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Studio Buildout, Part III

I have been so busy that I forgot to post the pictures of the completed studio build out.  Overall, I would say that I am pretty pleased with the end result.  Of course, this is not Manhattan but rather an unrated market in central New York, and the budget reflected that.  Overall, the radio stations are in much better technical condition than before.  They are now located in the center of their community within walking distance of the town hall, other civic locations and activities.

There are five radio stations broadcasting from this new studio space.  Two stations are simulcast using the Westwood One Classic hits format from the satellite.  The only AM station is a Fox Sports Radio affiliate from the satellite with a local morning show.  Another one is a “we play anything” computer juke box and final station has a country format with quite a bit of local content.  Any station can go on the air from either studio.  In addition, all stations can simulcast the mother ship from Oneonta, which comes down via a Barix Exstreamer 1000.

Walton TOC

The Technical Operation Center consists of four racks containing the Ethernet routers, switches, a patch panel, automation systems, audio routing switchers, air monitor receivers, audio distribution amps, Barix units, Wheatstone Blade IP 88A STL, etc.  The equipment racks came from a disused site in New Jersey.

The satellite dish and receivers are located at the transmitter site, audio and closures come back via the Wheatstone Blade IP 88A.

Everything in this room is backed up by a STACO 2.5 KVA UPS.

TOC wire terminations

The wire termination from the studio are mounted to Krone LSA-PLUS blocks.  Studio trunk wiring consists of connectorized 25 pair CAT 5 cable.  There are also six runs of shielded CAT 5e cable for Ethernet and extended KVM from the TOC.

There is a manual transfer switch with a NEMA L14-30 input receptacle on the bottom.  A twenty for 10/4 SOJ cable will reach the ground from the window in the left hand side of the picture.  This is the standard NEMA plug/receptacle set for a moderate sized portable generator.  That feeds a 100 Amp sub panel which in turn feeds the racks and studio equipment.  Thus the entire facility can be run on a 5000 watt (good quality) portable generator in the event of a prolonged power outage.

The ground buss bar is connected to the main building ground at the service entrance.  All racks and studio consoles are grounded to this main ground point.

The air monitor receivers feed both studios.  There is also a provision to connect audio silence sensors up to each air monitor DA to notify the station staff in the event of an off air situation.  Believe it or not, this type of system has never been installed for these stations.

Studio A is the main studio.  The AudioArts Air4 console is a good fit for this type of operation.  These consoles have USB outputs, so the console can act as a sound card for the digital editing computer.  Each studio is equipped with an air monitor switch that can select any station to feed the external monitor input on the Air 4 console.  This allows the guy on duty to keep an eye on all the signals coming from the facility.

Studio A

The counter tops were custom made at a local kitchen place on trade. The microphone are Heil PR-22 with shock mounts, which are better than the Realistic mics in the old studio.  This is the first time that the main studio has had more than one microphone. The morning show guy has already pressed those guest mics into service with a few on air interviews.

The monitor speakers are JBL LSR305 mounted on home made speaker stands consisting of 18 inch black iron pipe and floor flanges.

Studio A

The small equipment rack is on casters and can roll out from under the studio furniture to get at the back of the equipment.  A used Gentner DH3 TELCO hybrid is used to get phone callers on the air.  Adobe Audition is used for editing and production on the left hand computer monitor.  That CPU is in the bottom of the roll around rack.

Studio A

The office chair and other furniture was also acquired on trade.

Studio A

What the operator sees. STORQ computer on the left for music, Scotts SS32 on the right for automation. Both are extended from the TOC. Unless the morning show guy is live on the air, the console is bypassed and the audio stays in the TOC.

It all works pretty well.

Studio B

Studio B is the same as Studio A except fewer microphones.

Studio B

Studio B operator view.  This studio can be used for one of the other stations or production.

Again, this is not a Fancy Nancy installation, but it does get the job done.

VOA Site B, Greenville, NC

I took a brief vacation last week along the coast of North Carolina. It was relaxing and fun to be sure. I was also aware of and slightly curious about the Voice Of America shortwave site, a slight distance inland in Grimesland, NC.  Thus, I made arrangements visit the facility on my way home.  Chief Engineer, Macon Dail, was gracious enough to give us the guided tour.  The facility is an engineering marvel.  The scale and complexity is enormous.  The entire facility is scrupulously maintained.  Many of the transmitters and other equipment have been upgraded to make them more functional.   I tried to take meaningful pictures, but in many cases, they simply do not to justice.

