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Six years

That is how long it has been since I started this blog. Six years and 727 posts later, I find myself wondering how much longer I can continue this.  I have not been posting too much lately because I seem to have run out of things to say.  Posting just for the sake of posting seems to dilute the good material with mediocre stuff that has to be deleted later.

The radio business has changed little in the last six years; fewer owners, AM is still plagued with technical issues and poor programming, the FM band is getting jam packed with translators and the occasional LPFM, HD Radio is, well HD Radio.

My situation changed as well with the change in jobs, a new degree, more family responsibilities, etc.

I was thinking about ways to make this more interesting and perhaps doing more with my under utilized youtube channel would be fun.  I was called an “old timer” a few months ago as a compliment and I am not sure how I feel about that.  After a bit of reflection, I realize there is some truth to it and there are fewer and fewer of us out there that can do what we do.  Perhaps some informational things on how to trouble shoot and find problems, what a day in the life of a radio engineer is actually like, radio station people, etc.   I know that good trouble shooting is an art form.

I would need a tripod and a better camera.

In the mean time, here are a few statistics from the last six years:

  1. I have typed a total of 812 posts, of which 727 are public and there are about 30 drafts on various subjects hanging out, waiting to be finished and posted. Out date material is usually deleted when I get around to it.
  2. The blog has a decent following, with an average of 700 page views a day, approximately 120 regular readers and 185 RSS subscribers.
  3. There are 3,494 comments and the spam filter has eliminate 1,102,631 useless, fake, ridiculous or otherwise stupid machine generated garbage.
  4. There is also an international readership, with approximately 40% of visitors coming from outside of the US. According to my flag counter, these are the countries that have not visited yet:
    • British Indian Ocean Territory
    • Central African Republic
    • Christmas Island
    • Comoros
    • Guinea-Bissau
    • Mayotte
    • Nauru
    • Niue
    • Norfolk Island
    • North Korea
    • Saint Barthelemy
    • Svalbard
    • Timor-Leste
    • Tokelau
    • Tuvalu

    Everyone else has made at least one appearance.  I am a little bit disappointed that no one from North Korea has graced our presence.

  5. Top six non-US countries are Canada, UK, India, China, Germany and France.
  6. There are approximately 1,380 images of various interesting things. Most of them are my own, some are borrowed from other sites or the public domain.

I hope that I can continue this thing in some way or format.  I have certainly enjoyed meeting many people, reading comments, replies, off line emails and such.  It has been an overall positive experience and I value everyone’s input.

Be careful where you put your hands!

So, I was working at one of our FM clients in Albany when I decided I had a few moments of spare time, I could neaten up the remote control rack.  I opened the rack door and was staring intently at the remote control interface panel, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw something move.

Now, the top of the rack is a little bit dark and I was not sure what I was looking at.  At first I though somebody had stuffed a rag in the top of the rack.  But, I could not figure out why anyone would do such a thing.  Then I thought it was some cardboard.  I almost reached up and grabbed it, but something was amiss.  Then I saw the tough flick out and smell the air:

Transmitter room denizen

Transmitter room denizen

At this point, I think I may have said something like “Oh, shit!” and took several steps back. Those colors and pattern have two possibilities; Copperhead or Grey ratsnake. Since I could not really get a good look at its head, I could not tell which it was. I went and got a work light to see better with.

Grey rat snake

Grey rat snake

A copperhead is a pit viper, which has a triangular shaped head and a small indentation or pit under each eye.  This snake has neither, so it is fairly harmless.   Actually, the ratsnakes are beneficial because they eat the mice and other pests around the transmitter building.  There are several versions of these in the northeast, including a black ratsnake which happens to look just like a piece of 7/8 coax laying across the pathway to the door, until it moves that is…

This species can get to be about 6 feet long (1.8 meters) and the larger ones can draw blood when they bite.  Even though he looked to be on the small side (approximately 30 inches or 76 cm), I decided that discretion is the better part of valor, closed the door on the rack and did something else for a while.

