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North Adams Tower Collapse

High winds seem to be the culprit in the collapse of two towers in North Adams. According to the Motorola system technicians, it happened at about 12:30 am Sunday morning, which is when all their link loss alarms started going off.  The larger, self supporting tower broke from it’s mounting plate and tipped over into the smaller guyed tower next to it. Effected are WUPE-FM and W226AW (WFCR New England Public Radio) as well as NEPR new station WNNI which has not officially signed on.

Cellular service for ATT, Verizon and Sprint/NEXTEL were all knocked off line as well internet services and E911 dispatch.  Those services are coming back on line, with temporary modular cell units en route. News report from WWLP channel 22, Springfield, MA:

Here are some pictures:

North Adams Cell Tower

North Adams Cell Tower

WUPE-FM antenna on the ground

WUPE-FM antenna on the ground

WUPE-FM antenna

WUPE-FM antenna

WUPE-FM STL dish

WUPE-FM STL dish

Base of WUPE-FM (formerly WMNB) tower

Base of WUPE-FM (formerly WMNB) tower

WNNI antenna

WNNI antenna

WUPE-FM WNNI and W266AW transmitter building

WUPE-FM, WNNI, and W266AW transmitter building

North Adams Cell Tower

North Adams Cell Tower

North Adams Cell Tower

North Adams Cell Tower

North Adams Cell Tower

North Adams Cell Tower

North Adams Cell Tower

North Adams Cell Tower

Tower base mounting plate, apparent failure point

Tower base mounting plate, apparent failure point

Tower base mounting plate

Tower base mounting plate

Tower Base Mounting Plate

Tower Base Mounting Plate

For pictures of the towers during happier times, refer to this post: Filtering for co-located FM transmitters.

Restoration work is underway with WUPE-FM expected to return to air at low power by Monday afternoon.

Update:

WUPE-FM was returned to air at low power by about 1pm on Monday 3/31.  We took an unused Shively 6812 antenna that was tuned to 94.1 MHz and retuned it to 100.1 by cutting 1/4 inch pieces from the end of the elements until it was on frequency.  It took a bit of doing, but with a network analyzer, we were able to get it to 1.2:1 SWR with symmetrical sidebands.  Running 600 watts, it covers the city of license and then some.

WUPE-FM temporary antenna

WUPE-FM temporary antenna, Shively 6812

The STL antenna is a survey antenna mounted on the side of the building. In this configuration, with the leaves off of the trees, we are getting about 250 uV signal, which is pretty good.

WUPE-FM temporary STL antenna

WUPE-FM temporary STL antenna

The site is now crawling with insurance investigators, cell site technicians, North Adams fire department, Berkshire County Sheriff’s officers, tower workers, etc.  After we finished this work, we cleared out to make more room for everybody else.  Estimated restore time for W266AW is Wednesday 4/2.

Planning for the replacement tower is already in progress, I’d expect it to happen fairly quickly. The next step for the broadcasters is to put up a 70 foot utility pole and get a full powered antenna for WUPE. This should happen in the next two weeks or so. That will serve as the temporary facility until the new tower is constructed.

The roof is on FIRE!

We don’t need no water, let the… oh, wait… The actual roof is actually on fire you say?

YES: Ahh! Time to run around like crazy people!

Carrier HVAC unit damaged by fire

Carrier HVAC unit damaged by fire

This happened over the weekend at one of our clients in NY. The back story is this; over the last two weeks, the area has received almost three feet of snow. This roof is pitched slightly toward the back of the building. The roofing material is some type of PVC, which is very slippery when wet. Thus, at some point the snow/ice pack shifted towards the back of the building, it broke the natural gas pipe off where it entered the unit:

Broken gas pipe, HVAC unit 1

Broken gas pipe, HVAC unit 1

The next time the HVAC unit cycled on, there was giant torch on the roof with flames reportedly eight feet high.  A local fire fighter just happened to be driving down the road and spotted the fire, thus likely saving the building from major damage.  The fire department came and cut off the gas and electric.  The building was evacuated for about 20 minutes while they overhauled and checked for internal fires.

Carrier HVAC unit damaged by fire

Carrier HVAC unit damaged by fire

A second unit suffered the same fate, only with less damage:

Carrier HVAC unit damaged by fire

Carrier HVAC unit damaged by fire

The fire in this unit was contained to the controller area.  Same situation with the gas pipe, only it looks like the pipe was not broken all the way off:

HVAC unit broken gas pipe

HVAC unit broken gas pipe

The other two units are shut off while the gas pipes are dug out of the snow pack and checked for damage. At some point, they will be turned back on so that the heat can be restored to the second floor sales bullpen. Meanwhile, the sales people; they are complaining.

