November 2015
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Microsoft: I am so done with you…

Except for the two applications that only run in Windows…

I lost use of my Windows 7 partition on my laptop last week after a Windows update.  They have been pushing Windows 10 for a while now, but I have ignored it because Windows 7 is just fine for me. I tried to ignore the latest nagging update and: Oh, joy! Computer stuck in an endless reboot loop. Fortunately, I had a dual boot system and the Linux OS booted right up. Go figure! I was able to mount the the Windows partition from Linux and recover all of my files.  This is a good reason to have a dual boot system, or keep a bootable thumb drive handy.  At first, I thought I might be loosing sectors on my hard drive, but no.  It turns out, one of the files changed during the update was corrupted.  No big deal, I can reload windows and be back in business.

It will only take an hour or so.  An hour that could be better used for something else, something akin to billable hours, which is how the mortgage gets paid. My computer is not a hobby, it is a tool. I don’t have time to play around with things for fun.

Then I thought, why bother?  I am using Linux with no serious disruptions.  In fact, it boots faster, runs faster, is more secure, and generally has fewer hangups. LibreOffice has all of the applications I need for general correspondence and business administration.  I can run Win 7 as a virtual machine in VirtualBox as long as I can get the USB device I need to be recognized by Linux then passed through to the virtual Win 7 OS.

So, to hell with Windows and all its nonsense. Goodbye you inferior, expensive and buggy piece of garbage. I will not miss you.

Radio is dead? Don’t tell these guys then…

WXHC in Homer, New York will never be listed on the NY Stock Exchange. Is that bad?

WXHC, Homer, New York

WXHC, Homer, New York

They don’t think so. A small class A FM station, one of many that signed on in the early 1990’s as part of the 80-90 drop ins (FCC docket 80-90, for those unfamiliar). Many of these stations did not fair too well and ended up being absorbed by larger stations and groups starting with the first wave of ownership deregulation in 1993.

WHXC has remained under the same ownership since it signed on in 1991. Eves Broadcasting is a family operation, employing maybe half a dozen people. Their studios and offices are on the third floor of the Bank of Niagara right in the center of town.  The facility is very nice.  Like any successful radio station, their focus is the community they serve. The format is “Oldies” but they also broadcast high school football, Syracuse sports and so on. They host a yearly Blue Grass festival on the village green.

WXHC air studio

WXHC air studio

The air studio has an Arrakis console and uses BSI Simian automation software. They have live DJ’s from 6am to 6pm, local news, weather, sports, etc.

WXHC production room console

WXHC production room console

The production room has a BE Spotmaster 8S200A console from 1978. Aside from needing some power supply capacitors, it still works relatively well.  However, as the owner’s son said; that thing belongs in a museum.

BE Spotmaster line input card

BE Spotmaster line input card

BE Spotmaster line input card. Probably can still get all these parts if we wanted to.

I forgot to take pictures of the transmitter site when I was there.  Next time.

We will be working on several projects for these folks, so I will keep  you posted on the progress.

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.


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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.

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~Benjamin Franklin

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