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Isn’t this where…

If you are reading this, one of two things has happened; either I pulled the plug on the blog, or that great guy up in the sky has pulled the plug on me.  It occurred to me, whilst driving all those many miles year in and year out doing contract engineering, that insurance actuary tables exist for a reason.  Sooner or later, something catastrophic was bound to happen.  Thus I created this post which will automatically publish itself every Monday morning unless I intervene.

It was eight plus years ago that, on a whim, I started this blog.  When I started I knew that all paths cross themselves eventually. We all end were we begin, and so it is with this. Over the last eight years, I tried and sometimes succeeded in describing what it is like to be a broadcast engineer.  Occasionally, I have strayed off topic.  I have written about and struggled with the engineering aspects of the radio business.  Sometimes, I would like to think, my readers were at least entertained, perhaps informed, enlightened, or felt empathy.

The truth is this; at some point I ran out of ways to express myself without turning this into a rant-feast.  Radio is the ultimate legacy consumer technology.  Independent radio stations have the ability to, even today, be a wonderful entertainment medium.  Radio can still serve the community in times of disaster or distress.  However, the absolute soul crushing mediocrity of automated programming is killing the entire industry.  Of course, the cause of this is the equally crushing debt load being carried by the majority of radio station owners.   That reality, intersecting with declining advertising revenue and segmentation of market share, spell the end of the commercial radio business model.  I look upon the sale of tower assets as another sign that the death spiral is deepening.  This is not going to change; debt loads will remain and the business will mediocre itself to death.  People in the business will be forced to accept ever increasing work loads coupled with decreasing salaries.  All of this being supervised by the Sauron like, all seeing corporate eye, thousands of miles away.

In the end, the only thing that could kill radio is radio itself.

I will also take the opportunity to thank everyone that participated, commented, sent me off line e-mails and what not over the years.  Without your input, I would have ended this long ago.

So, this is it.  The blog will stay up and running for as long as the domain and/or hosting remains active.

The GatesAir FLX-40 transmitter

The GatesAir FLX-40 transmitter is my first liquid cooled transmitter installation.  Previously, I have installed an air cooled Nautel NV-40, a V-40 and a couple of BE FM-35T/20T units.  The WEBE transmitter site in Bridgeport, Connecticut is an interesting facility.

Smoke Stack, Bridgeport Energy, Bridgeport, CT

Smoke Stack, Bridgeport Energy, Bridgeport, CT

This coal fired power plant smoke stack which currently holds up the six bay, half wave spaced Shively antenna.  The old BE FM35A transmitters are getting little bit long in the tooth.  Thus, we picked one to scrap, the other will be kept for backup service.

Scraping 34 year old BE FM30A transmitter

We saved a whole bunch of parts to keep the other FM35A on the air in backup service.

BE FM30A power supply cabinet

The power supply cabinet with that 500 pound plate transformer was the last to go.

On second thought, that plate supply transformer is a good spare to have

On second thought, that plate supply transformer is a good spare to have

The FLX-40 came on a large truck.  Fortunately, we were able to open the side gate at the power plant and get the truck to the front door of the transmitter building easily.  The transmitter consists of two large cabinets, each with two 10 kilowatt power blocks.  There is also a pump station and an outdoor heat exchanger.

FLX-40 cabinet two off the truck

FLX-40 cabinet two off the truck

FLX-40 cabinet one

FLX-40 cabinet one

FLX-40 in place, cabinets bolted together

FLX-40 in place, cabinets bolted together

This transmitter design is based on the Harris digital TV transmitters.

FLX-40 pump station

FLX-40 pump station

The pump station and heat exchanger are the same systems used for TV transmitters.  Liquid cooled units require a bit more planning on the installation end.  The coolant piping should have a high spot from which everything else slopes down hill.

Send and return coolant lines

Send and return coolant lines

I put a 1/4 to 12 inch pitch on everything.  Of course, there are several low points, the heat exchanger, pump station and bottom power blocks.

Holding steady at 18 PSI for 24 hours

Holding steady at 16 PSI for 24 hours

After assembling the cooling system, we pressure tested it for 24 hours.

Installation debris in the coolant line strainer

Installation debris in the coolant line strainer

Following that, we flushed the system with distilled water for several hours before we filled it with 40/60 glycol/water mix. Record low temperature in Bridgeport is -7 F (-22 C), thus a 40/60 mix will give protection down to -15 F (-26 C). The more water in the coolant, the better heat transfer capacity it has.

At the highest point in the system, there is a sight glass and an air purge valve

At the highest point in the system, there is a sight glass and an air purge valve

The pump station is controlled by the transmitter, which speeds up the pumps according to how much heat needs to be moved. In turn, the pump station control the fan speed on the heat exchanger outside.

