A bit of good news?

We were doing some overnight maintenance on one of the class A AM’s in New York the other night. The aged Automatic Transfer Switch on the electrical service entrance needed to be replaced, thus the power to the entire facility needed to be cut while the old switch was removed and the new switch installed.

During this period, we took the opportunity to do some maintenance on the main and aux towers. All went well. We also notified the National Radio Club that the station was going to be off the air so that their members could log some rare DX. My thought process here was that we might also find a few daytimers who were still on the air or a DA night who was operating with their daytime facilities. A quick look at MW list shows that there are several such stations on 770 KHz:

MW list, North American 770 KHz

Alas, the answer was no, nobody was on the air who should not have been. Reports from Cape Cod, Massachusetts; New Foundland, Canada; Manassas, Virginia; West Union, South Carolina; and south west, Ohio have Cuban and South American stations on the air (Radio Artemisa, Radio Rebelde, Radio Oriental) but all of the east coast daytimers are off.

The 180 degree main mast for WABC is in good shape. You can deride AM and say it is outdated. However, it still gets out and covers vast distances.

The Unglorious task of Vermin Control

Warm, unmanned buildings in the wilderness are very attractive to all sorts of uninvited guests; mice, rats, snakes, insects, etc. Unfortunately, these can do damage to equipment, as evidenced here:

Mouse infested power panel, remote transmitter site
Mouse infested power panel, remote transmitter site

Thus, some steps need to be taken to secure transmitter sites, generators, outbuildings and even vehicles from mice in particular. Mice can squeeze into a hole that is .7 inch (17 mm) in diameter when they are full grown. In many transmitter buildings, this leaves lots of opportunities; coax feed through ports, ingress holes drilled for wires, electrical service entrances, cooling fans, gaps under doors, soffits, etc.

Many people simply call the pest control people who will come and put poison out. That does not solve the problem and can in fact make it worse. If the poisoned mice go outside to die, they are eaten by the snakes and birds that naturally control mice in the wild. Those animals then die from the poisoned mouse. Meanwhile new mice are being reproduced every 20 days or so. Fairly quickly, the bait is consumed, the mice no longer have any predators to naturally keep the population in check and there is a mouse explosion.

Hole in cinder block building covered with aluminum rack panel blank
Large hole, formerly a vent for propane heater, covered with aluminum rack panel black.

The best way to keep them in check is to seal up building as much as possible. For some reason, coax entry ports are often left open. This is very easy to fix and whenever tower crews are running new lines, ensure that they apply the correct boot for the port and line.

Replacement door jamb
Deteriorated door jamb replaced with pressure treated wood

Another thing that happens; door jambs deteriorate or the bottom of steel doors begin to rust away. This opening is very attractive to insects, snakes, mice and even plants.

Screen covering generator ventilation opening
Chicken wire screen covering generator ventilation opening
Generator radiator opening covered with chicken wire
Generator radiator covered with chicken wire

Generators need special attention. Radiator and ventilation openings should be covered with chicken wire. This can be attached to the metal housing with self taping screws and fender washers. Be careful and look inside of the housing to make sure that the area inside the housing where the screws are being applied is clear of wires and hoses.

Stainless steel pot scrubbers filling space around conduit and pipes
Stainless steel pot scrubbers filling gaps around conduit and fuel line

Ingress for fuel, control and electrical conductors need attention as well. I found stainless steel pot scrubbers to be effective for filling gaps around these conduits and pipes. They are available on Amazon or many other places.

New Power Panel, an expensive lesson in pest control

Other openings can be filled with a combination of pot scrubbers and spray foam. Using spray foam alone often does not work, as the mice will crew through it.

I also keep a can or two of bee spray at most sites. Bees, hornets and paper wasps love to make nests in propane tank fill covers, ATU’s, under air conditioning units or anyplace else that is sheltered from rain.

Incandescent Indicating lamps

What is wrong with this picture?

WBNR equipment rack
WBNR equipment rack

It is a little bit blurry, but the real problem is that none of the indicator lamps on the phasor or antenna monitor are working.  Those little incandescent 387 bulbs burn out frequently.  It is difficult to tell, at a glance, whether the phasor is in daytime or night time mode.  One also cannot tell which tower or mode is selected on the antenna monitor.

