Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene wrap up

Creek overflows roadway, Ulster County, NY, Tropical Storm Irene, August 28, 2011
Creek overflows roadway, Ulster County, NY. Tropical Storm Irene, August 28, 2011

I read through the FCC’s Hurricane Irene information on which stations were off the air and when, I believe there are a few more to add to the list.  Starting from South to North:

  1. WNYC (820 KHz) (New York Public Radio) See WMCA below.
  2. WMCA (570 KHz) (Salem Communications) went off when the fetid swamp known as the Meadowlands flooded, which is where their transmitter sites are located.
  3. WFAF (106.3 MHz) Mount Kisco, (Cumulus Broadcasting) Loss of power, no back up power
  4. WLNA (1420 KHz) Peekskill (Pamal Broadcasting) another AM located in a fetid swamp, this time in Peekskill.  It is likely this station will be off for several days.
  5. WOSR (91.7 MHz) Middletown (Northeast Public Radio) reasons unknown.
  6. WKIP (1450 KHz) Poughkeepsie (Clear Channel Broadcasting) transmitter room flooded with about 18 inches of water, water over topped the base insulator and ATU.
  7. WVKR (91.3 MHz) Poughkeepsie (Vassar College) no backup power, back on at 12:00 pm 8/29
  8. WKXP (94.3 MHz) Kingston (Clear Channel Broadcasting) Loss of emergency generator when fan belt broke, restored four hours later.
  9. WAMK (90.9 MHz) Kingston (North East Public Radio) Kingston transmitter site, which looks like it is located in a Revolutionary War relic, is noted for being unreliable.   It goes off frequently and was off and on all day.
  10. WFGB (89.7 MHz) Kingston (Sound of Life Radio) Located in same building as WAMK, is an LP-1 station.
  11. WKNY (1490 KHz) Kingston (Cumulus Broadcasting) antenna field flooded, back on the air by 9 am 8/29.
  12. WYJB (95.5 MHz) Albany (Pamal Broadcasting) Generator voltage regulator failed, equipment secured to prevent damage.  Is an LP-1 station.
  13. WZMR (104.9 MHz) Altamont (Pamal Broadcasting) Co-located with WYJB
  14. WAJZ (96.3 MHz) Voorheesville) (Pamal Broadcasting) Co-located with WYJB
  15. WROW (590 KHz) Albany (Pamal Broadcasting) STL passed through WYJB transmitter site
  16. WPTR (96.7 MHz) Clifton Park (Crawford Broadcasting) reasons unknown
  17. WTMM (104.5 MHz) Mechanicville (Townsquare Media) reasons unknown
  18. WEQX (102.7 MHz) Manchester, VT (Northshire Broadcasting) loss of power

Most of these stations are now back on the air, however, several suffered much water damage due to flooding and will be off for a while.  Lots and lots of roadways washed out, trees down, power still out for tens of thousands of people, it’s a mess.

These stations that went off the are are but a small fraction of the radio stations that serve the Hudson Valley and upstate NY. Most of the large class B stations, and regional AM stations, which are also the LP-1 EAS stations, stayed on the air for the duration of the storm, as did all of the NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards stations in the area.

Kudos to the DJ’s, meteorologists, news people and field reporters for keeping us informed and safe.

Shortwave Pirate Broadcasting

And now, something completely different. It seems there is quite a kerfuffle going on in shortwave (AKA HF) pirate land.  It seems there has been some FCC enforcement action of late, leading to at least one HF pirate being closed down, while some others are pointing fingers at another saying he is a rat, or a rabbit.  Or something.  I dunno, it gets a little hard to follow.

Anyway…

I have written about this in the past; Pirate Shortwave broadcasting. It is a very interesting phenomena that compels a person to gather together all the parts necessary, usually at some expense, and assemble a station.  Further, keying the transmitter and broadcasting without benefit of a license is a violation of federal law, which can bring heavy sanctions.  While most pirate broadcasters seem to get a slap on the wrist, this lax FCC attitude can change.  There have been several steep fines lately for repeat offenders in the FM band.  At least on the FM band and somewhat the AM band too, a unlawful broadcaster is assured of some public audience.  On the shortwave bands, a pirate broadcaster’s audience is limited to only those that are looking for them, which is a very narrow segment of  the population.

What are they trying to accomplish?  Most of the shortwave pirate broadcasts that I have listened to are limited to a couple of songs from one particular genra, send an ID and then are off.  Some will send a QSL card via slow scan TV.   What compels these operators to go through all the trouble for a few minutes of irregular operation?  Some of them have well equipped studios to go along with the transmitting equipment.  Then there is the clandestine nature of the undertaking, often with mail drops and spoofed e-mail addresses.

