Oh yeah, that’s right, they were used to attach the RF feed to an AM tower. About ten years ago.
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.
Vise grips clamping RF feed to 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.
Emergency! The (AM) Transmitter keeps popping off the air and we can’t figure out why! YOU MUST HELP US!!1!!!
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.
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
National Grid, 3 pot, 480 volt, 3 phase service, original to the 1947 building.
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.
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?
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:
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.
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
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
Last section of WDVH tower falling
Bottom section of tower on its way to 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.
I found that question while perusing my search engine statistics today. The short answer in theory is yes. If you are a copper thief, it will most likely look like this:
That being the case, however, it is much more likely that an RF burn will result if one comes in contact with an energized antenna or transmission line. Even small RF burns are painful, large ones can be nasty things. RF burns occur because of the skin effect, that is to say, the higher the frequency of the AC waveform, the closer to the surface of any given conductor the current will flow. It is the reason why five watt STL transmitters on 950 MHz use 7/8 or 1 5/8 inch cable to reduce losses.
When a human body part comes in contact with an energized RF antenna, the body part becomes part of the circuit, thus it follows the same principals. The extremity that is making contact will have its skin burned off. It also smells bad.
Getting an RF burn is a painful lesson on what not to come in contact with around a transmitter site. But, that is not all. Simply being in close proximity to radiating elements of antennas will induce body tissue heating, just like a microwave oven. This can lead to all sorts of short term and long term damage to organs and other problems.
Therefore, the best thing is to avoid radio and cellular towers if you do not know what you are doing. Stay out of fenced in areas around tower bases. No matter how tempting that copper may look, you could be seriously injured or killed if you cut the wrong thing.
Troubles at the AM tower; I don’t know why, it won’t switch power.
Over the phone I can tell, the program director’s day is not going very well.
Press the “day” button but there is no kerchunk, the directional coupler shows the load is junk.
Out into the big field I go to find the problem quickly and fix it just so.
The wind is cold, the snow is deep, I think of the contract terms I must keep.
Reaching the tuning house, take out the keys, lock, do not be frozen, please.
Once inside, there I find, no big surprise, the mice have been a working this pre-sunrise.
A nest they have build in a most inconvenient place, in the back of the phasor wiring chase.
Oh, the wires they have chewed, the circuit’s destroyed, all for the lack of mousetraps deployed.
As I reach in to clean out the mess, the smell of mouse makes me gag, I confess.
The fuses are blown, the contactor is jammed, perhaps, if I am lucky, I can move it by hand.
A large screw driver strategically employed, I pry up slowly, further damage to avoid.
The bar thunks up, the contacts engage, the transmitter is ready to apply amperage.
Call on the cell phone, tell them its fixed, stand back and watch the base current meter, transfixed.
Then; Up it goes! Wonderful radio frequency current flows!
I clean up, lock the door, lock the gate, carrying bad news the owner will hate.
The damage is grave, the repair bill is steep, if a good relationship with the FCC you desire to keep.
Business is off, the accounts are low, is this really necessary, he wants to know.
The terms of the license are your obligation to keep, getting caught out of tolerance will not be cheap.
Looking forlorn, the owner says in disgust, it is only the AM, but fix it if you must.
Happy as a lark, with a song in my heart, I dig though the manual and order the part.
Time to go home, eat breakfast, brush teeth, take a shower. I have another client to see before the noon hour.
40 amp RF contactor
Dedicated to all those who have been there, done that and the breed of RF men and broadcast engineers who are slowly fading away.
This is a situation that is and will be playing out over and over throughout the country as the decay advances. W*** signed on the air in March 1963. I believe this is the original tower:
As you can clearly see from this picture, this tower has several problems. Aside from the loose guy wires, the rust and general structural decay, it is bent in several places. Currently, the forces are in equilibrium, but for how long, no one knows. It is certainly not safe to climb. At 144 feet, it is no longer required to be marked or lit, thus, over the years, the paint peeled, the weep holes filed up, the guy wires rusted and loosened, which leaves us with the situation today.
At the transmitter building, there are other issues with the basement flooding, mold, etc. Truth be told, this station makes no money on it’s own. It would cost several tens of thousands of dollars to fix all these issues, and for what; a high end of the broadcast band class D AM station which has not shown up in the ratings for fifteen years. Once upon a time, it was a surviving, perhaps not thriving, local radio station. Those times have long since past.
The question is; what to do with it. Sign it off and surrender the license? Fix all the problems and continue to broadcast? Donate it? If so, who would take it? Or, more likely, wait until the tower collapses and deal with it then.
I’d imagine that there are many others just like it dotting the country. On the whole, the AM broadcasters that are viable would be better off if this dead wood was cut away and discarded.
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.
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.
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.