Decommissioning transmitters

I was at a transmitter site a few days ago scrapping a Continental 814-R1 transmitter and started thinking (always a dangerous thing) about how many of these units I have decommissioned over the years.  It turns out, quite a few:

Make/Model Year new* Year removed Station Disposition
GE BT25A 1948 1994 WPTR Donated/scrapped
Gates BC5P 1960 2004 WWLO Donated
Harris MW5A 1982 2000 WLNA Scrapped
Gates BC1T 1961 2001 WLNA Donated
Harris FM20H3 1972 2001 WYJB Scrapped
RCA BT1AR 1960 2001 WROW Donated
Harris BC1G 1972 2001 WDFL Abandoned
Harris FM20H3 1971 2005 WHUD Scrapped
BE FM30A 1988 2005 WHUD Cannibalized
Harris FM5G 1972 2008 WSPK Scrapped
Mc Martin BF3.5K 1976 2011 WCTW Scrapped
RCA BTF-10ES 1978 2011 WRKI Scrapped
Gates BC1T 1964 2011 WINE Scrapped
Continental 315F-R1 1985 2013 WVMT Donated
Collins 813F 1975 2014 WKXZ Scrapped
RCA BTA1AR 1965 2014 WCHN Scrapped
Collins 813F2 1978 2015 WKXZ Scrapped
Collins 830D-1A 1968 2014 WKXZ Scrapped
Harris FM20H3 1972 2013 WYJB Scrapped
Harris BC5HA 1973 2013 WROW Scrapped
Harris FM10H 1971 2013 WMHT-FM Scrapped
Harris FM2.5H3 1973 2015 WEXT Scrapped
Mc Martin BF3.5K 1972 2014 WSRK Scrapped
CCA FM5000G 1980 2015 WTBD Scrapped
RCA BTF1E 1972 2016 WZOZ Scrapped
QEI 695T3.5 1996 2015 WBPM Scrapped
QEI 695T5 1996 2015 WBPM Scrapped
Harris HT3.5 1997 2015 WUPE-FM Scrapped
Harris Z5CD 1997 2015 WXPK Cannibalized
Energy Onix SSA1000 2000 2015 WDHI Cannibalized
Harris MW1 1982 2016 WPUT Abandoned
Mc Martin BF1K 1982 2016 WSUL Scrapped
Mc Martin BF3.5K 1982 2016 WSUL Scrapped
Continental 814R1 1980 2016 WDBY Scrapped
Broadcast Electronics FM35A 1986 2017 WEBE Cannibalized
CCA FM-1000D8 1973 2018 WDLA Scrapped
Collins 828E 1978 2018 WSYB Scrapped
Gates BC-1H 1971 2018 WHUC Scrapped
Gates BC-1J 1954 2019 WBEC Scrapped
Gates BC250GY 1969 2019 WSBS Scrapped

*In some cases the “Year New” is a guess based on when the station went on the air.  Before you write me and say “But model XYZ transmitter wasn’t made until 19XX, I did not look at every name plate and write all the information down as I did this.

Like everything else, there is a process to this.

RCA BTA-10U AM transmitter
RCA BTA-10U AM transmitter

First of all, if the transmitter was made before 1978, the possibility of PCB capacitors and transformers exists. In the case of the GE BT25A, massive amounts of PCBs needed to be disposed of properly. According to current federal laws, ownership of PCBs and PCB contaminated items cannot be transferred. Thus, the transformer casings were cleaned out and taken to Buffalo to be buried in a PCB certified landfill.   Otherwise, most other transmitters, such as the RCA BTA-10, may have a few PCB capacitors in them and perhaps the modulation transformer.  Those items can be disposed of by calling an authorized environmental disposal company like Clean Harbors.

The rest of the transmitter is stripped of any useful parts.  Things like vacuum variable capacitors, rectifier stacks, blower motors (if they are in good condition), HV power supply contactors, unique tuning parts, whole control and metering boards, tube sockets, etc.

The remaining carcase is then disassembled and hauled off.  I got a guy that will do this for relatively little money.  He takes the transmitter back to his warehouse and cuts it up, sorts all of the various metals out, then takes it to the scrap yard.  This includes things like cutting all of the windings off of transformers and power supply chokes, sorting out the brass and copper tuning parts, etc.