Some seem to exult  in sticking it to the man, that man being the FCC, big media corporations or any authority that tells them they are doing wrong.  Acts of civil disobedience against authority perceived (rightly or wrongly) as oppressive or evil.  Others seem to have some need to perform, no matter how small the audience may be.  Some are just fooling around and do it simply because they can. Finally, others like the challenge of building a low power shortwave transmitter from scratch and seeing it to through to it’s end.

If the so said station is broadcasting with any appreciable power, it will get noticed quickly and sooner or later, the FCC will pay a visit.  That is a foregone conclusion.  The FCC has quite a few new tricks up its sleeve when it comes to direction finding and RF finger printing.  That’s right, RF finger printing, it is exactly what it sounds like.  Super resolution HFDF eliminates the need for triangulation, multiple vehicles, and wasting a lot of time driving around neighborhoods trying to figure out which residence an illegal broadcaster is using.

While I understand the compulsion to broadcast free radio; the need to inform under served communities, the fact that what we used to rely on for information and news is gone, a once vibrant and exciting art form has been reduced to a hollow shell of its former self, however, we have not yet reached a Magna Carta moment. There are still some legal methods of getting the word out on radio, both conventional and shortwave.  International Broadcasting stations WBCQ and WRMI offer time brokered programming and are pretty liberal in the types of programs they accept.  Not all US shortwave broadcaster are thus, many allowing only religious programming.  Those shortwave stations have large coverage areas and existing audiences.  There are also may AM radio stations that will do block programming over the weekend, for a price, of course.  Then there is the possibility of setting up an internet station.  Eventually, the new Low Power FM (LPFM) rules will go into affect and interested groups will be able to apply for licenses in that service.

The point is, while the deck is stacked against the local or community radio broadcaster, it is still possible to get the word out in a legal way.  The cost of buying block programming will likely be the same or less than buying all the equipment to set up a pirate station.  Further, if the programming is compelling, you may get noticed and be able to flip the equation and actually get paid to do it.

Storm Preparation

With Hurricane Irene taking aim at the northeast, now is the time to make preparations for bad weather.  This is the five day forcast:

Hurricane Irene five day forecast
Hurricane Irene five day forecast

Now, five day forecasts are notoriously inaccurate. There are too many variables to make it accurate and even the most seasoned meteorologist will admit, it is an educated guess.  However, the large semi-transparent disk is almost always accurate.  Therefore, it seems we may be in for a bit of a storm this weekend, with the eastern end of Long Island and the Newport/Providence RI in the landfall area. The Bridgeport, CT stations will likely see the worst of it, if the storm follows the predicted course.

Having a good disaster recovery program in place reduces much of the pre-storm work.  This includes backup equipment and personnel allocations to keep the stations on the air and providing valuable information during the event.  Wherever and whenever our clients allow us, we make sure that these systems are properly designed, installed and working.  When trouble is milling about off shore in the form of a Hurricane, then we make a few final preparations, both personally and for the clients:

  1. Top off all generator fuel tanks and test them.  This includes my home generator.
  2. Make sure all loose items are secured.
  3. Make sure other redundant systems; backup transmitters, back up STLs, backup transmitter sites are in order and ready to be deployed.
  4. Check the personal safety items; first aid kit, rain gear, flashlight batteries, work gloves, eye protection, hard hat, some type of energy food and extra water are in the truck.
  5. Get out a clean sleeping bag and a set of clean dry clothes and put them in the truck.
  6. Gas up the chain saw and put it in the truck with extra gas, bar oil and blade sharpener.

During the event, it is important to recognize when a situation is too dangerous to proceed and wait for the danger to subside. Examples of this are local flooding of roadways, downed power lines, high winds, and or electrical storm while working at transmitter sites.

Radio may have lost much of it’s relevance as an entertainment medium, however, there is still one thing it does very well; broadcast emergency communications and information to the public.

Update: As of 5 am 8/25 it looks as if the hurricane is making a b-line toward Bridgeport, CT.  Most of the computer models are now in agreement which means the forecast is getting a better handle on the variables and is becoming more accurate.  Strength is still somewhat debatable, but even a category 1 storm could do significant damage.  We shall see.

Update 2: As of 5 pm 8/26, Irene is still on course for the greater NYC/Long Island sound area.  As much as possible, preparations are complete.  There are some things which cannot be helped, like the height above mean sea level of the WICC and WEBE transmitter sites (10 feet) or the lack of a generator at WXPK studios, etc.  Estimates are for Hurricane force winds by this time tomorrow, so the only thing left to do now is get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow may be one of those long days.