The Sportable 3306LED02 Baseball Scoreboard

This post has nothing to do with radio engineering, but is full of geeky goodness, nonetheless. My son is playing Little League again this year. This is his first year in the majors division, and I have to say, I have been thoroughly enjoying watching his games. There is, of course, one minor glitch in the matrix; the scoreboard, which occasionally looks like this:

Little League Scoreboard, missing LED segments

Little League Scoreboard, missing LED segments.

Now, that is more of an annoyance than anything else. I know what inning it is and what the score is. Truth be told, most of the time the scoreboard is being run by one of the parents (read: a mom) and they can become distracted at times. Very often, the ball/strike/out count is not correct, which in turn causes the home plate umpire to angrily stare up and the scorekeeper’s window.

Anyway…

As I was saying, more of an annoyance…

Regardless, I thought to myself; jeez, I fix things, perhaps I should have a go at that sign. So I spoke to one of the Little League board members who was more than grateful for any assistance I could render.

Thus, one afternoon, after work, I got the ladder out and started poking around to see what I could learn.  These signs are relatively simple.  Each digit on the sign has one circuit board.  Each circuit board has seven segments.  Each segment has fourteen LEDs in series.  There is a Toshiba ULN2803APG, which is a 16 pin darlington driver, a LM 317 voltage regulator which is fixed with a 62 ohm resistor.

Scoreboard single digit circuit board

Scoreboard single digit circuit board

Approximate schematic scoreboard circuit board segment

Approximate schematic scoreboard circuit board segment

After poking around with the DVM for a while, I determined that the bad segments were due to open LEDs.  I measured the working LED’s and determined that each LED was dropping about 1.7 volts.  I took a board home with me and rummaged around in the parts bin until I found some orange 5MM LEDs that matched the voltage drop of the ones on the board. I confirmed my ladder top troubleshooting findings on the work bench using the DVM in diode mode.  I also noticed that the Fluke DVM had enough current to light the LED, thus making troubleshooting much easier.  There were three bad circuit boards with various segments out.

Scoreboard LED voltage drop

Scoreboard LED voltage drop

Scoreboard individual LED testing good

Scoreboard individual LED testing good

A few minutes with the soldering iron and presto:

Scoreboard, repaired

Scoreboard, repaired

Sign repaired.  I little further research and I found that an Everlight MV8104 LED (Mouser part number 638-MV8104) is a near perfect replacement.  Literally, a 23.3 cent (US) part.

In all fairness to the company that  makes the scoreboard, this unit was new in 2003 or 2004.  It has spent at least 11 years outside in upstate NY, which is not a tender climate.  They will replace the digit circuit boards for 175.00 each, plus $25.00 shipping.  My repair work used 9 LEDs ($2.10) plus about two hours troubleshooting and repairing vs. $600.00 plus perhaps an hour to replace the boards.

Out with the old, in with the new

Pictures of a backup power systems replacement evolution at one of our clients.  The old generator was a Katolight 45FGH4, circa 1990.  The new generator is a Cummins Power GGHE-1503557 60 KW 3 phase.  Unfortunately, when the Katolight generator was moved from the previous studio location in 1998, it was never installed correctly.  The 500 gallon propane tank was undersized, the gas tubing was undersized, etc.  We fixed those items, but the damage was done.  After running too lean under load a few times, the head gasket blew and there is oil in the antifreeze and antifreeze in the oil.  It is a Ford straight six engine, and sure, we could rebuild it, but why bother.  This is a major group of stations in a very lucrative market, it makes much more sense to replace the entire unit.

Katolight Genset hooked up to the crane, ready to move

Katolight Genset hooked up to the crane, ready to move

Generator lift

Generator lift

In addition to the head gasket problem, the load on the generator has increased. Since the old generator was installed in 1998, two more stations have been added to this facility. That means another air studio, another production studio, more computers, servers, air conditioning etc. Thus, the new generator is rated for 60 KW.

