October 2015
« Sep    



Dun Dun DUN!

UPDATE:Turns out it was nothing…

Hurricane Joaquin, 1800 UTC, October 3, 2015

National Weather Service, Hurricane Joaquin, October 3, 1800 UTC

Could be something. It might be nothing. Better top of the fuel tanks just in case…

National Weather Service, Hurricane Joaquin, September 30, 1800 UTC

National Weather Service, Hurricane Joaquin, September 30, 1800 UTC

On top of all the other scheduled projects taking place, we have a bad generator fuel transfer pump at one of the E911 sites that should be replaced before Monday, apparently.

Winter is coming…

To sort of offset the previous post; not all is bad. We have been able to install some backup power solutions before winter. The best part, we got this work done before the temperatures moved to the negative digits.

The 18 KVA UPS:

Eaton Powerware 9170+ 18 KVA UPS

Eaton Powerware 9170+ 18 KVA UPS

I like this unit. It is completely modular, with removable battery packs and hot plugable power modules, this thing looks pretty bullet proof. Here it is with the covers off:

Eaton Powerware 9170+ 18 KVA UPS covers off

Eaton Powerware 9170+ 18 KVA UPS covers off

The top six positions are power modules, each one handles 3 KVA. The bottom are the battery packs. Right now the load is about 6.5 KW and the run time is 18 minutes.  Mounted on the wall to the right, a make before break bypass switch and a 25 KVA dry core isolation transformer.

Another generator replacement:

The old and slightly long at the tooth Generac genset being hauled away.

Old generator, off to generator heaven

Old generator, off to generator heaven

New Cummins Power GGHE-1515890 60 KW propane genset, test under load:

Cummins power generator, test with 35% load

Cummins power generator, test with 35% load

With gas powered generators, it is fine to break them in with fairly light loads. I think the maximum load this unit will see with current transmitter equipment is 60%, and that is if all AC units are running, the main transmitter, the HD transmitter and the backup transmitter being tested into the load.

I accidentally the whole transmitter site

Oh jeez, make it stop:

Somebody got busy...

Somebody got busy…

Station has been “flickering on and off…” for the last three days…

Another mouse nest

Wonder why?

Hey, you know that stuff that has been laying around the shop for the last three years? Why don’t you store it at the transmitter site?


Great idea

No matter what you do, save everything. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever throw anything away ever.

You never know when you will need a leaking capacitor with a hole in the side of it...

You never know when you might need a leaking capacitor with a hole in the side of it…

The company I work for is taking over engineering for more and more radio stations. That is good for business, and good for us as contract engineers, but Great Caesar’s Ghost, some of these places are downright dangerous.  Why, just the other day, while I was working at a transmitter site at which both the main and backup transmitters were fed with one fused disconnect, the contact fingers severely overheated to the point of crumbling and I was standing on an aluminum ladder, inside of a steel box (shipping container) using a wooden broom handle to push the contact arms back into place because the station was off the air all the while thinking to myself; there has to be an easier way to earn a living.


Air conditioning? We don’t need no stinking air conditioning!

It has been hot out around here the last week or so. Somebody’s office server needed a little extra help:

Office server fan

Office server fan

I am not a fan (pun intended) of this type of thing.  Too often, we make do with things that are simply substandard.  In an emergency, I get it; you do what you have to to get things going again.  However, after the system is recovered comes the remedial phase, which includes making permanent repairs, replacing outdated equipment, installing things properly, making sure that wiring meets electrical code, documentation, labeling, etc.

The remedial phase is often neglected or forgotten altogether.   There are two reasons for this; the “saving money” reason, or the too busy to deal with it reason.  However, later on, we or the person that follow us, will have to deal with this again after some sort of catastrophic failure.  Then there will be the questions:  How did this happen?  How long has it been like that? and so on.

As far as saving money goes; you are not.  Cutting corners may save a few pennies in the short term, but long term, it only creates bigger problems which will have to be dealt with at some point.  Doing things the right way will shift the engineering effort from a reactive (e.g. fire fighting) to a proactive stance and everyone will be much happier.

A case for security cameras

I little bit of local awesomeness from the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department:

A Patterson (NY) man was committed to the Putnam County Jail in lieu of bail in connection with three separate thefts of copper fixtures from cell communications towers in Patterson and Kent.

