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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.

Don’t try this at home, kids

Happy New Year, and stuff.

I found this interesting little video on Youtube recently:

That has to be a fairly high powered AM radio station to have that effect. According to the video, this is in Ukraine.

Other than generating RF burns to the hands, there is also the issue of exposure to non-ionizing radiation causing body tissue heating. Then there is the potential broadband RF interference from the arcing plant matter. This can cause interference to STL’s and other receivers.

Friday Funnies; malaise edition

Remember when there was actual competition between radio stations for the coveted #1 bragging rights?  That was way back in the day when talented air persons were sought and compensated for their performances.

These days, when thinking about certain owners and their money men, a certain Fat Boy Slim album cover comes to mind:

cd-fat-boy-slim-youve-come-as-long-way-baby-chemical-brother_MLB-F-3935679143_032013

Ahhh, the 90’s, I never thought I’d miss you.

Zmog!

The quick disconnect LNB:

C-Band LNB

C-Band LNB

Umm…

Fixing small problems

This happened recently at an AM station we were doing work for. It seems the modulation monitor was not working when connected to the backup transmitter. A quick check of the RG-58 coax showed that I had the correct cable plugged into the monitor selector relay.  Another check with an ohm meter showed the cable was okay.  Then I looked at the connector on the monitor port of the transmitter and saw this:

BNC connector pin  improperly located

BNC connector pin improperly located

Looks like the pin is too far back in the connector. This is an old style BNC connector with a solder in center pin:

BNC connector center pin

BNC connector solder type center pin

The center pin has a blob of solder on it, preventing it from seating properly in the connector body. I could have lopped it off and applied a new crimp on connector, but my crimp tool was in the car. I didn’t feel like walking all the way through the studio building, out into the parking lot and getting it. Therefore, I used a file and filed off the solder blob then reassembled the connector:

BNC connector

BNC connector

The transmitter was installed in 1986, I think the connector had been like that for a long time.

It may seem like a small detail to have the modulation monitor working on the backup transmitter, however, the modulation monitor is also the air monitor for the studio.  Switching to the backup transmitter but not having a working air monitor would likely have caused confusion and the staff might think they are still off the air.  I know in this day and age, a lot of station do not even have backup transmitters, but when something is available, it should work correctly.

I like my cool network analyzer and all that, but sometimes it is the Mark 1, Mod 0 eyeball that gets the job done.

O Canada

In light of recent events…

You know, in this day and age, one can subscribe to certain ideas or religious viewpoints and pull some pretty serious shit.  You might even get away with it.   That being said, here is a bit of advice: Do not fuck with Canada.

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.

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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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