Edward R Murrow Transmitting Facility, (VOA Greenville Site B) Grimesland, North Carolina

Officially known as the Edward R Murrow Transmitting Station of the International Broadcasting Bureau, VOA Site B was constructed in 1961.  Six of the eight shortwave transmitters are original to the construction of the building.  The other two (BBC SK55 and AEG S4005) were added in 1986.  All of the dipole curtain arrays, rhombics, transmission line and the antenna switching matrix are also original.  A few brief statistics about this site:

  • Land area is 2,715 acres (1099 hectare).
  • Over twenty six miles (forty two kilometers) of 300 ohm open transmission line rated at 500 KW.
  • Sixteen dipole curtain arrays, average antenna gain 17 dBi.
  • Twenty rhombic antennas, antenna gain 15 dBi.
  • Two of the dipole curtain arrays can slew azimuth and take off angle.
  • Three Continental Electronics 420A 500 KW Doherty modulated transmitters.
  • Three General Electric 4BT250A1 250 KW high level plate modulated transmitters.
  • One Brown Boveri Company (BBC) SK55C3 500 KW PSM transmitter.
  • One AEG Telefunken S4005 500 KW PDM transmitter.
  • Antenna switch matrix connects any of the eight transmitters to any of the thirty six antennas

While we were there, both of the newer transmitters were on the air, running at 250 KW.  The GE transmitters are used as needed and the Continentals are rarely used due to age, difficulty to tune, change frequencies and gross power inefficiency.

The station staff has, out of necessity, fabricated some very cool upgrades to the transmitters and facility.  The first of which is the alarm annunciator, which is based on a Star Trek (Original Series) sound scheme.  Once or twice I heard the bridge general alarm go off, followed by a female voice stating the problem: “GB8, OFF AIR.”

Chief Engineer’s office.  NCC-1701; no bloody A, no bloody B, no bloody C, and no bloody D

The GE 250 KW transmitters have been retrofitted with a computer controlled auto tune system for frequency changes.  The antenna switch matrix controller has been replaced by a PLC based system.  As the transmitters are so old, many of the transmitter specific parts need to be machined or fabricated locally.  The rest of the transmitter parts are stocked in a large parts storage room, all of which is meticulously labeled and tracked.  The floors are waxed and spotless, there is no dust on the horizontal surfaces, the work shop is clean, tools are put away, grass and weeds are cut, etc.  All of these little details did not go unnoticed and indicate great pride by the staff in the facility itself.

The heart of the facility is the control room which consists of four rows of equipment racks and a central operating position elevated above floor level.  Arranged around that are the eight shortwave transmitters in two long transmitter galleries.

VOA Site B control room

From this point, the operator can view all of the transmitters in the two transmitter galleries.

Operating position

Around the control operator are arranged a series of computer monitors showing various station function status.

Transmitter modulation and status indicators

Antenna Matrix status and control

VOA transmitter control and status (center)

Audio monitoring router

The equipment is installed into the equipment racks by type; one rack contains the frequency generators for each transmitter, the next contains first stage power amplifiers, the next contains audio processors and modulation monitors, etc.

Equipment racks and Shift Supervisor’s  office

Transmitter frequency generators

Audio processors, modulation monitors and patch panels

Backup audio feeds

The audio comes from the VOA studios in Washington DC via satellite. There are Comrex Access links as a backup and the Gentner EFT-1000s are used as a backup to the backup.  Prior to 1995, an eight hop microwave system covering the 300 mile (483 KM) distance was used.

GE 4BT250A transmitter with computer controlled tuning system installed

The station staff has created a computer controlled tuning system for the GE transmitters. Each transmitter can change frequency several times a day, during each frequency change, all of the transmitter stages need to be retuned. When done by hand, this can take several minutes to accomplish. The computer system uses follow pots and micro controllers to set the tuning elements to specific values. They can be touched up by hand if needed. A frequency change can usually be done in less than one minute.

GE 4BT250A transmitter

Your humble author and CE Macon Dail discussing the auto tune system

GE 4BT250A auto tune modification

GE 4BT250A IPA tube and input tuning.

The 2nd IPA and PA input tuning work the same way. The copper sleeve slides up and down over the coil to change resonant frequency. The vapor cooled tube sits inside the tub at the top, anode facing down. These tuning sections are a mechanical nightmare according to Macon. One of the reasons why VOA site A was closed down was due to the frequent frequency changes at that site causing excessive wear and tear on the old GE transmitters. This particular transmitter was being repaired; the staff was rebuilding a tuning network bypass capacitor assembly

GE 4BT250A transformer vault

The GE transmitter transformers still contain PCB’s. The plate transformers are in the back, basically pole transformers, one for each phase. Primary voltages is 4,180 volts, secondary rectified voltages are 12 KVDC (PA plate supply)  and 15 KVDC (modulator plate supply).

Hallway and maintenance access to back of GE transmitters

AEG Telefunken S4005 500 KW transmitter on the air

While we were there, the newer transmitters were in operation transmitting Spanish language programming to the Cuba on 13,605 KHz and 11,930 KHz.  Currently, the Greenville site is broadcasting mostly Spanish language programming with some English, French and Bambara language programming for Africa.

A fact that does not escape the notice of the staff.

VOA transmitter gallery, showing transmitters GB8 through GB4

Continental Electronics 420A 500 KW Shortwave transmitter control and metering panel

The three Continental 420A transmitters (GB-1, GB-2 and GB-3) are essentially a pair of 250 KW amplifiers combined. As these are Doherty power amplifiers, frequency changes are very difficult to effect. These transmitters spend most of their time in backup service.

