Last Walk across The Island

Yesterday I took, what I hope to be, my last walk across Pleasure Beach Island in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The task at hand was repairing the antenna array for WICC. There turned out to be several issues which were addressed in turn.

WICC tower feed point, courtesy of NECRAT

The trouble started when the feed line between the ATU and the tower became disconnected during a storm. That consists of a 1 inch copper pipe extending from the ATU feed through insulator up to a brass plate suspended between the four tower legs by hard drawn single 0 copper wire. The feed line separated at the brass plate which, unfortunately, is approximately eighteen feet in the air.

North Tower feed point connection, cold soldered

The feed line was repaired, but not effectively. By the looks of the picture, the brass plate never got hot enough to accept the solder.

After the feed line was re-repaired, other issues became apparent. The base impedance of the tower was still off and the array was still way out of tolerance.

It was noticed that several bypass capacitors on both of the tower lighting chokes where blown open. Those where replaced and the tower lighting chokes where checked for shorted turns. While it is always nice to replace burned out parts, this did not correct the problem.

Finally, we were back at the base of the tower with the defective feed point and a decided to grab the pipe and give it a good shake to see if it came apart again. It did not, but then I realized that that tower was supposed to be back in the circuit and I did not receive any RF burns for my carelessness.

We dug into the ATU and discovered that the input capacitor was marginal and there was a large crack in it. The output capacitor seemed to be completely open. The base current that we were seeing on the base current meter was being induced by the other tower. It all began to make sense.

Bad Capacitor

The parts were ordered and shipped and I made another trip out to install them myself.

Thus, on this particular day, I had my tool bag, an OIB-3 with fresh batteries, my cordless drill, drill bits, and three type 294 mica capacitors. I took the drill because the new capacitors were quite a bit larger than the old ones, so I needed to move the stand off insulators to remount them.

Pleasure Beach pier, foggy day

The walk from the end of the dock to the transmitter site is approximately 900 meters or 0.55 miles, according to google maps. On a nice day, it is a pleasant walk. On not so nice days, it can be less so. It was foggy with light drizzle. Not enough to get wet right away, but enough to get slowly soaked while working on the ATU repairs.

WICC square base self supporting towers, manufactured by Milliken Tower, circa 1924

With the new capacitors installed, I needed to adjust the array back into tolerance, which didn’t take too long. I made a short video of the station running at full power showing the antenna monitor readings for both the day and night patterns. Then packed up and headed back to the dock.

My ride is here

I wanted to take a set of monitor points, but the FIM-41 had been moved to another location. That was fine, I was getting pretty uncomfortable in my wet clothes, so I headed home.

Goodbye, WICC.

The Temporary AM antenna

One of those things that I have written about before, but seems to be common these days as older AM towers need to be replaced. One of our clients had just such a tower. Erected in 1960, the hollow leg stainless tower was rusting from the inside out. When the tower crew came to put up the translator antenna, they discovered that there was a hole in one of the legs and climbed back down.

The tower condition was somewhat known about, there were braces installed several years ago at certain levels to keep the tower standing. The new owner had planned to replace the tower eventually, so those plans where moved ahead.

Temporary Wire antenna, WKNY, Kingston, NY
Temporary Wire antenna, WKNY, Kingston, NY

A temporary utility pole was installed near the transmitter building and a wire was strung to another customer owned pole about 170 feet away. At 1,490 KHz, that proved to be a pretty good length. The issue with these medium wave temporary antennas is always the height above ground. In order for the radiation resistance to be somewhat reasonable, the antenna needs to be at least 1/8 to 1/4 wave length above ground. That means a minimum of 78 to 157 feet at 1,490 KHz. The utility pole installed is 35 feet AGL.

WKNY temporary ATU

Thus, the wire antenna has a fairly low resistance, with loads of inductive reactance. Something on the order of 20 ohms, +j480. Since this is temporary, we reused the existing ATU that was designed for the series excited tower. With a capacitor installed on the incoming wire to cancel out some of the inductive reactance, a simple T network was configured to match the 50 ohm transmitter output to the 20 ohm antenna.

In the end, we were able to run about 400 watts into the wire, which covered the city of license fairly well. While the new tower was being erected nearby, we had to reduce that to about 100 watts to protect the tower workers from the hazards of non-ionizing radiation.

