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Isn’t this where…

If you are reading this, one of two things has happened; either I pulled the plug on the blog, or that great guy up in the sky has pulled the plug on me.  It occurred to me, whilst driving all those many miles year in and year out doing contract engineering, that insurance actuary tables exist for a reason.  Sooner or later, something catastrophic was bound to happen.  Thus I created this post which will automatically publish itself every Monday morning unless I intervene.

It was eight plus years ago that, on a whim, I started this blog.  When I started I knew that all paths cross themselves eventually. We all end were we begin, and so it is with this. Over the last eight years, I tried and sometimes succeeded in describing what it is like to be a broadcast engineer.  Occasionally, I have strayed off topic.  I have written about and struggled with the engineering aspects of the radio business.  Sometimes, I would like to think, my readers were at least entertained, perhaps informed, enlightened, or felt empathy.

The truth is this; at some point I ran out of ways to express myself without turning this into a rant-feast.  Radio is the ultimate legacy consumer technology.  Independent radio stations have the ability to, even today, be a wonderful entertainment medium.  Radio can still serve the community in times of disaster or distress.  However, the absolute soul crushing mediocrity of automated programming is killing the entire industry.  Of course, the cause of this is the equally crushing debt load being carried by the majority of radio station owners.   That reality, intersecting with declining advertising revenue and segmentation of market share, spell the end of the commercial radio business model.  I look upon the sale of tower assets as another sign that the death spiral is deepening.  This is not going to change; debt loads will remain and the business will mediocre itself to death.  People in the business will be forced to accept ever increasing work loads coupled with decreasing salaries.  All of this being supervised by the Sauron like, all seeing corporate eye, thousands of miles away.

In the end, the only thing that could kill radio is radio itself.

I will also take the opportunity to thank everyone that participated, commented, sent me off line e-mails and what not over the years.  Without your input, I would have ended this long ago.

So, this is it.  The blog will stay up and running for as long as the domain and/or hosting remains active.

For those concerned people

I have received a few comments and off line inquiries about my well being and the status of the Engineering Radio blog in general.  First, let me say; thank you for your concern.  There are many things going on right now, both professionally and personally.  Some of those things are good and some are bad.  In other words; typical life stuff.

First, from the professional side:  The company (?) I work for has undergone some internal changes. We are, in general, very busy and I myself have at least five or six irons in the fire when it comes to projects.  These include things like two complete studio projects, a couple of transmitter site rebuilds, some STL installation work, a couple of new IP data links, etc.  On top of this there are, of course, maintenance issues and emergency calls, irate general managers, frugal owners, old equipment, and so on.  We have had a pretty good cold snap over the last weekend (-10 to -15F), which has lead to numerous failures; pipes freezing, diesel fuel gelling, UPSs quitting, etc.  <s>All in, it has been so much fun I cannot believe I actually get paid do to this </s>.  If you have worked in the business for a while, none of this should surprise you.

When I get time, I will put together some posts on the above projects, as some of them are quite interesting or at least somewhat entertaining.

Secondly, from the personal side:  Youth hockey season is here and I have been carting my son around to practices and various hockey games in upstate NY and western Massachusetts.  Last weekend, his team played in the Empire State Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York.

Lake Placid hand shake

End of game hand shake, USA rink, Lake Placid, NY

For any fan of Hockey, a trip to the Herb Brooks Arena can be a semi-religious experience.

In addition to this, another common radio engineering problem has occurred; marital discord.  So much so that alternate living arrangements have been considered.

Thus, my time and very often my mood has been constrained.  Hopefully, after youth Hockey season ends in next month, I will at least have more time to do some quality posting.  Your patience is appreciated.

Six years

That is how long it has been since I started this blog. Six years and 727 posts later, I find myself wondering how much longer I can continue this.  I have not been posting too much lately because I seem to have run out of things to say.  Posting just for the sake of posting seems to dilute the good material with mediocre stuff that has to be deleted later.

The radio business has changed little in the last six years; fewer owners, AM is still plagued with technical issues and poor programming, the FM band is getting jam packed with translators and the occasional LPFM, HD Radio is, well HD Radio.

