A few pictures from my last trip to one of our FM transmitter sites. This is a mountain top site, in as much as a medium sized hill is a mountain around here. This site has a 2.3 mile road through the woods that is almost impassable 3-4 months out of the year.
Previous engineers have walked up the hill with a tool box. I can say this with all honesty; not me. In the past they have also rented a helicopter, used a snow cat, snowmobiles or an ATV with snow tracks. I’d do those things provided they are safe and insured. As I get older (and wiser), I realize that the only person who going to look after my well being is me.
Anyway, the trip starts here, at the gate:
Then it goes up the hill:
Some sections are worse than others:
Along the way there are some nice views:
Finally, the gate to the tower farm:
There are two digital TV stations, several cell phone carriers, some government two way gear, some FM translators, Media Flow, and us at this site. There are also some Ham radio repeaters off to the side in another building. All in all, a pretty RF intense site.
The view from the top:
The reason why we came:
That is a 24 year old BE FM5B transmitter. The back up is a Gates FM5G, which aren’t we glad we have a solid reliable transmitter selection for such a remote site. Actually, we were supposed to put in a new Nautel V-10 here last year, but the money was spent on computers instead. Oh well, good thing there will be no computer crashes when we go off the air.
A standard maintenance trip consists of meter readings, comparing the reading to the last set of readings, changing the air filters, checking the remote control and calibrating it to the transmitter, checking the tower light sensor, etc.
Normally, the backup transmitter would be run into the dummy load, but the backup transmitter no longer works. Parts are not available to fix it, so we operate without a net. One of the previous general managers asked if that keeps me awake at night, to which my answer was no, not at all.
If you work at a radio station that still has a local program director instead of one at the corporate programming lair (I know, sooooo old school), then you might be interested in this. I compiled a list of things that radio station program directors like:
Good ratings. A good rating book means that they are great program directors and they really know their stuff. Bad ratings means that engineering dropped the ball (again) when the station went off the air for 30 seconds during afternoon drive.
Taking credit for anything good. Sort of goes with the good ratings above, but this extends out to all other aspects of a radio station, promotions, sales, news, and even engineering.
New Processing. Any new gizmo or gadget that changes the sound of the microphone or entire station, for better or worse, is good. The more flashing lights the better. The more knobs to adjust the better. Things that can be plugged into computers and remotely controlled are the ultimate.
More. More of anything is better, more compression, more expansion, more highs, more mid-range, more lows, more gain, more de-essing, more loudness, more power, more punch, more reverb, more crack, more more more. If they could just have a little more, the station would be number one.
Any other new piece of equipment. Watching a program director look at a new studio is like watching a two year old open presents on Christmas morning. I know, I have a two year old. Unfortunately, the studios don’t stay new looking for long.
Taping notes up in the studio. I have one studio where every stationary piece of equipment has a note taped to it. Mind you, the notes have nothing to do with the equipment they are covering up, they are more like general directions, phone numbers, and other miscellaneous pieces of information.
Free stuff. Used to be called payola or plugola, now it is a free lap top, or a trip to Disney paid for by the record rep. I’ve even seen some mysterious mike processors show up (see number 3).
Rigging up lights to alert operators. This is a great one, the studio operator does not know if the Marti (or Matrix or ISDN) is active, so they want a light to indicate there is someone there. Or a light on the phone hotline, or a light for the EAS machine, the back door, the coffee machine, the silence sensor (never mind they are in the studio, they still need a silence sensor light)
Blaming other people when things go wrong. The program director is infallible. If something goes wrong, it is somebody else’s fault. Always. And forever. Amen.
Some one suggested that I put up the video “More, more, more” by Andrea True Connection to go along #4. Well, okay, I guess. It is not a terrible song but the video kinda suxor. From what I can tell, Andrea True is a former p0r n star that turned signer for just this one hit. Looks like it was filmed on a p0r n set too.
Feel free to add anything else that I may have forgotten. Of course, this is all in good fun. I’ll to a “stuff radio engineers like” post as soon as I figure out what that is.
Technically speaking, no. Here is how radio is defined in the dictionary:
1. wireless telegraphy or telephony: speeches broadcast by radio.
2. an apparatus for receiving or transmitting radio broadcasts.
3. a message transmitted by radio.
Therefore, the internet, something relying on wired connections for the transmission of data for the most part, is not radio. A radio station that is streaming audio, is a different matter.
Aside from that technicality, there is something else that is important to note. Internet broadcasters (AKA webcaster) lack some other key components that make a radio station a radio station; A specific set of rules that govern their behavior. Things like profanity, copyright infringement, slander, payola, plugola, syndication rights, advertising rules (things tobacco, alcohol) emergency information, public issues and so on.
A radio station license is granted in the public interest. Time was that radio station were required to do a certain amount of public service broadcasting, things like the news, religious programs, community interest programs. Many station still do this. An internet broadcaster is under so such constraints. Some would say that is better and it just might be. However, when Tim Westergren says “don’t call it internet radio, just call it radio,” sir, you are wrong.
Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, all long distance communication in the US was handled by one company, AT&T. There was no other company that could transmit data over medium to long distances. The breath and scope of their communications network is not understood by most people these days. Most people know that AT&T handled long distance telephone calls for the Bell Telephone System until the Bell breakup in 1984. However, AT&T did a lot more than long distance phone.
