October 2014
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Trends in Terrestrial Broadcasting, II

Things seem to be relatively quite these days, no earth shattering developments, no big news stories, etc.  My work load consists of mostly driving to one location and cleaning things up, then driving to another location and cleaning more things up.  Nothing really new to write about.  However, industry wide, there have been some developments of note:

  1. More AM HD radio only testing out in Seattle.  We hear that these tests are phenomenal but have yet to see any data.  The HD Radio proponents keep pushing for an all digital transition.  To that I say good, let those stations (AM and FM) that want to transition to all digital do so, provided they conform to the analog channel bandwidths and do not cause interference to analog stations.  It should also be an either/or decision: Either transmit in all digital format or revert to analog only format, no more interference causing hybrid analog digital.
  2. BMW depreciates AM radio in some models.  It seems the all electric car generates too much electric noise to facilitate AM reception.  My question; are these mobile noise generators going to cause reception problems for other vehicles too?  What if I want to hear the traffic on 880 or 1010 and one of these things roles by?  There are larger implications here and the FCC should be concerned with this.
  3. General Motors pauses the HD Radio uptake in some models.  No real reasons given, but more emphasis on LTE in the dashboard is noted.  We are reassured by iBquity that this trend is only temporary.
  4. Anxiously awaiting this year’s engineering salary survey.  For science, of course.  Here is last year’s survey.
  5. Clear Channel is no more!  They have gone out of business and a new company, iHeart Media, has taken over.  Things will be much better now, I can feel it.
  6. John Anderson finds a chilly reception at the last NAB confab: An Unwelcome Guest at the NAB radio show. This is not surprising but kind of sad. John has been a reasonable critic of IBOC and wrote a book titled: Radio’s Digital Dilemma.
  7. Not too much going on with the AM revitalization.  Tom King of Kintronics notes that the fault is in our receivers.
  8. Government shortwave broadcasters continue to sign off permanently.  Radio Exterior de Espana ceases operations.
  9. European long wave and medium wave stations are also throwing the big switch; Atlantic 252 (long wave), as well as German long wave stations on 153, 177,  and 207 KHz, medium wave stations 549, 756, 1269, and 1422 KHz also are signing off.  Those 9 KHz channel spacings look strange don’t they.  What fate awaits US AM radio stations?
  10. I am reading Glenn Greenwald’s book, No Place to Hide.  I knew this, you should know it too.

 

A Whole Lotta Silence

That is what we hear coming from NOAA All Hazards radio station WXL-37 these days.  It has been off the air for the last thirty days or so.  I suppose a 91% (or less) up time is acceptable in these circumstances.  This is the NOAA radio station that is supposed to cover the mid-Hudson Valley area just north of NYC.  It’s a good thing there are no potential hazardous conditions out there this time of year.  Nope;  no need to worry about tornadoes, hurricanes or even severe thunderstorms.  Not to mention any of the other potential hazards in the Hudson Valley.  It is not like a tornado ripped through an elementary school and killed a bunch of kids.  Nobody from the area was ever stuck by lightningWe do not get hurricanes, ever, ever, ever.  No earthquakes, forest fires, there are no nuclear power plants nearby.  No child abductions, never ever any terror attacks, hijackings, civil unrest, wide spread power outages, etc.  It is not like any public schools, private schools, fire departments, county EOC’s, broadcast LP-1 and LP-2 stations, or cable head ends are monitoring this station anyway.  Nope.  Not at all.

The question that should be asked is why do we even need NOAA All Hazards radio station WXL-37?  That is a good question in light of the fact that the station has been off the air since July 26th.  After all; we, the tax payers, are paying for this.  So… what are we paying for?

To answer this question, one needs to understand how government employment works.  We are paying for some bureaucratic, paper pushing pencil neck geek to check another day off the calendar on the road to his or her retirement.  Whether or not any work gets done on that day is strictly coincidental. Working for the government means that the ultimate supervisor is a nameless, faceless, grinding bureaucracy that does not tolerate procedural deviation and wields ultimate power by threatening the loss of pension.  Original thought is to be scrubbed out of the system.  Continued original thought will activate the explosive chair wheels which will then propel the former employee out of the door with the aforementioned loss of pension condition.

When the station first went off the air, we took the network analyzer up to the site and basically fabricated an antenna to work on 162.475 MHz.  We were able to get the station back on the air with 200 watts, however; we did the wrong thing.  Even though this is enough power to hit the cable head end, the LP-1 stations and at least two of the county EOC’s, turn it off.  This was not a part of the plan.  It makes no difference that the primary source for emergency weather information is off the air for four weeks in the middle of thunderstorm season, must stick to the plan, no exceptions.

