WBCQ The Planet

File under: What I wish I could do, if I had the money.

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Imagine, as an engineer, owning and running your very own radio station.  Not just any radio station, but a 50,000-watt flame thrower heard over most of the eastern US.  Dude!  Only one minor detail, it is a Shortwave station, which, by FCC regulation is only supposed to be listened to outside of the US, hence the official FCC name, International Broadcasting.  As I said, minor detail.

Anyway, WBCQ is heard at various times on 5110, 7415, 9330, and 15420 kHz both in and outside of the US.  Their full schedule here.  Last night I was treated to the Lost Discs radio show, featuring rare tracks not often found or heard anywhere.  It sounded like they were having a lot of fun and it was entertaining, which is why I continued to listen for well over an hour.  Besides this, they played a cover of one of my favorite songs, Wish you were here, as played by Kris McKay.

I put up the video for the song that was in it, and, no, I don’t know who those grainy people are.

It seems that the owner, Mr. Weiner is a fellow radio engineer and long-time radio enthusiast.  He was and still is a strong proponent of radio for the good of the public.  Most of his earlier attempts to own radio station fell on the other side of the legal line, being not quite sanctioned by any government authority.  At first, he did attempt to obtain a license and was turned down by the FCC, prompting him to write this reply (shamelessly lifted from Wikipedia):

…we went about a year ago … to apply for a license. Our attempt proved quite humorous to your employees, who sent us away with word of “Forget it.” Further investigations showed us why our attempt was then so comical. Licenses were so expensive and hard to get that even small stations were being sold for millions. Broadcasting was reserved for power men.
…We are not disputing, however, your right to assign channels and set aside bands for the prevention of interference. We certainly, however, are disputing your right to reserve broadcasting for the well-to-do only.

So, I applaud Allan Weiner and his never say never attitude.  Perhaps one day, I’ll apply for an international broadcasting license and do something similar.  I wonder if he gets many RFI complaints from people living around his transmitter site.  I once had one from somebody who was receiving the radio station on the outlets in their kitchen.  Seems Larry King was not their thing…

More failure, please…

Sounds kind of silly, but in some cases, failure is good.  Companies that are inefficient, poorly run, poorly conceived, have substandard products, do not serve their clients, and so on should be able to fail.  This allows good companies, that do things right, to thrive.

Too big to fail is too big and those companies should be broken up.  This holds true in the radio business as well as the banking industry, the auto industry, and so on.  What is truly unfortunate is that the people most responsible for the failure, the upper management, and CEOs, often get away with millions while the people who had their back into it get to go to the unemployment office.

That being said, radio is in for some drastic changes soon.

NO BAILOUTS FOR RADIO

Enough already with the bailouts.  Radio is not some precious national resource, it does not function for the betterment of society, nor does it provide vital information in the time of emergency.  It stopped doing those things years ago when deregulation kicked in, deregulation which was lobbied for extensively by the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) at the behest of radio and tv station owners, by the way.

Once deregulation took effect, station management went on a hunt for pennies, often tripping over dollars to get them.  Through staff reductions and cost cutting, the product was deluded and the medium was marginalized and that is where we are today.

Not everyone followed the above narrative, there are some operators who stuck to the framework of public/customer service and kept good programming on the air.  Those stations are few and far between but they are out there.  Why should they not reap the benefits of their forward thinking?

AM transmitter preferences

Engineers are funny.  We all have our likes and dislikes and our reasons for both.  I don’t really like Harris products.  Even when I was in the military, their stuff seemed a little “light.”  I suppose having to deal with an MW-50B transmitter at my first full-time chief engineer gig didn’t help that impression.  The MW-50 would “blow up” every six months or so.  I say blow up because that is the only way I can describe it, no overload lights or any other indication of trouble until the blue lightning flashes and thunder from the PA section.  What a POS.

Other Harris transmitters, such as the SUX-1, FM20H, Gates-1 etc have also left me less than impressed.

In order of preference, my choice of AM transmitters would be:

  1. Any Nautel solid-state unit.  Nautel makes good equipment that is well-supported.
  2. Any BE solid-state transmitters.  I favor the A model over the E model, but both are good.  One condition, they must absolutely be well grounded and all of the toroid filters provided by the manufacturer must be used when installing.
  3. Any tube-type Continental transmitter.  There are older units, I believe 816R but they work well and sound good on the air.

Really, that is about it.

Underground Electrical feeder burn out

In the never-ending saga of things I have not yet seen, we had a 350 kcml 3-phase underground feeder burnout yesterday at our AM transmitter site.

Actually, it happened the day before, around noon.  I received a call from the remote control that we were on the backup generator.  Upon arriving at the site, I found several trees down on the three-phase primary down the street.  I figured that was the cause.  After checking the generator fuel supply, oil pressure, temperature, phase volts/amps, I decided that everything was okay and the power company would be along shortly to restore power.  I then continued up the road to our FM site to do weekly maintenance.

Upon returning to the office several hours later, I looked at the utility company’s website.  They have a pretty cool interactive map application that shows all outages and give restoration times.  The area around our transmitter site showed no outages, therefore I figured it had been cleared.

I committed two errors here:

  1. Not calling the utility company myself to ensure that the outage was reported.  I assumed that the tree across the three-phase primary was the cause, it was not.
  2. Not calling the transmitter site remote control to check the generator status after I checked the website.

To be honest, I don’t know if I am coming or going these days.  With seven radio stations, each with its own transmitter site, three of them Directional AM stations, and three studio locations spread out over a 75-mile stretch, it is difficult to keep up with the small details.  Did I mention that I am solo, the engineering assistant position was cut two years ago.  But, I am not here to make excuses…

The net result is the generator ran all night long.  The next day, when I checked the transmitter in the morning, I was surprised to find the generator still running.  Unfortunately, I had an FM station on low power (see post below) that needed to be taken care of first.  When I finished replacing the RF module in the FM transmitter, I made my way to the AM site.

I called the power company and then checked the generator fuel, the propane tank was down to 10%.  Yikes, better get this taken care of fast.  I will say the power company showed up pretty quickly.  After some measurements with a handheld meter, it was determined that the underground feeder was open between the pole and the transmitter building.

The lineman was not at all surprised, in fact, he called it before he even went up in the bucket truck.  After some back and forth with his supervisor, who came out in a pickup truck, it was decided that they would run a temporary overhead feed to the meter can.

temporary overhead electrical feeder
temporary overhead electrical feeder

They also did some research in their records and discovered that they (the utility company) own the underground cable and therefore they would dig it up and fix it.  That’s nice because otherwise, it seems like it would be an expensive repair job.  On a station that makes not have a lot of money.