The lights are on, but we’re not home…

fcclogowordsFCC fines to broadcasters is nothing new.  Broadcasters have often tried to cut corners, hiring incompetent staff that cannot be bothered to report tower light outages, or simply not monitoring tower lights at all. Untrained operators who do not know the EAS rules, sloppy public files, unattended main studios, over power operation, etc.  Some AM stations have power changes as sunset and sunrise, most are now automated but who is checking the automation system to make sure the power changes?

The FCC does not have nearly enough field agents to monitor everything.  Most rules infractions never get discovered, like the translator operating at double its licensed power.  Or the FM station with the antenna at the wrong height on the tower.  It never ends.  When I first got into this business, I remember one FCC inspector that was going to issue a NOV (Notice of Violation) because the operator signed her name in red ink.  RED INK, by god!  It seems things have swung far in the other direction.

Fortunately for us, these infractions become public record, so we can all learn from other’s mistakes, right?

Here is the current crop of FCC fines being shuffled through the bureaucracy:

Clarion County Broadcasting Corp. the licensee of radio station WKQW in Oil City, Pennsylvania, apparently willfully and repeatedly violated Section 73.1745(a) of the Commission’s Rules by operating at times beyond the station’s post-sunset authorization. Clarion is liable for a forfeiture in the amount of four thousand dollars ($4,000.00). To determine whether WKQW was operating consistent with its authorization, an agent from the Philadelphia Office installed radio monitoring equipment in Oil City, Pennsylvania to record, on a continuous basis, the relative signal strength of WKQW’s transmission on the frequency 1120 KHz. The equipment was in place from October 28, 2008 to December 12, 2008.The agent reviewed and analyzed the radio transmission data recorded between October 28, 2008 and December 12, 2008, and found several violations. The agent determined that, between October 28, 2008, and October 30, 2008, the station operated after 8:30 p.m. local time, which is the end of the station’s post-sunset authorization during the month of October. The agent also determined from the recorded radio transmission data that, between November 1, 2008 and November 13, 2008 and between November 15, 2008 and November 25, 2008, the station operated past 7:00 p.m. local time, which is the end of the station’s post sunset authorization during the month of November. In response to an inquiry from Commission staff, the owner of Clarion confirmed that the station’s transmitter did not malfunction during the period between October 28, 2008 and December 12, 2008.

I find it interesting that the FCC has some sort of remote monitoring device that it can install and monitor an AM stations power levels. I wonder where they installed it.  I also have to wonder what it looks like.  Is it an outdoor unit, like something one might see attached to a utility pole, or an indoor unit, stashed away in an office somewhere.  Very curious, indeed.  If I were the station owner, I might ask to see the records that the automated recording device created.  That would seem to be a reasonable request.

Caron Broadcasting, Inc. licensee of station WKAT, in North Miami, Florida, apparently willfully and repeatedly violated Sections 73.1745(a) and 73.3526 of the Commission’s Rules by operating at times with power other than those specified in its license and failing to maintain and make available a complete public inspection file. Caron is liable for a forfeiture in the amount of eight thousand dollars ($8,000). We also admonish Caron for the failure of the station’s chief operator to review, sign and date the station logs on a weekly basis as required under Section 73.1870(c)(3) of the Rules.On January, 26, 2009, an agent from the Miami Office monitored WKAT’s transmissions from approximately 5:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. The agent made several field strength measurements of the station’s signal and observed no reduction in the transmissions’ field strength after sunset.On January, 27, 2009, an agent from the Miami Office monitored WKAT’s transmissions from approximately 5:25 p.m. until 6:45 p.m. The agent made several field strength measurements of WKAT’s signal and observed no reduction in the transmissions’ field strength after sunset. At 6:43 p.m., the agent made a field strength measurement of the station’s signal one block from the WKAT studio.

On February 5, 2009, at 11:01 a.m., an agent from the Miami Office made a field strength measurement of the station’s signal one block from WKAT’s main studio, which measured approximately the same level as the nighttime measurement that was made there on January 27, again indicating that WKAT was not reducing its power at night. The agent immediately conducted an inspection of WKAT’s main studio with the station’s general manager and designated chief operator. The chief operator stated that the station uses a remote phone monitoring system, which allows the caller to change from day mode (mode “2”) tonight mode (mode “1”). At 11:55 a.m., the chief operator called the transmitter using the remote monitoring system, which indicated that the daytime mode transmitter power was 4,758 watts. At the request of the agent, the chief operator switched the transmitter to nighttime mode, and the system indicated that the power was 316 watts. At 1:45 p.m., with the WKAT transmitter in nighttime mode, the agent made a field strength measurement near the WKAT studio which was much lower than the daytime mode measurement made earlier that day. This measurement confirmed that the station’s transmitter and transmitter remote control system were functioning properly.