Cummins Power Generator delivery

Cummins Power Generator delivery

Cummins generator lift

Cummins generator lift

After the GENSET is placed, connections for remote start, battery charger, block heater and AC power output are made. We were able to reuse the existing conduit and cable, thankfully the electricians used 3/0 AWG cable for the AC power connections to the transfer switch.

Cummins Power generator in place

Cummins Power generator in place

It appears that they have dropped the Onan name, but not the color, completely.

Something fun

So, I spent wasted several hours on this SDR website over the holiday weekend:

University of Twente SDR website

University of Twente SDR website

This is a web based SDR hosted by the University of Twente in Enschede, Netherlands. I enjoyed listening to the European medium wave and shortwave stations available.  Something that is always fun to checkout: UVB-76 on 4625 KHz.

Have fun!

PS: A special thanks to all those who have donated to the cause via the donate button on the upper right side bar.  I had enough money to buy a FUNcube dongle SDR.  I think I have all the other necessary hardware to launch one of these sites myself.  If or when that happens, I will post a link here.

Accidents, mistakes, mishaps and other tales

Lets get started:

Results of a deer vs automobile accident

Results of a deer vs automobile accident

It does not look like much, however, that is about $5,500.00 worth of damage. What you don’t see is the mashed oil cooler and radiator. This happened on my way from one place to another during the early morning hours. I was traveling at about 55 MPH when a deer bolted from the woods and entered the roadway from the right. I did not have time to break.

In a ditch

In a ditch

A momentary lapse of attention causes loss of $80.00. I think I was adjusting the defroster as I was driving down the road when suddenly, I felt the car tilt over to an alarming degree. You can see the tow truck getting ready to pull it out. Fortunately, there was no damage to the vehicle.

Troubles with the neighbor

Troubles with the neighbor

This is on the access road to one of our transmitter sites. The station has a legal right of way through this property, however, the neighbor seems to object. I spoke with him and showed him a copy of our deed, he has since changed plans.

One side of a balanced audio connection disconnected

One side of a balanced audio connection disconnected

This is the downside of using category cable to make audio connections. The wires are not as rugged as say Belden 8451. This was causing problems because it is at an AM studio/transmitter site.

Burned 30 amp three phase contactor

Burned 30 amp three phase contactor

Three phase, 30 amp, 240 volt contactor installed in a 480 volt system. Lasted a few years, anyway.

White face hornets nest

White face hornets nest

New tenants on one of our towers. This is a white faced (or bald faced) hornets nest. They are really paper wasps, but that difference aside, these beasts are nasty, aggressive and have a painful sting. Normally, I am a live and let live kind of person, but in this case, they gotta go.

Dummy load attached to plywood

Dummy load attached to plywood

This is at one of our AM clients site. Somebody, quite some time ago it seems, made this test load for a 1 KW AM transmitter. It is very nice, carbon ceramic resistors, 50 ohms and surprisingly little reactance. Then they attached it to this piece of plywood. As one can surmise, the load gets quite hot under full power, full modulation conditions. We remounted this in a cage type enclosure and bolted it to the cinder block wall.

Scala PR-950U cross polarized

Scala PR-950U cross polarized

The client at this station is complaining of intermittent STL drop outs and low signal strength at the receive end. Found this Scala PR-950U antenna mounted for vertical polarization, but the antenna element is horizontally mounted. We’ll call it “vorizontal.”

Ribbon cable from a Cummins 135 KW generator

Ribbon cable from a Cummins 135 KW generator

This was discovered during routine maintenance and thankfully not during a power outage. Mice got into the control box of a newish Cummins 135 KW generator and chewed through what looks like a data buss cable. The generator would not run and the cable and control board needed to be replaced.

Bulging capacitors

Bulging capacitors

There is more bulging capacitors removed from flat panels monitors.

And so on…

Drone footage of tower demolition

Watching a tower drop from a different perspective:

Looks like a World Tower Utility 80.

