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Decommissioning transmitters

I was at a transmitter site a few days ago scrapping a Continental 814-R1 transmitter and started thinking (always a dangerous thing) about how many of these units I have decommissioned over the years.  It turns out, quite a few:

Make/Model Year new* Year removed Station Disposition
GE BT25A 1948 1994 WPTR Donated/scrapped
Gates BC5P 1960 2004 WWLO Donated
Harris MW5A 1982 2000 WLNA Scrapped
Gates BC1T 1961 2001 WLNA Donated
Harris FM20H3 1972 2001 WYJB Scrapped
RCA BT1AR 1960 2001 WROW Donated
Harris BC1G 1972 2001 WDFL Abandoned
Harris FM20H3 1971 2005 WHUD Scrapped
BE FM30A 1988 2005 WHUD Cannibalized
Harris FM5G 1972 2008 WSPK Scrapped
Mc Martin BF3.5K 1976 2011 WCTW Scrapped
RCA BTF-10ES 1978 2011 WRKI Scrapped
Gates BC1T 1964 2011 WINE Scrapped
Continental 315F-R1 1985 2013 WVMT Donated
Collins 813F 1975 2014 WKXZ Scrapped
RCA BTA1AR 1965 2014 WCHN Scrapped
Collins 813F2 1978 2015 WKXZ Scrapped
Collins 830D-1A 1968 2014 WKXZ Scrapped
Harris FM20H3 1972 2013 WYJB Scrapped
Harris BC5HA 1973 2013 WROW Scrapped
Harris FM10H 1971 2013 WMHT-FM Scrapped
Harris FM2.5H3 1973 2015 WEXT Scrapped
Mc Martin BF3.5K 1972 2014 WSRK Scrapped
CCA FM5000G 1980 2015 WTBD Scrapped
RCA BTF1E 1972 2016 WZOZ Scrapped
QEI 695T3.5 1996 2015 WBPM Scrapped
QEI 695T5 1996 2015 WBPM Scrapped
Harris HT3.5 1997 2015 WUPE-FM Scrapped
Harris Z5CD 1997 2015 WXPK Cannibalized
Energy Onix SSA1000 2000 2015 WDHI Cannibalized
Harris MW1 1982 2016 WPUT Abandoned
Mc Martin BF1K 1982 2016 WSUL Scrapped
Mc Martin BF3.5K 1982 2016 WSUL Scrapped
Continental 814R1 1980 2016 WDBY Scrapped

*In some cases the “Year New” is a guess based on when the station went on the air.  Before you write me and say “But model XYZ transmitter wasn’t made until 19XX, I did not look at every name plate and write all the information down as I did this.

Like everything else, there is a process to this.

RCA BTA-10U AM transmitter

RCA BTA-10U AM transmitter

First of all, if the transmitter was made before 1978, the possibility of PCB capacitors and transformers exists. In the case of the GE BT25A, massive amounts of PCBs needed to be disposed of properly. According to current federal laws, ownership of PCBs and PCB contaminated items cannot be transferred. Thus, the transformer casings were cleaned out and taken to Buffalo to be buried in a PCB certified landfill.   Otherwise, most other transmitters, such as the RCA BTA-10, may have a few PCB capacitors in them and perhaps the modulation transformer.  Those items can be disposed of by calling an authorized environmental disposal company like Clean Harbors.

The rest of the transmitter is stripped of any useful parts.  Things like vacuum variable capacitors, rectifier stacks, blower motors (if they are in good condition), HV power supply contactors, unique tuning parts, whole control and metering boards, tube sockets, etc.

The remaining carcase is then disassembled and hauled off.  I got a guy that will do this for relatively little money.  He takes the transmitter back to his warehouse and cuts it up, sorts all of the various metals out, then takes it to the scrap yard.  This includes things like cutting all of the windings off of transformers and power supply chokes, sorting out the brass and copper tuning parts, etc.

North Adams tower update III

And final.

It has been a year and a half since the tower collapse in North Adams, Massachusetts.  Since that time, WUPE-FM (Gamma Broadcasting), WNNI and W266AW (New England Public Radio) have been operating with STAs at lower than licensed power.   We have completed the installation of the combined antenna, filters and combiners and now all stations are back to full power.  Here are a few pictures of the transmitter room:

WUPE-FM and WNNI transmitter racks, North Adams, MA

WUPE-FM and WNNI transmitter racks, North Adams, MA

WUPE-FM (left hand rack) is using a Crown FM-2000 transmitter, loafing along at 1,060 watts. WNNI (right hand rack) is using a Gates Air Flexiva 2 running at 1,650 watts. Those stations are combined with a Shively Combiner:

Shively combiner

Shively 2 way star junction combiner

We are still doing some grounding and neatening work behind the racks:

Behind racks

Behind racks

The Shively versa tune antennas that were mounted to the wooden utility pole as emergency antennas will be retained as backup antennas for both stations.