My situation changed as well with the change in jobs, a new degree, more family responsibilities, etc.

I was thinking about ways to make this more interesting and perhaps doing more with my under utilized youtube channel would be fun.  I was called an “old timer” a few months ago as a compliment and I am not sure how I feel about that.  After a bit of reflection, I realize there is some truth to it and there are fewer and fewer of us out there that can do what we do.  Perhaps some informational things on how to trouble shoot and find problems, what a day in the life of a radio engineer is actually like, radio station people, etc.   I know that good trouble shooting is an art form.

I would need a tripod and a better camera.

In the mean time, here are a few statistics from the last six years:

  1. I have typed a total of 812 posts, of which 727 are public and there are about 30 drafts on various subjects hanging out, waiting to be finished and posted. Out date material is usually deleted when I get around to it.
  2. The blog has a decent following, with an average of 700 page views a day, approximately 120 regular readers and 185 RSS subscribers.
  3. There are 3,494 comments and the spam filter has eliminate 1,102,631 useless, fake, ridiculous or otherwise stupid machine generated garbage.
  4. There is also an international readership, with approximately 40% of visitors coming from outside of the US. According to my flag counter, these are the countries that have not visited yet:
    • British Indian Ocean Territory
    • Central African Republic
    • Christmas Island
    • Comoros
    • Guinea-Bissau
    • Mayotte
    • Nauru
    • Niue
    • Norfolk Island
    • North Korea
    • Saint Barthelemy
    • Svalbard
    • Timor-Leste
    • Tokelau
    • Tuvalu

    Everyone else has made at least one appearance.  I am a little bit disappointed that no one from North Korea has graced our presence.

  5. Top six non-US countries are Canada, UK, India, China, Germany and France.
  6. There are approximately 1,380 images of various interesting things. Most of them are my own, some are borrowed from other sites or the public domain.

I hope that I can continue this thing in some way or format.  I have certainly enjoyed meeting many people, reading comments, replies, off line emails and such.  It has been an overall positive experience and I value everyone’s input.

Happy New Year

I wish everyone a Happy New Year and hopefully, a prosperous 2014.

Another year has gone by, and there were few things remarkable about it. Among those are:

From the digital radio front; HD Radio continues to be a non-factor in the bigger broadcasting picture.  FM HD Radio continues to make very small inroads, especially with public radio groups who’s HD Radio expenditures are mostly tax payer subsidized.  AM HD Radio continues to backslide slowly from it’s high water mark of 310 stations in 2007.  It is difficult to nail down the exact numbers of AM HD Radio broadcasters, however, Barry McLarnon notes that 177 stations are currently transmitting AM HD Radio.  No official numbers are available from either the FCC or iBiquity itself.

The great 2003 translator log jam (Auction 83) was finally fixed so that the FCC could move ahead with the LPFM application window in October.  In the end, some 1,240 translators were granted, with more conflicting applications still in the works.

The LPFM filing window opened in October amid the government shutdown.  Many groups were predicting 10,000 new applications for 100 watt LPFM licenses.  The actual number is closer to 2,800.  The final number of Construction Permits issued with likely be somewhat lower as defective and competing applications are dismissed.  This number seems low to some LPFM proponents.  When I approached a local interest group about launching a low power radio station, I was basically met with indifference.  With a very complex set of application guidelines and operating rules, plus very low power levels, it is not surprising at all.

The NAB and the FCC have been working diligently on revitalizing the AM broadcasting band.  Results of these efforts are yet undetermined as the proposal works it’s way through the regulatory process.  The so called “analog sunset” still lurks in the background somewhere, waiting to be trotted out at the most opportune moment.  I remain skeptical of the current proposal.

Cumulus Broadcasting purchases Dial Global and renames it West Wood One.  Some people lose their jobs.

Nielson buys Arbitron rating service and renames it Nielson Audio.  Some people lose their jobs.

Clear Channel tries to fly under the radar with “staff reductions.”  Some people lose their jobs.

Long time online radio forum “Radiodiscussions.com” ceased existence.  Starting out as Radio-info.com in the mid 1990’s, radio discussions was largest, longest running radio forum in the country.  It held tens of thousands of posts on almost every radio topic under the sun.  Unfortunately, it was bought and sold a few times over the last few years and the new owners could not figure out how to monetize it.  The end.

