Gone and apparently forgotten

Can a 50,000 watt AM station disappear from the airwaves and no one notice?

The answer is yes, if you live in the Albany, NY area.  WDCD, 1540 KHz, (formerly WPTR) has surrendered its license to the FCC last Friday, September 28, 2018.  Seventy years on the air and quite the legacy as a Top-40 station in the 60’s and 70’s.

Unfortunately, the station had fallen on hard times the last few years, being silent twice for long stretches of time.  In the end, I suppose it was simply time to pull the plug.

This was my first CE gig in the early 1990’s.  What I remember was, I had a lot of fun working there.

So long and thanks for the memories.

 

WKIP

This was the radio station that I listened to (or rather, my parents listened to) when I was a very young kid.  From this source, things like school closings, weather, lunar landings, news, sports and traffic could be heard.  At one point, there was a guy called the “Traffic Hawk,” (real name Don Foster) who flew in a Cessna 172 east and west over main street in Poughkeepsie advising drivers of any slow downs in the area.  That’s right, Poughkeepsie, New York, population 30,000, had it’s own eye in the sky, broadcasting live from the aircraft overhead.  Actually, I think he also flew up and down South Road (US Route 9) in the vicinity of the IBM plant, which employed quite a few people in those days.

There was also a guy who tried to break the Guinness Book of World Records by staying awake the longest, this happened several times.

For me, it was the school closings.  I hated school with an absolute passion.  Everyday, I would ride the school bus and say a little prayer; “…please God, make it today.  Make the boiler stop working, or the electricity to go out.  Make the kitchen catch on fire or the roof to cave in.  You are a great and mighty God and I don’t ask for much.  Please destroy my school today.”  Alas, God did not seem interested in this.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand.

WKIP first signed on in 1940 with the studios and transmitter located at The Nelson House, 42 Market Street, Poughkeepsie.  That building is long gone and  the location appears to be the parking lot for the Dutchess County Office building.  Being neighbors with some influential guy from Hyde Park made for a nice dedication speech:

It signed on with a power of 250 watts on 1,420 KC on June 6th, 1940. Soon thereafter, it changed frequency to 1,450 KC as a part of the AM band shift brought about by NARBA.

Over the years, the station went through several ownership changes. The first major technical change came in 1961, when the station transmitter site moved to it’s current location, then called Van Wagoner Road, now Tucker Drive. The station increased power to 1,000 Watts and installed a direction antenna for daytime use.  It is one of those rare night time non-directional, day time directional stations.

The directional antenna consists of two towers; tower one is 180 degrees tall (103.4 Meters or 340 feet) with 35 degrees of top loading.  That is used for both the day and night time array.  Tower two is 85 degrees tall (48.8 Meters or 160 feet) and is used only for the daytime array.  This pushes the major lobe of radiation towards the north.  I don’t know the reasoning behind that, but somebody spend a good amount of money to make it so.

Here is a air check from the early 1980’s.  Weather on that day was “Sunny, cloudy, whatever… take your pick.”

Good old Steve Diner.

Today, the station looks like this:

The 1961 WKIP transmitter building with tower
The 1961 WKIP transmitter building with tower

When I was growing up, my cousins lived within walking distance of this. We used to come over than throw rocks at the tower when the station was unmanned on Saturdays and Sundays. At least, I think it was unmanned because no one ever came out and yelled at us.

WKIP backup transmitter, phasor and main transmitter
WKIP backup transmitter, phasor and main transmitter

Mid 1980’s MW-1A still runs. The BE AM1A is the main transmitter. The phasor is the Original 1960’s Gates Phasor.

This video shows how the studios used to look, before they were rebuilt by Clear Channel Circa 2002 or so. At about the 2:02 mark, you will see the room pictured above as it looked in 1990.

The space between the video above and the picture below looked bad with nothing in it. It looks better now.

WKIP clock
WKIP clock

That clock is a collectors items and belongs in a museum.

Speaking of Radio…

I was talking to a friend from Russia about history, my job and various other things that are going on in my life. I received this reply, which I thought was interesting on a number of levels:

I’m glad we are on the same page about the era of the ‘cold war’. We were interested in your life even more than you in ours. We had almost no sources of information except for ‘The morning star’ which is a newspaper of the Communist party of Great Britain. The Voice of America and the Liberty (or Freedom, I have no clue because for us it was ‘RADIO SVOBODA’) were extremely hard to tune on. All foreign broadcasts were jammed. So to listen to the station you should maximize the volume up to the limit which was dangerous. Soviet houses are not at all soundproof and your neighbors could easily rat on you. Since that time I’d been dreaming of a small radio with could receive a clear signal from abroad. Of course we have the Internet broadcasting now but they often use old recording instead of live air and the signal depends on your data carrier. You should be online, you should have an app and unlimited data on your contract, your phone should be charged all the time. Too many conditions. Unfortunately a lot of foreign sites are banned here and the trend is to make this number bigger and bigger.