Still on February 5, 2009, the agent inspected WKAT’s available daily transmitter logs, which showed that from December 4, 2008 until February 4, 2009, WKAT was not reducing power at night as required by its license. All the log entries made during the daytime and nighttime were in the range of approximately 4,600 to 4,900 watts, and indicated that the transmitter was in mode “2,” the day mode, at all times. The log entries for the early morning hours of February 5, 2009 indicated that WKAT was operating at nighttime power at that time. Neither the station manager nor the chief operator could explain why the power was not being reduced, or why or how the situation was corrected early that morning. The agent also found that none of the station logs were signed by the chief operator or by anyone else. There was apparently no verification of whether or not the station was operating with authorized power, and no initiation of any corrective action for the overpower condition that had been ongoing for several months. The agent also requested to inspect the station’s public inspection file and found that it did not contain the quarterly radio issues/programs lists for the 1st through 4th quarters of 2008. The station manager stated that he did not know where the issues/programs lists were, but that they may be in storage since WKAT moved its studio in August 2008.

They tracked that one down the old fashioned way, multiple visits at sunset to take field strength meter readings.  It seems like no one at this radio group knew anything about FCC requirements and rules. None of this is rocket science, really. These NAL’s are both over a year old.  I wonder why it is taking the FCC so long to get through this process?

Transmitter readings

I recently got into an argument about the requirements for transmitter readings with a fellow engineer.  Said fellow stated that transmitter readings need to be taken every three hours and that all operators needed to sign on and off the station log.  Time was when those things were supposed to be done, that is true.  I believe the rules have changed a little bit since he last read them.  The current FCC rules (part 73.1820) state that the following items need to be in the station log:

  1. Tower light malfunctions and repairs
  2. Emergency Alert System (EAS) tests and activations
  3. AM antenna field strength measurements (73.61) (monitor points)
  4. Calibration of remote control equipment
  5. Equipment performance measurements (frequency, harmonics, spurious emissions, etc) (73.1590)
  6. Each entry must be signed
  7. The logs are to be reviewed and signed by the chief operator

The exception to this is AM stations without an FCC approved antenna sampling system, which indeed require readings on the antenna system every three hours. Most AM stations have an approved antenna sampling system.

If an AM station has an approved sampling system, it will be noted on the instrument of authorization (license).

For transmitter operations, a review of part 73.1350 shows that the licensees are responsible for insuring transmitting apparatus complies with all FCC regulations.  Specifically:

73.1350 (b)(2)(c)The licensee must establish monitoring procedures and schedules for the station and the indicating instruments employed must comply with Sec. 73.1215.

And

73.1350 (b)(2)(c)(1) Monitoring procedures and schedules must enable the licensee to determine compliance with Sec. 73.1560 regarding operating power and AM station mode of operation, Sec. 73.1570 regarding modulation levels, and, where applicable, Sec. 73.1213 regarding antenna tower lighting, and Sec. 73.69 regarding the parameters of an AM directional antenna system.

One would assume that would mean some sort of logging. Further, a review of all recent NAL, NOV and citations from the FCC’s enforcement bureau shows that field agents investigating a radio station will make their own power measurements if they suspect a broadcast station is operating out of power tolerance. Most particularly with AM directional stations that are supposed to reduce power at night. I doubt very much that producing an operating log with in tolerance power readings would do any good in those circumstances.

For directional AM stations that change power/mode at night, some routine of checking the transmitter for proper power levels after power/pattern change needs to be established. If there is an auto logging system, such as a Burk Autopilot, then checking that system for proper time of day and/or proper pattern/power change functioning could take the place of checking the actual transmitter readings as long as there were an alarm (and notification) generated during an out of tolerance condition.

For most FM stations and AM non-directional stations, most modern transmitters have Automatic Power Control (APC) built in. As long as the APC is functioning properly and there is an alarm (with notification) generated when an out of tolerance condition occurs (under/over power), logging power output readings can be done on a weekly maintenance log.

Station logs are to be retained for two years (73.1840) and should be available to the FCC for inspection.  After two years, throw the logs out because anything that you have on file is liable to be inspected.   Any rules infractions found in the station logs can lead to a NOV or NAL, even if it happened more than two years ago.

