DigiKey mobile app

Ever need to cross reference something? Or find a part fast? Get it ordered and on the way? No longer satisfied with the meager Radio Shack parts selection? Don’t have time to run to Radio Shack?

DigiKey has a mobile app for you.  Its not that I like Digikey better than any of the other major parts dealers like Mouser, Newark, Allied, etc.  They seem to be the first ones with a searchable mobile app and it seems to work well and it saves time.  One of the things that I do not have very much of these days is time so anything that can move a project or repair along is welcome.

I also don’t have anything against Radio Shack, either, they have simply moved away from the parts business.

The surreal trip to the WICC transmitter site

What could be so bad about going to an AM transmitter site on an peninsula off of the Long Island Sound.  Sounds pretty nice, right?  It began just so, driving through the town of Stratford Beach parking lot to the construction gate, the towers were visible off in the distance.  A nice crushed gravel road across the barrier island, I have certainly been to worse places.

WICC towers pleasure beach island
WICC towers Pleasure Beach Island, CT

And then, things begin to look a little bit different.  It is really hard to put into words, seems like some other country.

Pleasure Beach Bungalows
The beginning of the Pleasure Beach Bungalow Colony

It turns out this is not quite the nice trip after all.

Pleasure beach lawless zone
Pleasure Beach Lawless Zone

I’ve been to several so called “developing areas” like Port Au Prince, Hatti for example.  Nothing ever looked this bad.

Pleasure Beach ocean side bungalow
Pleasure Beach Ocean Side Bungalow

I can imagine some family coming here every summer to spend time at the beach.

Burned out bungalows
Burned out bungalows

What anarchy looks like.

Pleasure beach burned out cottage
Pleasure Beach burned out cottage

The back story is this:  From the 1920’s up until 1996, Pleasure Beach was a nice seasonal oceanside bungalow colony, complete with an amusement park.  These cottages (but not the land they were on) were owned by people from the surrounding cities and towns and the entire area appeared to be quite nice in it’s day.  Then, in 1996, the wooden bridge that connected Pleasure Beach to Bridgeport burned.  There are several theories; crack heads, radical environmentalist, etc.  The city of Bridgeport did not rebuild the bridge, which meant the only access was by walking from the Town of Stratford beach parking lot, at trek of at least a mile or longer.  In 2007, the town of Stratford decided not to renew these land leases and the building owners were forced to remove any remaining items they wanted by barge.  Soon thereafter vandals began walking down the peninsula from Stratford.  Slowly, most of the bungalows were broken into and several were burned.  This is mostly the work of “kids,” who, because they are under the age of 18, get a slap on the wrist and returned to their parents.  Oh, those wacky kids, what will they do next?

Truth be told, they should be the ones out here cleaning this up, for free.

Finally, this year, the city began tearing down and cleaning up the remaining buildings, trying to put the former bungalow colony “back to nature.”

WICC transmitter building
WICC transmitter building

The transmitter site for WICC moved here in 1932.  This building contained a night time operating studio, kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom.  I can imagine hanging out here some summer night, spinning tunes and having a good time.  The former amusement part is just out of the picture to the left.  At the amusement park, there was a carousel, a big snack bar, a dance hall and an area for portable rides like Ferris Wheals and such.

Now the building is full of disused gear, old carts, transmitter and tower parts, the water has been shut off and I’d not want to be out here at night under any circumstances.

WICC south tower
WICC north tower

The antenna array consists of two 300 foot Milliken towers, originally from WNAC.  Many people mistakenly think these are Blaw-Knox towers.  Milliken preceded Blaw-Knox by several years.  They built and designed towers around the world for radio and electric transmission.  In the late 1930’s they were bought out by Blaw-Knox, which kept the design.  I love these tapered self supporters, they have survived several major Hurricanes since 1932.  The south tower is about 150 yards from the Long Island Sound.  Salt air seems to do them no harm, either.

WICC Milliken tower, south looking up
WICC Milliken south Tower, looking up

The station operates at 1 KW day, 500 watts night, DA2.  The towers are 60 degrees tall, space 149 degrees.  That is a little short, however, they are surrounded by salt water, so the signal goes like gangbusters.  Because they are short, the impedances are low, about 10 ohms for night time and 30 ohms for daytime.  Since the towers  are so wide, the impedances are flat far beyond 50 KHz either side of the carrier, which makes it a nice broad banded antenna system.  The 1932 phasors and ATUs were redone in 1972.  All of the common point impedance measurements are still posted on the wall.

WICC Harris SX-1A, Phasor and Harris BC1H
WICC Harris SX-1A, Phasor and Harris HC1H

The main transmitter is a 1990 Harris model SX-1A.  It seems to be reliable enough, my experience with the SX-1 is it has an overly complicated control system.  The back up is a Harris BC1H, a sort of hybrid solid state tube unit, which is also reliable.