Transmitters for WUPE, WNNI and W266AW

Transmitters for WUPE, WNNI and W266AW

We share the room with Access Plus, which is a wireless internet service provider in western Massachusetts. There stuff is in the open frame racks to the right of WNNI.

Another view:

Transmitter racks for WUPE-FM, WNNI and W266AW

Transmitter racks for WUPE-FM, WNNI and W266AW

TL;DR: Tower collaspes, facility is rebuilt better than before.

Meltdown

After one of our clients had an FM station go off the air over the weekend, I investigated and found this:

Transformer melt down

Transformer melt down

Looks like something one might find in the reactor room at Chernobyl or Fukushima.

Transformer melted down

Transformer melted down

This is at one of those sites with three phase open delta power.  Needless to say, the transformer is toast, perhaps the entire transmitter too.  This will be another fun transmitter scrapping project.  I was thinking about this; over the last five years, I have scrapped at least ten to fifteen old tube transmitters.  The old tube types are going away fast, as are those that can still work on them.

The side mounted FM antenna

In an interesting development, the FCC has taken notice of some pattern distortion from the side mounted FM antenna of KFWR, Jacksboro, Texas.  For those, like myself, not familiar with Texas Radio, that is in the Dallas/Fort Worth market.  The crux of the issue is co-channel interference to KCKL in Malakoff, Texas.  These two locations meet the spacing requirements in 73.207 (215 km).  The issue is with the side mounted ERI antenna and what appears to be intentional pattern optimization.

From the FCC order to show cause:

ERI’s president, Mr. Thomas Silliman, acknowledging that KFWR’s antenna “was mounted in a favorable direction, but… has not been directionalized and therefore is legal.” Mr. Silliman adds that the custom lambda tower at the top of the new KFWR tower was specifically designed for operation at KFWR’s frequency of 95.9 MHz, and that the tower’s lattice structure is “repetitive at the half wave of the specified FM frequency.” Thus, “if one picks a favorable mounting position on the tower, every element in the array sees the same favorable mounting result. Mr. Silliman also states that vertical parasitic elements are used to make the vertical radiation pattern “more circular” and reduce the vertically polarized gain to the east. In a subsequent pleading, ERI elaborates that its computed values “are relative to an RMS measured field of 1.0.” Mr. Silliman concedes that the mounting of the antenna on a certain tower face constitutes “pattern optimization,”arguing later that this is a common practice used by all antenna manufacturers, but states that it is the ERI’s policy “not [to] increase the directivity of the antenna pattern.”

The FCC concludes that the directionality of the side mounted antenna, in this case, is clearly intentional. The radiated power towards co-channel KCKL was calculated to be 274.5 KW, which is in excess of the 100 KW limit and orders KFWR to reduced TPO from 25 KW to 9.1 KW.

We have lots of these out in the field:

Side-mounted Shively 6810 antenna.  WSPK, Mount Beacon, NY

Side-mounted Shively 6810 antenna. WSPK, Mount Beacon, NY

In fact, I believe the majority of our FM stations use side mounted antennas.  Some of them are mounted to a leg and some are mounted to a face.  Usually, I try to place the antenna on the tower so that the bays are facing the desired audience.  This information is given to the manufacture when ordering the antenna so that proper mounts can be furnished and the mounting distance between the tower and antenna properly calculated.  That is about the extent of any “optimization” that is allowed.

As the FM band gets jam packed with FM signals, this may become more of an issue in the future, particularly around dense signal areas around major metropolitan areas.

Transmitter site re-hab

One of the reasons for the recent lack of posts; I have been busy rehabilitating several transmitter sites for various broadcasting companies. These are mostly FM transmitter sites and vary in power from one kilowatt to twenty six kilowatts ERP.  I enjoy project work, but I have been driving hither and yon, racking up 27,000 miles on my new car since last August.

Subaru Crosstrek XV at remote transmitter site, somewhere in rural New York

Subaru Crosstrek XV at remote transmitter site, somewhere in rural New York

So, here is one transmitter site that I just finished; WFLY, Albany, New York.  Removed Collins 831F2 transmitter which was functioning as a backup and installed new Broadcast Electronics FM20S.  The Continental 816R2 is becoming a little bit long in the tooth for a main transmitter, being new in 1986.  Thus, it was time to install a new unit, and I like the Broadcast Electronics solid state and tube designs.  With the BE AM and FM solid state units, their simplicity is their beauty.  We service many BE transmitters, some are thirty years old and are still supported by the manufacturer.