Makes sense to me.

Transportation

Broadcast Engineering from a contracting stand point requires a lot of driving. I mean a lot of driving.  Since switching from full time Director of Engineering to a contracting field engineering position, I have already worn out two vehicles.  Having reliable transportation is a key component of this job. Of course, the other consideration is the price of gasoline which can range from expensive to horribly expensive depending on the warring or not warring that is currently taking place.

Thus, when it came time to replace my strange looking but roomy and reliable Scion xB, I did some research.  My complaint about the xB, other than the looks, was lack of ground clearance and lack of all wheel or four wheel drive.  After a bit of reading, it seemed the Subaru Crosstrek XV was a good choice.  Long story short, I got my car last week and got a pretty good deal, as the car dealer was looking to get rid of all their 2014 stock.

2014 Subaru Crosstrek XV

2014 Subaru Crosstrek XV

As I was leaving the dealership, the salesman had one final question.  The conversation went something like this:

Sales guy: “Mr. Thurst, can I ask what it was that sold you on this car?”

Myself: “Sure, it was the oil filter.”

SG: “What?”

Me: “The oil filter.”

SG: “No, I heard that, I just don’t understand.  It wasn’t the price or the fuel economy or the features?”

Me: “Nope.  To be honest, you did give me a good price, I like the all wheel drive, the ground clearance, the gas mileage and all that.  But when I popped the hood to look at the engine and saw the oil filter, I was sold.”

SG: “No one has ever said that before.  Welp, good luck and thanks for buying your car from us.” (now walking backwards into the dealership,  smile fixed on his face and nodding slowly)

Here is a picture of the Subaru FB20 boxer engine:

Oil filter location on a Subaru FB20 engine

Oil filter location on a Subaru FB20 engine

See the oil filter right next to the oil fill plug, up right and easy to get to.   Not only that, some design engineer put a catch basin around the filter mount, knowing that when the filter was unscrewed, all the oil would run out of it.  Without the catch basin, that oil would run down the engine block creating a mess that would get worse with each oil change.

Little things.  Little things mean a lot.

Fewer owners means more diversity!

Alternate title: Less is more (and other non-sense)!

The NAB has come out with their latest interesting opinion on radio station ownership in comments to the FCC regarding the 2014 Quadrennial Regulatory Review.  They state that “Retaining the local radio ownership rule unchanged would be arbitrary and capricious” because the audio market place has changed radically over the last ten years.  The introduction of online listening via Pandora seems to have created competition that can only be adequately dealt with by further consolidation, it seems.  Also, the Commission cannot demonstrate that the current rules promote localism or viewpoint diversity.  That last sentence is a fair statement.  What the NAB does not say is that there is no evidence that further consolidation will promote localism or viewpoint diversity either.

The comment then goes into a lot of information and statistics on smart phone usage; who has them, what they are using them for et cetera.  It is very interesting to note that there is no reason given for the sudden and alarming upswing in mobile online listening.  But, let us examine a few interesting data points first:

  • Mobile data is not free.  There are very few unlimited mobile data plans out there anymore, most everyone now has some sort of data cap.  Extra data can be purchased, but it is expensive
  • On line listening uses data at a fast rate.  According to Pandora, they stream at 64 kbps, or 0.480 megabytes per minute or 29 mega bytes per hour.   Spotify uses quite a bit more, 54 megabytes per hour.

Let us assume that the average commute to work these days is one hour.  That would mean two hours per day of driving and mobile listening.  That adds up to 1.16 GB of data per month just in on line listening.  Assuming that the smart phone functions as more than just a radio and will be used for email, maps, news, web browsing and other downloads, a fairly hefty data plan would be required of the smart phone user to accommodate all this data.  Why would somebody pay considerably extra per month just to listen to online radio?

Do you get where I am going with this?  Good, compelling programming is what people are searching for.  If they cannot find it on the radio, they will go elsewhere.  Nature abhors a vacuum.  Want to compete against Pandora, Spotify, XM or whoever?  Offer up something good to listen to.  These days, competition seems to be a dirty word.  Yes, competition requires work, but it, in and of itself, is not bad.

The NAB seems to be saying that relaxing ownership rules and thus, presumably, allowing more consolidation will promote diversity.  In my twenty five years of broadcasting, I can say that I have never seen this to be the case.   Some of the most diverse radio stations to be heard are often single stations, sometimes an AM/FM combo, just out there doing their thing.  Stations like WDST, WHVW, WKZE, WHDD, WJFF, WTBQ, WSBS, WNAW… I am sure that I am forgetting a few.