WKNY new tower build

The new replacement tower has been constructed. It is the exact same height as the old tower, but has a twenty foot pole on top instead of a normal tower section. The pole was installed to mount the translator antenna. In addition to that, there will be other wireless services installed on this tower.

WKNY will have a six wire skirt installed in the next few days. As this tower is close to 160 degrees at 1,490 KHz, the skirt can go anywhere from 60 to 120 degrees up the tower.

The Answer to Ailing Copper

I don’t know how things are in your neck of the woods, but here in the Northeastern US, our old copper TELCO networks are on their way out.  This is a problem for broadcasters who still rely on POTS lines (Plain Old Telephone Service) for transmitter remote controls, studio hot lines, etc.  The vast majority of my transmitter site access is through dial up remote controls.  There are a few locations that have web based remote controls, but to be honest; the phone part of my smart phone still gets a lot of use.  There are several locations where the old copper is just failing outright and not through a lack of effort by the repair techs.  Generally, the copper pairs get wet and develop a loud hum, which makes the remote control unit either hang up or become unresponsive to touch tone commands.

The best course of action is to get some type of VOIP line installed.  Here is the rub; many transmitter sites are nowhere near a cable system.  Several times, I have contacted the cable company to see if they will provide a VOIP phone line at a certain site.  The response is usually; sure, we can do that!  However, it will cost  you (insert some ridiculous amount of money) to extend the cable to your transmitter site.

LAN extensions to the transmitter site are a useful for a number of reasons.  More and more transmitters are equipped with web interfaces as are processors, UPSs, transmitter remote controls, security cameras,  etc.  LAN extensions can also be used for backup audio in case of STL failure.  Finally,  an inexpensive ATA (Analog Telephone Adaptor) and DID line can replace a POTS line for a lot less money.  One example; voip.ms has the following plans as of this writing:

Plan type Per month per DID number (USD) Incoming call rate (USD) per minute Outgoing call rate (USD) per minute
Per minute $0.85 $0.01 (USA) $0.009
Unlimited $4.25 $0.00 $0.009
Toll Free (800) $0.99 $0.019 $0.009

Any of those plans surely beats the standard TELCO rate of $40-50 per month per line.

Design criteria for a wireless LAN system needs to take into account bandwidth, latency and reliability.  Each VOIP phone call takes anywhere from 28-87 Kbps depending on the protocol being used.  If the wireless LAN is being used for other things such as back up STL service, access to various GUI’s, etc then the total bandwidth of all those services need to be considered as well.  Do not forget ethernet broadcast traffic such as DHCP requests, ARP, SMB, etc which can also take up a fair amount of bandwidth.

For LAN extensions, I have been using a variety of equipment.  The older Moseley 900 MHz LAN links still work, but are slow in general.  The Ubiquiti gear has proven to be both inexpensive yet reliable, a rarity to be sure.  There are several links to various transmitter sites running on various types of Ubiquiti gear, usually without problem.  One simply needs to remember to log into the web interface once in a while and make sure that both ends have all the firmware updates installed.  They are cheap enough that a couple of spares can be kept on the shelf.

The following diagram shows how I replaced all of the copper pots lines at various transmitter sites with VOIP:

Diagram of LAN extensions to various transmitter sites
Diagram of LAN extensions to various transmitter sites

List of equipment:

Nomenclature Amount Use New or used
Ubiquiti Rocket M5 3 AP and station units New
Ubiquiti AirMax 5G-2090 90 degree sector antenna 1 AP point to multi-point antenna New
Ubiquiti Rocket Dish 5G-30 2 Station antennas New
Ubiquiti ETH-SP-G2 3 Lightning protection New
Trastector ALPU PTP INJ 6 Lightning protection out door units New
Cambium PTP-250 2 Point to Point link Existing/Used
Motorola Canopy 900DA PCDD 1 AP point to multi point Existing/Used
Motorola Canopy 900DA PCDD 2 Station Existing/Used
Microwave Filter #18486 diplexer 3 Diplexer 900 MHz ISM band and 944-952 STL band Existing/Used
Cisco SPA122 ATA 9 Dial tone for remote controls New

The main studio location has the gateway to the outside world. This system is on a separate subnet from the automation and office networks. From that location a point-to-multipoint system connects to the three closest transmitter sites.  This setup uses the Ubiquiti Rocket M5’s with various antenna configurations.  Then, from one FM transmitter site, there is an existing 5.8 GHz path to another set of transmitter sites.  This uses Cambium PTP-250s.