Electrical distribution panel

The antenna matrix building is very impressive. Routing eight 250 or 500 KW transmitters to 36 different antennas takes a bit of doing. Mechanizing that set up is no mean feat. The pictures I took of the antenna matrix building do not show the size and complexity of the system.

Transmission line between transmitter building and antenna matrix building

For that, we need a satellite photo:

VOA Site B antenna matrix building

Basically, the transmitter building is in the lower left hand side of the picture. The transmission line go over to the antenna matrix building (looks like rectangular duct work), then run all the way to the back of the building. Each antenna transmission line come into the building and runs to the other side. Pneumatic arms then couple the transmitter line to the antenna line. This is all controlled by a custom made PLC and controlled by the operator from the main operating desk.

Custom made antenna matrix control system

300 ohm open transmission lines

300 ohm open transmission lines

Some of these lines are very long but have low loss due to the air dielectric. The most used antennas are the dipole curtain arrays.

Dipole curtain arrays

These consist of a series of broadband dipole antennas arranged side by side and stacked three or four high. behind those antennas is a reflector screen. There are two curtain arrays that are slewable. The dipole antennas phase relationship to each other can be changed to adjust the take off angle and azimuth, thus giving optimum coverage to the targeted area.

Close up curtain array

In this picture, the dipole antennas are to the right. Behind them is the reflector screen, behind that is the antenna feed system. Each antenna feed goes through the reflector screen to the center of the dipole antenna.

Each array requires four towers to support it.

Curtain dipole array supporting towers

Curtain dipole array supporting towers

Remote Antenna Switch.  Allows two antennas to use one transmission line.

The entire antenna field is viewable from an observation platform on the main building

Observation room

Entrance gate and slewable curtains in background

Curtain arrays

The entire facility is very impressive. The truth is, I could have spent several more hours there, but I know that people have jobs to do and I felt that I had taken up enough time. We often forget in this country that not everyone in the world has access to the internet. Shortwave broadcasting has a long reach and is not subject to government controlled firewalls or other forms of electronic censorship. Currently, the Greenville site is broadcasting mostly Spanish language programming with some English language programming for Africa. There are many areas in the world that are in political tension right now, some startlingly close to home. Places like Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela have been in the news lately. I do not see a time when these long reach broadcasting services will not be needed. Becoming a welcome source of good information for those affected people is good for brand USA. It would be money well spent to invest in a couple of new Continental 419H (still made in the USA) DRM capable transmitters for this facility. While the old GE and Continental units are great, the time may come when they are really needed but unavailable due to being down for repair.

Special thanks to Macon Dail for his time, knowledge and patience.

Part 101, Private Fixed Microwave Service

I have been tasked with installing one of these systems for a sixteen channel bi-directional STL.  This system was first mentioned here: The 16 channel bi-directional STL system.  As some of you pointed out, the unlicensed 5.8 GHz IP WLAN extension was the weak link in this system.  It was not an interference issue, however, which was creating the problems.  The problem was with layer two transparency in the TCP/IP stack.  Something about those Cambium PTP-250s that the Wheatstone Blade hardware did not like and that created all sorts of noise issues in the audio.   We installed the Wheatstone Edge Routers, which took care of the noise issue at the cost of latency.  It was decided to go ahead and install a licensed link instead of the license free stuff as a permanent solution.

Thus, a Cambium PTP-820S point-to-point microwave system was purchased and licensed.  The coordination and licensing took about three months to complete.  We also had to make several changes to our network architecture to accommodate the new system.  The PTP-820 series has a mast mounted radio head, which is the same as the PTP-250 gear.  However, for the new system, we used three different ports on the radio to interface with our other equipment instead of the single port PTP-250 system.  The first is the power port, which takes 48 VDC via a separate power cable instead of POE.  Then there is the traffic port, which which uses Multi-Mode fiber.  Finally, there is the management port, which is 1GB Ethernet and the only way to get into the web interface.  The traffic port creates a completely transparent Ethernet bridge, thus eliminating all of the layer two problems previously encountered.  We needed to install fiber tranceivers in the Cisco 2900 series switches and get those turned up by the IT wizards in the corporate IT department.

Andrew VLHP-2-11W 11 GHz microwave antenna

Andrew VHLP-2-11W 11 GHz microwave antenna

The radios mount directly to the back of the 24 inch 11 GHz Andrew antenna (VHLP2-11) with a UBR100 interface.  The wave guide from the radios is a little bit deceptive looking, but I tried not to over think this too much.  I was careful to use the O ring grease and conductive paste exactly where and when specified.  In the end, it all seemed to be right.

Cambium PTP-820S mounted on antenna

Cambium PTP-820S mounted on Andrew antenna

Not wanting to waste time and money, I decided to do a back to back test in the conference room to make sure everything worked right and I had adequately familiarized myself with the ins and outs of the web interface on the Cambium PTP-820 radios.  Once that was done, it was time to call the tower company.

