponents of IBOC would publish an article such as this.  It seems to be diametrically opposed to the latest press release from iBiquity insisting all is well, never fear, etc.  Perhaps it is meant to spur things on, rally the troops as it were.

The second item I found very interesting, Paul Riismandel from Radio Survivor fools around with a Sony XDRF1  HD receiver.  He posts a great deal of information about his experience.  It is a good read.  To summarize some of the points of this story:

  • It is difficult to receive HD radio signals in the Chicago Suburbs.
  • When FM HD radio is in use, it is difficult to tell the difference in sound quality between the analog and the IBOC programming
  • Secondary channels have low bit rates and are not suitable for listening to music

Finally, Radio World, again, states that after six months 86 FM stations have completed the allowed IBOC power upgrade.  That information is from the NAB.  I cannot find any official FCC information regarding this, I would like to know if any of those 86 stations are around here.  By the way, 86 out of 1,524 stations represents 6 percent of existing IBOC stations have upgraded.  That makes 0.9 percent of the total number of FM stations licensed to the US running -14dBc IBOC carriers.

I will allow the reader to draw his/her own conclusions.


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

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.
~Benjamin Franklin

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.
~Rudyard Kipling

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 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.
~Alan Weiner

Free counters!