Of popular trees and telephone poles

This picture reminded me of something that happened early on in my radio career:

WDCD three tower array, Albany, NY
WDCD three tower array, Albany, NY

This is another view, looking across from the roof of the transmitter building before the former studio building was removed:

WFLY STL antenna
WFLY STL antenna, circa 1992

The story dates back to 1990 or so.  In the second picture, one can see two Scala PR-950U Paraflector antennas.  These are the STL and TSL antennas for WFLY.  They are on wooden utility poles because of the WPTR 1540 KHz antenna system is behind the poles, out of the picture to the left.   As you can see in the second picture, these poles were immediately behind the studio building, known as the “Gold Studio, ” the name itself being pure propaganda.

Also, in the second picture you can see behind the poles, a pair of poplar trees.  The reason for the second, taller pole was because across the street, out of the picture to the right, there was a stand of poplar trees which were growing up into the path of the WFLY STL system.

When this was noticed, then General Manager, John Kelly, tactfully approached the property owner and asked if the radio station could cut the “popular” trees down.  Of course, the property owner wanted much money to do this.  There was many telephone calls and discussions on how to kill the “popular” trees and other, not so ethical solutions to this growing problem.  Finally, it was decided that it would be simple and less expensive to install the taller utility pole.

Thus, Northeast Towers found the utility pole and came to install it.  In this area of Albany, the soil is a sandy loam, which required much hand digging and back bracing in the hole before they placed the pole in the ground.  As it is a seventy foot pole, a good 12 feet was placed in the ground and the hole was back filled with concrete.  That is why the pole still stands today.

Naturally, all of this work is taking place on the hottest day of the year.  Also, it stands to reason, the guy in the hole doing the manual labor is the oldest, most out of shape person on the crew.  After lots of grunting and swearing, our man comes out of the hole looking whiter than the driven snow and sweating profusely.  He kind of staggered into the back door of the building and collapsed on the floor just inside the back door.  At this point, he was in full cardiac arrest.  The promotions director, who’s office was closest to the door, called the ambulance.

Fortunately, the board operator on WPTR was an EMT with the local fire department.  After his pager went off, he ran out to his car, got his EMT bag and arrived on scene within seconds.  He was able to start CPR quickly.  In the mean time, a crowd had gathered out in the hallway.  John (the General Manager), hearing the commotion, storms out of his office and down the hallway.  He gets to the edge of the crowd and yells:

“WHAT ARE YOU PEOPLE DOING HERE?  DON’T YOU HAVE JOBS TO DO? AND WHAT IS THAT GUY DOING LAYING ON THE FLOOR?”

The good news is, the guy survived, thanks in no small part to the quick action of the board operator.

Anyway, tales of radio when it was fun.

Hums no more

My first job as Chief Engineer was at WPTR and WFLY in 1991. I was young and it was a learning experience. The WPTR transmitter was a Harris MW50A, which reliably went off the air every six months. The transmission lines going out to the towers had fallen off of their wooden support posts, trees were growing up in the antenna field, sample lines were going bad. In short, it was a mess.  Even so, the station was well known and well liked in the community. One could still see echos of greatness that once was.

When Crawford Broadcasting purchased the station in 1996, they put much money and effort into renovating the facility.  Replacing the Harris transmitter with a solid state Nautel, replacing the phasor and transmission lines, cutting the trees from the field, painting the towers, renovating the old transmitter building into a new studio facility and finally removing the old Butler building that formerly housed the “Gold Studios.”

Then the depression of 2008-20?? hit.  Once again, the place has fallen on hard times.  WDCD-AM has been silent since last April.  The cost of running the 50 KW AM transmitter being too much to bear in the current economy.  Formatically, the station drifted around for several years.  According to the the STA to go silent:

WDCD WILL SUSPEND OPERATIONS FOR A PERIOD DURING WHICH IT WILL DEVELOP AND PREPARE TO DEPLOY A NEW PROGRAM FORMAT AND REPOSITION ITS VOICE AND IDENTITY IN THE COMMUNITY.

They may need to do something slightly non-religious to survive.

