Material safety at Transmitter Sites

Recently, while working at a transmitter site built in the early 1940’s I noticed some fluorescent lights were out. Upon closer examination, I noticed that the bi-pin holder on one side of the bulb was damaged. This led to the removal of the fixture for repair, discovering these devices:

General Electric PCB Fluorescent lamp ballast

As this was made in Schenectady, NY, it is almost certainly original to the building. According to the EPA website, each one of these ballasts contains a capacitor with 3-4 ounces of PCB. There were 16 total fixtures, each with one ballast. The ballasts were removed and the fluorescent lamps were replaced with T8 120 Volt LED units. Any defective bi-pin lamp holders were replaced at the same time.

The danger posed by PCBs is minimal unless they leak or there is a fire. Partially burned PCB results in the production of dioxins, which are really bad. The old GE ballasts were properly disposed of.

The PCB capacitors and transformers were removed from the site many years ago. Other things that might have PCBs; are caulking and window glazing compounds.

That made me think; what else is around here? Several things came to mind.

Fluorescent bulbs waiting for disposal

The fluorescent bulbs themselves contain a small amount of mercury. This is not a problem unless the bulb breaks. If the bulb does break, the EPA recommends leaving the room for 15-20 minutes. Then carefully clean up the broken glass and place it in a plastic bag. Smaller particles can be cleaned up with the sticky side of masking tape or duct tape. Do not use a regular vacuum to clean up the broken glass, this will spray mercury around the room.

The fluorescent bulbs should be disposed of as hazardous waste.

Hot water pipes with lagging (insulation)

Asbestos lagging on the hot water/heating pipes. As long as the lagging is intact, there is no problem. All of the pipe lagging in this building is intact and in good shape. With asbestos, the problems start when things are disturbed. Any type of work on those pipes will require a mitigation plan. Something to keep in mind if there are any building modifications being planned.

If old-style pipe lagging like this is falling off or has been partially removed, it is best to have an asbestos survey done. Newer style lagging will be either closed cell foam, open cell foam, or fiberglass insulation with a cardboard cover.

Other things that can have asbestos are floor tiles and siding.

Halon fire supression system

The halon fire suppression system can be hazardous if one is in the building when it discharges. Of course, fire itself is also a hazard. It is something to be aware of if the alarm goes off.

Peeling paint

Since this building was constructed way before 1978, lead paint is likely on the walls. Not a huge problem unless it is chipping off and you accidentally eat the lead paint chips or inhale pulverized lead paint dust. To clean these up, use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. Alternatively, wear a HEPA filter and use a dustpan and brush. Do not use a regular vacuum cleaner.

If building modification work is being done in areas that may contain lead paint, a properly certified lead paint mitigation contractor should be hired to remove the hazardous material.

None of these situations pose a direct safety threat, however, one should be aware of these potential issues in their work environment.

A nice pair

I am reminded of a Pink Floyd compilation album from the very early 70s. The music dates back to the late 60s and Syd Barrett. Poor Syd; shine on you crazy diamond!

I recently finished installing these rather nice GatesAir FLX-40 transmitters:

WXBK-FM New York, GatesAir FLX-40 x 2 installation

Audacy New York decided to move 94.7 from the East Orange, NJ location down to the WOR transmitter site in Rutherford, NJ. Acting as contractors for GatesAir, we installed these two transmitters. I can say, I like the liquid-cooled transmitters for several reasons. First, once installed, they seem to be very stable. I believe that the cooling scheme helps prolong the life of the RF devices by keeping the junctions at a constant temperature. Those semi-conductor junctions are tiny for the amount of current that they need to handle. Second, they cost less in the long run to operate. Anytime a refrigerant cycle can be skipped, that reduces or greatly reduces the electrical use. The Heat Exchangers in this system use VFD’s for fan motor control. That means more constant control over the HTF temperature and reduced electrical use on the fan motors themselves.

Heat Exchangers
Dual pump stations

The pump stations have backup pumps as well. In the newer transmitter firmware, the pump control needs to be set up to automatically failover to the standby unit. It is a couple of clicks in the GUI to do this.

