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Happy New Year

I wish everyone a Happy New Year and hopefully, a prosperous 2014.

Another year has gone by, and there were few things remarkable about it. Among those are:

From the digital radio front; HD Radio continues to be a non-factor in the bigger broadcasting picture.  FM HD Radio continues to make very small inroads, especially with public radio groups who’s HD Radio expenditures are mostly tax payer subsidized.  AM HD Radio continues to backslide slowly from it’s high water mark of 310 stations in 2007.  It is difficult to nail down the exact numbers of AM HD Radio broadcasters, however, Barry McLarnon notes that 177 stations are currently transmitting AM HD Radio.  No official numbers are available from either the FCC or iBiquity itself.

The great 2003 translator log jam (Auction 83) was finally fixed so that the FCC could move ahead with the LPFM application window in October.  In the end, some 1,240 translators were granted, with more conflicting applications still in the works.

The LPFM filing window opened in October amid the government shutdown.  Many groups were predicting 10,000 new applications for 100 watt LPFM licenses.  The actual number is closer to 2,800.  The final number of Construction Permits issued with likely be somewhat lower as defective and competing applications are dismissed.  This number seems low to some LPFM proponents.  When I approached a local interest group about launching a low power radio station, I was basically met with indifference.  With a very complex set of application guidelines and operating rules, plus very low power levels, it is not surprising at all.

The NAB and the FCC have been working diligently on revitalizing the AM broadcasting band.  Results of these efforts are yet undetermined as the proposal works it’s way through the regulatory process.  The so called “analog sunset” still lurks in the background somewhere, waiting to be trotted out at the most opportune moment.  I remain skeptical of the current proposal.

Cumulus Broadcasting purchases Dial Global and renames it West Wood One.  Some people lose their jobs.

Nielson buys Arbitron rating service and renames it Nielson Audio.  Some people lose their jobs.

Clear Channel tries to fly under the radar with “staff reductions.”  Some people lose their jobs.

Long time online radio forum “Radiodiscussions.com” ceased existence.  Starting out as Radio-info.com in the mid 1990’s, radio discussions was largest, longest running radio forum in the country.  It held tens of thousands of posts on almost every radio topic under the sun.  Unfortunately, it was bought and sold a few times over the last few years and the new owners could not figure out how to monetize it.  The end.

Bernie Wise passed away on December 13th.  This is truly unfortunate as Bernie was a character perfectly suited to the radio business.  He started working for RCA and is responsible for UHF television broadcasting in the US.

On the blog front, we continue to grow in page views and readers.  As of this date, Engineering Radio gets approximately 540 page views per day and has 227 RSS subscribers.  The split is 60/40 percent domestic/international readers.  The top five international traffic sources are; Canada, UK, India, Germany and Brazil.

2013 stat counter image

2013 stat counter image

There are some 634 articles with 2,640 legitimate comments and 429,600 spam comments.

Regarding site outages, there were 343 minutes of server down time.  Two DDOS attacks lasting six and three hours respectively and one incident of a corrupted .htaccess file rendered and error 500 message for six hours.  Total down time 1,243 minutes or 20:43 hours which gives a 99.87% availability for the website.  Not bad, but we can do better as the uptime goal is 99.99%.

On a personal note, my college studies are progressing well.  I have three more classes or 10 credit hours left until I am done.  My GPA is 3.90 which is not terrible considering I am working full time and going to school almost full time.  Truth be told, I cannot wait until it is finished.

The last AM station

AM; it has a future or not?  I cannot make up my mind sometimes.  As some AM stations can and do make a profit, many others do not.  Truth be told, the engineering effort that goes into an AM directional antenna is becoming a black science.  And some people may say, “oh, but that gives you job security,” but that is not usually how it works.  Instead of paying somebody more money (or any money) to maintain something, the business philosophy these days seems to be to chuck the baby out with the bath water.  Because after all, if not AM then FM right?  Yes, of course!  Except, the very thing that happened to AM is happening to FM too.  Increasing noise floors, jamming signals into every possible nook of the frequency spectrum, no thought toward technical facilities and infrastructure, and horrible, horrible programming will result has resulted in the decline of listening for FM too.  Mark my words and the date; FM broadcasting will suffer the same fate as AM if current trends continue.