Bernie Wise passed away on December 13th.  This is truly unfortunate as Bernie was a character perfectly suited to the radio business.  He started working for RCA and is responsible for UHF television broadcasting in the US.

On the blog front, we continue to grow in page views and readers.  As of this date, Engineering Radio gets approximately 540 page views per day and has 227 RSS subscribers.  The split is 60/40 percent domestic/international readers.  The top five international traffic sources are; Canada, UK, India, Germany and Brazil.

2013 stat counter image

2013 stat counter image

There are some 634 articles with 2,640 legitimate comments and 429,600 spam comments.

Regarding site outages, there were 343 minutes of server down time.  Two DDOS attacks lasting six and three hours respectively and one incident of a corrupted .htaccess file rendered and error 500 message for six hours.  Total down time 1,243 minutes or 20:43 hours which gives a 99.87% availability for the website.  Not bad, but we can do better as the uptime goal is 99.99%.

On a personal note, my college studies are progressing well.  I have three more classes or 10 credit hours left until I am done.  My GPA is 3.90 which is not terrible considering I am working full time and going to school almost full time.  Truth be told, I cannot wait until it is finished.

A few updates

UPDATE: I notice that Radio World has a little star rating system on their articles. According to the rating, twenty one people think I suck… That is okay, but when I started looking around at all of the other articles on the website, I noticed most have but one or two votes.  It seems odd to me that my little opinion piece would have so many negative votes, especially in light of the e-mails, phone calls and personal interactions I have received supporting my position. 

Perhaps a few of you could run over there, read the article then objectively decide what you think… Here is the link: AM Efforts Should Include Tech Solutions

I am deeply immersed in all things networking, yet again. I regret the sparse posts, but there are a few things of note:

  1. It appears the the WYFR shortwave site in Okeechobee has been sold to the operators of WRMI (Radio Miami International).  This is a good turn of events for shortwave broadcasting.  WRMI programmed mostly to the Caribbean and were difficult to hear in these parts.
  2. Nielsen Radio, formerly Arbitron, says it will increase the sample size for the PPM program.  This is good, larger sample size means better accuracy and fewer extrapolation related errors and strange rating spikes.
  3. I published an commentary in Radio World Commentary: AM Efforts Should Include Tech Solutions. What do you think? Should the industry be looking at something other than HD Radio?
  4. Then, from across the pond there is this:

    Which is a digital radio promotion from the BBC. It seems Great Brittan is trying to force an all digital transition. A glimpse of things to come?

  5. In spite of the lack of posts, the blog continues to grow, averaging 550 to 600 page views per day with about 180 RSS subscribers.  As far as content goes, I can assume more of the same will suffice.

As time becomes available, I will post more.

Server isssues

My apologies. As of late, there have been several service disruptions on this site.  In speaking with my web host, they have identified the following issues:

  • On Thursday 4/11 and 4/18 between 6-10 am local time (1000-1400 UTC) the server that hosts engineeringradio.us was subjected to a DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack, where approximately 200,000 login attempts were made per hour from 90,000 different IP addresses.  This was part of a greater attack on WordPress websites.
  • On Wednesday 4/24 there was another DoS attack of a more limited and focused scale around 3-4 pm time frame
  • On Tuesday 4/30 beginning at 5 am, (0900 UTC) there was a server issue which returned an error 404 message to anyone trying access the web site.  The .htaccess file was somehow corrupted, which later caused a error 500 message.  This outage lasted until approximately 2 pm (1800 UTC) when the .htaccess file was reloaded.

I have taken several steps to secure the web server and web site against intrusions and other attacks.  A distributed DoS attack is very hard to track and combat, the best course is to beef up security policies and weather the attacks when they come.  I have contemplated moving this website to my own server, but that is more work than I have time for right now.  Perhaps at some future point, if reliability continues to be an issue, I will do that.

For now, your patience is appreciated.

