Fixing another AM station’s antenna system

I have done several of these posts in the past, but it always seems to be of some interest, so it bears repeating.  AM antenna systems are not black magic.  They are actually pretty easy to understand if the fundamental knowledge is in place.  Medium Wave frequency wavelengths are fairly large compared to other broadcast frequencies.  Thus, the components are larger.

The three basic components of an AM antenna system are the tower, the ATU (antenna tuning unit) and the transmission line (AKA Coax).  The tower is the radiating element and they come in a variety of flavors; uniform cross section guyed, self supporting, series excited, shunt excited, etc.   A series excited tower has a base insulator and is fed directly from the ATU.  A shunt excited tower has a grounded base and uses a skirt or folded monopole design to transfer the RF to the main radiating element.  This design has an advantage as the tower can be used for other wireless and broadcast services.

The antenna work in question for this project is WINE, 940 KHz, Brookfield, CT.  The skirted tower is used for WRKI.  It also has two way and cellular clients.  The issue is instability of the WINE antenna system, which is likely due to improperly attached shorting wires between the skirt at the tower.  Over the years, the impedance of the skirt has gone way up.  The tower itself is 152.1 meters (499 feet) tall, or 170.3 electrical degrees.  The skirt length is about 82 electrical degrees and it is shorted at about 72 degrees.  There have been several papers written about folded monopoles for Medium Frequency (AKA AM or Standard) broadcast service.  The recommendations state that for best performance, the short to the tower should be between 62 and 90 electrical degrees.  Since the existing system falls in that range, there must be other problems with the antenna skirt and or shorting wire to the tower.

WINE skirted tower diagram
WINE skirted tower diagram

If one looks at this diagram, that configuration should look something like a gamma match, often used on dipole and yagi type antennas.  A gamma match can be thought of as a stub of transmission line which is bonded to the radiating element at some favorable wave length corresponding to the desired radiation resistance.  This is one of several configurations for folded monopole antennas and this type is most often seen on towers that support other wireless service antennas such as cellular and two way systems which are installed above the skirt.

There are a few interesting data points when looking at these type of antennas.  First is the ratio of the diameter of the skirt over the height of the tower, or D/H.  The larger this ratio is, the better the bandwidth characteristics of the antenna system are.  This makes sense, when you think about it. In this instance, the tower is 151 meters (495.4 feet) tall and the skirt is 3.3 meters (10.83 feet) wide, thus the ratio is 0.0218.

The licensed base impedance if 234 ohms with a good amount of inductive reactance. When Sprint and T-mobile changed their configuration on the tower, that impedance shifted dramatically.  The existing skirt is in fairly rough condition.  The bottom ring that connects to the ATU is made out of copper tubing.  It is attached to the skirt wires with steel saddle clamps, all are rusted and all of which are lose and can slide around.  At some point, the tubing filled up with water, then froze causing the tubing to split open.  At the top of the skirt, the jumper wire looks suspicious and the top ring does not go all the way around. The shorting stub to the tower looks like it is made out of battery jumper cable.  I purchased new cross wire clamps and found some spare copper weld skirt wire at another site.  Both the bottom ring and top ring were replaced as well as the shorting stub to the tower.

After the repair work was done, I had the tower crew reattach the short slightly below the last skirt to tower bonding point.  In that position, I found the impedance went way up.  Thus, going lower was going towards a resonance point.  I had them move the short up to the former shorting point and remeasured and found the impedance was 235 ohms, only 1 ohm off from the previously licensed values.

Initially, I thought it would be nice to find a better position for the shorting stub and get a lower base impedance.  This would make the whole antenna system work better (improve bandwidth, stability, etc).  However, there was a set of guy wires above the bonding point.  The tower crew would have had to disassemble the top ring to move above the guy wires.  We were running out of daylight and weather so I had them lock everything down where it was.  On a station running an all sports format that has no listeners and does not make any money, it does not make a lot of sense to spend gobs of money and time to rebuild the ATU for a new base impedance.  When I got the impedance back to within 0.11% of the licensed values, it was time to declare victory and go home.

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

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This information is from an occasional reader who wished to remain anonymous.

Another AM station surrenders its license, this time from north of the border. CKSL, London, Ontario, Canada is gone for good.  Current owner, Bell Media, has determined that it would cost more to repair the deficiencies with the antenna system than economically feasible, especially considering it’s low ratings.  Here is their filing with the CRTC:

Bell Media is the licensee of CKSL-AM 1410, assuming stewardship of the station in 2013 as part of the Astral Media acquisition.

A technical review of the transmitter site was recently completed both by Bell Media and contractors, which has resulted in the determination that the AM array poses an unacceptable risk from a health and safety perspective.  The five towers are experiencing serious structural degradation and also require repairs to the aviation safety lighting system. In addition, the building which houses the transmitter has shifted off its foundation (as have several of the individual tower sheds).

Given these problems, Bell Media would need to make a significant financial investment to bring CKSL-AM’s transmitter up to compliance with Human Resources Development Canada, Industry Canada and NavCanada operational codes and standards, all of which is estimated to exceed $3 million dollars.

From a market perspective, CKSL-AM has consistently ranked last out of all ten commercial stations in the London market, both in audience share and revenue generation, over the last several years.  In fact, since 2013 the London market has seen radio revenues drop 4% and CKSL-AM generates the least amount of revenue of the stations in the market. Even with a significant investment in programming, this trend is unlikely to be reversed. 

In light of the significant capital costs coupled with the absence of revenue and audience share, Bell Media is respectfully requesting the revocation of the CKSL licence.