You can read the entirety of the NAB’s comments here.

On being responsible

No two days are alike. Sure, there are days that are similar in nature, office work, filing, FCC compliance, etc.  However, there is always something different, some new problem, person, fault, error, client, site or situation to deal with.  It helps to be well versed.

So, when the tower climbers started climbing a 1,000 foot (304 meter) tall tower to find a damaged section of transmission line, I thought; Just a routine day.

Even when they encountered a hornet’s nest at 50 feet (15 meters) AGL, still, fairly routine:

Tower climber applying bee spray to paper wasp nest

Tower climber applying bee spray to paper wasp nest

Tower climber A received a nasty bee sting to his left arm. He climbed part way down the tower and is in the lower part of the picture hugging the tower face. Tower climber B moved up and killed the nest with Wasp and Bee killer.  All is well and work resumes, right?  Except, no.  Tower climber A is apparently allergic to bees.  He states he is not feeling well and his arm begins to swell up.  He comes down the tower and I start looking for Benadryl.

Now, we have a problem.  This is a mountain top tower site, there is a long dirt road with a locked gate at the bottom of the hill.  There is almost no way an ambulance will be able to find its way up here.  The tower climber says the he has not been stung in many years.  I also notice his face is beginning to swell up.  Right, so lock the door, in the truck and get to the bottom of the hill as fast as possible.  It took about five minutes, but at the bottom of the hill, we were in a much better position if things got worse and an ambulance needed to be called.  Fortunately, his condition was the same, so we drove to an urgent care facility were he was treated.

Benadryl, something else to add to the go bag.

Always keep ahead of the situation.  Even if we drove to the bottom of the hill and his symptoms completely disappeared, it still would have been the right decision.

I wonder

Update:  Apparently the pictures in this post have upset some people. Even though there is no identifying information; no call letters, no company name, no location given certain folks have been putting a lot of pressure on the guy I work for. I do not want to make any problems for him, so I removed the pictures.  After all, the last thing we would want to do is acknowledge there is a problem.  The commentary stays.

Well, we have returned from our semi-vacation. Sumat to do with the other side of the family;  a road trip to Canton, Oklahoma, a brief study on mineral rights,  then a family reunion.  On the return home, several side trips to interesting things like the Abraham Lincoln museum in Springfield, Illinois and the Gateway Arch in Saint Louis.  We also stopped in Springfield to see Santa Anna’s leg, which seems to be generating some controversy of late.  I do not like to announce such things ahead of time because it seems like an invitation for a house break in.

But, all good things come to an end, so back to work it is.

And then there is this:

transmitter site

transmitter site

A transmitter site for a group of stations not too far from here.

transmitter site

transmitter site

Class B FM station (50,000 watt equivalent) running 100 watts.

transmitter site

transmitter site

And filth, lots of filth.

transmitter site

transmitter site

As more full time broadcast engineers drop off line, we seem to be picking up more and more work.  That is good for business, but some of these sites are downright depressing.

It is very sad to see such disrepair and makes me think that we are in the last days of terrestrial radio.  Truth be told, the end may be many years off, but the decline gets steadily steeper every year.  In the end; Television, Video, Satellite, the internet and took small bites of radio, but radio owners are the true culprits when it comes to who killed radio.

It is hard to make predictions; so many have failed in the past, but ten years maybe.  Perhaps a few more.  It will depend on whether or not business still find value in radio advertising.  Right now that looks pretty far fetched, but who knows…

Happy Independence day, Extremist

Today is July 4th. We here in the United States like to remember this as the day when a bunch of upstart yokels from the colonies had the unmitigated gall to decide we wanted to rule ourselves.  Terrible thing, that.  It sets a bad precedent for the other subjects, some of whom may decide that they want self rule as well.  Allow that to happen and pretty soon, the whole empire will be in shambles.

So, there was a war.

It became pretty brutal in this area; loyalists and indians banded together to pillaged the countryside.  Families massacred, women shot down, children scalped, old men hung from trees, etc.  Part of the local history, although not really the stuff they teach in school these days. It happened, none the less.

Therefore, we celebrate our independence and revel in our freedoms that were so hard won.  Freedoms to do things like speak our mind, own firearms, enjoy limited government intrusion in our lives.  As human beings, we have rights to legal safeguards that ensures the legal system will not be abused.  We enjoy the freedom to travel within our own boarders unmolested.  We can worship or not worship in anyway we choose.