I find that perspective interesting.  We take for granted our ability to listen to information and listen to different points of view, even those we don’t agree with.  There are still trouble spots in the world and some people are not as fortunate.  It is very easy to block internet traffic and there are several countries that currently block access to some or all of the internet, for the safety of their citizens, no doubt.  Ideas are dangerous.

VOA/RFE transmitter site, Biblis Germany
VOA/RFE transmitter site, Biblis Germany. Photographer: Armin Kübelbeck, CC-BY-SA, Wikimedia Commons

In the last ten to fifteen years, many large government shortwave broadcasters have reduced or eliminated their programming favoring an internet distribution model.  This is a mistake.  It is very difficult to successfully jam terrestrial radio broadcasts.  Shortwave Facilities are expensive to develop and maintain, there is no doubt about that.  However, as the Chief Engineer from Radio Australia (ABC) once told me “HF will get through when nothing else will.”  Ironically, ABC has eliminated its HF service on January 31, 2017.

It seems to me that a sort of “Shortwave Lite” version of broadcasting might be the answer.  Use more efficient transmitters with lower power levels closer in to the target areas.  Such transmitters could be coupled to rotatable log periodic antennas to target several listening areas with one system, thus greatly reducing the number of towers and land required.  Solid state transmitters with a power of 10-50 KW are much, much more efficient than their tube type brethren.

DRM30 (Digital Radio Mondiale) has not gained wide spread use in the MF and HF bands.  Like it’s HD Radio counterpart, lack of receivers seems to be one of the adoption issues.  As of 2017, there are only four DRM30 capable receivers for sale not counting software plug ins for various SDRs.  That is a shame because my experience with DRM30 reception has been pretty good.  I have used a WinRadio G303i with DRM plug in, which set me back $40.00 for the license key (hint for those nice folks at the DRM consortium; licensing fees tend quash widespread interest and adoption).

CFRX, Toronto coverage map, average HF propagation conditions
CFRX, Toronto coverage map, average HF propagation conditions

Finally, I have advocated before and still advocate for some type of domestic shortwave service.  Right now, I am listening to CFRX Toronto on 6070 KHz.  That station has a transmitter power output of 1 KW into a 117 degree tower (approximately 50 feet tall) using a modified Armstrong X1000B AM transmitter netting  a 15-32 µV received signal strength some 300 miles away.  That is a listenable signal, especially if there is no other source of information available.  The average approximate coverage area for that station is 280,000 square miles (725,000 square kilometers). That is a fairly low overhead operation for a fairly large coverage area.  Perhaps existing licensed shortwave broadcasters should be allowed to operate such facilities in a domestic service.

The point is, before we pull the plug on the last shortwave transmitter, we should carefully consider what we are giving up.

Night of nights, 2015

Every year, the Maritime Radio Historical Society celebrates the closing of the last commercial Morse code radio station, which happened at 0001 UTC, July 13, 1999.  They do this by re-manning the watch for a few hours in honor of all those who so diligently listened for distress signals on 500 KHz and other frequencies continuously for over 90 years.  Your humble author was one of those, who in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s strained to hear, through the static crashes and OTHR, the simple, yet effective combination of SOS sent in Morse code.

Fortunately, after the closure of KPH, the National Parks Service took over the land and preserved the buildings and antenna fields intact.  Today, a dedicated group of volunteers maintain these facilities as a working museum.  This is the earliest history of radio technology and from this, sprang Amateur Radio, then Broadcast Radio services.

So, if you have the opportunity on July 12 (Sunday, starting at 8 pm, EDT), tune around to some of the frequencies listed below and see how ship to shore communications was handled:

KPH KFS KSM WLO KLB NMC NMW Ship transmit
426 426 488 472 448 425, 454, 468,480,512
500 500 500 500 500 500
2055.5
4247 4343 4184
6477.5 6383 6276
8642 8438.3 8658 8582.5 8574 8368
12808.5 12695.5 12993 12992 12552
17016.8 17026 16914 16968.5 17220.5 16736
22477 22280.5

These are duplex frequencies, meaning; the ship transmits on one frequency and listens on to the shore station on another and vice versa.

Those medium frequencies do not carry that far during daylight, however the high frequencies should be heard across the world.

In addition to that, there are youtube videos to watch:

There are more videos on youtube, if one is so inclined.

Those old RCA transmitter look like they are in excellent condition. Somebody has spent a lot of time restoring those units.

Hopefully, one of these years, I will get a chance to head out to San Fransisco during the middle of July and see this in person. It would be nice for my children to see what their old man used to do in what seems like a different lifetime.