Cambium PTP-820S on studio roof

Cambium PTP-820S on studio roof

One side of these are mounted on the studio building roof, which is a leased space.  I posted RF warning signs around the antennas because the system ERP is 57.7 dBm, which translates to 590 watts at 11 GHz.  I don’t want to fry anybody’s insides, that would be bad.  The roof top installation involved pulling the MM fiber and power cable through a 1 1/4 inch EMT conduit to the roof.  Some running back and forth, but not terrible work.  I used the existing Ethernet cable for the management port.  This will be left disconnected from the switch most of the time.

Cambium PTP-280S 11 GHz licensed microwave mounted on a skirted AM tower

Cambium PTP-280S 11 GHz licensed microwave mounted on a skirted AM tower

The other side is mounted at about 85 feet AGL on a hot AM tower.  I like the use of fiber here, even though the tower is skirted, the AM station runs 5,000 watts during the daytime.  We made sure the power cables and Ethernet cables had lighting protectors at the top of the run near the dish and at the bottom of the tower as well as in the transmitter room rack.  I know this tower gets struck by lightning often as it is the highest point around for miles.

PTP-820S RSL during aiming process

PTP-820S RSL during aiming process

Aligning the two dishes was a degree of difficulty greater than the 5.8 GHz units.  The path tolerances are very tight, so the dishes on each end needed to be adjusted in small increments until the best signal level was achieved.  The tower crew was experienced with this and they started by panning the dish to the side until the first side lobe was found.  This ensured that the dish was on the main lobe and we were not chasing our tails.  In the end we achieved a -38 dBm RSL, the path predicted RSL was -36 dBm so close enough.  This means the system has a 25 dB fade margin, which should be more than adequate.  While were were aligning the transmitter site dish, a brief snow squall blew through causing a white out and the signal to drop by about 2 dB.  It was kind of cool seeing this happen in real time, however, strangely enough, the tower crew was not impressed by this at all.  Odd fellows, those are.

Currently brushing up on FCC part 101 rules, part C and H.  It is always good to know the regulatory requirements of any system I am responsible for.  As AOIP equipment becomes more main stream, I see many of these type installations happening for various clients.

The Gates Air FAX-10, Numero Dos

This is the second Gates Air FAX-10 that I have installed. This one is in the shipping container transmitter site from the previous post of the same name.  In this case, we dispensed with the equipment rack that came with the transmitter and installed it in a standard Middle Atlantic rack.   The Harris rack configuration wastes a lot of space and since space is at a premium, we decided to do it our own way.

Gates Air FAX-10 in Middle Atlantic rack

Gates Air FAX-10 in Middle Atlantic rack

The bottom of the rack has the transmission line dehydrator. The top of the rack has the Dielectric A60000 series 1 5/8 inch coax switch, a Tunwall TRC-1 switch controller and the Burk ARC-16 remote control.  I cut the rack panel top to accommodate the coax switch.  The racks were removed from an old studio site several years ago and were in storage since that time.

Gates Air FAX-10

Gates Air FAX-10

The Gates Air FAX-10 transmitter on the air, running a sports-talk format.

Dummy load and Broadcast Electronics FM10B transmitter

Dummy load and Broadcast Electronics FM10B transmitter

View from the other side showing the test load and BE FM10-B transmitter.  This transmitter had a problem that I have run into before with BE FM transmitters.  The jumper between the exciter and IPA had the wrong phase rotation causing reflected power.  I added a foot to it’s length and that problem disappeared.

Shipping Container transmitter site

Shipping container transmitter site from the early 1990's.

Shipping container transmitter site from the early 1990’s.

I do not particularly like these. I know, they are relatively inexpensive, easy to come by, easy to install, etc. However, a shipping container was not designed to house a transmitter, they have certain drawbacks. These are, in no particular order:

  • Air conditioning.  Using a traditional Bard type equipment shelter HVAC unit requires cutting through a lot of fairly heavy gauge steel.  What’s more, the steel walls are uneven, requiring filler.
  • They are by necessity, fairly narrow.  Arranging racks and transmitters along the length of the unit restricts access to either the front or the back of the equipment.  Meeting NEC clearance requirements for electrical panels, transfer switches and disconnects can pose problems.
  • They are not very tall.  Mounting overhead equipment can be problematic as one does not want to drill through the top of the container.  Crosswise unistrut is one solution, but it lowers the overhead considerably.
  • Electrical work is slightly more dangerous.  Doing any kind of electrical work, trouble shooting, repairs, etc is a little more nerve-racking when everywhere around you is a metal surface at ground potential.
  • They are difficult to insulate against cold and heat.
  • The door latching mechanisms bind, wear out or otherwise fail over time.

All of those things being said, I am now rebuilding a transmitter site in one of these shipping containers.