Well, 24/7 comedy will do that to you.  Somebody in the business said to me recently “The listeners are abandoning radio!”  No, it is the broadcast station owners who are abandoning their listeners and their cities of license.  I have a news flash for all current broadcast station owners; as surprising and radical as this might sound, bland, boring, canned, completely irrelevant, dismal, uninformative, unimaginative, unentertaining, dreary, stale, unenjoyable programming will drive away even the most loyal listeners.  People really want to listen to radio, it is an easy habit and readily accessible.  Radios are ubiquitous; they are in our kitchens, bedrooms, cars, hotel rooms, offices, restaurants, barber shops, etc.  That, however, may not always be the case, as more and more people move Spotify, Pandora, or Apple radio when they are tired of the disappointment.  I was listening to a certain sports radio format the other day and I kept waiting for something interesting to happen.  I waited and waited. I would say to myself; okay, this will be the segment when I will learn something or be entertained.  This upcoming guest will say something interesting.  Sadly, those expectations were never met and I will never tune into that station again. Elevator music would have been better.  Worse than sports radio, 24/7 comedy is the absolute death knell.  This is like saying; we are out of ideas and we do not care.

Here are a few pictures of the former CKSL-AM transmitter site:

CKSL antenna array
CKSL antenna array
CKSL_transmitter
CKSL transmitter building
CKSL_transmission
CKSL transmission line bridge
CKSL_tower
CKSL tower base

Actually does not look too bad, at least the field is mowed. I have seen much, much worse.  Those bolt together towers, though. I would bet that they are the real problem, bolts are deteriorating faster than the tower steel. Very likely all the towers need to be replaced and that is why the license is being surrendered.

If you are a radio geek, get out there and take some pictures of your favorite radio station.  If the current trends continue, eventually they will all be gone.

The Horns of a Dilemma

Alternate title: Building and ATU in a truck body tool box.

Alternate title II: I should get paid extra for this shit.

There is an AM radio station that is near death but the owners do not want it to go away.  Nor to they want to spend very much money to keep it around, thus the dilemma.  At the transmitter site, there are a multitude of problems; leaking roof, very old rusty ATU, rotting support posts and transmission line bridge, equipment racks rusting out, nothing is grounded properly, the building is full of junk, snakes and mice have moved in.  To further complicate things, the tower and transmitter building serve as an STL relay point for two of the market’s FM stations.  There is also two translators with antennas on the tower.  The ATU and tower light choke box are rusting through, which is causing arcing and broadband RF noise that is interfering with the FM station’s STL receiver.  There was a home made isocoupler for one of the translators that was allowing AM RF back into the building which was creating havoc with everything.  Because of this, the AM station is currently silent.  In short, it is a mess.

WCHN ATU
WCHN ATU

The red box on the bottom is the ATU, the plywood box on the top with the peeling yellow paint is the home made isocoupler, the tower light choke box is behind the isocoupler.

Crumbling old ATU output capacitor in series with tower
Crumbling old ATU output capacitor in series with tower

This was the capacitor that was feeding the antenna, .0041uf, 10KV 8 amps.

We started remediation on this last February, which is not optimum time for replacing rotting wooden posts.  However, we were able to clean out the building.  The leaking roof has been repaired.  I was able to find a few old racks from a Schafer Automation system to replace the rusted out original racks.  I began the process of grounding the equipment racks, the incoming transmission lines for the STL, etc.

Cool morning, Garter Snakes warming themselves on top of a Moseley DSP-6000
Cool morning, Garter Snakes warming themselves on top of a Moseley DSP-6000
Garter Snake
Garter Snake

We will have to find out how they are getting in, the plug up those holes.

Then there was the ATU and tower light choke enclosures.  Original to the 1952 sign on, they were past their serviceable days.  Since this is all being done on a budget and nobody wants to spend money on an AM station that has little or no listeners and even less revenue, we had a problem.

Then somebody suggested building an ATU in a truck body tool box.  Well…  This isn’t the Meadowlands, so if there are no other alternatives then okay, I guess.  Off to Amazon to order a tool box.  This particular unit seems fine, my only comment is on the gauge aluminum (or aluminium if you prefer), which is slightly thin for holding up all those parts.

ATU built in a truck body tool box
Fabrication shop, ATU built in a truck body tool box

Still, the box itself is nice enough and certainly better than the old one.  I was able to reuse the inductor and the Delta current meter but the old Sangamo capacitors crumbled in my hands when I removed them.  I also saved the feed through bowls, J-plugs and other parts.  I used some copper strap to run a good RF ground from the input to the ground connection.  Overall, I am pretty pleased with the finished product.  It is a little bit tight in there, but this station only runs 1 KW, so it should be fine.

Replacement ATU mounted
Replacement ATU mounted

So, new pressure treated posts installed, the box was mounted and the transmission line connected.

Replacement ATU under power.
Replacement ATU under power.
Reused Schaffer Automation racks, much better than the 1950's Gates racks
Reused Schafer Automation racks, much better than the 1950’s Gates racks

The reused racks are old, but serviceable and a big improvement over the old, rusting out racks.  I was able to bond each rack to the ground strap that used to connect to the RCA BTA-1 transmitter.  There is one more rack to install to the right of these two.  That should give us more than enough rack space for this site.

The station is back on at full power and not interfering with the FM STLs or the translators.  You can actually touch the rack and not get an RF burn!

We are also working on an air conditioner.

Other work at this site; cleaning out the building, replacing the tower light photocell, installing a ground buss bar, some STL lightning protectors, dress the transmission lines, etc.  It is a work in progress.