While we were waiting for the utility company to turn the electric back on after yesterday’s fire, I took a short walk around the WDCD-AM site and took some pictures.  Transmitter disconnect thrown,  fuses are pulled,  it is kind of sad to see the Nautel XL-60 dark:

Nautel XL-60 AM transmitter.  WDCD Albany, NY
Nautel XL-60 AM transmitter. WDCD Albany, NY

I apologize greatly for the blurry picture, it was taken with my cellphone camera, my good camera being back at home on my desk.  Radio stations, when they are on the air, seem like they are alive.  Machinery hums, fans move air, meters move, and there is a sense of purpose.  Silent radio stations give me a sense of foreboding, like something is terribly wrong.

WDCD three tower array, Albany, NY
WDCD three tower array, Albany, NY

View of the towers without Butler Building.  The towers are 340 feet tall, which is 206 electrical degrees on 1540 KHz.  The site was constructed like this to suppress skywave signals toward ZNS, Nassau, Bahamas.  ZNS is the only clear channel station allotted to the Bahamas by NARBA.  The other station WDCD is protecting is KXEL, Waterloo, IA.  During the 90’s, I received many QSL requests from Norway/Finland and even a few from South Africa.  I know that the station had a large following in most of New England.

WDCD tower base, tower three
WDCD tower base, tower one (furthest from building)

Tower one tower base.  This IDECO tower had to have the top 60 feet replaced after it was hit by an airplane in 1953.  The tower base also had to be replaced in the late 1980’s as it was crumbling and falling apart.  To do this, Northeast Towers used railroad jacks and jacked the entire tower up off of the base insulator.  They re-formed and poured a new base, carefully letting the tower back down on a new base insulator about a week later.

WDCD towers looking back toward the transmitter building
WDCD towers looking back toward the transmitter building

Antenna field looking back at the transmitter building.  If you work at radio transmitter sites, I encourage you to take pictures of all these things, as someday, they will all be gone.

WDCD bomb shelter
WDCD bomb shelter

The “bomb shelter” and 220 KW backup generator,  constructed by FEMA in 1968 as part of the BSEPP.  This used to have an emergency studio and enough diesel fuel for fourteen days operation.  Now, the bomb shelter has a kitchen and bathrooms.  The underground storage tank no longer meets EPA standards and has been pumped out.

WDCD Onan generator
WDCD Onan generator

The Onan generator is conservatively rated at 220 KW, surge rating 275 KW.  These things were way over constructed, so it is likely it would easily run 225 KW all day.  It has an in line six cylinder engine with a massive fly wheel.  When the engine is stopped, it takes about twenty seconds for the generator to stop turning.

Three phase service
Three phase service

National Grid, 3 pot, 480 volt, 3 phase service, original to the 1947 building.

I wonder if it will return.

Fire! Fire! Fire!

Class Charlie fire in the transmitter room electrical panel.  Away fire party from repair locker forward.  Set condition ZEBRA throughout the ship, this is not a drill.

Or something like that.  If you were driving around Albany, NY this afternoon and noticed WDCD-FM was off the air, this is the reason why.

WDCD AM/FM main distribution panel
WDCD AM/FM 480 volt 3 phase AC main distribution panel

A little after noon time, the 480 volt main distribution panel at WDCD AM/FM caught fire, taking the FM station off the air.

WDCD conference room clock, time of power outage noted
WDCD conference room clock, time of power outage noted

According to this clock, it happened at 12:19 pm, when there was a loud bang and the lights in the studio flickered several times, followed by the building fire alarm going off.  Thankfully, a quick response by the station staff and the Town of Colonie fire department limited the damage to the interior of the distribution panel.  Other than the dry chemical fire extinguisher residue all over the place, the building is none the worse for wear.

WDCD distribution panel burned parts
WDCD distribution panel burned parts

The 480 Volt three phase electrical distribution panel was installed in 1947 when the original building was constructed.  The power company cut the power to the building and an electrician was able to re-route the distribution for the dry step down transformers that power the studios and equipment racks.  The original 480 volt service was installed due to the 50 KW AM transmitter for WPTR (WDCD-AM).   Currently, WDCD-AM is silent, pending programming decisions by the owner, Crawford Broadcasting.

WDCD burned electrical distribution panel parts
WDCD burned electrical distribution panel parts

So, we spent the late afternoon vacuuming the NextGen computers and UPS out, wiping down the equipment and making sure to clean out the power supplies and other nooks and crannies.  Then, we powered everything back up, one at a time and to our pleasant surprise, all came back up without error.  Total off air time for the FM station was about 6 hours.