FLX-40 pump station on line

FLX-40 pump station on line

The pump station runs with one motor most of the time. The other pump motor will run in the event of failure or if there is not enough flow through the power blocks. Each of the four power blocks has a flow rate meter on the return line.

Heat Exchanger Fan motor controllers, Variable Frequency Drive modules

Heat Exchanger Fan motor controllers, Variable Frequency Drive modules

Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) fan motor controllers show them running at half speed.

50 KW heat exhanger

50 KW heat exhanger

GatesAir 50 KW heat exchanger mounted on concrete pad behind the building. Air flows out from the motor side.

One of several shipping containers with modules and other parts for the FLX-40

One of several shipping containers with modules and other parts for the FLX-40

As with most things, some assembly required.  The RF modules needed to be placed in the power blocks according to their serial numbers on the test data sheet.  This insures that the information on the test data sheet matches the installed transmitter configuration.  The power combiner between the two cabinets as well as the reject load and directional coupler all need to be installed.

RF modules with large aluminium heat spreaders.   Coolant flows through each module.

FLX-40 power amp module

FLX-40 power amp module

WEBE, Bridgeport, CT GatesAir FLX-40 on the air for the first time

WEBE, Bridgeport, CT GatesAir FLX-40 on the air for the first time

On the air!

FLX-40 into the antenna

FLX-40 into the antenna

We ran the transmitter for several hours into the antenna yesterday afternoon. The coolant system is still purging air, so we periodically needed to add water/antifreeze to the pump station to keep the pressure between 12-18 PSI. Eventually, the TPO will be 34 KW with the HD carrier(s).

All in all, I would say that this was a fun project. The liquid cooled transmitter had a few extra steps during the installation process, but not too difficult.

Studio Buildout, Part III

I have been so busy that I forgot to post the pictures of the completed studio build out.  Overall, I would say that I am pretty pleased with the end result.  Of course, this is not Manhattan but rather an unrated market in central New York, and the budget reflected that.  Overall, the radio stations are in much better technical condition than before.  They are now located in the center of their community within walking distance of the town hall, other civic locations and activities.

There are five radio stations broadcasting from this new studio space.  Two stations are simulcast using the Westwood One Classic hits format from the satellite.  The only AM station is a Fox Sports Radio affiliate from the satellite with a local morning show.  Another one is a “we play anything” computer juke box and final station has a country format with quite a bit of local content.  Any station can go on the air from either studio.  In addition, all stations can simulcast the mother ship from Oneonta, which comes down via a Barix Exstreamer 1000.

Walton TOC

The Technical Operation Center consists of four racks containing the Ethernet routers, switches, a patch panel, automation systems, audio routing switchers, air monitor receivers, audio distribution amps, Barix units, Wheatstone Blade IP 88A STL, etc.  The equipment racks came from a disused site in New Jersey.

The satellite dish and receivers are located at the transmitter site, audio and closures come back via the Wheatstone Blade IP 88A.

Everything in this room is backed up by a STACO 2.5 KVA UPS.

TOC wire terminations

The wire termination from the studio are mounted to Krone LSA-PLUS blocks.  Studio trunk wiring consists of connectorized 25 pair CAT 5 cable.  There are also six runs of shielded CAT 5e cable for Ethernet and extended KVM from the TOC.

There is a manual transfer switch with a NEMA L14-30 input receptacle on the bottom.  A twenty for 10/4 SOJ cable will reach the ground from the window in the left hand side of the picture.  This is the standard NEMA plug/receptacle set for a moderate sized portable generator.  That feeds a 100 Amp sub panel which in turn feeds the racks and studio equipment.  Thus the entire facility can be run on a 5000 watt (good quality) portable generator in the event of a prolonged power outage.

The ground buss bar is connected to the main building ground at the service entrance.  All racks and studio consoles are grounded to this main ground point.

The air monitor receivers feed both studios.  There is also a provision to connect audio silence sensors up to each air monitor DA to notify the station staff in the event of an off air situation.  Believe it or not, this type of system has never been installed for these stations.

Studio A is the main studio.  The AudioArts Air4 console is a good fit for this type of operation.  These consoles have USB outputs, so the console can act as a sound card for the digital editing computer.  Each studio is equipped with an air monitor switch that can select any station to feed the external monitor input on the Air 4 console.  This allows the guy on duty to keep an eye on all the signals coming from the facility.

Studio A

The counter tops were custom made at a local kitchen place on trade. The microphone are Heil PR-22 with shock mounts, which are better than the Realistic mics in the old studio.  This is the first time that the main studio has had more than one microphone. The morning show guy has already pressed those guest mics into service with a few on air interviews.

The monitor speakers are JBL LSR305 mounted on home made speaker stands consisting of 18 inch black iron pipe and floor flanges.