The IP enabled transmitter site

This is a project that we have been working on, weather permitting, for the last month. Basically, it called for installing this Nautel VS2.5 transmitter, mod monitor, remote control and audio processor:

WEXT Nautel VS2.5, Amsterdam, NY

WEXT Nautel VS2.5, Amsterdam, NY

The common thread here; each piece of new equipment has a web interface.  More and more, HTTP is being used to monitor and control transmitters, audio processors, STL’s, consoles, satellite receivers, etc.  Port 80 services (HTTP) are nice, but I think I would prefer port 443 (HTTPS).  Secure HTTP has a whole set of additional requirements, so it is understandable why manufactures do not use it.  However, it is only a matter of time until some problem arises…

Nautel VS2.5 Web AUI

Nautel VS2.5 Web AUI

Burk ARC Plus web interface

Burk ARC Plus web interface

Telos Omnia One web interface

Telos Omnia One web interface

I like the Nautel AUI, especially for any station running HD Radio.  In this setup, there are multiple control and monitoring points available via the LAN at the studio.  The Omnia One is set up to take the AES input from the Harris IP Link as the main feed and fail over to the analog output from the Inno Tuner as a backup.  The Inno is set to WMHT-FM which broadcasts the WEXT format on the HD-2 channel.

This setup is pretty slick, especially in light of the equipment it is replacing:

Harris FM2.5H3, WEXT Amsterdam, New York

Harris FM2.5H3, WEXT Amsterdam, New York

Anyone feeling Nostalgic for a Harris FM2.5H3?

No?

I didn’t think so.

Brother, could you help a pirate out?

It is not news that the FCC has its hands full with the FM pirates in the NYC area, particularly Brooklyn. On any given night, as many as thirty unlicensed signals can be heard, jammed between the commercial and non-commercial broadcasters in the FM band.

I am quite sure that other parts of the country have similar pirate problems.  I do not see the FCC getting much more funding for enforcement purposes.

John Anderson asks; perhaps a pragmatic approach?

For most engineers, this will be a non-starter.  Engineers (and other technical people) tend to see things in binary; on/off, right/wrong, black/white, legal/illegal, working/broken, etc.  It is the nature of logic and dealing everyday operating status’ of technical equipment.  A transmitter that is halfway working is broken.  There is very little grey area in the interpretation of these things, nor is there very much human element.  One cannot reason with a broken piece of equipment; it is to be either repaired or replaced.

Helping a person engaged in what is ostensibly an illegal activity, no matter how pragmatic such help might be, or how just or helpful the illegal activity may be to the community, would not be something that most radio engineers that I know would want to take part in.

Truth be told, some good might come from helping pirate broadcasters clean up their act.  Over modulation, spurious emissions, poor quality transmitters all create bigger problems for everyone else.  The moral dilemma is what type of help to offer and can this or any technical advice then be used to make bigger and better pirates.

I don’t know, but it may be time to start thinking about things like this…

Well, crap

Radio Shack Store, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Radio Shack Store, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Radio Shack (AKA, RadioShack, The Shack, Tandy Corporation, Realistic, Optimus, etc) appears to be filing for Bankruptcy if the Wall Street Journal and Reuters is to be believed.  I see the words “private equity firm” in the article, that does not bode well.

Radio Shack of late has become a glorified cell phone store.  It used to be one could get some emergency repair parts, an FM antenna or a CB radio as the need arose.  As a young lad, it was fun to poke around and look at the various radio kits and other assorted fun things.  My first shortwave radio was a kit from Radio Shack; assembly finished just in time to hear the Vatican Radio’s announcement that Pope Paul IV had died.

What happened to Radio Shack is fairly typical; what was once a niche market for hobbyists and experimenters tried to go main stream and lost their core customers.  There are still plenty of electronics hobbyists out there, look at the Amateur Radio community as an example.  Yet, that market was abandoned for the more lucrative general consumer electronics market.  Unfortunately, Radio Shack never produced high quality stuff, so their reputation in the consumer electronics market was not that great.  Thus, not being known for anything, they slowly slipped into irrelevance.

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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

Free counters!