WFLY transmitter building, New Scotland, NY

WFLY transmitter building, New Scotland, NY

The BE FM20S transmitter is actually two FM10S cabinets combined with one controller.  Each cabinet requires a 100 amp three phase mains connection.  This station’s TPO is 11.5 KW, so there is plenty of head room in case the owner’s ever want to install HD Radio or replace the three bay antenna with a two bay unit.

WFLY main transmitter, Broadcast Electronics FM20S

WFLY main transmitter, Broadcast Electronics FM20S

In transmitter cabinet two, above the exciter is room for HD equipment.

BE FM20S exciter housing

BE FM20S exciter housing

I also reworked the coax switches to provide easier implementation of the backup transmitter.  Basically, the main transmitter is on the main antenna, the backup transmitter is on the backup antenna.  We can move the second coax switch to test the backup into the dummy load.  We can move the first coax switch to change antenna feeds.

WFLY backup and main transmitters

WFLY backup and main transmitters

Pretty standard setup.

WFLY RF path diagram

WFLY RF path diagram

We moved the Collins 831F2 from Albany to here to replace another, dead Collins unit at WKXZ in Norwich, New York.  This transmitter is forty years old, but still runs reliably.  Of course, doing this work in the dead of winter added a degree of difficulty to the job, as the roads to both the WFLY and the WKXZ transmitter sites needed work to make them passable for a moving truck.  In the end, we used a skid steer with forks on it to get the transmitter up the final hill and into the small WKXZ transmitter building.

Collins 831F2 transmitter, WKXZ, Norwich NY

Collins 831F2 transmitter, WKXZ, Norwich NY

Collins 831F2 transmitter

Collins 831F2 transmitter

The WKXZ transmitter building interior is floor space challenged. It is located next to a former TELCO microwave site which has a guyed tower.

Winter! Is upon us….

What better time to take the gondola to K-1? None, none at all.  We do work for the two radio stations that are on the peak of Mount Killington, near Rutland, Vermont.  In the summer, usually we can drive up there in a four wheel drive truck.  In the winter, the gondola is the way to go.  On this day, there was a 48-56 inch base, light north winds and air temperature around 10° F (-12° C) .

This is not my video, I did not have enough memory on my SIM card to film a video and I didn’t bring my expensive camera. However, this is a good example of the ride:

Not a bad way to get to a transmitter site, all things considered.

Ride up to Killington Peak

Ride up to Killington Peak

View from Killington Peak

View from Killington Peak

View from Killington Peak

Transmitter buildings on Killington Peak

View from Killington Peak

View from Killington Peak

View from Killington Peak

Tower from Killington Peak

Killington STL dishes

Killington STL dishes

ERI antenna, WZRT/WJJR Killington VT

ERI antenna, WZRT/WJJR Killington VT

The reason for the trip today; repair work on the Nautel VS2.5 transmitter. All three power supplies and the power supply summing board needed to be replaced.

Village seeks repayment from Energy Onix

This saddens me a little bit.  Apparently, the Village of Valatie, NY is seeking repayment of a $500K loan from Transmitter Manufacturer Energy Onix.  Since the passing of Bernie Wise, the company has basically folded.

The village may foreclose on the building if necessary, said Mayor Diane Argyle.

Located at 1306 River St., Energy-Onix was founded in 1987 by broadcast pioneer Bernard Wise, who is known for bringing the “grounded grid” to radio broadcasting. The company designed, manufactured and sold radio transmitters and tubes.

More from the Columbia-Greene Register Star.

Sadly, there goes support for many Energy Onix and CCA transmitter still in the field.  I know of several of those old CCA transmitters that are still cranking away, 40 or more years after they rolled out of the factory in Gloucester, NJ.   I have tried, several times, to call Energy Onix since Bernie passed last year and the phone goes unanswered.  I wonder if we could pick up the the field support and service for these units.  I wonder if there are any spare parts left at the old factory building?

 

 

Longest tube life?

We may be going for a record here; this Broadcast Electronics FM20T was placed in service on June 6, 2001:

Broadcast Electronics FM20T, WYJB, Albany, New York

Broadcast Electronics FM20T, WYJB, Albany, New York

The original 4CX15000A tube is still in use.  I wrote about this a few years ago in this post: Longevity.

