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.

AM station downgrade

I have been working on another formerly direction class B AM station, this one is in Rutland, VT.  WSYB has been on the air since 1931 with the same call letters serving the east central part of Vermont.  In 1931, it was operating on 1500 kc with 100 watts of power.  In March 1941 it moved to 1490 kc with 250 watts before settling, a few months later, on 1380 with 1,000 watts, directional night time protecting CKPC in Brantford, Ontario, Canada.

The transmitter site was first located at 80 West Street (now known as BUS US 4), in Rutland.  It was moved to its current Dorr Drive (Formerly Creek Road) location in 1938, when the station was requesting a power upgrade to 250 watts.  Whilst cleaning out the old transmitter building, a copy of an operating log, dated December 7, 1945 was discovered in the attic above the transmitter room:

WSYB transmitter log, 1945

Back from the time when readings were required every 30 minutes.

In 1956, WSYB was allowed 5,000 watts daytime non-directional with 1,000 watts night time directional.

At some point in the early 1990’s, the original towers were replaced with solid leg Pirod towers, each 195 feet tall.

After that, things went the way things do; AM steadily declined in favor of FM, local programming was mostly replaced by syndicated satellite stuff, there were several transfers of ownership, etc.

A translator on 100.1 MHz was added in 2016; the two bay Shively antenna was installed at the top of the South West tower.   There is local programming on the station from 6am to noon on weekdays.  There may also be some gardening shows and other such programming on weekends.

The current owner has decided, like they have done in other markets, that AM directional antenna systems are a maintenance nightmare, the risk of FCC sanctions are high for an out of tolerance antenna array, the ratings and income from the station do not justify the risk/cost.  Thus, non-directional night time operation was applied for and granted.  The station is now a Class D with 25 ass kickin’ night time watts.

WSYB had a two tower night time antenna system.  The tower closest to the building (SW) was also the daytime, non-directional tower and it now holds the FM translator antenna and STL antenna.  Thus, it was decided to ground that tower and keep those antennas in service.  The far tower (NE), which was the second tower of the night time array would become the AM antenna.  The night time ATU was built for less than 1,000 watts input power, so several components needed to be upgraded for 5,000 watt operation.

WSYB rebuilt ATU
WSYB rebuilt ATU

I had available these nice vacuum capacitors that came out of another decommissioned antenna system.  The vacuum capacitors are great because the voltage/current ratings are much higher than the mica capacitors that were in the circuit before.  You can see black goop where one of the Sangamo mica capacitors on the input leg failed several years ago.  These vacuum capacitors are rated at 15 KV and the current rating at 1.38 MHz is probably in the 70-80 amp range.  I had to move the base current meter from the former daytime (SW) tower out to the NE tower.  The day night switch was taken out of the circuit.  The transmission line to the far tower was replace with 7/8 inch foam dielectric cable.  A slight touch up of the coil on the input leg of the T network was all that was required to bring it into tune.

The electric lines to the tower have been temporarily disconnected.  As soon as they are reconnected, I will vacuum out all the mouse crap and other debris.  The ATU building also needs some work sealing in up against the elements.

The tower base impedance is 75 ohms, +j95 making the base current 8.6 amps daytime and 0.58 amps night time.

WSYB radiating element
WSYB radiating element

For me, the magic of radio exists at that boundary between the real objects (towers and antennas) and the ether.  The transference of electrical voltages and currents into the magnetosphere is something that still fascinates me to this day.  Coupling a 5,000 watt medium wave transmitter to a tower and watching it work is something that I will never grow tired of.

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 Energy Onix Pulsar transmitter

Engineering Radio: The Oh Dear God Edition.

I have been tasked with fixing one of these glorious contraptions. Aside from the usual Energy Onix quirks; design changes not reflected in the schematic diagram and a company that no longer exists, it seems to fairly simply machine. Unfortunately, it has spent its life in less than ideal operating conditions.

Energy Onix Pulsar 1000 in the wild. Excuse the potato quality photo
Energy Onix Pulsar 1000 in the wild. Excuse the potato quality photo

Upon arrival, it was dead in the water.  Found copious mouse droppings, dirt and other detritus within and without of the transmitter.  Repaired the broken start/stop switches, fixed the RF drive detector, replaced the power supply capacitors and now at least the unit runs.  The problem now is the power control is unstable.  The unit comes up at full power when it first switched on, then it drops back to 40 watts, then after it warms up more goes to about 400 watts and the audio sounds distorted.  This all points towards some type of thermal issue with one of the power control op amps or other composite device.

After studying the not always accurate schematic diagrams, the source of the problem seems to be carrier level control circuit.  This is based around a Fairchild RC4200AN (U10 on the Audio/PDM driver board) which is an analog multiplier chip.   That chip sets the level of the PDM audio output which is fed into the PDM integrator circuit.  Of course, that chip is no longer manufactured.  I can order one from China on eBay and perhaps that will work out okay.  This all brings to mind the life cycle of solid state components.  One problem with the new technology; most solid state components have a short production life, especially things like multiplier chips.  Transmitters are generally expected to last 15-20 years in primary service.  Thus, transmitter manufactures need to use chips that will not become obsolete (good luck with that), or purchase and maintain a large stock of spare parts.

In the mean time, the chip is on its way from China.  Truth be told, this fellow would be better off with a new transmitter.