We are free, for example, to exchange ideas and develop technology that benefits us and others.  Free to learn about things like open source software and even help write the code.  Imagine my surprise then, to find out by visiting a website called “Linux Journal,” I am now an extremist?  I have frequented many such Linux websites, forums, subreddits, and so on over the years, all in an effort to better understand and apply the open source operating system.  I am now, apparently, on a watch list.

This is an article from ars Technica that outlines the NSA program: The NSA thinks Linux Journal is an Extremist Forum.

This is an article from the Linux Journal website: Are you an Extremist?  WARNING: If you click that link, then clearly you are.

My only conclusion to this is open source software is bad because of TEH TERRORISM!!11!!! Well, that and it appears to be eating into Microsoft’s and Apple’s market share.

LJ-Extremist-black-stamp

So, put me on a watch list and make sure you spell my name right. You can track everywhere I go.  Hell, I’ll even making entertaining for you.

Happy Fourth of July, Extremist!

The efficacy of the computer generated voice

I was just listening to the latest broadcast of severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings rolling in across WXL-37 for upstate NY:

Trouble is a brewing

Trouble is a brewing

It looks a little bit hairy to the north.  There is a lot of rumbling around to the west of us and we are prepared to head for the basement in event of a tornado in this area.

At some point in time, somebody decided that computer generated voices were exactly right for emergency communications. Never mind some of the quirks that can be encountered.  These are mostly pronunciation errors for places like Saugerties, normally spoken as Saw-ger-tees but the NOAA computer voice says S-ouw-jer-tees.  That is understood well enough, but frankly, there are other place names that go by so fast that I cannot make sense of what the computer is saying.

Another good example of this is the Coast Guard’s computer voice confusion around the word “November.”  In the military (NATO) phonetic alphabet, November is the word used to express the letter N.  For some reason, the word itself seems to be a bit of a mystery to the computer, which sometimes renders the word November as “NOVEMBER OSCAR VICTOR ECHO MIKE BRAVO ECHO ROMEO.”  For those of us who have been in the military, this makes perfect sense.  Why just say “November” when you can say much more, waste time, and confuse the unaware.  This particular computer voice is nick named “Iron Mike.”

Computer generated voices can be hit or miss.

Then there is the computer voice from Shannon VOLMET:

Even on HF Single Side Band, that voice is clearly more understandable than the NOAA voices in use today. The issue is, many broadcast stations now use the NOAA computer voice to broadcast weather alerts to their listeners.  If I were driving in my car with lots of background noise, I likely would not get most of the information being relayed by the broadcast station via EAS.  I suppose gone are the days of a professional broadcaster’s voice clearly imparting information and comforting the listeners during time of calamity.  Sigh.

Casey Kasem, R.I.P.

Casey Kasem has gone off to the big control room in the sky.  Wildly popular DJ, Scooby Do, something about American Top 40, bla, bla, bla.  Whenever I think of Casey Kasem, I think of this:

Get Don on the phone, and where are my pictures!

We have all worked with screaming DJ’s, almost nothing is worse than getting yelled at for something you have little or no control over.

Pro Tip:  If you feel you are about to go off on a tirade, turn the microphone off so it does not get up loaded to the internet and played back at your funeral.

For Sale?

I am working on a project, as you might have guessed by the lack of posts.  It seems like a good opportunity to actually, you know; earn a living.  The thing is, I need some start-up capital.  Not a ton of money per se, but enough that I do not have it readily available, waiting to be spent.  Which brings me to this: I think this website is worth something.

I have put several years worth of work into this, as I have stated before, it is more a labor of love than anything else.  The sponsored ads simply cover the cost of hosting, domain name renewals, plus a little extra that perhaps I can take my family out to diner once a year or so.  I know I probably place its value at more than it is worth.  That being said, I went to one of those website valuation tools, which gave me a value of $6,600 based on traffic, domain name age and original content.  It did not take into account the extra domain names registered, etc.

So, here it is; is there anyone out there interested in buying this site?  Perhaps another contract engineer or engineering firm that is interested in a well seasoned domain name that gets 700 to 800 page views per day.  Or somebody else?

This is what is for sale:

  • engineeringradio.us (2009)
  • engineeringradio.com (2007)
  • engineeringradio.org (2010)
  • engineeringradio.net (2010)
  • engineeringradio.info (2010)

690 blog posts on various topics and over 1,000 original photographs.

Contact me off line, if you are interested.

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Axiom


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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