More AM work

I have been working on an AM station lately.   WBNR signed on in 1959 and follows the now familiar AM trajectory; after making bank in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, revenue declined, maintenance deferred, yada, yada, yada…

After a stint with a news talk format, the station changed to “Real Country,” a few years ago.  WAT! Music on the AM? Actually, it is doing quite well. The perception is that AM sounds terrible and nobody listens to it.  The stock AM radio in my Subaru (made by Pioneer) sounds pretty good on AM.  I have noticed that when I first tune a station in, it sounds narrow banded, slightly better than a telephone.  However after a second or two, the bandwidth opens up and it can sound quite good.  I have also heard this station playing at several local businesses.  When we turn it off to do maintenance, the phone starts ringing.  Clearly, somebody is listening…

This station is part of a three station simulcast.  The AM station to the north got rid of its directional antenna and added an FM translator a few years ago.  That has made a big difference.  Thus a translator was acquired for this station as well.

The translator was held up by an informal objection filed by Prometheus, Et. Al.  as part of a blanket filing against all new translator licenses by the LPFM advocate.  In any case, the Construction Permit has been on hand for a while, so the owner felt it was time to move forward with building out the new FM signal.

Hoisting the Shively 6812 antenna

Installing the single bay Shively 6812 antenna on the side of one of the night time towers triggered some other things.  A bit of the deferred maintenance was addressed;  new stockade fences around all the towers replaced the original fences put up in 1988. Those original fences were falling down.

4 Tower antenna system, WBNR, Beacon, NY
4 Tower antenna system, WBNR, Beacon, NY

The antenna system for WBNR is actually quite elegant, perhaps even beautiful.  A simple two tower system for the daytime array and a separate two tower system for the night time array.  The night time towers are top loaded, adding about 30.7 degrees in electrical height.

The far tower
The far tower

The CP for the translator required some extra steps because of the mounting on the night tower of the AM array.  Before and after impedance measurements need to be taken on the tower in question.  Another requirement of the CP, a set of before and after monitor points need to be taken.

WBNR tower, with translator antenna side mounted at 390 feet AGL
WBNR tower, with translator antenna side mounted at 381 feet (116 Meters) AGL

While I was measuring the base impedance, I decided measure all the towers instead of just the night time tower that has the translator antenna mounted on it.  This is a good point of reference if any problems arise in the future.  Often, this information can be found in the technical paperwork from the original license application.  Those files can be a treasure trove of information.  Unfortunately, it appears that a good portion of the original paper work is missing.

WBNR tower #1 Antenna Tuning Unit
WBNR tower #1 Antenna Tuning Unit

The Phasor and ATU’s are a late 80’s Harris product.  They are actually in remarkable shape, all things considered.  All of the RF contactors are Harris HS-4P motor driven units.  They are rated at 30 Amps, RF-RMS.  I don’t think that they are supported by GatesAir.  I have a small stock of spare finger stock and contact bars.  I suppose, if I had to, I could make or adapt parts to repair.

Looking at the base currents and the base current ratios for both the day and night patterns (base current ratios are on the station license), the tower impedance has changed very little over thirty years. That is good news, especially with those 215 degree tall night time towers.

The WBNR license application did contain an overall system diagram showing the Phasor and all the ATU’s.  It did not contain any component ID’s or other information.  I scanned that in, created a vector graphics file and expanded it to a 24 x 36 inch size.  I was able to fit all the component values and other information on the diagram.

Schematic diagram WBNR day/night antenna systems
Schematic diagram WBNR day/night antenna systems

The other issue is the monitor point descriptions.  They include statements such as “Point is marked with yellow and white paint on a tree,” or “In the northeast corner of the Texaco research facility parking lot.”  Those references are long gone and I would prefer to use a set of GPS coordinates.  Using the topographical maps from the proofs, I found each monitor point and then recorded a set of GPS coordinates for each.  In the future, they will be much easier to find.  If anyone is still doing monitor points, I would recommend this method.

Yet another problem; the phasor control system was damaged by lightning. The overly complicated Harris Phasor control card was replaced with something a little more straight forward and reliable.   I designed a simple set of relays, one for daytime and one for nighttime, to change the antenna system over.  The transmitter interlock goes through the relay contacts, so the transmitter PDM is killed while the power changes.  Tally back from each of the towers is handled by a set of relays for each pattern, which is also interlocked with the transmitter.  All of this prevents the RF contactors from switching hot, something that has caused some damage in the past.

W243EM is 100 ERP watts, non-directional with a 1 bay Shively 6812-1R antenna installed at 381 feet (116 Meters) AGL on one of the night time towers.

Transmitter is a BW Broadcast TXT-600.  The power calculation is as follows:

ERP 100 Watts = 50 dBm
 
System gains and losses:
 
Transmission Line loss, 500 feet (152.4 Meters), RFS LCF78-50JA =  -1.75 dB
Isocoupler loss, Kintronic ISO-170-FM = -0.8 dB
Antenna gain, Shively 6812-1R = -3.39dB
 
Total system losses and gains: -5.94 dB
 
TPO: 55.94 dB or 393 Watts
 
With all that work completed, the license application was filed to cover the construction permit.  Once that was accepted by the FCC, program test authority was granted and the transmitter was turned on.  Hopefully, with the translator on the air, the perceptions regarding listeners will change and the station can bill more.
 