The inglorious task of AM antenna array maintenance

AM radio stations are rough customers. They frequently operate on the margins, both in terms of ratings and revenue. Their transmitter plants are complex and very often have been on a reduced maintenance schedule for years, sometimes decades.  Those of us that understand the operation of AM transmitter plants and all their quirky behaviours are getting older.  I myself, feel less inclined to drop everything and run off to the AM transmitter site when things go awry.  Seldom are such efforts rewarded, much less acknowledged.  Station owners are also finding that their previous demands are unrealistic.  For example, time was that any work that takes the station off the air had to be done after midnight.  These days, I can tell you, I will not be working at your radio station after midnight.  You can find somebody else to do that work.

Thus, today, we took this particular AM station off the air from Noon until 3 pm to diagnose and repair a problem with the four tower daytime array.  Once again, this involved a shift in common point impedance and a drastic change in one tower’s current ratios.

Antenna Tuning Unit, mice have made a mess
Antenna Tuning Unit, mice have made a mess

In all fairness to the current owner, this ATU reflects years of neglect. At some point, mice made a home in here and created a mess. The ATU smells of mouse shit, piss and mothballs.  It is full of mouse droppings, grass seeds and fur.  All of the ATUs in this array are in similar condition.

Paper wasp, inside ATU
Paper wasp, inside ATU

It was warm enough that the wasps were active, if not a little bit lethargic.

Broken stand off insulators in ATU
Broken stand off insulators in ATU

This coil is being held up by the tubing that connects it to other components. When the ATU was built, no nylon or cork bushings were used between the insulators and the wall of the ATU they were mounted on. Heat cycling eventually did all of the insulators in.

Catwalk to the other towers
Catwalk to the other towers

Catwalks to the other towers. At least the swamp grass has been cut this year, it is only four feet tall instead of ten.

Tower base
Tower base

The tower bases are all elevated above the theoretical maximum water level. The ATUs are also up on stands with platforms build for maintenance access.

ATU Work "platform"
ATU Work “platform”

I cannot even blame the current owner, who has spend considerable money to make repairs and upgrades to this site. It is very difficult and very expensive to catch up with deferred maintenance. Sadly, most AM stations we encounter have similar or worse problems.

I think it is too late to save many of these AM stations.  The technical issues, lack of revenue, perceived poor quality, lack of good programming are all taking their toll.  At this point, the hole is so deep there is no hope of ever getting out.  The FCC’s faux interest in “revitalization” followed by two years of stony indifference seems to be a final, cruel joke.

Installation Check Lists

On the subject of project management; often times, we need to keep track of the small details that can derail a project, blow the budget and upset schedules. A quick check list can help to identify things that might not have been planned for. I developed a checklist mentality in the military. There, we had checklists for everything. Simple day to day things like disposing of garbage over the side, or pumping the CHT (sewage) tank to complex evolutions like entering or leaving port all had a checklist.  On the aforementioned CHT tank; the Coast Guard cutter I was on had a vacuum flush system to conserve water.  Emptying the CHT tank involved a complex set of valve openings and closings to rout compressed air into the vacuum tank and literally blow the sewage overboard.  Anyone can see the danger in such a design.  Failure to follow the exact procedure resulted in raw sewage blowing out of the nearest toilets, which were unfortunately (or perhaps humorously) in the lower level officer’s staterooms.

But I digress.

I have made a series of outlines for different project types.  These can be used as general guidelines for project planning and management.  Of course, each project is different, but these are flexible enough that they can be adapted on a project by project basis.

These are for general use, and should be adapted for your own purposes.  Don’t forget to document and label all the wire runs, etc.

Also, do not forget the transmitter site maintenance checklists: FM transmitter site maintenance list, AM transmitter site maintenance list. I have used these reliably at many different sites since I committed them to writing in late 1999.

Winter! Is upon us….

What better time to take the gondola to K-1? None, none at all.  We do work for the two radio stations that are on the peak of Mount Killington, near Rutland, Vermont.  In the summer, usually we can drive up there in a four wheel drive truck.  In the winter, the gondola is the way to go.  On this day, there was a 48-56 inch base, light north winds and air temperature around 10° F (-12° C) .

This is not my video, I did not have enough memory on my SIM card to film a video and I didn’t bring my expensive camera. However, this is a good example of the ride:

Not a bad way to get to a transmitter site, all things considered.

Ride up to Killington Peak
Ride up to Killington Peak

View from Killington Peak
View from Killington Peak

View from Killington Peak
Transmitter buildings on Killington Peak

View from Killington Peak
View from Killington Peak

View from Killington Peak
Tower from Killington Peak

Killington STL dishes
Killington STL dishes

ERI antenna, WZRT/WJJR Killington VT
ERI antenna, WZRT/WJJR Killington VT

The reason for the trip today; repair work on the Nautel VS2.5 transmitter. All three power supplies and the power supply summing board needed to be replaced.