AM radio stations are rough customers. They frequently operate on the margins, both in terms of ratings and revenue. Their transmitter plants are complex and very often have been on a reduced maintenance schedule for years, sometimes decades. Those of us that understand the operation of AM transmitter plants and all their quirky behaviours are getting older. I myself, feel less inclined to drop everything and run off to the AM transmitter site when things go awry. Seldom are such efforts rewarded, much less acknowledged. Station owners are also finding that their previous demands are unrealistic. For example, time was that any work that takes the station off the air had to be done after midnight. These days, I can tell you, I will not be working at your radio station after midnight. You can find somebody else to do that work.
Thus, today, we took this particular AM station off the air from Noon until 3 pm to diagnose and repair a problem with the four tower daytime array. Once again, this involved a shift in common point impedance and a drastic change in one tower’s current ratios.
Antenna Tuning Unit, mice have made a mess
In all fairness to the current owner, this ATU reflects years of neglect. At some point, mice made a home in here and created a mess. The ATU smells of mouse shit, piss and mothballs. It is full of mouse droppings, grass seeds and fur. All of the ATUs in this array are in similar condition.
Paper wasp, inside ATU
It was warm enough that the wasps were active, if not a little bit lethargic.
Broken stand off insulators in ATU
This coil is being held up by the tubing that connects it to other components. When the ATU was built, no nylon or cork bushings were used between the insulators and the wall of the ATU they were mounted on. Heat cycling eventually did all of the insulators in.
Catwalk to the other towers
Catwalks to the other towers. At least the swamp grass has been cut this year, it is only four feet tall instead of ten.
The tower bases are all elevated above the theoretical maximum water level. The ATUs are also up on stands with platforms build for maintenance access.
ATU Work “platform”
I cannot even blame the current owner, who has spend considerable money to make repairs and upgrades to this site. It is very difficult and very expensive to catch up with deferred maintenance. Sadly, most AM stations we encounter have similar or worse problems.
I think it is too late to save many of these AM stations. The technical issues, lack of revenue, perceived poor quality, lack of good programming are all taking their toll. At this point, the hole is so deep there is no hope of ever getting out. The FCC’s faux interest in “revitalization” followed by two years of stony indifference seems to be a final, cruel joke.
On the subject of project management; often times, we need to keep track of the small details that can derail a project, blow the budget and upset schedules. A quick check list can help to identify things that might not have been planned for. I developed a checklist mentality in the military. There, we had checklists for everything. Simple day to day things like disposing of garbage over the side, or pumping the CHT (sewage) tank to complex evolutions like entering or leaving port all had a checklist. On the aforementioned CHT tank; the Coast Guard cutter I was on had a vacuum flush system to conserve water. Emptying the CHT tank involved a complex set of valve openings and closings to rout compressed air into the vacuum tank and literally blow the sewage overboard. Anyone can see the danger in such a design. Failure to follow the exact procedure resulted in raw sewage blowing out of the nearest toilets, which were unfortunately (or perhaps humorously) in the lower level officer’s staterooms.
But I digress.
I have made a series of outlines for different project types. These can be used as general guidelines for project planning and management. Of course, each project is different, but these are flexible enough that they can be adapted on a project by project basis.
These are for general use, and should be adapted for your own purposes. Don’t forget to document and label all the wire runs, etc.
Also, do not forget the transmitter site maintenance checklists: FM transmitter site maintenance list, AM transmitter site maintenance list. I have used these reliably at many different sites since I committed them to writing in late 1999.
If you are the type of person that drives around to transmitter sites and steals things; fuck you. You have no idea the problems you are causing to get a few extra dollars worth of scrap copper.
Missing copper ground buss bar
I have a feeling that most of these copper thefts can be attributed to out of town tower contractors removing old cellular equipment from towers. Notice, only the buss bar and copper ground wire is missing. They did not try to cut the transmission lines. In other words, they seemed to know what they were doing. I have noticed around here that a when a particular contractor, employed by an unnamed large company that rhymes with glint, would work at a site, things would be missing afterwards.
Perhaps it is just a coincidence. I have never been able to catch anyone pinching things. However, if this is you, and I catch you, you can rest assured that I will block you in with my car, then walk down the road and call the police.
We removed this old Harris BC5HA transmitter recently:
Harris BC5HA, WROW Albany, NY
It was installed new in 1974, when the station moved to this site from another one a few miles up the road. It functioned as a main transmitter until the BE AM5E was installed in late 2001. The BE transmitter, other than a power supply issue, has been a solid, reliable unit. Truth be told, the last time the BC5HA ran was in 2006. After that, the unit refused to run, a bad modulation transformer was suspected. It was deemed not worth it to repair, thus, out the door it goes. We ended up giving it to a local contractor who scrapped the metal in lieu of payment for his labor. The only thing he could not take was the aforementioned modulation transformer, which is full of PCB’s. That will have to be hauled away by a licensed disposal company.
