Why we like Nautel Transmitters

Because they work.  The old adage is, you get what you pay for.  There are many transmitter manufactures.  There are plenty of transmitters out there that are less expensive.  Those less expensive transmitters sound fine on the air, their AC/RF efficiencies are great, they look snazzy in the sales brochure.  I am sure the RF sales guy can spout out ten reasons why they are this or they are that.

And that is great.

Their parts count is intentionally kept low, so gone are the redundant power supplies, fans, RF amps and controller cards.  Gone are the extra heavy output capacitors, combiners, LC connectors on the RF stages.  Gone is the heavy grounding buss, the shielded covers on the controller, etc.

So, ask the slick RF sales guy if he is going to be available to answer the phone after the 2 am lightning strike.  Of course, he’ll lie… whisper sweet nothings in your ear…

To avoid all that, behold:  The Nautel V40 FM transmitter.  This is four V-10 transmitters into a magic T combiner.  The V-10 already has good redundancies.  Four of these things ganged together should be nearly bullet proof (and over the last three years, it has been).

WHUD Nautel V-40 Transmitters
WHUD Nautel V-40 Transmitters

This site has been fraught with power problems because it is at the end of a very long utility company feeder line. We also installed a LEA series surge suppressor.  We like the LEA unit, it has saved our bacon many times over.

Inside view of LEA surge supressor
Inside view of LEA surge suppressor

These transmitters normally run at about 7 KW each.  I can turn any one transmitter completely off and the others will automatically adjust their output powers keeping the station at full power.   That means daytime maintenance!  We like not having to drive to the transmitter site at night to vacuum.   It is really cool.

Therefore, to recap (in case you missed the major points of the story), we like the Nautel transmitter because:

  1. It does not go off the air
  2. If something breaks, I can turn off an individual transmitter and fix it
  3. I can clean them and do everything I need to during normal working hours
  4. They sound great on the air
  5. Nautel has excellent customer service
  6. They look cool

There you have it.

Summer thunderstorms and grounding

Most (if not all) radio engineers cringe when they here a clap of thunder.  Then the waiting begins.  What are we waiting for?  The cellphone to start ringing, of course.  Over the twenty or so years I have been doing this, I have learned a few things.  One of them is you cannot over ground something.

That being said, you can, of course, ground something improperly.

The worst areas we have for lightening damage is the Gainesville/Pensacola markets.  Those places are in the lightning capital of the US.  Time was our class C FM station was getting knocked off a couple of times a month.

US thunderstorm Days map
US thunderstorm Days map

There is hope.  When we upgraded the stations and installed new transmitters in 2004 I insisted that the tower and building be properly grounded.  I even got into an argument with the CFO about the “mission creep” as he put it.  Never mind that I put $20K in the initial work specification for grounding.

There are a couple of strategies to use when dealing with lightning at transmitter sites:

  1. Grounding:  First, foremost and always.  Grounding should consist of multiple ground rods driven as deeply into the earth as possible.  At the Trenton Florida transmitter site we used 20 foot long ground rods driven in 20 feet apart all the way around the building and in five 60 foot spokes around the tower.  All of these ground rods and tower base were bonded with #2 solid copper wire CAD (exothermically) welded to the ground rods.  All turns were kept to a large diameter radius to keep inductance down.   When lightning strikes the tower, this creates a large electron sink to dissipate the strike energy into.
  2. Bonding:  All equipment cabinets, racks, and everything metal is bonded together and to the same ground point presented by the grounding system.  When lightning strikes, often the ground cannot dissipate the energy fast enough.  When this happens, the entire ground area around the tower gets charged up.  Current will only flow down a less resistive path.  If everything is bonded together, the potential between any piece of equipment or component is the same, even if that potential is +10,000 volts.  No flow of current means no damage.
  3. The transmitter building is located away from the tower.  Almost every FM and TV transmitter site I have visited, the building is right smack at the tower base.  By moving the building away about 100 feet or so, the EMP from the tower strike has dissipated (log function) significantly before it passes through the transmitter building.  It is a little more expensive to install due to the added transmission line lengths and losses, however it works.

I have been at the Trenton Florida transmitter site when lightning struck the tower.  The result, not even a transmitter overload.  Nothing noticed on the air, no damage sustained by any equipment.  For the last five years, there has been no off air time due to lightning damage at this site.

Studio building with lightning rod, Gainesville, Florida
Studio building with lightning rod, Gainesville, Florida

The studio site has a similar story.  We built a new studio building in 2005, there is a 100 foot monopole that holds the STL antennas.  You know that it gets hit during a storm.  I remember the manager and IT guy from Pensacola commenting about how nice the new SAS Rubicon consoles were.  Both of them also said that they wouldn’t last through the first summer because of lightning damage.  Four years later, not a single incident of damage to the consoles, computers or anything else in the building because we grounded everything as I described above.

Proper planning and installation pays off.