Inside view of shipping container transmitter

Inside view of shipping container transmitter site

Fortunately, the original electrical work was not bad.  The transmitter is a twenty year old BE FM10B, which will be retained as a backup.  The new transmitter is a Gates Air FAX-10.  We have installed several of these Gates Air transmitters in the last two years or so and they seem to be pretty solid units.  This is the second 10KW unit I have installed.

Gatesair FAX-10 transmitter in Middle Atlantic Rack

We decided to install the FAX-10 in a Middle Atlantic rack, since we did not have a whole bunch of extra room for a separate transmitter rack.  The 1 5/8 inch coax switch is installed in the top of the transmitter rack along with a Tunwall TRC-1 switch control unit. The other rack will have the STL and all other ancillary gear.  My idea is to have nothing in between the door and the FM10B so it can be easily removed when that day comes.  Something, something about planning ahead since it will be likely myself removing the FM10B.

Commercial Radio Networks changing Satellites

Lockheed Martin A2100 series satellite

Lockheed Martin A2100 series satellite

Westwood One, Premiere, Skyview Networks, et al. will be changing their satellite from AMC-8 at 139° W to AMC-18/SES-11 at 105° W longitude.  More from AMC8transition.com. There are several considerations for this move:

  • Dish design and two degree compliance
  • Obstacle clearance
  • Transponder frequencies
  • Timing

Two degree compliance is going to be an issue for many stations.  Those old 2.4 and 2.8 meter mesh dishes are going to have issues with 105º West because that is a very crowed part of the sky.  From New York, it looks something like this:

Satellite Longitude Inclination Azimuth Elevation Distance
TELSTAR 12 (ORION 2) 109.21° W 0.491° 227.46° 31.09° 38596.91 km
TELSTAR 12 (ORION 2) 109.21° W 0.491° 227.46° 31.09° 38596.91 km
MSAT M1 107.72° W 7.430° 231.14° 38.16° 38011.55 km
ANIK G1 107.33° W 0.013° 225.25° 31.96° 38518.62 km
ANIK F1 107.31° W 0.020° 225.22° 31.95° 38513.76 km
ANIK F1R 107.28° W 0.052° 225.22° 32.02° 38510.37 km
ECHOSTAR 17 107.11° W 0.019° 225.01° 32.08° 38503.29 km
AMC-15 105.07° W 0.025° 222.76° 33.28° 38400.67 km
AMC-18 104.96° W 0.027° 222.64° 33.34° 38400.16 km
GOES 14 104.66° W 0.198° 222.21° 33.38° 38394.57 km
AMSC 1 103.44° W 9.810° 228.37° 43.31° 37616.42 km
SES-3 103.01° W 0.041° 220.41° 34.42° 38307.12 km
SPACEWAY 1 102.90° W 0.032° 220.25° 34.43° 38299.87 km
DIRECTV 10 102.82° W 0.017° 220.17° 34.51° 38292.86 km
DIRECTV 12 102.78° W 0.035° 220.12° 34.50° 38292.93 km
DIRECTV 15 102.71° W 0.009° 220.05° 34.56° 38290.50 km
SKYTERRA 1 101.30° W 3.488° 219.07° 36.33° 38131.32 km
DIRECTV 4S 101.19° W 0.011° 218.24° 35.35° 38228.26 km
DIRECTV 9S 101.15° W 0.014° 218.18° 35.36° 38228.57 km
SES-1 101.00° W 0.016° 218.02° 35.45° 38217.56 km
DIRECTV 8 100.87° W 0.036° 217.88° 35.54° 38211.02 km

Generally speaking, dishes need to be 3.7 meters (12.14 feet) or larger to meet the two degree compliance specification.  For many, this means replacing the current dish.  This is especially true for those old 10 foot aluminium mesh dishes that were very popular in the 90’s because of the TVRO satellite craze.

If the existing dish is acceptable, then the next issue may be obstacle clearance.  Generally speaking the 105 degree west slot (south of Denver) will be easier to see that the 139 degree west slot (south of Honolulu) for much of the United States.  Still, there may be trees, buildings, hills, etc in the way.  Site surveys can be made using online tools (dishpointer.com) or smart phone apps (dishalign (iOS) or dishaligner (Android)).  I have found that I need to stand in front of the dish to get the best idea of any obstacles.  While you are there, spray all the dish holding hardware with a penetrating oil like WD-40, Rostoff or something similar.  Most of these dishes have not moved since they were installed, many years or decades ago.

Transponder frequencies will not be the same, so when the dish is aligned to the new satellite, those frequencies will need to be changed.  The network satellite provider will furnish this information when it becomes available.  This generally requires navigating around various menu trees in the satellite receiver.  Most are fairly intuitive, but it never hurts to be prepared.

The window of opportunity is from February 1, 2017 (first day of AMC-18) until June 30, 2017 (last day of AMC-8).  Of course, in the northern parts of the country, it may not be possible to install a new dish in the middle of winter.  It may also be very difficult to align an existing dish depending on how bad the winter is.  Therefore, the planning process should begin now.   A quick site evaluation should include the following:

Network Satellite Receive Location Evaluation

Satellite:

Satellite Location:

Dish is 2°compliant? (Y/N)

Distance to receiver location:

Dish Latitude:

Dish Longitude:

Dish Azimuth (T):

Dish Azimuth (M)

Dish Height AGL:

Dish Elevation:

Observed Obstacles:

(permanent or removable? Owned or not owned?)

