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It is kind of tragic, in a way

Working on another AM directional station (WGDJ) which was damaged by lightning recently. In this case, the antenna array controller ceased working and one of the towers in the daytime pattern was out tolerance. Before we stared working, I told the owner to have all the vegetation cut down around the towers. This is what we ended up with:

WGDJ catwalk, East Greenbush, NY

WGDJ catwalk, East Greenbush, NY

I can’t really fault them for this, but it does make work more difficult.  That strip of tall green grass; that is the catwalk. The grass itself is called Phragmites, which is tall, tough, reedy stuff that can scratch and cut person unaware. The array is in a low swampy area next to the Hudson River in East Greenbush, NY. Stepping off of the catwalk, one can sometimes find solid ground, or find ones feet six inches under water.

WGDJ tower one ATU cleanout

WGDJ tower one ATU clean out

This is Mike cleaning out the mice and bees nests out of the tower #1 ATU. Notice the can of bee spray in his back pocket.  This was after he was stung in the forehead.

Mouse nest, WGDJ daytime ATU coil

Mouse nest, WGDJ tower #5 daytime ATU coil

This mouse nest, at the attendant dead body in it, was responsible for a -10 degree phase shift in the daytime pattern for that tower. I hate cleaning this stuff out, it is a dirty, nasty job but necessary nonetheless. While doing this work, I wore gloves and a dust mask. The entrance hole where the AC power and control cables come into the bottom of the ATU was plugged up with some steel wool.  There is still a bad capacitor in this ATU for the daytime array, that damage was likely caused by lightning.

At the end of the day, we repaired the antenna array/phasor controller; bad AC transformer and rectifier bridge and several bad logic steering diodes for tower 4 and 5, cleaned out all the vermin nests and isolated the remaining problem with the daytime antenna system.  Parts should be in next week to finalize repairs.

All in all, not a bad day’s worth of work.

WKNY, Kingston, NY

This is another one of those, ahem, AM success stories. WKNY is on 1490 KHz, 1,000 Watts day and night from a transmitter site that is located very close to it’s target audience of Kingston. It signed on on December 16, 1939 broadcasting 100 watts on 1500 KHZ according to the Broadcasting Yearbook 1940 edition.

WKNY transmitter site location

WKNY transmitter site location

The transmitter location is the key to this station’s good signal over Kingston. Even though it is a class C AM station, when driving around the Kingston city limits there is no electrical interference or night time co-channel interference.  The reason for this is because most of the city limits are within 2.5 to 3 miles (4 to 4.8 km) from the tower.

WKNY transmitter building and tower

WKNY transmitter building and tower

This is the original transmitter building and tower.  Like many old AM transmitter sites, this one is located in a low, swampy area.  The tower is electrically tall for 1490 KHz, at 92 meters (305 feet)  it is 163 electrical degrees. Something else that may contribute to the station’s performance.

WKNY tower base

WKNY tower base

WKNY tower

WKNY tower

WKNY tower, typical design of a uniform cross section guyed tower from the late 1930′s to late 1950′s.

WKNY transmitter

WKNY transmitter

WKNY transmitter. Another Nautel ND-1 series transmitter. Nothing every breaks or goes wrong.

Air studio, WKNY Kingston, NY

Air studio, WKNY Kingston, NY

The air studio has an AudioArts R-60 console. For an inexpensive audio console, these things sure seem to last for a long time. I think this one was put in in 1997.

Talk Studio, WKNY KIngston, NY

Talk Studio, WKNY KIngston, NY

A small talk studio is used to originate local programming of interest. This morning, I was listening to “Speak Out With Jody McTague,” a local interest program which was discussing the impacts being felt in the Kingston area due to the “Affordable Health Care Act.”

WKNY production studio

WKNY production studio

The production studio has a rather old Harris rotary pot console from the 1980′s.

Of course, all of this equipment makes radio transmission possible, but what makes radio itself is the local people working at the station and bringing relevant information to the area.  I know a lot of very smart people are working on the “solution” to the AM problem.  It really has to do with the programming.

Happiness is: An AM directional array at licensed values

Last week I did some repair work at WDDY in Albany NY. It seems the sample line on one of the towers was melted in half by a lightning strike. This station uses sample loops up on the tower for their directional antenna monitoring system.

WDDY antena array, Albany, NY

WDDY antena array, Albany, NY

As it happened, the sample line in question was on the reference tower, which makes everything else meaningless.  Before the meltdown, there were several years worth of maintenance logs which showed the previous values for current ratio and phase relationship.

With the transmitter turned off and locked out, I removed the damaged section of line from the base of the tower to the RF choke coil in the tuning house.  Where the sample line came off of the base of the tower, there was a UHF type connector which had been improperly applied.  Using spare parts, I fixed that connector, then spliced the line into place.  Upon power up, the transmitter and antenna readings returned to there previous values, which were slightly out of tolerance.