I thought by now, we would have changed out that tube.  A few quick calculations shows that the tube has been in use for 118,289 hours or 4,929 days or 13 years 6 months and 3 days.  Anyway you look at it, that is a long time for one tube in nearly continuous use.  I noticed the hour meter is lagging a bit:

Broadcast Electronics FM20T hour meter, WYJB, Albany, New York

Broadcast Electronics FM20T hour meter, WYJB, Albany, New York

Reads 113051.24, which is 5,238 hours different than what I calculated from the maintenance log.  I noticed a slight discrepancy in hours two years ago and attributed it to various off air periods.  However, between then and now, this transmitter has not been off at all.  Thus, the hour meter is wearing out before the tube.  I would say that this is because of excellent filament voltage management,  but I think we simply have a really good tube.

Has anyone else had a tube that lasted this long or longer?

Transmitter Haiku

I wrote a little Haiku about Thanksgiving dinner:

Telephone rings
Old transmitter beckons
Dishes get cold

Not exactly the 5/7/5 of a traditional haiku, but close enough.  This year, it was the nearly 30 year old Broadcast Electronics FM35A at WEBE.   A set of readings from the remote control reveal; zero forward power, zero plate current and 12.8 KV plate voltage.  My first assumption was some sort of drive issue; a failed exciter or IPA driver.  After starting the backup transmitter and making sure that it was running stably, I spoke with the program director and told him we would be out next morning.

Upon arriving at the transmitter site, I found the BE transmitter had no filament voltage.  An obvious clue, I began working backwards from the tube socket until I found this:

Broadcast Electronics FM35A filament voltage regulating transformer

Broadcast Electronics FM35A filament voltage regulating transformer

This is the auto-transformer that regulates the filament voltage.  Schematically, it is noted as T204 and it is in series with one side of the filament transformer.  This one is burned open.  The bad news;  Broadcast Electronics does not stock this part, it is a special order item, the replacement part costs $2,800 dollars and it will take a few weeks to get here.  The good news, after digging through our stock of old transmitter parts, I found an exact replacement:

Replacement part, T204, BE FM35A

Replacement part, T204, BE FM35A

Replacement part name plate, T204, BE FM35A

Replacement part name plate, T204, BE FM35A

We will be installing it on Monday morning.

Repairing the Nautel VS2.5 transmitter

The newish Nautel VS2.5 transmitter installed at WJJR had an RF module failure. This particular model transmitter does not have slide in RF modules as other Nautel transmitters do.  To fix this transmitter, it has to be pulled out of the rack, flipped over and opened from the bottom. The module replacement is very straight forward, there are five solder pads that connect to wires carrying the input, output, power supply and bias voltages.

Nautel VS2.5 transmitter RF modules and combiner

Nautel VS2.5 transmitter RF modules and combiner

The troubleshooting guide gives good instructions on how to check the PA MOSFETS with a DVM. I found that 1/2 of the device in PA1 was bad:

Schematic Diagram, NAPA31

Schematic Diagram, NAPA31

All in all, not a very hard repair. This was under warranty, so a replacement RF pallet was sent to the station without charge. The problem is more about where the transmitter is located:

Killington Mountain, Killington, VT

Killington Mountain, Killington, VT

Killington Peak is the second tallest mountain in Vermont, topping out at 4,235 feet (1,291 meters). In the winter, one can take the chair lift to the top. In the summer, the road is drivable with a four wheel drive. In those in between months, access to the top can be very tricky at best. We had a pretty wet spring this year, so the roads up the mountain are just now becoming passable for vehicles.

Even after reaching the parking lot, there is still a 10 minute walk to the peak, another 200 or so feet up a steep, rocky trail.

Further complicating things, this transmitter is wedged into this little shack, which holds; a BE FM3.5A transmitter (defunct WJJR), a Harris HT3 transmitter (WZRT), an ERI combiner, two racks of equipment (STL’s, Exciters, remote controls, etc) a backup QEI transmitter, an Onan generator transfer switch:

Killington Peak fire tower, WJJR WZRT transmitter building

Killington Peak fire tower, WJJR WZRT transmitter building

Both stations run into this ERI half wave spaced antenna:

WJJR WZRT ERI antenna

WJJR WZRT ERI antenna

It is very tight in this transmitter room. There is a new tower on Killington Peak, which is still under construction. At some point, the plan is to move into the larger building next to the new tower.

Killington Peak tower

Killington Peak tower

On a clear day, the view from the top is spectacular. On this day, the peak was in the clouds, so not so much:

Killington Peak view

Killington Peak view

It is a great site, the HAAT is 2590 feet (790 meters) and the stations carry forever on relatively low power outputs.

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

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