For example, if you watched the network news or network TV show anytime before 1980, it was likely brought to you via AT&T microwave system, known as AT&T long lines. Listen to the news on the radio, same deal. Before the wide spread use of communication satellites and fiber optics, the AT&T microwave relay network was the only way to get various types of electronic media signals from one place to another.
Beginning in the late 1980’s, competing local and long distance telephone companies began installing fiber optic cables between company offices. That coupled with the increased use of satellite systems for mass media video and audio delivery services made the huge AT&T microwave network obsolete. Some of the old microwave sites that are located in down town areas have been reused by local phone companies and cell phone providers. Many of the rural sites now sit empty.
This is the former AT&T microwave relay site located near Kingston, NY. It is now owned by American Tower, Inc. There are two towers behind the building, only the tower on the right has a few active communications antennas on it. The taller tower is 190 feet tall and was built in 1957. The shorter tower is 120 feet tall and was built in 1961. Both towers and everything on them was made by Western Electric, the same company that manufactured the telephone sets. Chances are, Western Electric contracted the actual manufacture of equipment out to others, then billed AT&T, their parent company a markup. Something that would make all MBAs proud.
This tower was built in 1957. The structure and galvanizing are still in excellent condition.
The large antennas you see on the towers are microwave horn antennas. They are no longer in use. Several transmitters and receivers would have been connected to each one of these antennas by use of RF multiplexers. Each microwave transmitter/receiver would have had several data channels. Generally, this was C Band microwave equipment, so it was in the 4, 6, and 8 gHz frequency range.
All of this telephone traffic was transmitted on digital data channels un-encrypted. Many have argued that this allowed the government (most notably the NSA or National Security Agency) to intercept and listen to most domestic long distance telephone calls within the US. There is a book called Puzzle palaceby James Bamford if you are interested in NSA history. It was written more than 20 years ago, so it doesn’t really apply today, but it is an interesting look at what the government was up to.
The building itself is huge, the first floor is 16,000+ square feet and the second floor is 10,000+ square feet. Only about 1000 square feet of this space is actively being used.
I believe this building was built in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s, just as Kingston was growing into a major IBM manufacturing site. It has remnants of the ATT coaxial based system that was used prior to microwaves. The IBM buildings are located a few miles to the south east of this location, they are another cold war relic for discussion later. The IBM buildings were a major computer research and development site in the 1950’s until it closed in 1992. It was assumed that the Soviets had several spy satellites trying to steal secrets from the area, and the IBM facility was a primary nuclear target.
The microwave relay site has 12 inch re-enforced concrete walls. The ventilation air intakes have blast baffles to prevent a pressure wave (from a nuclear explosion) from blowing the ventilation equipment off of its mounts.
All of the outside openings were able to be sealed with steal blast deflectors using a pneumatic control panel located in the control room. There was a five minute timer, presumably to allow the HVAC units to be secured before the doors where closed. They where heavy gauge steel shutter designed to deflect the pressure wave of a nuclear explosion. Since this is an earlier building, it is likely that it is built to a 2 PSI pressure wave spec. Newer buildings were built to 20 or even 50 PSI. This microwave relay site would not have withstood a direct hit from a nuclear warhead, especially the higher yield warheads that came later on.
There where three large water chillers to provide cooling to the HVAC units. Since this was the 1950’s all of the electronic equipment would have had tubes, which would have generated a lot of heat while operating. There were two loops in the HVAC system. The refrigerant loop, which ran between these units and the huge condensers on the second floor roof, and the chilled water loop which ran between these units and the air handlers located in various parts of the building.
There is a bomb shelter in the basement. I found a couple of olive drab cans of civil defense water laying around. The lights were not working at the bottom of the stairs, so I chose not to go into the bomb shelter itself.
“Okay everybody, the missiles are on there way, so lets head down these stairs and pray”
There where two diesel generators, one was 325 KW which could run the entire building. The other was a 200 KW which could run the critical building functions. The fuel storage consisted of two 10,000 gallon tanks buried in the ground outside. Each steel fuel tank had a cathodic protection circuit. Basically a small negative electrical current was passed to the steel tank to keep it from rusting. Apparently it worked because when the tanks were removed in 2000 after 45 years in the ground, the primer was still on the outside of the tank.
The building has it’s own power substation. The electric from the utility company comes off the pole at 13,800 volts and goes to a large step down transformer on a pad outside. From there 480 volts is fed to this switch panel, where it is routed to motors loads or other step down transformers within the building.
On the main floor, there were rows and rows of wire terminal equipment, microwave transmitters, receivers and data and RF multiplexers in racks. The room in the above picture is about 10,000 square feet, there is another 6,000 square feet beyond the plastic heat barrier. This microwave gear received and transmitted data from Albany and Germantown to the north; Poughkeepsie, Putnam Valley, Ellenville, and Spring Valley to the south. All of that equipment is gone now, replaced by empty space.
Now the whole place is a little creepy.
There are about 500 copper wire pairs of telephone cable that came into various parts of the building to carry the DS-1 and DS-3 circuits that interfaced with the TELCO office in Kingston.
All in all, this was a serious building, no expense was spared in the construction and equipment outfitting. The entire building is shielded with copper mesh screen embedded in the concrete walls. There where redundant systems on top of redundant systems, something that you do not see these days, even in government buildings such as emergency operation centers (EOCs) and 911 call centers.