For your reading pleasure:
73.1820

Sec. 73.1820 Station log.

(a) Entries must be made in the station log either manually by a
person designated by the licensee who is in actual charge of the
transmitting apparatus, or by automatic devices meeting the requirements of paragraph (b) of this section. Indications of operating parameters that are required to be logged must be logged prior to any adjustment of the equipment. Where adjustments are made to restore parameters to their proper operating values, the corrected indications must be logged and accompanied, if any parameter deviation was beyond a prescribed tolerance, by a notation describing the nature of the corrective action. Indications of all parameters whose values are affected by the modulation of the carrier must be read without modulation. The actual time of observation must be included in each log entry. The following information must be entered:
(1) All stations. (i) Entries required by Sec. 17.49 of this
chapter concerning any observed or otherwise known extinguishment or improper functioning of a tower light:
(A) The nature of such extinguishment or improper functioning.
(B) The date and time the extinguishment or improper operation was observed or otherwise noted.
(C) The date, time and nature of adjustments, repairs or
replacements made.
(ii) Any entries not specifically required in this section, but
required by the instrument of authorization or elsewhere in this part.
(iii) An entry of each test and activation of the Emergency Alert
System (EAS) pursuant to the requirement of part 11 of this chapter and the EAS Operating Handbook. Stations may keep EAS data in a special EAS log which shall be maintained at a convenient
location; however, this log is considered a part of the station log.
(2) Directional AM stations without an FCC-approved antenna sampling system (See Sec. 73.68). (i) An entry at the beginning of operations in each mode of operation, and thereafter at intervals not exceeding 3 hours, of the following (actual readings observed prior to making any adjustments to the equipment and an indication of any corrections to restore parameters to normal operating values):
(A) Common point current.
(B) When the operating power is determined by the indirect method, the efficiency factor F and either the product of the final amplifier input voltage and current or the calculated antenna input power. See Sec. 73.51(e).
(C) Antenna monitor phase or phase deviation indications.
(D) Antenna monitor sample currents, current ratios, or ratio
deviation indications.
(ii) Entries required by Sec. 73.61 performed in accordance with the schedule specified therein.
(iii) Entries of the results of calibration of automatic logging
devices (see paragraph (b) of this section) or indicating instruments
(see Sec. 73.67), whenever performed.
(b) Automatic devices accurately calibrated and with appropriate
time, date and circuit functions may be utilized to record entries in
the station log Provided:
(1) The recording devices do not affect the operation of circuits or
accuracy of indicating instruments of the equipment being recorded;
(2) The recording devices have an accuracy equivalent to the
accuracy of the indicating instruments;
(3) The calibration is checked against the original indicators as
often as necessary to ensure recording accuracy;
(4) In the event of failure or malfunctioning of the automatic
equipment, the person designated by the licensee as being responsible for the log small make the required entries in the log manually at that time;
(5) The indicating equipment conforms to the requirements of Sec. 73.1215 (Indicating instruments–specifications) except that the scales need not exceed 5 cm (2 inches) in length. Arbitrary scales may not be used.
(c) In preparing the station log, original data may be recorded in
rough form and later transcribed into the log.

73.1350:

Sec. 73.1350 Transmission system operation.