Thus, some phasor tuning was needed.  There are not too many people left that can properly tune an AM phasor.  All of the control interact with each other; moving the power or phase to one tower will likely effect all of the other towers and possibly the reflected power on the transmitter.  This phasor was made in the 1970′s by Multronics with what looks like all RCA parts.  Multronics, I think, was John Mullaney who is more known for the folded unipole antenna.  In anycase, after a good few hours of careful hand cranking and a run out to the reference tower to move a coil tap, here are the results:

WDDY tower one, reference

WDDY tower one, reference

WDDY tower two

WDDY tower two

WDDY tower three

WDDY tower three

WDDY forward/reflected power

WDDY forward/reflected power

Not bad for a day’s work.

Oh damn; La tercera parte

Now where did those vise (vice?) grips go?

Vice grip pliers used to clamp RF feed to tower

Vise grip pliers used to clamp RF feed to tower

Oh yeah, that’s right, they were used to attach the RF feed to an AM tower.  About ten years ago.

Vice grip tower clamp

Vise grip tower clamp

From this view, it looks like whatever tower crew installed this tower could not manage to solder or braze the copper RF connection to the steel tower.  The area was then painted, but it looks like there is some corrosion going on between metals.

Vice grips clamping RF feed to tower

Vise grips clamping RF feed to tower

Another view.

AM broadcast tower

AM broadcast tower

This is a relatively new tower.  Sadly, it is very likely that this station will be going off the air soon.  If the station is still on the air come springtime, I will drag the brazing outfit across the field/swamp and fix this.  If the station goes dark, then I won’t worry about it.

Oh, damn: la segunda parte

Emergency! The (AM) Transmitter keeps popping off the air and we can’t figure out why! YOU MUST HELP US!!1!!!

Really?

Some problems are easy to spot, difficult to fix

Some problems are easy to spot, difficult to fix

Well, with the ATU mounted about 1/4 inch away from the 90 degree, series excited tower, I wonder why.  It seemed to be especially problematic during rain, snow and ice storms.   When I asked how long this had been going on, I was told “About two years, ever since we put up the new tower!”

You don’t say.

We finally took care of this by moving the ATU back inside the shed after moving the transmitter to a different building.  The funny thing is, this was installed by a guy who had a BSEE.  I guess he must have been out sick the day they covered this in class.

Hums no more

My first job as Chief Engineer was at WPTR and WFLY in 1991. I was young and it was a learning experience. The WPTR transmitter was a Harris MW50A, which reliably went off the air every six months. The transmission lines going out to the towers had fallen off of their wooden support posts, trees were growing up in the antenna field, sample lines were going bad. In short, it was a mess.  Even so, the station was well known and well liked in the community. One could still see echos of greatness that once was.

When Crawford Broadcasting purchased the station in 1996, they put much money and effort into renovating the facility.  Replacing the Harris transmitter with a solid state Nautel, replacing the phasor and transmission lines, cutting the trees from the field, painting the towers, renovating the old transmitter building into a new studio facility and finally removing the old Butler building that formerly housed the “Gold Studios.”

Then the depression of 2008-20?? hit.  Once again, the place has fallen on hard times.  WDCD-AM has been silent since last April.  The cost of running the 50 KW AM transmitter being too much to bear in the current economy.  Formatically, the station drifted around for several years.  According to the the STA to go silent:

WDCD WILL SUSPEND OPERATIONS FOR A PERIOD DURING WHICH IT WILL DEVELOP AND PREPARE TO DEPLOY A NEW PROGRAM FORMAT AND REPOSITION ITS VOICE AND IDENTITY IN THE COMMUNITY.

They may need to do something slightly non-religious to survive.

While we were waiting for the utility company to turn the electric back on after yesterday’s fire, I took a short walk around the WDCD-AM site and took some pictures.  Transmitter disconnect thrown,  fuses are pulled,  it is kind of sad to see the Nautel XL-60 dark:

Nautel XL-60 AM transmitter.  WDCD Albany, NY

Nautel XL-60 AM transmitter. WDCD Albany, NY

I apologize greatly for the blurry picture, it was taken with my cellphone camera, my good camera being back at home on my desk.  Radio stations, when they are on the air, seem like they are alive.  Machinery hums, fans move air, meters move, and there is a sense of purpose.  Silent radio stations give me a sense of foreboding, like something is terribly wrong.

WDCD three tower array, Albany, NY

WDCD three tower array, Albany, NY

View of the towers without Butler Building.  The towers are 340 feet tall, which is 206 electrical degrees on 1540 KHz.  The site was constructed like this to suppress skywave signals toward ZNS, Nassau, Bahamas.  ZNS is the only clear channel station allotted to the Bahamas by NARBA.  The other station WDCD is protecting is KXEL, Waterloo, IA.  During the 90′s, I received many QSL requests from Norway/Finland and even a few from South Africa.  I know that the station had a large following in most of New England.

WDCD tower base, tower three

WDCD tower base, tower one (furthest from building)

Tower one tower base.  This IDECO tower had to have the top 60 feet replaced after it was hit by an airplane in 1953.  The tower base also had to be replaced in the late 1980′s as it was crumbling and falling apart.  To do this, Northeast Towers used railroad jacks and jacked the entire tower up off of the base insulator.  They re-formed and poured a new base, carefully letting the tower back down on a new base insulator about a week later.