We threw a tarp over the unit with the cover ripped off because more snow is on the way:

Carrier HVAC unit tarped

Carrier HVAC unit tarped

Man electrocuted putting up a pirate radio antenna

A south Florida man was electrocuted when the antenna he was putting up struck a power line. Police say 42 year old Jean Adelphonse was working in the dark Monday night when part of an antenna to be used for an unlicensed radio station collapsed and struck a power line.  The Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel reported that he was working on the roof of an office building where his other businesses were located.

That is rather unfortunate and completely preventable.  The first red flag here is working in the dark.  The second would be working alone.  Safety is always paramount; whether it is working on a transmitter, putting up an antenna, working on a ladder, environmental conditions such as heat, weather, etc.  In my younger days, I had gotten away with a few careless moments mainly due to blind luck.  I cringe thinking about it today.  Nothing in radio is worth killing yourself or anyone else over.

This type of thing used to happen more often when almost every house had an outside TV antenna.

Let’s be careful out there.

It lives! The PRE BMX III

I have just finished putting back together this PRE BMX III console.

PRE BMXIII analog audio console, reassembled

PRE BMXIII analog audio console, reassembled

We basically ripped the guts out of this unit and in doing so, I was reminded of how well these things are built.  The PRE BMX series consoles were truly wonders of audio engineering.  It is a testament to their ruggedness and serviceability that so many of these units are still in use twenty to thirty years after they were manufactured.

This console suffered some pretty bad water damage to the backplane:

PRE BMXIII module backplane

PRE BMXIII module backplane

Which was replace, along with many switches and buttons.  The Mic2, Mic3 and CD1 modules seemed to have taken most of the damage, there were several logic ICs and IC sockets that needed to be replaced on those modules.  Of course, this was not inexpensive; the parts were somewhere north of $3K plus about 40 man hours of labor… that adds up fast.

The good news, I think that the studio was back in service last night.

Message from the General Manager

Or whatever those guys are called these days:

lumbergh

Especially when that sink is located on the second floor, above the studio on the first floor.  ‘Tis but a small thing really, one of those little details, but in light of the sink also being clogged, it becomes very significant.  That, coupled with the fact that the building is uninhabited at night and disaster is afoot.

Clogged sink

Clogged sink

The water was running slowly all night…

Wet ceiling tiles

Wet ceiling tiles

It filled up the sink.  It ran across the floor.  It soaked the carpet. It seeped into the sub floor and out of the ceiling on the first floor and then into this nice Pacific Recorders BMX III console.

Pacific Recorders BMX III console, draining

Pacific Recorders BMX III console, draining

Pacific Recorders BMX III console, draining/drying

Pacific Recorders BMX III console, draining/drying

You know that burning electronic/plastic smell?  Yeah, that’s it, mixed with stale funky water, wet wood and a nondescript mildewy odor; that is what the room smells like.  Very pleasing.  The furniture below the console was soaked too:

Studio furniture after water damage

Studio furniture after water damage

Some of the input module edge connectors; they didn’t fair so well:

PRE BMXIII burned edge connectors

PRE BMXIII burned edge connectors

The backplane for the power supply buss has to be replaced and these switches with the water bubbles in them, they have to go too:

Pacific Recorders BMXIII buss select switch full of water

Pacific Recorders BMXIII buss select switch full of water

We dried out the furniture with an industrial strength hair dryer.  By three PM we had unsoldered all of the bad parts and cleaned off the modules and the console back plane.

Parts for repairs are on order from Mooretronix.  I doubt this will be repaired before next Tuesday.

Somebody came in and was all “awww, this sucks bla bla bla.”  Well, maybe, but I get paid by the hour and frankly, there are much worse things that I could be doing…

Blown up surge suppressor module

This is a picture of a surge module taken from an LEA series type surge suppressor:

LEA MOV module destruction

LEA 600 volt MOV module

Looks like it took a pretty significant power hit, enough to explode several MOV’s.  This site is at the end of a long transmission line that stretches across an entire county.  Over the years, the station has made many complaints to the utility company about the quality of their power and the frequency of interruptions encountered at this transmitter site.  Occasionally, something will happen.  Often times it is the figurative shoulder shrug.

That is why we installed the surge suppressor.

Whatever can happen, will happen

This is a universal truism that can also be expressed as “Murphy’s Law.”  I don’t rightly know how Murphy received credit for this, however, I chalk it up to either the luck of the Irish or the gift of self promotion.  Either way, that principle was demonstrated again with a 950 MHz STL link between Mt. Beacon and Peekskill, NY for WHUD.