Commenting and other blog housekeeping

Recently, a comment was placed on the blog regarding donation of used consoles. This comment generated a lot of interest. However, I attempted to contact the commenter using the email address supplied, which bounced back.  I have since put the comment and all related comments into the moderation queue until I can contact the owner.  If it turns out to be legitimate, I will put it back up.

Regarding commenting in general, I don’t mind people putting things up for donation or whatnot, but use a real email address when you do.  Those that wish to contact you will do it off line.  Once that person to person contact is established, I am out of the loop and not a part of any deals that develop as a result.

WordPress uses email addresses to establish commenting identity.  All first time comments are placed in the moderation queue until I can look at it and approve it.  All comments with links also get moderated.  I do not do anything with the information collected by the blogging software, other than to occasionally squint at the email addresses of those comments in the moderation queue to establish identity.  You can use a fake email address if you want, however, I often contact people off line if there are questions etc.  Do not place your email address or phone number in the comment itself as you will be inundated with spam.  When I see this, I remove the contact information before the comment is approved.

I am busy with school, hence the lack of new posts.  I should be temporarily out of the woods after finals in the middle of December.  There are many projects going on which would make interesting posts, I just do not have the time to do the subject matter justice.

We are experiencing technical dificulties, please stand by

There appears to be some issue with my version of WordPress, the server in use and the version of PHP. The ISP recently upgraded my sever and migrated my site over to a new unit, which was supposed to be transparent. Right. I am working with the ISP to resolve these issues as quickly as possible and return to my regular blogging.

In the mean time:

Update: All fixed, for now anyway. Something about a mismatched password in the backend. To all those that tried to comment, my apologies. It should all be working correctly now.

Unabashed self promotion

Once per year, I celebrate the creation of this blog. Thus, three years ago today, I unleashed Engineering Radio with the idea that not too many other people were telling the story about technical aspect of radio broadcasting.  At the time, Radio World, a fine publication by any standard, seemed to be moving away from technical details, anecdotes and other useful bits of information.  I felt that is was something that people would like to read, and I was correct.

Without further adieu, here is my observations from the past year:

  • We have taken on sort of an international flavor, this last year.  A slightly greater percentage of visitors are coming from overseas, which I welcome.  According to my flag counter, approximately 62% of visitors are from the US, the other top five countries are; UK, Canada, Netherlands, Australia, and Germany.  I have also fixed the translator plug-in for word press.  In Russian the blog is translated as: Радиоинженерия, (thanks Geoff in Oz) which translates to Radio Engineering.  I am not sure “Engineering” can be rendered as a verb in Russian.
  • Also, I have noted that of the 195 recognized countries in the world, 183 have visited this blog.
  • I posted 162 stories last year, an average of 14 per month, making the total post count 470.
  • There are 1,441 legitimate comments and 175,108 spam comments.
  • There are about 120 subscribers to the RSS feed
  • I receive an average of 438 page loads with 62 returning visitors each day
  • Total reach of ~143,000 page views from ~93,000 unique visitors
  • Busiest day of the week is Thursday, I don’t know why.
Visitors 2012

Visitors 2012

I did some housekeeping, cleaning out some no longer relevant stories and other such things, therefore the story count is slightly off from last year.  No matter.

This year, I have greatly enjoyed meeting fellow radio enthusiasts like Mike Fitzpatrick and Scott Fybush among others.  The blog is a constant learning experience and I enjoy greatly all of the personal interactions; blog comments, facebook posts and off line emails.

Thus, it has been a good year.

With my return to school last spring, the time constraints have somewhat reduced the quantity of posts, while hopefully not the quality.  As I have said in previous years, this is a labor of love and I will continue to write as long as you guys (and girls) continue to read.

Studying for final exams this week

My apologies to the regular readers here. I have been busy studying, working, and managing family life.  The good news is my last final exam is this afternoon.  Even better news, the next semester is starting on May 22nd, during which I will be taking English 227, which is a Technical Writing course.  It is my hope that you all will be benefiting from my labor.

Axiom


A pessimist sees the glass as half empty. An optimist sees the glass as half full. The engineer sees the glass as twice the size it needs to be.

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.
~Benjamin Franklin

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.
~Rudyard Kipling

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.
~Alan Weiner

Free counters!