At the risk of becoming redundant, here are a few pictures of a GatesAir FAX-5 install recently completed in Westerly, RI. This was installed in a recently vacated Verizon cell site next to the old transmitter building. The old transmitter building and the equipment contained therein had seen better days, to be sure.
As requested, the only pre-installation photo I can find:
That photo was taken back in October 2018, when we first looked at the Verizon shelter as a viable alternative to the current transmitter site.
Overall, the transmitter sounds great. Much better than the old unit which had an AM noise problem.
If it wasn’t so far away, this would have been a pretty easy project. There were minor miscues along the way that added up. I will say that I learned a few good life lessons about the reliability and responsibility of people.
Bad weather or other disasters can strike any time of year. Around these parts, the most dangerous weather events occur from early spring through late summer. In the past twenty years or so, we have had tornadoes, hurricanes, micro bursts, flooding events and so on. All of that got me thinking about what would happen if a tower came down, or a transmitter building was destroyed by fire, wind, water, etc.
If past events can predict future performance, there would ensue a mad scramble to replace damaged equipment and or get some type of temporary antenna into service. That is what happened in great City of North Adams, Massachusetts when the tower that held the cell carriers, the 911 dispatch, and the local FM radio station came down in an ice storm. Fortunately, we had a single bay Shively antenna at the shop that we trimmed up and installed on a temporary pole with 200 watts TPO.
That will cover the city of license, provided there is electricity…
What if there where an event that was so devastating that the electrical power would not be restored for months? Think about hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. After that event, the infrastructure was so devastated that there was not even the possibility of getting a fuel truck to deliver diesel for the emergency generators at the hospital in San Juan. It can happen.
With that in mind, I began poking around and thinking about how I would get something back on the air. In the face of massive disasters, AM and FM radio is still the most effective way to communicate with the general public. Radios are still ubiquitous in homes, cars and businesses.
In a short period of time I came up with a couple of solutions. First, the frequency agile Bext exciter uses a single solid state rectifier feeding 24 volts to the power supply board. The audio input includes a mono balanced line level input which can be fed by a computer sound card or some other simple source.
From there +12, +15 and +20 VDC are created to run various circuits. The heat sink cooling fan is the only thing that runs on 120 VAC, which is old and I might replace with a 24 VDC unit.
The power output is about 22 watts, which is not bad. That will certainly get out well enough from a high spot and provide good coverage when the power is out because all the other in band RF noise generators will be off.
Then I though about the deep cycle batteries in my barn. These 6 volt, 435 Ah units have been around for a couple of years, but last I checked, they still held a charge. Other deep cycle batteries from things like golf carts, fork lifts, campers, boats etc could also be pressed into service. The point is, 24 VDC should not be impossible to create.
To keep a charge on the batteries, this solar panel will work:
This setup would require some sort of 24 volt DC charge controller, which I found on Amazon for less than $15.00 US. This charge controller has selectable 24/12 VDC output and also has two USB ports which would be handy for charging hand held devices.
I measured the power draw while the exciter was running 20 watts into a dummy load, it draws 120 Watts.
The final part would be some sort of antenna with transmission line. For this situation, a simple wire center fed dipole hung vertically would work well. This can be fabricated with two pieces of copper wire and a few insulators.
The lengths of each wire can be calculated as follows:
Approximate length in feet: 234/f (MHz)
Approximate length in inches: 2808/ f (MHz)
Approximate length in cm: 7132/f (MHz)
For the FM band, maximum length of wires needed will be 32 inches (81 cm). Insulators can be made of anything that does not conduct RF; PVC, ABS, dry wood, dry poly rope, etc.
I recommend to cut the wires slightly long, then trim little bits off of each end while watching the reflected power meter on the exciter. To keep RF from coming back down the shield of the transmission line, make 8-10 turns, 6-8 inches in diameter of coax as close to the antenna as possible and secure with a wire tie. This will create a balun of sorts.