Guy wires in trees

Guy wires in trees

How will it end?  I would hazard with more of a whimper than a bang.  I imagine something like this:

One day, in the not very distant future, at an AM station somewhere, the transmitter faults and goes off the air. Chip, the computer guy, goes in the back room, moves a bunch of cleaning supplies, cases toilet paper, a garbage can and the remote gear out of the way so he can reach the ON button on that box the old guy told him about. The big box makes some clunking noises and comes on for a second, but then the fault light called “VSWR” or something comes on and the transmitter shut off again.

Chip, the computer guy, remembering what the old guy said about that big tall thing behind the building, pushes the back door open.  What used to be a field is now completely overgrown with weeds, brush, and trees. He follows the pipe from the back of the building, through the prickers until he comes to an old fence, which is falling down. He pushes on the locked gate and it falls off the hinges. Inside the fence, there is a rusty tower and a white box. Finding the box unlocked, he opens it and sees a baffling array of metal coils, copper tubes, and black round things. He sees that one of the black round things is cracked in half and black goop is coming out of it. The computer guy takes a picture with his cellphone and emails it to the market manager/vice president of sales.

A few minutes later, the the market manager calls back and Chip tries to explain what is going on, stating the the transmitter went off and the black thing in the box by the tower looks broken.  The market manager/vice president of sales asks “Has anyone called and complained?”  Chip says no, not that he is aware of.  The market manager says, “Eh, fuck it leave it off.”

The end.

The Isolated Ground

We get requests to install Isolated Ground outlets from time to time, especially with sensitive equipment. The TELCO likes to have isolated grounds on their fiber MUX’s.  It can become an issue with branch circuits in split phase or three phase services that share the same ground and neutral conductor.  This can lead to a ground loop between neutral and ground, which will create all sorts of havoc in a broadcast facility.

20 amp, 120 volt Isolated Ground Outlet

20 amp, 120 volt, Isolated Ground Outlet

The National Electrical Code covers Isolated Grounds (IG) and sensitive equipment in several sections.  The first is section 250.146(D), which states that installation of isolated ground receptacles is permitted.   The grounding conductor connected to such receptacles is permitted to pass through one or more panel boards, boxes, conduit bodies, etc without being bonded to them.  However, said panel boards, metallic boxes, conduit bodies, raceway, etc must also be grounded separately.  That means running two ground conductors, usually the isolated ground conductor is green with a yellow stripe or spiral.

Studio electrical diagram isolated ground

Studio electrical diagram isolated ground

The second is section 640.9(A), which refers to separately derived power systems.  This section deals specifically with balanced power; 60 volts AC to ground.  In such cases, a separate ground conductor is allowed as outlined in section 250.146(D) and in 647.6(B), which states that the grounding buss should be connected to the grounded conductor on the line side of the separately derived systems disconnecting means.

Other sections of the NEC that may apply to broadcast radio and television facilities:

  • Article 455, Phase converters (rotary phase converters)
  • Article 480, Storage batteries (UPS)
  • Article 520, Theaters, Audience Areas of Motion picture and Television studios, Performance areas and similar locations
  • Article 640, Audio signal processing, Amplification and Reproduction Equipment (Audio wiring)
  • Article 645, Information Technology Equipment (computer equipment and network wiring)
  • Article 647, Sensitive Electronics Equipment (balanced power 60 volts to ground)
  • Article 702, Optional Standby systems (generators)
  • Article 770, Fiber optic cables
  • Article 810, Radio and Television Equipment (antennas, towers and grounding)
  • Article 820, Cable TV (CATV)
  • Article 830, Network-powered broadband communications systems (power over ethernet)

If interested, I can do articles on these sections as well.

Windows XP

WDST technical operation center

technical operation center

It is time to plan and upgrade those machines running Windows XP. After April 8, 2014, Microsoft will no longer be updating the software and/or patching security holes. Many in the IT industry believe that after that date, hackers will attempt to break the popular operating system which has been in use for twelve years.

Approximately one third of all Windows operating systems in use today are XP.  Microsoft has already warned users that potential hackers could use security patches and updates for Windows 7/8 systems to scout for vulnerabilities in XP.  I know several radio clients have automation systems and office networks that run primarily Windows XP.  Microsoft may be overstating the risks of remaining on XP, then again, they may not be. This situation has been described in several trade magazines as “A ticking time bomb,” or equally dire:  “Microsoft urges customers up upgrade or face ruin.”