Comments:

A .pdf version is available here. Based on that information, a decision can be made on whether or not to keep the old dish or install a new one.  We service about 25 studio locations and I am already aware of three in need of dish replacement and two that have obstructive trees which will need to be cut.  This work cannot start too soon.

The Energy Onix Pulsar transmitter

Engineering Radio: The Oh Dear God Edition.

I have been tasked with fixing one of these glorious contraptions. Aside from the usual Energy Onix quirks; design changes not reflected in the schematic diagram and a company that no longer exists, it seems to fairly simply machine. Unfortunately, it has spent its life in less than ideal operating conditions.

Energy Onix Pulsar 1000 in the wild. Excuse the potato quality photo

Energy Onix Pulsar 1000 in the wild. Excuse the potato quality photo

Upon arrival, it was dead in the water.  Found copious mouse droppings, dirt and other detritus within and without of the transmitter.  Repaired the broken start/stop switches, fixed the RF drive detector, replaced the power supply capacitors and now at least the unit runs.  The problem now is the power control is unstable.  The unit comes up at full power when it first switched on, then it drops back to 40 watts, then after it warms up more goes to about 400 watts and the audio sounds distorted.  This all points towards some type of thermal issue with one of the power control op amps or other composite device.

After studying the not always accurate schematic diagrams, the source of the problem seems to be carrier level control circuit.  This is based around a Fairchild RC4200AN (U10 on the Audio/PDM driver board) which is an analog multiplier chip.   That chip sets the level of the PDM audio output which is fed into the PDM integrator circuit.  Of course, that chip is no longer manufactured.  I can order one from China on eBay and perhaps that will work out okay.  This all brings to mind the life cycle of solid state components.  One problem with the new technology; most solid state components have a short production life, especially things like multiplier chips.  Transmitters are generally expected to last 15-20 years in primary service.  Thus, transmitter manufactures need to use chips that will not become obsolete (good luck with that), or purchase and maintain a large stock of spare parts.

In the mean time, the chip is on its way from China.  Truth be told, this fellow would be better off with a new transmitter.

The Realtek 2832U

In my spare time (lol!) I have been fooling around with one of those RTL 2832U dongles and a bit of software.  For those that don’t know, the RTL 2832U is a COFDM demodulator chip designed to work with a USB dongle.  When coupled with an R 820T tuner a broadband RF receiver is created  There are many very inexpensive versions of these devices available on Amazon, eBay and other such places. The beauty of these things is that for around $12-30 and a bit of free software, one can have a very versatile 10 KHz to 1.7 GHz receiver.  There are several good software packages for Windoze, Linux and OSX.

The one I recommend for beginners is called SDR-Sharp or SDR#.  It has a very easy learning curve and there is lots of documentation available on line.  There are also several worth while plugins for scanning, trunking, decoding, etc.  At a minimum, the SDR software should have a spectrum analyzer, water fall display and ability to record audio and baseband PCM from the IF stage of the radio.

Some fun things to do; look at the output of my reverse registering smart (electric) meter (or my neighbor’s meter), ACARS data for the various aircraft flying overhead, a few trips through the EZPass toll lanes, some poking around on the VHF hi-band, etc.  I also began to think of Broadcast Engineering applications and a surprising number of things came to mind:

  • Using the scanner to look for open 950 MHz STL frequencies
  • Inexpensive portable FM receiver with RDS output for radio stations
  • Inexpensive Radio Direction Finder with a directional antenna
  • Inexpensive Satellite Aiming tool

Using SDR sharp and a NooElec NESDR Mini+ dongle, I made several scans of the 945-952 STL band in a few of our markets.  Using the scanner and frequency search plugin, the SDR software very quickly identified all of the in use frequencies.  One can also look at the frequency span in the spectrum analyzer, but this takes a lot of processing power.  The scanner plugin makes this easier and can be automated.

950 MHz STL frequencies, Albany, NY

Analog and digital 950 MHz STL frequencies, Albany, NY

I also listened to the analog STLs in FM Wideband mode.  Several stations are injecting their RDS data at the studio.  There is one that appears to be -1500 Hz off frequency.  I’ll let them know.

Next, I have found it beneficial just to keep the dongle and a small antenna in my laptop bag.  Setting up a new RDS subcarrier; with the dongle and SDR# one can quickly and easily check for errors.  Tracking down one of those nasty pirates; a laptop with a directional antenna will make quick work.

Something that I found interesting is the water fall display for the PPM encoded stations:

WPDH using RTL 2832U and SDR Sharp

WPDH using RTL 2832U and SDR Sharp

Not only can you see the water marking on the main channel, you can also see the HD Radio carriers +/- 200 KHz from the carrier frequency.  That is pretty much twice the bandwidth allotment for an FM station.