I had noticed, while doing some transmitter maintenance, the receive signal strength of the STL had dropped from 300 µV to 30 µV.   That is an alarming development.  Therefore, we scheduled a tower crew for the next day, not wanting to go off the air over the coming holiday, which would be a sure bet otherwise.  Upon arrival, the tower crew noticed a strange thing in the STL transmission line at the base of the tower, which looked like some type of a splice.  Truth be told, I have been associated with this station since 1999, and had never noticed the splice before.  This STL system was installed in 1998, when the station’s studio moved from Peekskill to Beacon.   I can say, of all the things that have gone wrong over the years, this STL system was always very reliable.  Regardless of that, I quick check with a spectrum analyzer showed a 3 dB return loss at 137 feet (41.75 m), exactly the distance from the transmitter room to the base of the tower.

3 dB return loss, distance to fault 137 feet

3 dB return loss, distance to fault 137 feet

A 3 dB return loss coincides exactly with the drop in received signal strength at the other end of the path.  Thus, the tower crew took apart the splice and water poured out of it.  I would estimate at least 4-6 ounces of water (180 ml), perhaps more.

7/8 coax cable splice connector

7/8 coax cable splice connector, opened up

We then began to take in the details:

  • The 7/8 coax coming out of the building was Cablewave FLC78-50J
  • The 7/8 coax going up the tower was Andrew LDF4-50A
  • The splice connector was Andrew L45Z
  • The center conductor threaded connector did not fit properly into the Cablewave cable, it was too loose.
  • The cable was chaffing on a tower leg, about 50 feet above the splice because it was not properly secured to the tower
  • The 7/8 splice connector was missing an O ring on the backnut of the Cablewave cable

Thus, water ingress causes the high return loss.  Problems with this system began immediately after Hurricane Irene, the end of last August.  We were able to make a temporary fix using two type N connectors of the proper manufacture for each type of cable.  The radio station returned to air just before noon,  about 45 minutes after turn off.  After the repair, the return loss dropped to about 20 dB, which is good.

The permanent fix is for the entire run of cable from the transmitter room to the STL antenna to be replaced.  That type of line splice should have never been used on a 950 MHz STL, and it was certainly wrong to mix cable types with an Andrew connector.  Those little details will always manifest themselves eventually.

Of popular trees and telephone poles

This picture reminded me of something that happened early on in my radio career:

WDCD three tower array, Albany, NY

WDCD three tower array, Albany, NY

This is another view, looking across from the roof of the transmitter building before the former studio building was removed:

WFLY STL antenna

WFLY STL antenna, circa 1992

The story dates back to 1990 or so.  In the second picture, one can see two Scala PR-950U Paraflector antennas.  These are the STL and TSL antennas for WFLY.  They are on wooden utility poles because of the WPTR 1540 KHz antenna system is behind the poles, out of the picture to the left.   As you can see in the second picture, these poles were immediately behind the studio building, known as the “Gold Studio, ” the name itself being pure propaganda.

Also, in the second picture you can see behind the poles, a pair of poplar trees.  The reason for the second, taller pole was because across the street, out of the picture to the right, there was a stand of poplar trees which were growing up into the path of the WFLY STL system.

When this was noticed, then General Manager, John Kelly, tactfully approached the property owner and asked if the radio station could cut the “popular” trees down.  Of course, the property owner wanted much money to do this.  There was many telephone calls and discussions on how to kill the “popular” trees and other, not so ethical solutions to this growing problem.  Finally, it was decided that it would be simple and less expensive to install the taller utility pole.

Thus, Northeast Towers found the utility pole and came to install it.  In this area of Albany, the soil is a sandy loam, which required much hand digging and back bracing in the hole before they placed the pole in the ground.  As it is a seventy foot pole, a good 12 feet was placed in the ground and the hole was back filled with concrete.  That is why the pole still stands today.

Naturally, all of this work is taking place on the hottest day of the year.  Also, it stands to reason, the guy in the hole doing the manual labor is the oldest, most out of shape person on the crew.  After lots of grunting and swearing, our man comes out of the hole looking whiter than the driven snow and sweating profusely.  He kind of staggered into the back door of the building and collapsed on the floor just inside the back door.  At this point, he was in full cardiac arrest.  The promotions director, who’s office was closest to the door, called the ambulance.