Here is an interesting thing; several people have suggested that IBOC signals on both AM and FM NYC stations be turned off so that smaller local stations will be listenable to local residents in NJ and Long Island.  A secondary consideration would be the amount of power IBOC uses and possibility of backup generators running out of fuel to run something that has little or no audience.  If that isn’t telling….

It should be interesting.

A tale of two air conditioners

It was a hot day, it was a cold day. The tube transmitter was running, the solid state (HD-1) transmitter was off the air. The books show that the company has deep pockets, but the accountant has short arms.  And so it goes.  In a sordid, yet familiar tale of leaping three quarters of the way across a river, the builders of this transmitter site seemed to think of everything except the cooling requirements for a 35 KW FM transmitter.

Instead of installing real commercial AC units, someone decided that 34,000 BTU window units were the way to go.  At one time, there were eight of those units, all single phase 240 volts sucking down gobs of power and freezing up when the outside temperature dropped below 40°F.  This was always a problem, but became more so when we took over the maintenance of this site.  When there was a full time engineer, his time, apparently, could be wasted running back and forth turning the window units on or off in the winter as required.  Now that a contract company is doing the work, it becomes cost prohibitive to require such things.

Therefore, the time had come to make a change.  To that end, six of the 34,000 BTU window units were removed from the building.  Two of the existing holes in the wall where used to create an emergency cooling system, consisting of a 4,292 CFM fan and a couple of shutters.  Two other holes were used for the new air conditioners and two holes were blocked up.  The remaining two window units were left in place in the combiner room, which is a separate cooling zone.

Bard 5 ton wall mount AC unit
Bard 5 ton wall mount AC unit and cooling fan shutter

The new AC’s are five ton wall mount Bard units.  These are three phase and should be more than enough to keep the transmitters cool.  Here is how I arrived at that conclusion:

  • The entire building load when the main transmitter is running at full power, without the transmitter room air conditioning, is 60 KW.
  • All of the building loads except the transmitters go through a single phase panel.
  • The load on the single phase panel is 10 KW, thus the transmitter load is 50 KW (this 10 KW is mostly the single phase AC units in the combiner room)
  • The TPO is 32 KW, therefore the transmitter is generating 18 KW of waste heat.
  • One watt hour = 3.412 BTU of energy, thus
  • 18,000 watt hours equals 61,416 BTUs
  • One ton = 12,000 BTU, thus
  • 61,416 BTU ÷ 12,000 BTU = 5.118 tons

That will take care of the main transmitter waste heat.  The HD transmitter generates another 4,000 watts of waste heat or 1.37 tons.  The combiner is an another room and doesn’t factor into the calculation.  The rest of the equipment is inconsequential, adding up to less than 100 watts.

The solar gain is more difficult to calculate, as it is based on the building structure, the type of construction and the heat gain (loss) through the walls and doors.  This building is concrete block, insulated, and has no windows.  It is unshaded, however it is painted a light color.  All in all, the solar gain should be less than two tons on a hot day.  Therefore the total AC load should be 8.25 tons or less.

Bard 5 ton wall mount AC unit
Bard 5 ton wall mount AC unit

All that is left now was to install the things.  Just pull up the truck and use a crane to lift them in place, except, no; that plan won’t work.  This is the transmitter site at the power plant and the 138 KV lines overhead precluded any lifting with a crane.  We instead had to build ramps and move the things around on large hand trucks.  One unit is installed on the rear of the building, the other on the front.  It required several days to make the ramps and four people to muscle the things into place.

The bottom air intake holes needed to be cut out for the new units.  Cutting into the concrete block while the BE FM 35A was running proved to be another challenge.  We used several sheets of plastic, shop vacs and extra air filters on the transmitters to keep the concrete dust out of the PA cavities and motor bearings.

Plan B cooling consists of a 4,292 CFM Venturi fan mounted on the rear wall of the building.  The fan is controlled by a ceiling mounted thermostat set to 95 degrees.  If the AC’s fail, the ceiling temperature will rise and the fan will turn on.

Transmitter site emergency cooling fan
Transmitter site emergency cooling fan

The room volume is about 3600 cubic feet, therefore this fan will change the room air about once every 60 seconds or so. It is not the best plan to move humid, potentially dirty outside air through a building, but it it keeps the station on the air while the main AC units are being repaired, then so be it.

The entire system went on line last week and is working well.