(a) Each licensee is responsible for maintaining and operating its
broadcast station in a manner which complies with the technical rules
set forth elsewhere in this part and in accordance with the terms of the station authorization.
(b) The licensee must designate a chief operator in accordance with Sec. 73.1870. The licensee may designate one or more technically competent persons to adjust the transmitter operating parameters for compliance with the technical rules and the station authorization.
(1) Persons so authorized by the licensee may make such adjustments directly at the transmitter site or by using control equipment at an off-site location.
(2) The transmitter control personnel must have the capability to
turn the transmitter off at all times. If the personnel are at a remote
location, the control system must provide this capability continuously
or must include an alternate method of acquiring control that can
satisfy the requirement of paragraph (e) of this section that operation
be terminated within three minutes.
(c)The licensee must establish monitoring procedures and schedules for the station and the indicating instruments employed must comply with Sec. 73.1215.
(1) Monitoring procedures and schedules must enable the licensee to determine compliance with Sec. 73.1560 regarding operating power and AM station mode of operation, Sec. 73.1570 regarding modulation levels, and, where applicable, Sec. 73.1213 regarding antenna tower lighting, and Sec. 73.69 regarding the parameters of an AM directional antenna system.
(2) Monitoring equipment must be periodically calibrated so as to
provide reliable indications of transmitter operating parameters with a
known degree of accuracy. Errors inherent in monitoring equipment and the calibration procedure must be taken into account when adjusting operating parameters to ensure that the limits imposed by the technical rules and the station authorization are not exceeded.
(d) In the event that a broadcast station is operating in a manner
that is not in compliance with the applicable technical rules set forth
elsewhere in this part or the terms of the station authorization, and
the condition is not listed in paragraph (e) or (f) of this section,
broadcast operation must be terminated within three hours unless antenna input power is reduced sufficiently to eliminate any excess radiation. Examples of conditions that require termination of operation within three hours include excessive power, excessive modulation or the emission of spurious signals that do not result in harmful interference.
(e) If a broadcast station is operating in a manner that poses a
threat to life or property or that is likely to significantly disrupt
the operation of other stations, immediate corrective action is
required. In such cases, operation must be terminated within three
minutes unless antenna input power is reduced sufficiently to eliminate any excess radiation. Examples of conditions that require immediate corrective action include the emission of spurious signals that cause harmful interference, any mode of operation not specified by the station license for the pertinent time of day, or operation substantially at variance from the authorized radiation pattern.
(f) If a broadcast station is operating in a manner that is not in
compliance with one of the following technical rules, operation may
continue if the station complies with relevant alternative provisions in
the specified rule section.
(1) AM directional antenna system tolerances, see Sec. 73.62;
(2) AM directional antenna monitoring points, see Sec. 73.158;
(3) TV visual waveform, see Sec. 73.691(b);
(4) Reduced power operation, see Sec. 73.1560(d);
(5) Reduced modulation level, see Sec. 73.1570(a);
(6) Emergency antennas, see Sec. 73.1680.
(g) The transmission system must be maintained and inspected in
accordance with Sec. 73.1580.
(h) Whenever a transmission system control point is established at a location other than the main studio or transmitter, a letter of
notification of that location must be sent to the FCC in Washington, DC, Attention: Audio Division (radio) or Video Division (television), Media Bureau, within 3 days of the initial use of that point. The letter
should include a list of all control points in use, for clarity. This
notification is not required if responsible station personnel can be
contacted at the transmitter or studio site during hours of operation.
(i) The licensee must ensure that the station is operated in
compliance with Part 11 of this chapter, the rules governing the
Emergency Alert System (EAS).

FCC inspections for broadcast stations

FCC-AltLogoSo here you are, minding your own business on a not so frantic Wednesday afternoon, when a guy shows up in the lobby and wants to see you.  The receptionist says he has a badge and he is from the FCC.

Oh no! Panic! Mayhem! Chaos! Etc!

Actually, things are not so bad as they might seem, after all, this is not your father’s FCC.

Many stations use the state broadcaster associations Alternative Inspection Programs (AIP).  This is where you pay a contractor from the broadcaster’s association to come out and do a mock inspection of your radio stations.  After the station “passes” the “inspection” it is issued a “certificate” that “insures” it won’t be inspected by the FCC for three years.

Totally bogus, or as the French might say, complete bull shit.

The stations I currently work for had those “certificates.”  When the FCC inspector showed up, he laughed at them and inspected us anyway.  We complained to the state broadcasters association and the head of the FCC enforcement bureau at the local field office, all to no avail.   This happened four times.  Each time the FCC inspectors found nothing and went on their way.

What did I learn from this?  Why bother with the stupid AIP’s when all that needs to be done is comply with the FCC’s rules.  After all, the so called “inspector” from the broadcaster’s association is merely going to use the same FCC check list that is down loadable from the FCC web site.  Anyone can do that themselves.

I also learned that the FCC inspectors check a few things more closely than others.  For example:

  1. The public inspection file should be perfect.  Since they inspect these stations all the time, they know what is usually missing; Issues and quarterly reports, Contour maps and license renewal cards.
  2. EAS logs and procedures.  Make sure that every operator knows how to send and EAS test.  Make sure that all the EAS logs have been check and signed by the chief operator.  Make sure that any discrepancies are noted.
  3. Directional AM station operating parameters.  Still a hot button issue and one area that trips up a lot of people.  All antenna parameters within 3 percent of licensed values.  All monitor points below maximum allowed.
  4. Equipment performance measurements.  These are needed on all AM stations every year.  They are carrier frequency harmonic measurements and NRSC-2 mask compliance measurements.
  5. Tower fences and tower registration numbers.  Big one and easy to spot and fix.  All AM towers need to have a locked fence around the base insulator.  Any tower over 200 feet tall needs to be registered and have a sign with the registration number posted.  The sign needs to be accessible and legible.