Fortunately, the board operator on WPTR was an EMT with the local fire department.  After his pager went off, he ran out to his car, got his EMT bag and arrived on scene within seconds.  He was able to start CPR quickly.  In the mean time, a crowd had gathered out in the hallway.  John (the General Manager), hearing the commotion, storms out of his office and down the hallway.  He gets to the edge of the crowd and yells:

“WHAT ARE YOU PEOPLE DOING HERE?  DON’T YOU HAVE JOBS TO DO? AND WHAT IS THAT GUY DOING LAYING ON THE FLOOR?”

The good news is, the guy survived, thanks in no small part to the quick action of the board operator.

Anyway, tales of radio when it was fun.

Fire! Fire! Fire!

Class Charlie fire in the transmitter room electrical panel.  Away fire party from repair locker forward.  Set condition ZEBRA throughout the ship, this is not a drill.

Or something like that.  If you were driving around Albany, NY this afternoon and noticed WDCD-FM was off the air, this is the reason why.

WDCD AM/FM main distribution panel

WDCD AM/FM 480 volt 3 phase AC main distribution panel

A little after noon time, the 480 volt main distribution panel at WDCD AM/FM caught fire, taking the FM station off the air.

WDCD conference room clock, time of power outage noted

WDCD conference room clock, time of power outage noted

According to this clock, it happened at 12:19 pm, when there was a loud bang and the lights in the studio flickered several times, followed by the building fire alarm going off.  Thankfully, a quick response by the station staff and the Town of Colonie fire department limited the damage to the interior of the distribution panel.  Other than the dry chemical fire extinguisher residue all over the place, the building is none the worse for wear.

WDCD distribution panel burned parts

WDCD distribution panel burned parts

The 480 Volt three phase electrical distribution panel was installed in 1947 when the original building was constructed.  The power company cut the power to the building and an electrician was able to re-route the distribution for the dry step down transformers that power the studios and equipment racks.  The original 480 volt service was installed due to the 50 KW AM transmitter for WPTR (WDCD-AM).   Currently, WDCD-AM is silent, pending programming decisions by the owner, Crawford Broadcasting.

WDCD burned electrical distribution panel parts

WDCD burned electrical distribution panel parts

So, we spent the late afternoon vacuuming the NextGen computers and UPS out, wiping down the equipment and making sure to clean out the power supplies and other nooks and crannies.  Then, we powered everything back up, one at a time and to our pleasant surprise, all came back up without error.  Total off air time for the FM station was about 6 hours.

Water and transmitters do not mix

This incident happened a few years ago.  I thought I had lost the pictures of the disaster, but I found them this morning on my thumb drive. Hooray!  This occurred one morning just before Christmas after the area received a snow/ice/rain storm.  The gutters on the old ATT long lines building clogged with ice and the water on the roof built up.  Unfortunately, the transmitter was installed directly below a disused exhaust stack for the former backup generators.

I received the off air call from the morning show while I was driving to the office.  I diverted and went to the transmitter site and found water pouring into the top of the main transmitter.

WBPM transmitter room flood

WBPM transmitter room flood

Thus, water ran down directly into the top of the QEI FMQ-3500 transmitter (transmitter was upgraded to 6 KW). Unfortunately, high voltage and dirty stack water do not mix. The combination of sooty, iron laden water and the B+ damaged much of the transmitter circuits beyond repair.  The main transmitter is on the right, the backup transmitter is on the left.

I inspected the backup transmitter, also a QEI FMQ-3500, and it seemed to me that no water made it into the unit.  I rigged the tarp to ensure that none did, which was a very pleasing bit of work, what with the cold, smelly, dirty diesel water dripping on my head and running down my neck and back.

Top of WBPM QEI FMQ-3500 transmitter

Top of WBPM QEI FMQ-3500 transmitter

The 1 5/8 coax switch was also damaged:

WBPM 1 5/8 coax switch

WBPM 1 5/8 coax switch

As was the remote control in the equipment rack:

WBPM Gentner remote control

WBPM Gentner remote control

Fortunately, the backup transmitter ran, although I pressed the plate on button with a dry wooden stick while standing on a dry, non-conducting ladder.   Even so, I still felt a little trepidation holding that stick.

WBPM Saugerties, NY Nautel V-7.5 transmitter

WBPM Saugerties, NY Nautel V-7.5 transmitter

It took almost a year, but finally the insurance company for the building owner came through, and a new Nautel V-7.5 transmitter was installed.  I believe this is the last V transmitter Nautel made.  We moved the transmitter location across the room, not under the old generator stacks.  We also removed the generator stacks and patched up the roof with hydraulic cement and roofing tar.  By the way, that yellow color should look familiar to anyone who ever worked inside of a Bell Telephone System building.

 

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