The rest can be read here: Man charged with stealing copper from cellphone tower sites

I once got into an argument with my boss about transmitter site security cameras.  His attitude was “what difference does it make, nobody will do anything about it anyway.”  Clearly, if the police have something to go on, they will take action.  I know that several E911 sites in Dutchess and Ulster counties have been victims of copper theft as well.

IP security cameras are inexpensive and fairly reliable, provided you keep them out of the direct elements.  We have dozens of old Windows XP computers floating around which, with the addition of a software package like Blue Iris, can be repurposed as a record and save system.  The advantage of Blue Iris is the record on motion. The cameras do not need to be monitored continuously; if something happens, go back and look at the stored video.

The old Windows XP boxes do not need to be connected to the outside world unless one wants to look at the security system from the studio or home.   Alternatively, if one is Linux savvy, something like Zoneminder or Xeoma look like full featured video surveillance software packages.  I have not fooled around with these yet, but perhaps when I have some spare time…

The point is, for not too much money, a full featured video surveillance system can be installed at remote transmitter sites to keep track of comings and goings.  If enough idiots get busted for stealing copper, perhaps it will stop (or at least slow down).

Copper Thieves

If you are the type of person that drives around to transmitter sites and steals things; fuck you. You have no idea the problems you are causing to get a few extra dollars worth of scrap copper.

Missing copper ground buss bar

Missing copper ground buss bar

I have a feeling that most of these copper thefts can be attributed to out of town tower contractors removing old cellular equipment from towers.  Notice, only the buss bar and copper ground wire is missing.  They did not try to cut the transmission lines.  In other words, they seemed to know what they were doing.  I have noticed around here that a when a particular contractor, employed by an unnamed large company that rhymes with glint, would work at a site, things would be missing afterwards.

Perhaps it is just a coincidence. I have never been able to catch anyone pinching things. However, if this is you, and I catch you, you can rest assured that I will block you in with my car, then walk down the road and call the police.

The Voltair

I have put off writing anything about this for several reasons. First of all, there is a lot of secrecy surrounding the use of the Voltair magic machine. No one will admit to it, however, I have had several off the record conversations with various engineers.  All of this is hush-hush, unofficially off the record and on the QT, so no names, call letters or cities of license can be disclosed.

The general gist of these conversations is this; the Voltair seems to be increasing ratings in some cases and but not others.  It is sometimes too early to tell whether the increased ratings are a one time anomaly or something more permanent.  In one case, an AC station saw 30% increase in numbers, while a certain talk station saw next to nothing.  Results are mixed.

In the credit where credit is due department; the Telos Marketing campaign is has been effective.  Again, from a variety of different sources; Program Directors, Market Managers and Sales Managers are “beside themselves,” or “giddy”  when the UPS truck delivers the Voltair to the front door.  In one case, requiring that “I (the market engineer) drop everything” to get it installed as quickly as possible and “acting like it is God’s gift to radio.”  It looks like all those trade publication ads are paying off, $15,000 at a time.

Voltair PPM encoder enhancing device, in the wild

Voltair PPM encoder enhancing device, in the wild

One interesting thing about the Voltair, you can program simulated listening environments such as sporting events, restaurants, kitchens, vehicles, etc.  This allows the user to see how their program material is being decoded by a PPM survey device in those types of environments.  For example, if you are a sports station, having your program material decode well at sporting events or restaurants and bars might be important.

Of course, we have all seen the confidence display:

Voltair PPM encoder enhancer "confidence display"

Voltair PPM encoder enhancer “confidence display”

So, what does this mean?  Perhaps there is an inherent flaw in the Nielsen PPM encoding technology?  In the past, PPM has been blamed for the demise of the Smooth Jazz format.  I always had the notion that Smooth Jazz was responsible for the demise of the Smooth Jazz format.  However, if PPM is indeed causing certain program material to disappear from the airwaves, then it would be a case of the tail wagging the dog.  If PPM requires that station owner’s purchase a $15,000 in order to get credit for their TSL and cume, then there is a pretty big problem with the technical aspects of the system.

Of course, there are others that say there is no “Voltair effect.”  The Voltair machine is simply a fancy and expensive gizmo that looks good but does not really do anything.

Nielson Audio is having a Webinar on July 21 to address some of the questions regarding the Voltair and PPM encoding for subscribers only.  It will be interesting to see what the outcome is.

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.


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.


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