Broadcast Electronics AM5E, WROW Albany, NY
We may be getting a second hand Nautel transmitter from another station as a backup transmitter. If that comes to fruition, then a couple of racks can be added to the end of the Phasor/transmitter/transmitter row and the wiring for the remote control and STL can be simplified and neatened up.
Update: Thank you, Jim. The mystery site is KFIG (formerly KFRE) in Fresno, CA. This is what the transmitter building looks like from the outside today:
KFIG transmitter, circa 2011
In the previously mentioned the rescued file cabinet and along with the WFLY transmitter site construction information, I also found these interesting photographs:
Mystery AM transmitter site, plate 9296
I do not know what transmitter site this is. From the photo, it has a two tower (guyed) directional antenna. It looks to me to be somewhere out west. The transmitter is a General Electric BTA-25 or BT-25, same as the former WPTR and WCKY transmitter. I know this back hallway well:
Mystery AM transmitter site, back hallway of GE BT-25. Plate 9300
This is the transformer vault:
Mystery AM transmitter site, transformer vault. Plate 9297
Modulation transformer and three pot plate transformer:
Mystery AM transmitter site, GE BT-25 modulation transformer. Plate 9299
I would say that these may be promotional photos, because of the spotlessly clean installation and the plate numbers on each print. Unfortunately, there are no pictures of the front of the transmitter, including the operator console.
Does anybody know where this is?
Hopefully that title is descriptive enough:
ATT bucket trucks, , mobilized via landing craft to Pleasure Beach
We loaded a couple of ATT bucket trucks on a landing craft and waged an assault on Pleasure Beach. This is to finalize the repair work from Hurricane Sandy last year. The other factor is the construction taking place on the Island. The City of Bridgeport is constructing a park, which involves extensive repairs and renovations to the buildings. Construction vehicles driving under the old lines have ripped them down several times, thus repairing the lines on the new utility poles was necessary.
ATT truck offloading
ATT truck offloading
ATT is the LEC for the Bridgeport area, something they don’t do in most other parts of the country, from what I am told.
Landing Craft Challenger
It took approximately four hours to complete this work and reload the trucks back on the landing craft. The boat itself looks like a slightly modified LCM (Landing Craft, Mechanized), which were produced from 1943 onward. This is an LCM-8.
WICC towers almost in line, I was about one second too late with this shot. This would be “down the bore” of the daytime pattern into downtown Bridgeport.
Another shot of the WICC towers. These were designed to hold up a horizontal T top wire antenna strung between the two of them. At some point in the early thirties, somebody realized that the tower itself could be excited as a vertical radiator and the antenna configuration was changed. Up until the mid 1970’s there was a horizontal wire which supported third wire element hanging between the two towers, making it a three tower directional array. This was removed and it was then that the current phasor and two tower DA-2 system was installed.
All in a day’s work.
WROW 590 KHz, Albany, NY is another one of those successful AM stations. They have a music format, which I would characterize as a blend between nostalgia and oldies. They do well in the Albany book and most importantly; make money. The Wikipedia entry is a little dated, as they have had a music format for over four years now. The low dial position helps, as I can get the station up near the Canadian border and most of the way down to Poughkeepsie during the daytime pattern operation, which is better than across town WGY, 50,000 watts non-directional.
Here are a few pictures of the transmitter site:
Broadcast Electronics AM5E, WROW, Albany, NY
WROW main transmitter
WROW transmitter room
WROW transmitter room; main and backup transmitters, phasor, equipment rack, etc.
RCA BTA1AR former backup transmitter
The former backup transmitter for WROW-AM. This was moved from the original transmitter site, located a few mile north of the current transmitter site in Glenmont, NY. The current transmitter site was constructed in 1974.
Onan diesel generator
WROW antenna array, three tower DA-2
WROW antenna array. The station transmits with 5,000 watts daytime and 760 watts night time. The towers are slightly tall at 105 electrical degrees. It is hard to do tall towers at the low end of the dial because the towers get very tall. These are 149 meters (488 feet) tall.
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
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 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 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.
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
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
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, typical design of a uniform cross section guyed tower from the late 1930’s to late 1950’s.
WKNY transmitter. Another Nautel ND-1 series transmitter. Nothing every breaks or goes wrong.
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
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
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.
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
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 two
WDDY tower three
WDDY forward/reflected power
Not bad for a day’s work.