So prepare ahead of time for the inevitable visit.  It is very easy to comply with the FCC rules using the FCC checklists.  Both the AM station checklist and the FM station checklist can be down loaded and used to self inspect any radio station.

Here is something else that I have found.  Clean up the transmitter site.  Sweep the floor, replace the burned out lights, empty the garbage, keep a neat maintenance log, etc.  These things go a long way to making a good first impression, which can make the inspection go a lot better.

Once, myself and the FCC inspector pulled up in front of the transmitter building of an AM station.  The grass in front was mowed, the bushes were all trimmed back, the field was mowed, the towers had new paint on them, The fences were in good shape, the place just looked good.  We were about to go inside when he asked “Does the inside of that place look as good as the outside?”  Which it did and I said yes.  Then he said he had seen enough, have a nice day.

So, when the FCC guy shows up, offer him a cup of coffee and relax, things are going to be alright.

Update: This is the actual check list that an FCC inspector will use if he is inspecting a broadcast station.

FCC_Inspection_Checklist

You can download the .pdf version here.

EAS

Emergency warning siren station
Emergency warning siren station

EAS, or more properly, the Emergency Alert System, is a government mandated system of encoders and decoders designed by the federal government to alert the public in case of war or other emergency.  It, and it’s predecessor, EBS (Emergency Broadcast System) have never been activated by the federal government.  Both systems, however, are used extensively by local and state governments for things like weather alerts, amber alerts, etc.

Back in the mid-90’s the FCC had a chance to redo the EBS and produce something that was a streamlined and effective tool for public warning.  Unfortunately, the EAS system is neither.  Rather, it is a cumbersome system of weekly and monthly tests scheduled around pre-conceived notions that how the system is tested every week will be how the system works in an emergency.  In practice, this is generally a good theory of system design, but it has failed miserably with EAS.  The reasons why are thus:

  • Most all emergencies are local or at most state wide events.  To this day, very few state and or local government emergency managers would be able to activate EAS for their area.  The reason is there is minimal if any interface with the LP-1 EAS stations or station personnel.  Ignorance and apathy on behalf of both radio station personnel and government officials is the main culprit.
  • Most stations are un-maned for large portions of the day.  Even if government official could/did call the station, chances are, nobody would be there.  If by chance, arrangements were made to contact station employees at home, they would have to interface with the EAS equipment remotely, which ads complexity to an already complex system.
  • EAS messages are still mainly relayed from radio station to radio station, the so called daisy chain net work that has been shown numerous times to be unreliable.
  • The system of SAME codes, FIPS identifiers is not necessarily bad, the application in this case leaves something to be desired.  The FCC had a chance to update EAS before the HDTV rollout.  One would assume that any improvements could have been built into the new TV sets that are now being sold, but again, that opportunity was missed.  For example, I suggested that each TV have a set up screen option where the owner could input their zip code.  They could also choose what types of alerts they would want to know about and even base the alerts types on the time of day.  Live in a flood zone, the FFW (Flash Flood Warning) 24/7.  Live in tornado alley, TOR (Tornado Warning), etc.  The cable companies then pipe in the local NOAA all hazards radio station.  All the sudden there is a real national alert system in place using mostly non-broadcast wireless systems.  Add to that the ability to sign up for emergency e-mails and text messages for specific areas (many places are currently doing this) and there is multiple message paths.

The system as is is not reliable and sooner or later that will be shown with a large scale failure.  Recently, the FCC held a summit with the Department of Homeland Security.  The cliff notes version of this event is: Yes, the system can be made better.  Let’s keep throwing the same ideas at the wall and see if anything sticks this time.  Excuse me if I don’t do back flips, this is the same information that was discussed during the last “lets revamp EAS” discussion back in 2005 (04-296).

In the mean time, the EAS continues to be a good fund raiser for the FCC enforcement bureau.  Which, you know, it is easier to go to a licensed radio station and bust them for not re-transmitting the RMT (Required Monthly Test) than it is to go out and bust some of the numerous pirate radio operators, some of whom are operating in the same city/metropolitan area as a field office.

The shame of it is, it could work without a great deal of cost, very well.