I wonder

Update:  Apparently the pictures in this post have upset some people. Even though there is no identifying information; no call letters, no company name, no location given certain folks have been putting a lot of pressure on the guy I work for. I do not want to make any problems for him, so I removed the pictures.  After all, the last thing we would want to do is acknowledge there is a problem.  The commentary stays.

Well, we have returned from our semi-vacation. Sumat to do with the other side of the family;  a road trip to Canton, Oklahoma, a brief study on mineral rights,  then a family reunion.  On the return home, several side trips to interesting things like the Abraham Lincoln museum in Springfield, Illinois and the Gateway Arch in Saint Louis.  We also stopped in Springfield to see Santa Anna’s leg, which seems to be generating some controversy of late.  I do not like to announce such things ahead of time because it seems like an invitation for a house break in.

But, all good things come to an end, so back to work it is.

And then there is this:

transmitter site
transmitter site

A transmitter site for a group of stations not too far from here.

transmitter site
transmitter site

Class B FM station (50,000 watt equivalent) running 100 watts.

transmitter site
transmitter site

And filth, lots of filth.

transmitter site
transmitter site

As more full time broadcast engineers drop off line, we seem to be picking up more and more work.  That is good for business, but some of these sites are downright depressing.

It is very sad to see such disrepair and makes me think that we are in the last days of terrestrial radio.  Truth be told, the end may be many years off, but the decline gets steadily steeper every year.  In the end; Television, Video, Satellite, the internet and took small bites of radio, but radio owners are the true culprits when it comes to who killed radio.

It is hard to make predictions; so many have failed in the past, but ten years maybe.  Perhaps a few more.  It will depend on whether or not business still find value in radio advertising.  Right now that looks pretty far fetched, but who knows…

My appologies for the lack of posts

Two reasons for this; first, I am deep into the IP networking curriculum and time is at a premium.  That being said, I am rather enjoying myself in school, which is always good.  Secondly, and related to the first part, I have not been spending too much time these days doing Broadcast Engineering work.  Thus, the subject matter and various topics have not been jumping out at me as they normally do.

My busy schedule not withstanding, there are some interesting things going on in the realm of Radio Engineering:

  1. On the LPFM front, the FCC has dismissed over 3,000 translator applications from the great translator invasion of 2003.  This is great news and now potential LPFM applicants can use the FCC LPFM search tool to get a good idea of what is available in their neck of the woods.  Other search tools include Recnet and Prometheus Radio project.  Filing window is October 15, 2013, apply now or forever hold  your peace.
  2. Chris Imlay has some good ideas on AM revitalization. His suggestion is to have the FCC enforce and strengthen its existing rules regarding electrical interference. I notice two letters are missing from his list, those would be “h” and “d.” While the ideas are technically sound, it seems unlikely that the FCC can or would be able to enforce stricter Part 18 rules.
  3. Lots of EAS shenanigans going on with zombie alerts and hijacked EAS systems.  Really people, default passwords?  Secure your equipment and networks or pay the price for complacency.  Nearly all new equipment has some sort of web interface, which can be a great time saver.  They can also be easily exploited if left vulnerable.  Fortunately, this was not as bad as it could have been.
  4. Something happened in NYC that hasn’t happened in quite a while.  Country music filled the air on a station that is generally receivable in the five boroughs.  This may not seem like big news to the rest of the country, but in market number one, it is big news.  Further, Cumulus has registered “NashFMxxxx.com” for every FM dial position.  National country channel in the works?  I’d bet yes.  A look at recent trends shows that Cumulus is standardizing formats on many of its AM and FM stations, making them, effectively, part of a nation network of over the air repeaters.
  5. Clear Channel has put more effort into iHeartradio, for seemly many of the same reasons as Cumulus’s standardized formats.

Where is this all going?  There are several trends evident including; AM will eventually be declared DOA and switched off, transition to national based music formats, an emphasis on IP (internet) based delivery systems, an eventual phase out of local programming, smaller staffs concentrated on local sales and little else.