Frequency voltage meter
WICC frequency and voltage meter

This high tech test and measurement center is attached to the incoming electrical service.  Over the years, there has been some quality control issues with the incoming electrical service, mostly due to Osprey’s building nests on the cross arms.  During rain storms, these nests catch on fire and kill the power to the site.  The power company is in the process of redoing the electrical service to the building.

This is a video of the former amusement part and cottages shot two years ago, when the cottages were more or less intact. It is a bunch of stills set to Pink Floyd music:

Looks like they all just got up and left.

Simulcasting: The sound of broadcasters running out of ideas

There seems to be a growing trend lately;  Stations that had previously separate programming being simulcast. There are two big ones around here: WGY and WHRL and WPLJ and WXLM.

Lets begin with the first one: WGY, now WGY AM/FM.

WGY (Clear Channel Communications) has been the regional power house since it’s inception in 1922.  It consistently ranks in the top 5 arbitron ratings for Albany/Schenectady/Troy NY and is well received in the community.  It carries the standardized Clear Channel talk radio format of Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, etc.  As of September 20th, WHRL 103.1, class A licensed to Albany changed it’s call sign to WGY-FM and began simulcasting WGY 100%.  103.1’s 60 dBU contour is entirely within WGY 2.5 MV/M contour.

It would seem that radios, even bad radios, would have no problems picking up WGY’s signal within the 103.1 listening area.  According to Clear Channel Management:

The decision to simulcast our 24-hour news/talk format on the FM will open up our content to an even wider audience. Despite the huge audience we currently enjoy, the fact is a significant portion of the Capital Region audience never thinks to visit the AM dial.

There is some small amount of truth to that statement; the younger segment of the population generally never listens to AM. Yes.  The reasons, however, are not just because it is AM and they are prejudice.  More likely, there is nothing on the AM dial that interests them.  Satellite syndicated talk is not everyone’s cup of tea, so to speak.

The other side of the coin is the former WHRL had an alternative rock format, which never did all that great (I have a theory on why Alternative Rock, AAA and other such formats never get good ratings, but not right now).  They also had a station staff, which by the time they pulled the switch, was down to one person.   The Capital District Business Review notes:

According to BIA/Kelsey, a media research firm in Chantilly, Va., WGY did about $2.8 million in revenue in 2009. WHRL took in about $875,000.

Which is really not bad for a class A FM in market #63, during a recession.  Apparently, not good enough however.

The second example in our little story is that of WPLJ and WXLM.  WPLJ 95.5 (Citadel Broadcasting) is of course one of the heritage FM stations in Market #1. WXLM 104.7, now known as WELJ broadcast from the far eastern end of Long Island (Market #18), so the respective coverage areas do not over lap.  Prior to September 24th, that station was doing a News/Talk format.

That end of Long Island is pretty affluent, a local (unique) station might even prosper.  In fact, up until 2003 it did quite well for itself, then known as “The Beach.”  However, nothing lasts forever and in 2003 Citadel Broadcasting purchased the station.

It has gone through a number of changes since then, most recently a syndicated news talk format.  Unless I am missing it completely, the last ratings period, this station did not even show up in the book.  As of September 21, it began to simulcast the co-owned out of market AC station, likely for the drive by PPM listeners in it.  Again, no word on the fate of the former radio station’s staff (if there was one).

So what gives?  Consolidators have already cut staff levels to the bone with voice tracking, syndication and automation.  Even a voice tracked syndicated station still need some staff members; the occasional morning show, somebody to do promotions, some form of program direction do to things like music logs and other such behind the scenes work.  Staff require salaries and salaries are expensive.  Anyone that has ever looked at a companies P&L can tell you, salaries are the number one expense.  If, however, the entire format is blown out, and something can be plugged in to fill the void that costs nothing and has no overhead and no staffing, well, now they are really saving money.  That money from reduced expense is much better (far easier) than actually earning more money and it goes right to the bottom line.

This never ending drive to reduce expenses at the expense of everything else drives programming quality and thus entertainment value down.  Who wants to listen to radio and be bored?  Not I.  This continuing trend is what will ultimately spell the end of terrestrial radio.

Things that make you go, Hmmmm part II

I am not sure what the purpose of this is for, or who put it there:

mystery 66 block
Mystery 66 block

The mystery type 66 punch block mounted high up on the wall in the hallway.  The contractors are removing the carpeting on the wall and drywalling over it, when they reached this, they just cut around the block and kept going.  On one side is a teflon jacketed 25 pair category 3 phone wire, which goes back to the rack room, somewhere.  The rack room is a little disorganized and it is difficult to mess around with the various bundles of wire without knocking a station off the air.

On the other side is a bunch of 1N1004 diodes punched down.  Perhaps some sort of door light circuit?  Or maybe a remote channel selector for one of those old Scientific Atlanta 7300 series satellite receivers?  I don’t know.

I used my big wire loppers and cut the cable.  There were no sparks and everyone stayed on the air.  I pulled the whole thing down and removed it, so the drywall contractor can finish patching the holes.

The entire facility is getting gutted and redone soon.