WDCD towers looking back toward the transmitter building

WDCD towers looking back toward the transmitter building

Antenna field looking back at the transmitter building.  If you work at radio transmitter sites, I encourage you to take pictures of all these things, as someday, they will all be gone.

WDCD bomb shelter

WDCD bomb shelter

The “bomb shelter” and 220 KW backup generator,  constructed by FEMA in 1968 as part of the BSEPP.  This used to have an emergency studio and enough diesel fuel for fourteen days operation.  Now, the bomb shelter has a kitchen and bathrooms.  The underground storage tank no longer meets EPA standards and has been pumped out.

WDCD Onan generator

WDCD Onan generator

The Onan generator is conservatively rated at 220 KW, surge rating 275 KW.  These things were way over constructed, so it is likely it would easily run 225 KW all day.  It has an in line six cylinder engine with a massive fly wheel.  When the engine is stopped, it takes about twenty seconds for the generator to stop turning.

Three phase service

Three phase service

National Grid, 3 pot, 480 volt, 3 phase service, original to the 1947 building.

I wonder if it will return.

North East Commerical Radio Antennas and Towers

NECRAT logo

NECRAT logo

Or NECRAT for those who have been around the internet for a while. Many, if not most of you will know Mike Fitzpatrick’s NECRAT website which features many pictures of radio transmitter sites around the country (not just the Northeast).

Even before I began blogging, I checked NECRAT often for interesting pictures of many different transmitter sites.

If you are one of the few who has not visited his site, go and check it out: http://www.necrat.us

PBS Frontline: Cell Tower Deaths

Interesting video (part 1 of 3) about the large numbers of Cell tower deaths in the last eight years:

Watch Cell Tower Deaths on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

There are two kinds of tower companies, those that have been around for a long time and do things right, and those that hire subcontractors who are minimally trained and take shortcuts. The reasons for this are the same and we hear them over and over again in all aspects of this business; budgetary constraints, time constraints and what, who me?

The rest of the videos can be found at PBS.org:  Frontline: Cell Tower Deaths

Written story from Propublica: In Race For Better Cell Service, Men who climb towers loose their lives.

Tower light malfunction

We were notified that the WFAS-AM tower lights were out, thus, it was time to investigate. This problem was easy to find. Upon removing the water proof cover on the tower light flasher box, I found this:

SSAC melted tower light flasher, damaged by lightning

melted SSAC B-KON tower light flasher, damaged by lightning

As soon as loosened the screws on the cover, I smelled the unmistakeable odor of burned electronics and plastic.   I disconnected the flasher and covered the photocell, which turned the side markers on.  Of course, the top flashing beacon was dark, therefore, it was time to report the outage to the FAA.  The nation wide number to report tower light outages is (877) 487-6867.  That number is for an automated system, however, eventually it leads to a live person.  Since the new reporting system was established, the only required information is the tower ASRN.  From that information, the operator will access a data base and have all the required information to issue a NOTAM.  In the past, many questions were usually asked; what is the nearest airport, how far away is the airport, how tall is the obstruction, what is the position, etc.  Therefore, things have become slightly easier than before.

Once the outage is reported and a NOTAM is issued, the tower owner generally has fifteen days to correct the problem.

Tower take down pictures

A few years ago, I was involved in removing and rebuilding an AM radio station tower in Gainesville, Florida.  The old tower was a hollow leg tower which was rusting from the inside out.  It was installed around 1960 or so, but the actual  records were sketchy, as the original studio building burned down in 1984.  In 2005, the tower climbers came out to relamp it, and refused to climb it because one of the legs was rusted through.  Therefore, a replacement tower was ordered and delivered.

Prior to starting work, a temporary wire antenna was constructed.  Since there were two radio stations diplexed to this tower, it became a bit of a chore to get both signals (980 and 1430 kHz) tuned into the same temporary antenna.  In the end, the components available could not create a good load for the 1430 station, so a separate temporary wire antenna was erected for that station.  Both stations ran at 1 KW into their respective antennas until the new tower was finished.

WDVH, 980 Gainesville, FL.  Top of tower coming down

WDVH, 980 Gainesville, FL. Top of tower coming down

Top section of a 240 foot guyed tower on its way to the ground. This tower had an inner and outer set of guy anchor points. The top section came down after the last guy wire on the outer anchor was cut.

Remains of WDVH tower

Remains of WDVH tower

Truncated tower.

Last section of WDVH tower falling

Last section of WDVH tower falling

Bottom section of tower on its way to the ground.

Old WDVH tower on the ground

Old WDVH tower on the ground

Tower on the ground. In keeping with the theories on tower failures, this tower fell within about 1/3 its height.  The wire antenna supports and the new tower sections can be seen in the background.  It took the tower company about a week to stack the new tower.  This was done in July, therefore the average daytime temperature was about 100° F  (37° C) with frequent afternoon thunderstorms.

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