The single bright spot could be LPFM.  Only time will tell if this new crop of LPFM licensees will keep the faith and tradition of local radio.  If one looks at the natural course of evolution, under times of extreme stress, species tend to get physically smaller in response.  The larger species cannot sustain themselves with the necessary energy intake and die off.  See also: Dinosaurs.  I certainly would call this prolonged, nearly dead economy stressful on the broadcasting business.  Perhaps, when all is said and done, it will be the small, volunteer LPFM still on the air and serving the community.

Old Year SWR

This time of year is when we all sit back and asess things that we did in the past 365 or so days. It is called reflection, which is just a civilian term for SWR (Standing Wave Ratio).

Thus, I though I would take a little time and make a few observations about the business, my part in it, and this blog.

1.  The business of Radio:

Let us be honest, Radio is not what is used to be.  Many times, what it used to be was somewhat of a free for all, wheeler dealer radio station owners cutting corners and making do with less than optimum equipment and staff.  And trade, lots and lots of trade. Only in large metropolitan areas did radio stations make enough money to throw it around, but sometimes not even then.  Radio was by no means a huge money making operation and therefore, those that worked in mostly it did it as a labor of love.  That may or may not have come across on the air.  By far, the funnest station I ever listened to was run from a closet, with a sound reinforcement board and the program directors CD collection.  What made it so much fun was they had nothing to loose, there were no restraints placed on the staff.  Once that on air enthusiasm translated to ratings, then to revenue, the magic was gone and they were just another radio station filling a spot on the dial.

The radio business has fully transitioned from a fun, seat of the pants entertainment operation to a mega money making corporate mentality under the control of mostly non-entertainment types.  Even those stations owned by smaller group owners are forced to rely on the tactics developed by the big two in order to stay in business.

Group owners will continue to extract money in whatever way they can until the money train runs off the rails.  Then, radio will be replaced by something less.

2.  Radio Engineering:

Engineering will continue to grow smaller, with more emphasis on computers, networking, and IT infrastructure.  The future distribution of music and program material will take the form of streaming (live events), pod casts (specialty shows) and subscription services.  Over the air free radio will become less and less relevant as younger “listeners” trend toward new media.  The idea of listeners may be archaic in lieu of “subscribers” or “users.”  Thus, in order to remain relevant, broadcast engineers are going to have to keep their skill sets current.  I would recommend to anyone getting into the business to get current with routers, routing tables, Cisco equipment and whatnot.  The cloud is coming and will rain on all those not adjusted to the new “broadcasting” reality.

3.  My part in the business:

A somewhat superannuated broadcast engineer who’s skill set lies mostly within the RF and heavy duty electrical areas, I am going back to college in January.  Cicso Network Administrator is the degree I am shooting for, for that is where the local jobs, both in and out of broadcasting will be.  Network Administrators are going to be the backbone of cloud computing, those that can configure routing tables will be desired.

That being said, I continue to be involved with larger RF projects and transmitter work.  It is fun for me, most of the time.  Having to drive two hours,one way on Christmas Eve to fix a backup transmitter, not so much, but those situations tend to be the exception, rather than the rule.

All in all, it is great fun to press the high voltage on button, not knowing if the transmitter will cycle on normally, or put on some type of display.

4.  The blog:

This little thing we have here has been fun.  I get good response to most articles.  I welcome all the comments and the off line e-mails that come my way.  My original intent, which is to provoke thought and dialog, remains unchanged.  This year, I have delved into areas not covered by the trade magazines, but do have at least some bearing on radio or radio related arts.  To that end, there have been several negative responses, which is fine.  I don’t pretend to know everything, if you know more, then by all means, speak up.  By and large, however, the majority of responses continue to be positive.

I continue to grow the overseas audience, with roughly 36% of the page views coming from non US IP addresses.  Persons from The UK, followed by Canada, Netherlands, Australia and Germany are the top five non-US readers of this blog.

So, I will continue to post about things in the coming year.  If any of you have any suggestions or requests, shoot me an email of leave a comment.

In the mean time, have a Happy New Year!