Studio A

The small equipment rack is on casters and can roll out from under the studio furniture to get at the back of the equipment.  A used Gentner DH3 TELCO hybrid is used to get phone callers on the air.  Adobe Audition is used for editing and production on the left hand computer monitor.  That CPU is in the bottom of the roll around rack.

Studio A

The office chair and other furniture was also acquired on trade.

Studio A

What the operator sees. STORQ computer on the left for music, Scotts SS32 on the right for automation. Both are extended from the TOC. Unless the morning show guy is live on the air, the console is bypassed and the audio stays in the TOC.

It all works pretty well.

Studio B

Studio B is the same as Studio A except fewer microphones.

Studio B

Studio B operator view.  This studio can be used for one of the other stations or production.

Again, this is not a Fancy Nancy installation, but it does get the job done.

Fake News

The newest (or not so new) buzz word; Fake News. It is really hard to tell these days where the truth begins and the lies end. It seems that every major player see fit to adjust the facts to fit their narrative.  Most major news sources have been caught reporting less than factual stories about almost everything.  Edward Bernays would blush.  According to the latest Wikileaks dumps (Vault 7, sonic screwdriver, secret strap, SWIFT network hacks, HIVE and God only knows what else), certain parts of the government seem incapable of telling the truth or following the constitutionally guaranteed protections against intrusion upon its own law abiding citizens.

It is difficult to understand what the current president is talking about sometimes, but it seems business as usual; more missile strikes, bombings, and continuation of the Bush-Cheney/Obama initiatives from our post 9/11 era.

But fear not, to the rescue is Facebook and Google.  Those paragons of truth and justice will tell you, the mere simpleton, what is real and what is fake.

We are in such good hands!

Oh dear God.

Hoth

Alternate title: Winter in the Northeast

For all you southerners and west coast people, we have been having an average winter here in the Northeast. While many of our transmitter sites are drive ups, we have several located at ski area mountain peaks.  Technically, those mountain top transmitter sites are a fantastic way to get the Height Above Average Terrain (HAAT) way up there.  Logistically, they are much more difficult to deal with.  Installing a new transmitter or even refueling a generator takes major effort.  Working in the cold and wind is much more fatiguing and requires paying special attention protective clothing, hydration, exposure, etc.

Here are a few pictures from Killington and Pico mountain ski areas in Vermont

Your ride is here.

Your ride is here.

The snow grooming machine is the only way to bring anything up to the top of the mountain during the winter time. In this case, I needed to replace a BW Broadcast TX 1500 watt transmitter.

Trail from ski lift to tower

Trail from ski lift to tower

Even with the snow grooming machine, the last few hundred yards needs to be walked. Fortunately, the snow is packed and not too deep here.

Tower on Pico Mountain

Tower on Pico Mountain

Tower is encrusted with ice. I can tell the tower climber is having a great day:

Tower climber working on ice encrusted towe

Tower climber working on ice encrusted tower

Riding the chair lift back down the mountain gets plenty of strange looks from those skiers coming up:

Pico chair lift

Pico chair lift

Over on Killington Peak, conditions are actually worse.

Killington Peak tower

Killington Peak tower

The ERI antenna heaters cannot keep up with the ice buildup.

ERI two bay antenna with ice.

ERI two bay antenna with ice.

The general manager insists that this winter is not too bad and everything should be working right. My statement to her: Based on my 27 years experience, your shit is fucked up. But if you know how to fix this, come on up and show me.  She deferred.

FM transmitter building and antenna

FM transmitter building and antenna

What the fire tower looked like last winter.

Killington peak fire tower

Killington peak fire tower

Train from the Gondola to the tower

Train from the Gondola to the tower

Ef the listeners, full speed ahead!

Norway is intent on carrying out its digital radio transition, listeners or not.  I wrote about this two years earlier: Norway says “Goodbye, FM” It seems that their minds are made up, because

Norway’s parliament voted in favour of switching off FM radio after hearing it would lead to a greater choice of radio stations, as well as clearer sound.

Source: Norway warned plan to switch off FM will cut off millions

Now where have I heard that before?  I know that this is in the heart of Socialist Europe, but could this be what is in store here?  I wonder how much longer the US radio stations will survive with shrinking revenue and lack of entertaining programming.

One bright spot; I have been thoroughly enjoying the unintentional humor of NPR’s (National Public, not Radio) “AHHHHH, TRUMP!” coverage.  The Albany, NY outlet has really outdone themselves in this regard.

On a personal note; I have been feeling the urge to write more, so stay tuned!

And… Hockey!

That season is here again; long practices, long drives to out of the way places, hotel rooms, cold arenas, and smelly locker rooms.  Why do we do all this?  Hopefully there is a life lesson in there somewhere.  There will always be somebody faster, bigger, better with the puck, meaner, dirtier, etc.  It is the competition that matters, teamwork may or may not overcome those obstacles.  In the end, the reward will be equal to the effort put into it.