My emergency FM kit consists of:
Bext Frequency agile exciter
30 feet, RG-8 coax with N male connector on one end
4 ten foot RG-58 BNC male jumpers
1 four foot LMR-400 N male jumper
Dipole antenna, cut long
Solar charge controller
Small basic tool kit; hand tools, plus DVM and soldering iron
Power cords, extension cords
300 watt 12VDC to 120VAC inverter (pure sine wave)
20 feet audio wire
Various audio connectors; spade lugs, XLR male and female, RCA, 1/4 TRS, etc
Various RF connectors; PL-259, N, BNC, etc
Bag of 12 inch wire ties
3 rolls of 3M Scotch 88 electrical tape
100 feet of 3/8 inch poly rope
This is all kept in a sturdy plastic storage bin from the Home Depot. If needed, the batteries and solar panel are stored in the barn along with an assortment of other goodies.
Will it ever be needed? Well, I hope not. However, it is much better to be prepared to restore services than wait for somebody to show up and help. Sitting around complaining about the government does not relieve those people in need during and after a disaster.
I was at the WEBE transmitter site recently and took the time to look over transmitter we installed last year:
Overall, I would say that this transmitter has been very reliable. We had to install a UPS for the exciter and HD Radio exporter, but that is not a big deal. During the first power outage, the exciter went dark first. It took longer for the transmitter controller board to lose power, in the interim the controller turned the transmitter power all the way up. When the generator came on line 10 seconds later, the transmitter returned to operation at 41.5 KW. This, in turn, caused one of the other field engineers to freak out and nearly lose his mind (stay away from the brown acid, FYI).
I installed the UPS a few days later.
Transmitter power output is 35.3 KW, which is getting into the semi-serious range. The reflected power goes up when it gets warm out and goes down in colder weather. Over the winter, it was running about 50 watts. Even at 138 watts, that represents 0.004% reflected power. The TPO forward goes to the 6 bay, 1/2 wave spaced antenna side mounted, 470 feet (143 meters) AGL. The station covers pretty well.
Overall, I would give the liquid cooling system an A grade. The transmitter still dumps a fair amount of heat into the room from the RF combiners and PA power supplies. Most of the heat, however, ends up outdoors. Previously, we had two Bard 5 ton AC units running almost full time. Now, only one AC unit cycles on and off except for the hottest days of the year. Outside temperature when this picture was taken was 81 degrees F (27.2 C).
Next year, we will have to send a sample of the coolant off to be analyzed.
I have had good experiences with the GatesAir FLX/FAX series transmitters. I would recommend this to a friend.
I do not particularly like these. I know, they are relatively inexpensive, easy to come by, easy to install, etc. However, a shipping container was not designed to house a transmitter, they have certain drawbacks. These are, in no particular order:
Air conditioning. Using a traditional Bard type equipment shelter HVAC unit requires cutting through a lot of fairly heavy gauge steel. What’s more, the steel walls are uneven, requiring filler.
They are by necessity, fairly narrow. Arranging racks and transmitters along the length of the unit restricts access to either the front or the back of the equipment. Meeting NEC clearance requirements for electrical panels, transfer switches and disconnects can pose problems.
They are not very tall. Mounting overhead equipment can be problematic as one does not want to drill through the top of the container. Crosswise unistrut is one solution, but it lowers the overhead considerably.
Electrical work is slightly more dangerous. Doing any kind of electrical work, trouble shooting, repairs, etc is a little more nerve-racking when everywhere around you is a metal surface at ground potential.
They are difficult to insulate against cold and heat.
The door latching mechanisms bind, wear out or otherwise fail over time.
All of those things being said, I am now rebuilding a transmitter site in one of these shipping containers.
Fortunately, the original electrical work was not bad. The transmitter is a twenty year old BE FM10B, which will be retained as a backup. The new transmitter is a Gates Air FAX-10. We have installed several of these Gates Air transmitters in the last two years or so and they seem to be pretty solid units. This is the second 10KW unit I have installed.
We decided to install the FAX-10 in a Middle Atlantic rack, since we did not have a whole bunch of extra room for a separate transmitter rack. The 1 5/8 inch coax switch is installed in the top of the transmitter rack along with a Tunwall TRC-1 switch control unit. The other rack will have the STL and all other ancillary gear. My idea is to have nothing in between the door and the FM10B so it can be easily removed when that day comes. Something, something about planning ahead since it will be likely myself removing the FM10B.