The next hop rides on the STL system, using Motorola Canopy 900 MHz radios and Microwave Filter Company #18486 dilpexers.  These are long paths and the 900 MHz systems work well enough for this purpose.  The main cost savings comes from reusing the existing STL system antennas which negates the cost of tower crews to put up new antennas and or rent on the tower for another antenna.

There is a smaller sub system many miles away that is connected to the outside world through the cable company at the AM transmitter site.  Unfortunately, due to the distances between the main studio and those three stations, there was no line of site shots to these sites available on any frequency.

When installing the 5.8 GHz systems, I made sure to use the UV rated, shielded cable, shielded RJ-45 connectors and Lightning Protection Units (LPUs).  Short cuts taken when installing this equipment eventually come back in the form of downed links and radio heads destroyed by lightning.

Regardless, I was able to eliminate seven POTS phone lines plus extended dial tone service to two sites that previously did not have it before.  In addition to that, all of the transmitter sites now have Internet access, which can be useful for other reasons.  All in all, the cost savings is about $310.00 per month or $3,720.00 per year.

WKIP

This was the radio station that I listened to (or rather, my parents listened to) when I was a very young kid.  From this source, things like school closings, weather, lunar landings, news, sports and traffic could be heard.  At one point, there was a guy called the “Traffic Hawk,” (real name Don Foster) who flew in a Cessna 172 east and west over main street in Poughkeepsie advising drivers of any slow downs in the area.  That’s right, Poughkeepsie, New York, population 30,000, had it’s own eye in the sky, broadcasting live from the aircraft overhead.  Actually, I think he also flew up and down South Road (US Route 9) in the vicinity of the IBM plant, which employed quite a few people in those days.

There was also a guy who tried to break the Guinness Book of World Records by staying awake the longest, this happened several times.

For me, it was the school closings.  I hated school with an absolute passion.  Everyday, I would ride the school bus and say a little prayer; “…please God, make it today.  Make the boiler stop working, or the electricity to go out.  Make the kitchen catch on fire or the roof to cave in.  You are a great and mighty God and I don’t ask for much.  Please destroy my school today.”  Alas, God did not seem interested in this.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand.

WKIP first signed on in 1940 with the studios and transmitter located at The Nelson House, 42 Market Street, Poughkeepsie.  That building is long gone and  the location appears to be the parking lot for the Dutchess County Office building.  Being neighbors with some influential guy from Hyde Park made for a nice dedication speech:

It signed on with a power of 250 watts on 1,420 KC on June 6th, 1940. Soon thereafter, it changed frequency to 1,450 KC as a part of the AM band shift brought about by NARBA.

Over the years, the station went through several ownership changes. The first major technical change came in 1961, when the station transmitter site moved to it’s current location, then called Van Wagoner Road, now Tucker Drive. The station increased power to 1,000 Watts and installed a direction antenna for daytime use.  It is one of those rare night time non-directional, day time directional stations.

The directional antenna consists of two towers; tower one is 180 degrees tall (103.4 Meters or 340 feet) with 35 degrees of top loading.  That is used for both the day and night time array.  Tower two is 85 degrees tall (48.8 Meters or 160 feet) and is used only for the daytime array.  This pushes the major lobe of radiation towards the north.  I don’t know the reasoning behind that, but somebody spend a good amount of money to make it so.

Here is a air check from the early 1980’s.  Weather on that day was “Sunny, cloudy, whatever… take your pick.”

Good old Steve Diner.

Today, the station looks like this:

The 1961 WKIP transmitter building with tower
The 1961 WKIP transmitter building with tower

When I was growing up, my cousins lived within walking distance of this. We used to come over than throw rocks at the tower when the station was unmanned on Saturdays and Sundays. At least, I think it was unmanned because no one ever came out and yelled at us.

WKIP backup transmitter, phasor and main transmitter
WKIP backup transmitter, phasor and main transmitter

Mid 1980’s MW-1A still runs. The BE AM1A is the main transmitter. The phasor is the Original 1960’s Gates Phasor.

This video shows how the studios used to look, before they were rebuilt by Clear Channel Circa 2002 or so. At about the 2:02 mark, you will see the room pictured above as it looked in 1990.

The space between the video above and the picture below looked bad with nothing in it. It looks better now.

WKIP clock
WKIP clock

That clock is a collectors items and belongs in a museum.