WDPA using RTL 2831U with SDR Sharp

WDPA using RTL 2831U and  SDR Sharp

Those two stations are simulcasting.  WPDA is not using Nielson PPM nor HD Radio technology.  There is all sorts of interesting information that can be gleaned from one of these units.

Aiming a satellite dish at AMC-8 can be a bit challenging.  That part of the sky is pretty crowed, as it turns out.  Dish pointer is a good general reference (www.dishpointer.com) and the Dish Align app for iOS works well.  But for peaking a dish, the RTL 2832 dongle makes it easy to find the correct satellite and optimize the transponder polarization.  Each satellite has Horizontal and Vertical beacons.  These vary slightly in frequency, thus, but tuning to the correct beacon frequency, you can be assured that you are on the right satellite.  All of the radio network programming on AMC-8 is on vertically polarized transponders, therefore,  the vertical beacons are of interest.  Here are the vertical beacons for satellites in that part of the sky:

Satellite Position C band Vertical beacon (MHz) L band (LNB) Vertcial beacon (MHz) Comment
AMC-8 139W 4199.5 949.25
AMC-7 137W 3700.5 1450.25
GOES15 135.4W 2209.086 N/A NOAA WX
AMC-10 135W 4199.5 949.25
Galaxy 15 133W 4198 949.00
AMC-11 131W 4199.5 949.25
Galaxy 12 129W 3700.5 1450.25

For those in the continental United States, there is not much else past 139W, so AMC-8 will be the western most satellite your dish can see.  Of course, this can be used in other parts of the world as well, with the correct information. Bringing a laptop or Windows tablet to the satellite dish might be easier than trying to drag a XDS satellite receiver out.

AMC8 vertical beacon output from LNB

AMC8 vertical beacon output from LNB

In order to use the RTL-2832U, simply split the output of a powered LNB, install a 20-30 dB pad in between the splitter and the dongle.  Using the vertical beacon on 949.25 MHz, adjust for maximum signal.

Some other uses; look for the nearest and best NOAA Weather radio station.  Several times the local NOAA weather station has been off the air for an extended period of time.  Sometimes, another station can be found in the same forecast area.  Heck, couple these things to a Raspberry Pi or Beaglebone black and a really nifty EAS receiver is created for NOAA and broadcast FM.  One that perhaps, can issue an alarm if the RSL drops below a certain threshold.

I am sure there are plenty of other uses that I am not thinking of right now…

The isocoupler and the SX2.5

Second post in the series, “things to do with a truck body tool box.”

We have this client who, several years ago, moved their translator to their AM tower. All is well for a few months, then the much beloved Harris SX2.5 transmitter begins burping.  The SX2.5 transmitter being of an age when, apparently, VSWR fold back circuits were just a gleam in Hilmer Swanson’s eye.  The correct description of the sound made over the air during this event would be “motor boating,” because that is what it sounds like.  Obviously, very undesirable.

Thus, the isocoupler was removed from the tower, dried out, water proofed and replaced.  That lasted about six months.

Once again, the isocoupler was removed from the tower, a capacitor was remounted, drain holes and a small vent added to the top of the unit and it was replaced.  That lasted about a year.

I am getting a little tired of this and so is the client.  Time to rethink the entire set up.

We had several left over parts from various AM decommissionings over the last few years which included these nifty sample loop isolation coils:

AM antenna system sample loop isolation coil

AM antenna system sample loop isolation coil

Why not repurpose one of these to make an isocoupler for the translator?

Enter; the truck body tool box.  This one is slightly smaller than the last one, measuring 23.5 x 18 x 16 inches (60 x 45 x 40.5 cm).

The isolation coil consists of 35 turns of 3/8 coax on an 11.5 inch diameter form.  The coil length is 15 inches.  I calculate the length of the coax on the coil to be out to be right around 100 feet using the π x D x (turns) formula.  I measured the inductance with my analyser, which came out to 200 μH.  Not to shabby.

Checking length of cable with TDR

Checking length of cable with TDR

The coax is Cablewave FCC38-50J which has a velocity factor of .81 and the TDR shows it to be 100 feet also.

Coil impedence and reactance

Simple coil impedance and reactance

At 860 KHz, the isolation coil presents 1,200 impedance.  I don’t think that will be good enough for that cranky old SX2.5.  I decided to make a parallel LC circuit (AKA a tank circuit) to bring up the impedance some.

Tank circuit formula:

tank_circuit

Where:

FR = Resonance frequency in Hertz
L = Inductance in Henrys
C = Capacitance in Farads

Given that I have two left over capacitors, one is a .001 μF and the other is a .0012 μF, those values determine where the coil needs to be tapped.  I also wanted to have a good bit of coil in the circuit on the tower side before the capacitor tap to dampen any lightning strikes on the tower.  Thus the inductance needs to be about 28 μH.

