Oh, damn: la segunda parte

Emergency! The (AM) Transmitter keeps popping off the air and we can’t figure out why! YOU MUST HELP US!!1!!!


Some problems are easy to spot, difficult to fix
Some problems are easy to spot, difficult to fix

Well, with the ATU mounted about 1/4 inch away from the 90-degree, series-excited tower, I wonder why.  It seemed to be especially problematic during rain, snow, and ice storms.   When I asked how long this had been going on, I was told “About two years, ever since we put up the new tower!”

You don’t say.

We finally took care of this by moving the ATU back inside the shed after moving the transmitter to a different building.  The funny thing is, this was installed by a guy who had a BSEE.  I guess he must have been out sick the day they covered this in class.

Hums no more

My first job as Chief Engineer was at WPTR and WFLY in 1991. I was young and it was a learning experience. The WPTR transmitter was a Harris MW50A, which reliably went off the air every six months. The transmission lines going out to the towers had fallen off of their wooden support posts, trees were growing up in the antenna field, and sample lines were going bad. In short, it was a mess.  Even so, the station was well-known and well-liked in the community. One could still see echoes of greatness that once was.

When Crawford Broadcasting purchased the station in 1996, they put much money and effort into renovating the facility.  Replacing the Harris transmitter with a solid state Nautel, replacing the phasor and transmission lines, cutting the trees from the field, painting the towers, renovating the old transmitter building into a new studio facility, and finally removing the old Butler building that formerly housed the “Gold Studios.”

Then the depression of 2008-20?? hit.  Once again, the place has fallen on hard times.  WDCD-AM has been silent since last April.  The cost of running the 50 KW AM transmitter being too much to bear in the current economy.  Formatically, the station drifted around for several years.  According to the STA to go silent:


They may need to do something slightly non-religious to survive.

While we were waiting for the utility company to turn the electricity back on after yesterday’s fire, I took a short walk around the WDCD-AM site and took some pictures.  The transmitter disconnect thrown,  fuses are pulled,  it is kind of sad to see the Nautel XL-60 dark:

Nautel XL-60 AM transmitter.  WDCD Albany, NY
Nautel XL-60 AM transmitter. WDCD Albany, NY

I apologize greatly for the blurry picture, it was taken with my cellphone camera, my good camera being back at home on my desk.  Radio stations, when they are on the air, seem like they are alive.  Machinery hums, fans move air, meters move, and there is a sense of purpose.  Silent radio stations give me a sense of foreboding like something is terribly wrong.

WDCD three tower array, Albany, NY
WDCD three tower array, Albany, NY

View of the towers without Butler Building.  The towers are 340 feet tall, which is 206 electrical degrees on 1540 KHz.  The site was constructed like this to suppress skywave signals toward ZNS, Nassau, Bahamas.  ZNS is the only clear channel station allotted to the Bahamas by NARBA.  The other station WDCD is protecting is KXEL, Waterloo, IA.  During the 90’s, I received many QSL requests from Norway/Finland and even a few from South Africa.  I know that the station had a large following in most of New England.

WDCD tower base, tower three
WDCD tower base, tower one (furthest from building)

Tower one tower base.  This IDECO tower had to have the top 60 feet replaced after it was hit by an airplane in 1953.  The tower base also had to be replaced in the late 1980’s as it was crumbling and falling apart.  To do this, Northeast Towers used railroad jacks and jacked the entire tower up off of the base insulator.  They re-formed and poured a new base, carefully letting the tower back down on a new base insulator about a week later.

WDCD towers looking back toward the transmitter building
WDCD towers looking back toward the transmitter building

Antenna field looking back at the transmitter building.  If you work at radio transmitter sites, I encourage you to take pictures of all these things, as someday, they will all be gone.

WDCD bomb shelter
WDCD bomb shelter

The “bomb shelter” and 220 KW backup generator,  constructed by FEMA in 1968 as part of the BSEPP.  This used to have an emergency studio and enough diesel fuel for fourteen days of operation.  Now, the bomb shelter has a kitchen and bathrooms.  The underground storage tank no longer meets EPA standards and has been pumped out.

WDCD Onan generator
WDCD Onan generator

The Onan generator is conservatively rated at 220 KW, surge rating 275 KW.  These things were way over-constructed, so it is likely it would easily run 225 KW all day.  It has an inline six-cylinder engine with a massive flywheel.  When the engine is stopped, it takes about twenty seconds for the generator to stop turning.

Three phase service
Three phase service

National Grid, 3 pot, 480 volt, 3 phase service, original to the 1947 building.

I wonder if it will return.

North East Commercial Radio Antennas and Towers


Or NECRAT for those who have been around the internet for a while. Many, if not most of you will know Mike Fitzpatrick’s NECRAT website which features many pictures of radio transmitter sites around the country (not just the Northeast).

Even before I began blogging, I checked NECRAT often for interesting pictures of many different transmitter sites.

If you are one of the few who has not visited his site, go and check it out: http://www.necrat.us

Tower light malfunction

We were notified that the WFAS-AM tower lights were out, thus, it was time to investigate. This problem was easy to find. Upon removing the waterproof cover on the tower light flasher box, I found this:

SSAC melted tower light flasher, damaged by lightning
melted SSAC B-KON tower light flasher, damaged by lightning

As soon as loosened the screws on the cover, I smelled the unmistakable odor of burned electronics and plastic.   I disconnected the flasher and covered the photocell, which turned the side markers on.  Of course, the top flashing beacon was dark, therefore, it was time to report the outage to the FAA.  The nationwide number to report tower light outages is (877) 487-6867.  That number is for an automated system, however, eventually, it leads to a live person.  Since the new reporting system was established, the only required information is the tower ASRN.  From that information, the operator will access a database and have all the required information to issue a NOTAM.  In the past, many questions were usually asked; what is the nearest airport, how far away is the airport, how tall is the obstruction, what is the position, etc?  Therefore, things have become slightly easier than before.

Once the outage is reported and a NOTAM is issued, the tower owner generally has fifteen days to correct the problem.