BDI inline watt meter
ERI antenna

We didn’t have anything to do with the antenna installation, however, it is a good-looking antenna! ERI 4 bay 3 around mounted on one of the WOR towers.

Overall, this was a good project. Lots of moving parts during the installation, but we were flexible working with the client and other contractors and sub-contractors on site.

From the not too distant past…

And when such things were important:

Important Memo

While cleaning out a closet at home, I found a 3.5-inch disk with some interesting memos. When I left WGY in the spring of 1996, I made a backup copy of all the items in my documents folder. I figure it was an intelligent thing to do since I was still working for the same company in the role of Director of Engineering.

In those days, management wanted a precise accounting of all off-the-air incidents. The studio was staffed with a board operator who monitored the air signal at all times. Anytime the carrier dropped, there would be a note in the transmitter log. Those 5 second interruptions are likely due to thunderstorms. Lightning would strike somewhere nearby inducing an EMP on the tower. The venerable MW-50B would kill the PDM for a brief period as protection from VSWR. If I were at the transmitter site, the insulators in the guy wires would start crackling anytime a storm was within 10 miles of the site.

The helium balloon incident involved one of those metallic helium party balloons which escaped and ended up tangled in the 240-ohm open wire transmission line. This caused multiple VSWR trips for both the main and backup transmitters. I remember pulling up to the site and having a bit of a chuckle. By the time I got there, the balloon had mostly been burned into oblivion by the RF and the station was back on the air.

Another interesting item is our standard reception report form letter:

WGY reception report letter; name and address redacted because of the internet

These were printed out on WGY letterhead and mailed. I sent out several of them every week. I think the furthest away was Cape Town, South Africa.

A little bit of catching up…

I regret not having enough time for writing these days. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, much of what I do running my business is mundane and not worth noting. For example; today I am going over work reports and reconciling the bank account. Necessary, but about as exciting as watching the grass grow or reading about drying paint.

However, the rest of the time I have been working on various projects around the northeast, to wit:

In Boston, I took part in converting an LPTV station to ATSC 3.0. That was interesting and I am enjoying the TV work.

WCRN-LD exciter GUI
Boris Johnson resigns, also one of the first ATSC 3.0 images transmitted OTA in Boston, MA

In Syracuse, we had to lower a TV transmitter from the 23rd floor to the 22nd floor on the outside of the building. The transmitter itself became marooned because an electrical conduit for an alarm system was installed restricting the size of the stairwell.

Carefully lowering a 2KW UHF TV transmitter, State Tower Building, Syracuse, NY
Transmitter re-assembled and on the air

Fortunately, we hired a moving company to do this. I am pretty sure that our insurance does not cover damages from transmitters falling 22 stories.

In NYC, I installed two FLX-40 transmitters for GatesAir.

WXBK FLX-40 transmitters, Rutherford, NJ
FLX-40 Heat Exchangers
“Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them.” “Take care, sir, those over there are not giants but buildings on the island of Manhattan.”

In Kingston, NY a used BE AM1A (along with a coax switch and dummy load) was installed at WKNY.

Slightly used BE AM1A installed as backup at WKNY, Kingston, NY
7/8 inch coax switch and 2.5 KW oil cooled test load suspended from the ceiling

It is nice that this station has a decent backup transmitter to buttress the aging, yet very reliable Nautel ND-1.

Even though it is a short drive away, I had never visited the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair site in Bethel, NY. It was interesting and being sort of an audiophile, I enjoyed this exhibit in particular:

Your author, standing in front of a “Woodstock Bin.”
Back of high-frequency horns

From the display:

This speaker stack sat on scaffolding high in the air… festival sound engineer Bill Hanley custom-built eight speaker cabinets for Woodstock, amplifying music and stage announcements across the large festival site… Afterward, the design would be known in the industry as the “Woodstock Bin.”

Bethal Woods Performing Arts center Museum, August 10, 2022

The high-frequency horns used Electrovoice diaphragm S/A compression drivers. I don’t know which driver was used for the bins.

Site of Woodstock ’69 stage, looking up into the field
Looking down from the field to the stage area. Person(s) for scale.

I am also writing articles for Radio Guide, I hope that you are enjoying them!