In radio station infrastructure, very few systems are as vital as the audio storage and automation system.  Without a functioning automation system, most stations would be dead in the water.  If an automation system were to hacked and ruined completely, I do not think there are enough people left on most station’s payrolls to run an operation manually, even for a short period of time.   I, for one, do not want my phone to start ringing on April 9th with a bunch of panicky managers talking about how unacceptable the situation is.

Failed High Voltage Contactor

This contactor was used to replaced the Furnas contactor installed as original equipment when the transmitter was manufactured in 1986.  Furnas is no longer in business, thus the ABB A145-30 was substituted. It purchased from directly from Broadcast Electronics for an FM35A transmitter:

ABB A145-30 contactor

ABB A145-30 contactor

It was installed about 18 months ago and has been in nearly continuous use since.  The broken white plastic housing surrounds the contactor coil and is responsible for pushing and holding down the contact fingers.

ABB A145-30 contactor coil cover

ABB A145-30 contactor coil cover

Looks like the coil is running too hot and damaging the plastic. This resulted in a failure of the contactor to make and no high voltage to the transmitter PA.  Obviously a problem.  I spoke to BE about this and they did not have a good answer.  Actually, what they said was “That contactor is rated for 220 amps,” which is true enough. The only thing that I can think of is the coil is rated for 208 volts and the transmitter is connected to a 240 volt delta service.

A new contactor was ordered and installed yesterday.

I will investigate the coil voltages further, but for now, the 27 year old transmitter remains on the air.

Broadcast Electronics FM35A

Broadcast Electronics FM35A

New Broadcast Engineer

The new engineer

The new engineer (banana for scale)

Update and bump: The many great comments about the SBE certifications got me thinking about what a Broadcast Engineer actually does. I remember typing something about it quite some time ago, thus, I dredged up this old post originally from August 8, 2009 out of the archive.

Enjoy:

The other day, the NTR (Non-Traditional Revenue) person came to me and said “Great news!  We hired a new web guy, he knows all about engineering too!”

Really?

So I spoke to the new Web Master/Broadcast Engineer for a bit.  As it turns out, he knows how to do things like reboot the XDS satellite receiver, reboot an Audiovault server, he has been to a transmitter site a few times to take meter readings.  I suppose these days, that is what counts as being a broadcast engineer.  Someone with this level of experience could get by for a bit until something really bad happened.

Sadly, I think (my former employer) upper management and ownership believes that this guy could do my (old) job.  To them, I am an employee number, with a salary and benefits package worth X.  If they can replace me with someone that makes <X, that would represent savings.  Plug that guy into this spot, everything will go on as it did before.

I don’t think they understand exactly what a Broadcast Engineer does.  On any given day, I may:

  • Program an automation computer
  • Change the battery on a backup generator
  • Change the battery bank in an 18 KVA UPS
  • Clean a transmitter
  • Aim a satellite dish
  • Trouble shoot a DS-1 Circuit
  • Trouble shoot a T-1 MUX
  • Repair a microwave transmitter or receiver
  • Take a set of monitor points
  • Repair a tower light flasher circuit
  • Install a console (analog, digital, IP routing, TDM routing)
  • Repair a CD player
  • Trouble shoot a transmitter RF module
  • PM a generator
  • Work with a tower crew to place an antenna on a tower
  • Install an RF connector on 3 inch transmission line
  • Wire an air conditioning unit at a transmitter site
  • Repair lightning damaged ATU
  • Trouble shoot an AC unit
  • Aim an STL antenna
  • Repair an RPU transmitter
  • Design a computer network
  • Trouble shoot and repair a FM transmitter
  • Wire a new rack room
  • Coordinate a complex format change
  • Install a translator
  • Program and wire a new satellite receiver
  • Wire a transmitter remote control
  • Hike to a transmitter site to after a natural disaster
  • Trouble shoot an audio hum
  • Pass an FCC inspection
  • Install and program an EAS unit
  • Wire a new studio
  • Design a tower light monitor circuit
  • Fix a studio phone system
  • Install an audio router
  • Match an AM transmitter to a new tower
  • Wire an ethernet patch panel
  • Program a wireless access point
  • Install an IP router
  • Manage a new tower project
  • Install a new transmitter
  • Re-install an old transmitter
  • Make NRSC measurements on an AM transmitter
  • Repair a corrupt OS
  • Replace a hard drive
  • Reboot a server
  • Fix a reel to reel machine
  • Install a computer program
  • Clean a console
  • Pass an inspection by the fire marshal

To name a few.  In other words, there are a lot of complex systems at a multi station radio facility.  Some of this can be learned at various schools and colleges.  A lot of it is experience.  There is no substitute for an experienced veteran broadcaster who has seen almost everything and can think on his or her feet.