In honor of the disappearing role of enforcer:

Enjoy every sandwich.

Прощаться!

This information is from an occasional reader who wished to remain anonymous.

Another AM station surrenders its license, this time from north of the border. CKSL, London, Ontario, Canada is gone for good.  Current owner, Bell Media, has determined that it would cost more to repair the deficiencies with the antenna system than economically feasible, especially considering it’s low ratings.  Here is their filing with the CRTC:

Bell Media is the licensee of CKSL-AM 1410, assuming stewardship of the station in 2013 as part of the Astral Media acquisition.

A technical review of the transmitter site was recently completed both by Bell Media and contractors, which has resulted in the determination that the AM array poses an unacceptable risk from a health and safety perspective.  The five towers are experiencing serious structural degradation and also require repairs to the aviation safety lighting system. In addition, the building which houses the transmitter has shifted off its foundation (as have several of the individual tower sheds).

Given these problems, Bell Media would need to make a significant financial investment to bring CKSL-AM’s transmitter up to compliance with Human Resources Development Canada, Industry Canada and NavCanada operational codes and standards, all of which is estimated to exceed $3 million dollars.

From a market perspective, CKSL-AM has consistently ranked last out of all ten commercial stations in the London market, both in audience share and revenue generation, over the last several years.  In fact, since 2013 the London market has seen radio revenues drop 4% and CKSL-AM generates the least amount of revenue of the stations in the market. Even with a significant investment in programming, this trend is unlikely to be reversed. 

In light of the significant capital costs coupled with the absence of revenue and audience share, Bell Media is respectfully requesting the revocation of the CKSL licence.

Well, 24/7 comedy will do that to you.  Somebody in the business said to me recently “The listeners are abandoning radio!”  No, it is the broadcast station owners who are abandoning their listeners and their cities of license.  I have a news flash for all current broadcast station owners; as surprising and radical as this might sound, bland, boring, canned, completely irrelevant, dismal, uninformative, unimaginative, unentertaining, dreary, stale, unenjoyable programming will drive away even the most loyal listeners.  People really want to listen to radio, it is an easy habit and readily accessible.  Radios are ubiquitous; they are in our kitchens, bedrooms, cars, hotel rooms, offices, restaurants, barber shops, etc.  That, however, may not always be the case, as more and more people move Spotify, Pandora, or Apple radio when they are tired of the disappointment.  I was listening to a certain sports radio format the other day and I kept waiting for something interesting to happen.  I waited and waited. I would say to myself; okay, this will be the segment when I will learn something or be entertained.  This upcoming guest will say something interesting.  Sadly, those expectations were never met and I will never tune into that station again. Elevator music would have been better.  Worse than sports radio, 24/7 comedy is the absolute death knell.  This is like saying; we are out of ideas and we do not care.

Here are a few pictures of the former CKSL-AM transmitter site:

CKSL antenna array

CKSL antenna array

CKSL_transmitter

CKSL transmitter building

CKSL_transmission

CKSL transmission line bridge

CKSL_tower

CKSL tower base

Actually does not look too bad, at least the field is mowed. I have seen much, much worse.  Those bolt together towers, though. I would bet that they are the real problem, bolts are deteriorating faster than the tower steel. Very likely all the towers need to be replaced and that is why the license is being surrendered.

If you are a radio geek, get out there and take some pictures of your favorite radio station.  If the current trends continue, eventually they will all be gone.

Remember kids:

μ = 1/1,000,000, 10-6 or 0.000001

Microaggression: If the worst thing that happened to you is you suffered through one millionth of an aggression, you are having a pretty good day.

Came as a stock item

So, I wore out another car and it was time to get a new one. Unexpectedly, the new car came with one of these fancy gizmos:

HD Radio as a stock item

HD Radio as a stock item

This is not the first HD radio I have owned, the Jeep Cherokee had one that I install myself. This is the first time it came with the car and I didn’t even mention it to the sales guy.

A few observations:

  • Many stations’ HD1 channels don’t sound very good, they are either shrill and tinny, or not synced with their analog counterpart.
  • There still aren’t very many station transmitting HD Radio; FM stations are either NPR affiliates or belong to a few larger corporate owners.  The AM stations are few and far between.
  • AM HD Radio still has numerous problems in the mobile listening environment.
  • Many of the HD 2/3 don’t sound very good; low audio levels, muffled modulation, low bit rate audio, etc.  The only exception that I have found so far is Vermont Public Radio’s classical format, transmitted on the HD2 of WVPS, Burlington.
  • HD2/3 channels mainly serve as “translator loophole” stations, AKA “Metro Stations”

As far as the new ownership by DTS goes; I will reserve judgement until they do something with it.

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!