Using Wheeler’s coil inductance formula:

L= (d2 x n2)/(18d+40l)

where:

L = inductance in micro Henrys
d = coil diameter in inches
l = is coil length in inches
n = is number of turns

I removed a small portion of the outer jacket on the coil at approximately the 28 μH point (12 turns) then installed a .0012 μF capacitor.  I used a small variable capacitor to tune for resonance on the carrier frequency.  With this set up, at 860 KHz, there is >47,500 impedance.  That goes down to about 16,000 ohms +/- 10 KHz.

That should make things better.

Then I mounted the coil and capacitor in the truck body tool box.  There is a fair amount of stray capacitance from the box itself, which raised the resonant frequency by 5 KHz.

Device Under Test, initial testing of isocoil after fabrication

Device Under Test;  initial testing of isocoil after fabrication

Resonance is slightly above the carrier frequency with the permanent fixed .0012 μF capacitor.  I think this will change once the unit is connected to the station ground plane.  The network analyzer indicated there is too much capacitance in the circuit.  Unfortunately, this may be as good as it gets, however, the analyzer shows the impedances are still pretty high:

Frequency (KHz) Impedance (Ohms) Deviation from Carrier (KHz)
850 9,950 – 10
855 14,720 – 5
860 28,590 0
865 59,580 + 5
870 24,780 + 10

The base impedance of this tower is 34 ohms on the carrier frequency, so the isocoupler should be invisible to the transmitter across the 20 KHz occupied bandwidth of the station.

The FCC38-50J cable has a loss of 1.04 dB per 100 feet at 100 MHz, which is the figure I will use to calculate the insertion loss on the FM translator antenna system.

The old isocoupler is made with RG-214, but likely a somewhat shorter length.  RG-214 cable has a loss of 1.9 dB per 100 feet at 100 MHz.

Installation:

Isocoil mounted on back of ATU

Isocoil mounted on back of ATU

Isocoil mounted on back of ATU

Isocoil mounted on back of ATU

Before and after measurements with the network analyzer show a very slight change in the reactance at the tower base.  Nothing major and easy enough to tune out with the series output inductor of the ATU.

If I where to do this again, I would simply tap the coil at ten turns from the bottom, measure the inductance and install the proper value capacitor.  Since this had to be constructed with the parts on hand, less the truck body tool box, it because a bit cumbersome to get close to the resonant frequency.

All this got me thinking; there are other possible uses for such a design.  Crossing a base insulator with Ethernet cable always presents some unique problems.  I know the WISP forum that I read, they are always talking about how difficult it is to mount an antenna on an AM tower.  What if… armoured Cat5e or Cat6 cable was used with water proof RJ-45 jacks?  Something like that could carry Ethernet data and DC voltage past the base insulator to a three or four around sectorized access point and an edge switch or router mounted on the tower.

Armoured category cable specifications

Armoured category cable specifications

just thinking…

Anyway, it would not be hard to make coils and install capacitors for the right frequency

A Linux based remote control system

We are extending LANs out to transmitter sites for many reasons; backup audio, control and monitoring, security systems, VOIP phones, etc.

I am casually (very casually) toying around with creating my own Linux based remote control system.  The ongoing Windows 10 upgrade debacle continues to not end, I can’t help but think that there are many potential clients who could use a reliable transmitter/studio remote control and monitoring system based on a stable operating system.  Hmm, sounds like a sales pitch 😉

Anyway, I have run across several Ethernet board manufactures that offer a variety of boards with 8-12 contact closures and a variety of analog and digital inputs.  Most new transmitters have some sort of web GUI which are great for transmitter control and monitoring.  As we all know, there is more than just a transmitter at any given transmitter site.  In addition to the transmitter, I would like to control and monitor things like tower lights, interface and control of coax switches, temperature monitoring, generator status, the old non-web interface backup transmitters, STL signal strength for those old 950 MHz links, etc.

Since Google is my friend (when they are not storing my search data), I came up with this: Internet-ethernet-12-channel-relay-board

That particular PC board is made in Bulgaria, which is home to this: Mount Buzludzha

What I like about these particular boards is the DRM software (DRM has, apparently, many different meanings) which will run on Linux or Windows.  There are also iOS and Andriod applications that can be used as well.  It appears that the GUI can be customized for various uses.   This seems like it is written in Java, so perhaps I could have some Java expert customize it for radio use.  It looks like up to 32 boards can be controlled by a single instance of the DRM software.  Alarm reporting would be via SNMP trap and email.

I don’t know, there is one particular cluster of stations that needs new remote control gear at almost every transmitter site.  Perhaps a little alpha testing is in order?  It could be fun…

Anyway, just a thought…

 

Axiom


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.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
~1st amendment to the United States Constitution

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.
~Benjamin Franklin

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. To be your own man is hard business. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
~Rudyard Kipling

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers
~Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, Article 19

...radio was discovered, and not invented, and that these frequencies and principles were always in existence long before man was aware of them. Therefore, no one owns them. They are there as free as sunlight, which is a higher frequency form of the same energy.
~Alan Weiner

Free counters!