I have had this discussion with the market manager, and he gets it.  I know that he understands who knows more about the ins and outs of all of our studio and transmitter sites.  Things like, where is the water shutoff, the handle is broken off of the toilet on the second floor.  Of course, I know it is down stairs in the furnace room next to the fire sprinkler system.

I know where the skeletons are buried.  I have the inside numbers for the utility companies and the phone company.  I know the code enforcement officer for most of the municipalities where we own buildings and property.

Yet, the only thing they see is X.

SBE Certification

SBE-banner

I am toying around with the idea of reinstating my SBE certifications. At one time, I was certified as a Senior Radio Engineer.  That certification lapsed several years ago for a variety of reasons.  The first and foremost was my desire to find another career outside of radio.  At the time, I was working for a giant flaming asshole who prided himself in causing his subordinates health problems; things like strokes and heart attacks.  The sign over his desk read “The floggings will continue until morale improves.” I was also busy at home with a new, very young child and an old, broken down house.  There was not enough time to come up with enough professional points to re-certify or study for a test.  So, it went by the wayside.

Lately, however, I am beginning to see some advantage in having an SBE certification:

  • It comes in handy as a skills benchmark for potential clients and others
  • It lends some amount of credibility among fellow broadcast engineers
  • There is a support network for job searches

Thus, when I went to the SBE website and found the Jubilee Project, I was intrigued.  The SBE is offering to reinstate those former members with lapsed certifications until April of 2014 provided the applicant can supply enough recertification points.  I am also contemplating taking the Certified Broadcast Networking Engineer test for much the same reasons listed above.  I will let you know how it goes.

Incidentally, my ability to deal with giant flaming assholes as increased in the intervening years.  What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Installing new computers? Need Applications? Ninite.com

This came up in one of my earlier computer classes. When installing new systems, often we are required to download applications such as web browsers, media tools, runtimes, etc individually. Ninite.com allows an IT person to create an custom installer with all of the freeware applications desired.  Once created and downloaded, this installer can be used on multiple machines across a network.

ninite

If one were using Windows Server with active directory, this installer could be either published or installed with the computer node at first boot up.

Things Radio Engineers say

We are a strange group sometimes, I will admit. However, some of the things I hear my fellow engineers say are rather humorous, even to me. Apropos nothing at all:

Toyota Prius?  I would be caught dead in one of those things.  I want a car that belches black smoke and the tires squeal when I step on the gas.

When connecting a satellite feed which was silent but supposed to be carrying live programming:

That was not as loud as thought it would be.

When discussing working overseas in various locations:

When I was in the Philippines, they have this stuff called baloot or bolute or something.  It is a partially incubated chicken egg.  You break it open and the embryo is in there.  It was like eating a chicken abortion.

Things said to the general manager:

But it can be fixed, you just haven’t written a big enough check yet.

Yes, I am aware that we are off the air.  Unfortunately, every time I start to work on the transmitter, the general manager calls to ask if I am aware that we are off the air.

When discussing the qualities of various car rental agencies:

If it is a rental, no need to be gentle

An irate FCC inspector, upon getting lost while trying to find an AM monitor point. The license was rolled up into a tube and he was smacking the dashboard of the car with it:

Is this your license, or is this a joke?

After a DJ explains why she did not put the back transmitter on the air:

You are off the air, I don’t know how you could mess things up more than that

There are many more, I am sure after I post this, I will add to it.

Goodbye, Radiodiscussions.com

The popular discussion board, which was started in the mid 1990s has been terminated by it’s current owners, Streamline Digital. It seems that the site was not making any money and thus the plug was pulled.

radiodiscussions

There are other engineering type discussion boards such as The Virtual Engineer and… Hmm, Anybody?

Where a vacuum exists, nature abhors it.  The question is, will anyone step up and fill the void?

Axiom


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

...radio 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

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