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
Broadcast Electronics FM35A 1986 2017 WEBE Cannibalized
CCA FM-1000D8 1973 2018 WDLA Scrapped
Collins 828E 1978 2018 WSYB Scrapped
Gates BC-1H 1971 2018 WHUC Scrapped
Gates BC-1J 1954 2019 WBEC Scrapped
Gates BC250GY 1969 2019 WSBS 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 nameplate 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 carcass 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.

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6 thoughts on “Decommissioning transmitters”

  1. Last summer I decomissioned three Harris FM10K transmitters with three Nautel GV transmitters. It was the happiest day of my life!!

  2. In 1983 I decommissioned WIBG’s old RCA BTA-50G Amplifuzz transmitter and installed a new Harris MW-50B as its replacement. Then I left the station (then WZZD) in 1985, returning in 2004 (now WNTP). My first job was to decommission the MW-50B I had installed 21 years earlier. It’s the only time in my career that I have installed and decommissioned the same transmitter after it completed more than 20 years of service.

    By the way, the GE BT–25A you mentioned at WPTR. I was once up to my armpits – literally – in that transmitter’s high voltage transformers’ PCB contaminated pyronal once in 1977. And I’m still alive :-).

  3. Hi Paul,

    As you probably know, I decommissioned many of those transmitters listed prior to 2010. I just finished reading your entire blog in reverse chronological order. I sent you a separate email last night. Let me know if you didn’t get it. The subject line is “Larry Doe living life vicariously through Engineering Radio blog”.

    Congratulations on earning your new college degree!

    All the best,

  4. Well…. I definitely did the two you listed at WHUD and there are many more not on your list.

  5. Hi Paul,
    Nice to read up on all the decomm work going on. I’m bummed that the WROW BTA1 went away. As a ham
    I’ve been asking about removing this for over 5 years now. Dave G. said you were interested and check later.
    We have done a lot of tower lighting repairs for the WROW we are only 10 minutes away.
    BTW, we met at WIZR prior to moving the transmitter from the swamp.
    Keep me in mind for any 1KW AM decomms.
    Best Regards

  6. Hi Paul,
    Thanks so much for your interesting articles, I am a regular follower of your posts and I always read with much interest including useful comments contributed by fellow radio engineers/broadcasters.
    I am learning a lot and reminds on how I saved an FM transmitter for a local radio station called Kitti 99.2FM based in Kitgum district in the very north-east Uganda. I was working with this station from April 2008- March 2009 as a programme/commercial producer and also as a station technician, I was able to do basic maintenance especially blowing the dust from the transmitter, studio computers, mixers and I could also replace burnt fuse from the mixer in case it’s burnt.
    In September 2008 (I don’t recall the date) a lady called Cynthia who presents the morning show (the morning stars) arrived at the station at 5:00am to open the radio and found a lot of smoke coming out from the transmitter room (this is a radio that operates studio and transmitter from the same building with different rooms for the transmitter, studio etc.). When she saw that, she ran up to my house (I was residing at about 350metres distance from the station) and I heard her banging at my door and shouting loudly that “Wit, Wit” (my then station manager gave me that name “D.J Wit”) the transmitter is burning, when I heard I got up very quick because I was always alert and its a norm for any presenter to call me either on phone or just come to my house in case something is not working well in the studio. I got up, just picked the key from her and ran faster that her. When I reached the station I opened the door and the first thing I did was to put the power change over switch to generator line to ensure that power is off from the building because the generator uses a manual change over (not automated one). I proceeded to the transmitter and found that the transmitter had already caught fire with a lot of smoke covering that room, the first thing I did was to remove the coaxial cable which was looped through the air vent and pushed it to hang in the air then I unplugged the audio feeder cables and another thing I remember was that I kicked the power stabilizer to one corner of the room then removed the 500watt transmitter with an exciter on top on it and carried it four metres a way from that room and put on the floor, I got the rag for mopping the house and started to scrub with the back and front parts which were melting until they stopped, I then carried it outside and put on the veranda and allowed it to cool down. The power cables where burnt but when I reached the head that was flagged on the transmitter hasn’t yet caught fire. The fire started from the socket on the wall, followed the adapter and caught the lines that were connected to it including the two stand alone fans.
    After I have left the transmitter and exciter to cool on the veranda for three hours and seen that the internal big behind fans were looking fine, even the small one behind the exciter. The employees were even reporting for work and people were appreciating me for saving the transmitter but I was worried about if the transmitter could work again and if it doesn’t, that meant there wasn’t job for all of us for a very long time until the owner gets money to buy a new one.
    I told the station manager and I also called the owner to come to the station and told him what happened the word of appreciation was coming out from all mouths. I told them that since I am not an engineer, I am unsure whether the transmitter will work again but we decided to give it a try, I removed the coaxial cable, audio feeder cables and took them to another room, removed the power cable for the computers in the news room and used them to connect the transmitter and exciter and struggled with the partly melted power (on/off) switch on the transmitter and put it on including exciter and they started running well but I noticed that the power has dropped from 500Watt to half and I could not tell what was wrong/got burnt and the good thing was that we can still be on air and the radio was reaching remote sub-counties. The owner of the radio kept bringing a lot of visiting engineers but nothing happened to resume power output to normal and up to March 2009 went I left that radio, the station was still running at half power. I am optimistic that this site will improve my knowledge enormously.
    Please Paul, keep on file or in mind my request for any used FM transmitter that can be donated to me and if any radio engineer has any used but working FM transmitter or any studio gear that can be passed to a mushrooming broadcaster, keep me posted.
    My kindest regards from Northern Uganda,

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