GatesAir FLX-40 one year in

I was at the WEBE transmitter site recently and took the time to look over transmitter we installed last year:

GatesAir FLX-40 transmitter, WEBE Bridgeport, CT
GatesAir FLX-40 transmitter, WEBE Bridgeport, CT

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.

WEBE TPO 35.3 KW with HD Radio carriers on
WEBE TPO 35.3 KW with HD Radio carriers on

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.

WEBE Pump station
WEBE Pump station, pump is running 2/3 speed and fans are running at about 1/2 speed

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.

Gates FLX-40, WEBE Bridgeport, CT
Gates FLX-40, WEBE Bridgeport, CT

I have had good experiences with the GatesAir FLX/FAX series transmitters. I would recommend this to a friend.

Shipping Container transmitter site

Shipping container transmitter site from the early 1990's.
Shipping container transmitter site from the early 1990’s.

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.

Inside view of shipping container transmitter
Inside view of shipping container transmitter site

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.

Gatesair FAX-10 transmitter in Middle Atlantic Rack

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.

The Gates Air FAX-10

This is the first one of these transmitters that I have installed. This particular unit is analog only, but there is lots of room left over for an HD exciter, if need be.

GatesAir Flexiva FAX-10, 10.000 watt FM transmitter
GatesAir Flexiva FAX-10, 10.000 watt FM transmitter

The size of a 10 KW FM transmitter these days is pretty small, basically taking up the equivalent of one rack. This is a relatively small transmitter room, the old tube transmitter basically took up the entire room. With this unit, there is room to install a full power spare, if that was desired.

GatesAir Flexiva series RF modules.
GatesAir Flexiva series RF modules.

RF modules use LDMOSFET devices, each module has a power output of approximately 1,600 watts.

GatesAir Flexiva FAX10 power amp section
GatesAir Flexiva FAX10 power amp section

There are eight power amp modules and seven switching power supplies.

GatesAir FAX10 transmitter on the air
GatesAir FAX10 transmitter on the air
GatesAir FAX10 power output
GatesAir FAX10, licensed transmitter power output

One issue at this site, there is no reliable three phase power available.  There was a three phase open delta, but man, that thing scares me a little bit.  Since this is a single phase setup, I was curious to know what the current draw on each leg was at full power. I measured with my clamp on ammeter; 54.3 Amps at 120 volts, or 6516 watts per leg. Overall power draw 13,032 making the AC to RF efficiency 65.2%. VSWR calculates out to 1.21, which is not great.  I think the antenna could use a little bit of tuning love.

Upgrading the firmware

The original V series Nautel transmitters have required a couple of firmware upgrades in some cases.

Upgrading the power module firmware, WDVT, Rutland, VT
Upgrading the PA module firmware on Nautel V-5D transmitter, WDVT, Rutland, VT

The first was for the controller to add a little bit of bias to the PAs during analog operation.  The second one I have had to do is to the PA modules themselves which was to keep the power supplies from shutting off during re-transfer from Generator power to commercial power.

I have done several of these and once you get the hang of it, it only takes a few minutes to complete.  Still, I remember when transmitters didn’t have firmware.  The low voltage control circuits were either 120 or 240 VAC with big relays and contactors that loudly confirmed their closure before any meters began to move.

Regarding Nautel transmitters in general; the newer models are not same rugged, reliable designs that were common in the past.  We have AM ND series transmitters that have been on the air for 20 years without a single failure.  The models rolling out of the factory these days often have switching power supplies fail without reason or warning and RF pallets that are fragile things.  Ah well, I suppose all things are cyclical.