I really enjoy working on Medium Frequency antenna systems.  I don’t know why, but antenna systems in general are always fascinating to me.

A few pictures

Some things I have been working on lately:

A nice row of transmitters
A nice row of transmitters

Finishing up a transmitter site rehab.  The BE FM20T is nearly 20 years old.  The BE FM2C transmitters are new.  There is also a rack of new fiber equipment and CODECs.  This site has good utilization; there are three stations on one tower with a shared STL antenna and generator.

Energy Onix ECO-6
Energy Onix ECO-6

Energy Onix ECO-6 tube type transmitter.  One of Bernie’s better designs, a grounded grid tube with solid state driver section.  This one needed some fans replaced and a new tube.

AM transmitter site.  Looks like these vines have not been cut in a couple of years.
AM transmitter site. Looks like these vines have not been cut in a couple of years.

I wonder how much the guy tensions have changed…

Noticed this after some particularly strong thunderstorms
Noticed this after some particularly strong thunderstorms

The reason why you do not use a POTS line phone during a thunderstorm.

USS Slater radio room
USS Slater radio room

I took a tour of the USS Slater, a museum ship in Albany, NY.  The museum has painstakingly restored the ship to its WWII configuration.  The main transmitter is the RCA TBL-8 seen in the left/center of this picture.  This unit put out 200 to 400 watts CW or 150 watts AM phone.  During the hostilities it was turned off as allied ships observed radio silence unless they were sinking (and sometimes even then).

A little ChiFi tube type RIAA phone preamp.
A little ChiFi tube type RIAA phone preamp.

I have been fooling around with this little 6AK5 preamp.  I find it works very well and sounds better than the built in phone preamp on my Kenwood VR-309.  The FU-29 tube amp did not come with a phone preamp.

This is a short video clip of an audio processor at one of our transmitter sites. The fancy lights around the control knob are designed for the program director. They are saying “Buy me… Buy me…”

Ten years on

It was ten years ago that I registered the domain name for Engineering Radio. A few days latter, I put the first post up. It is still there.  Those were different times for me personally and the business in general.  There certainly have been trials, but it has never been dull.

Periodically, I go back through the posts and delete anything that is no longer relevant.  I would estimate about 1/4 to 1/3 of the content has been deleted over the years.  It is a good exercise to go back through and read what I wrote previously.

Currently, the stats are:

  • 787 published posts, there are a few in the wings waiting to be finished
  • 4459 comments
  • Approximately 200 page views per day
  • 170 RSS feed subscriptions

I lost the country counter, but I believe the split is still about 60/40 US readers vs other countries.

I will continue on with this thing for as long as I feel it is worth while.

Last Walk across The Island

Yesterday I took, what I hope to be, my last walk across Pleasure Beach Island in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The task at hand was repairing the antenna array for WICC. There turned out to be several issues which were addressed in turn.

WICC tower feed point, courtesy of NECRAT

The trouble started when the feed line between the ATU and the tower became disconnected during a storm. That consists of a 1 inch copper pipe extending from the ATU feed through insulator up to a brass plate suspended between the four tower legs by hard drawn single 0 copper wire. The feed line separated at the brass plate which, unfortunately, is approximately eighteen feet in the air.

North Tower feed point connection, cold soldered

The feed line was repaired, but not effectively. By the looks of the picture, the brass plate never got hot enough to accept the solder.

After the feed line was re-repaired, other issues became apparent. The base impedance of the tower was still off and the array was still way out of tolerance.

It was noticed that several bypass capacitors on both of the tower lighting chokes where blown open. Those where replaced and the tower lighting chokes where checked for shorted turns. While it is always nice to replace burned out parts, this did not correct the problem.

Finally, we were back at the base of the tower with the defective feed point and a decided to grab the pipe and give it a good shake to see if it came apart again. It did not, but then I realized that that tower was supposed to be back in the circuit and I did not receive any RF burns for my carelessness.

We dug into the ATU and discovered that the input capacitor was marginal and there was a large crack in it. The output capacitor seemed to be completely open. The base current that we were seeing on the base current meter was being induced by the other tower. It all began to make sense.

Bad Capacitor

The parts were ordered and shipped and I made another trip out to install them myself.

Thus, on this particular day, I had my tool bag, an OIB-3 with fresh batteries, my cordless drill, drill bits, and three type 294 mica capacitors. I took the drill because the new capacitors were quite a bit larger than the old ones, so I needed to move the stand off insulators to remount them.

Pleasure Beach pier, foggy day

The walk from the end of the dock to the transmitter site is approximately 900 meters or 0.55 miles, according to google maps. On a nice day, it is a pleasant walk. On not so nice days, it can be less so. It was foggy with light drizzle. Not enough to get wet right away, but enough to get slowly soaked while working on the ATU repairs.

WICC square base self supporting towers, manufactured by Milliken Tower, circa 1924

With the new capacitors installed, I needed to adjust the array back into tolerance, which didn’t take too long. I made a short video of the station running at full power showing the antenna monitor readings for both the day and night patterns. Then packed up and headed back to the dock.

My ride is here

I wanted to take a set of monitor points, but the FIM-41 had been moved to another location. That was fine, I was getting pretty uncomfortable in my wet clothes, so I headed home.

Goodbye, WICC.