It is a small job to replace them, but it does take some time.  They currently exist in older transmitters, studio consoles, meter back lighting, and other control indicators.  Since I began working in radio, I have replaced hundreds of these little lamps.  I would rather spend my time on more interesting projects.

The 387 bulbs cost about a dollar each and last less than a year, in most cases.  Fortunately, there is a solution to all this.  Enter the based LED replacement lamp.  These little guys have the long life of an LED (100,000+ hours) in a package that is a direct replacement for the Incandescent lamp.  They run about $5.31 each.

Dialight makes a very handy cross reference:

Dialight Incandescent to LED cross reference
Dialight Incandescent to LED cross reference

The entire cross reference section is three pages long and is a part of their PMI catalog.  The full cross reference .pdf can be found here.

Those Dialight LED lamps are available from Mouser, Allied and Newark Electronics.

Time is money.  There are much better things to be doing than going around replacing incandescent indicator bulbs in various pieces of equipment.  At the same time, it is important to know what the status of that equipment is at a glance, which is the reason for using any type of indicator in the first place.  Using drop in replacement LED indicating lamps with certainly save time and money in the long run.

Installing a WISP on an AM broadcast tower

This is an interesting project currently underway at one of our client’s AM sites.  They have decided to go all in and create a WISP (Wireless Internet Service Provider) for the community around the AM tower.  I thought it would be interesting to explore this topic, as there are not many opportunities for AM towers to lease vertical real estate.

First a few basic ideas.  For an AM broadcaster, (aka medium wave or standard broadcast band) the entire tower is part of the transmitting antenna.  There are two types of towers; series excited and shunt excited.  A series excited tower has a base insulator, like this:

AM tower with base insulator
AM tower with base insulator

A shunt tower usually has a series of wires called a skirt, separated from the tower by standoffs, which go to the top of the tower or nearly to the top of the tower. The base of the tower is grounded, like this:

AM tower with out base insulator
AM tower with out base insulator

A shunt excited tower has distinctive advantages for co-location opportunities in that the tower itself is grounded, greatly simplifying placing additional antennas on the towers.  That is not to say that antennas can not be installed on series excited (insulated) towers, it just requires an extra step of using isolation coils.

In all cases, the tower should have a structural study done to insure that the additional antennas do not overload the tower and cause structural damage or collapse.

In this case, the tower is new and was designed for the extra load.

The plan is to create a sectorized wireless internet system using four 90 degree panels, each with three access points.  A tower mounted sixteen port switch is mounted behind the panel antennas and the switch communicates with the ground mounted router through two fiber optic cables.  A 54 volt DC supply powers the switch, access points and point to point radios mounted on the tower.  There are two fiber runs, one is for subscriber traffic and the other is for radio management.  This system is using Ubiquiti gear.

Ubiquiti 90 degree sector antennas and radios
Ubiquiti 90 degree sector antennas and radios

A word or two about Ubiquiti gear.  Ubiquiti specializes in cheap equipment manufactured in China.  That is a double edged sword.  On the plus side, if anything breaks or gets damaged by lightning or whatever; throw it out and install a new one.  On the negative side, I  have seen Ubiquiti gear do some strange things, particularly after a firmware upgrade.  The newer stuff seems to be better than the older stuff.  All that being said, as this is a brand new operation and seems to be a proof of concept, then the Ubiquiti gear will be fine to start with.

Going up
Going up

The tower crew made quick work of installing the sectorized access points.

Tower crew waiting for equipment lift
Tower crew waiting for equipment lift

Going up the face of the tower, there are the aforementioned fiber cables, the 54 VDC power cable and one backup Ethernet cable.  All of the Ethernet jumper cables used to connect the access points to the switch are UV rated, shielded Cat 5e and use shielded connectors.  This is very important on a hot AM tower.  Due to the skin effect, the shield on the shielded cable protects the interior twisted pair conductors from the high AM RF fields present on the tower.

Transtector LPU 1101-1158
Transtector LPU 1101-1158 Ethernet cable protection unit

At the base of the tower, the DC power cable and the Ethernet cable go though high quality lightning protection units.  These are Transtector 1101-1158 Ethernet and 1101-1025 48 volt outdoor DC power units.  Even though the DC power supply is 54 volts, the 48 volt LPU’s will function adequately.  The TVSS devices used in the LPU circuit are rated for 88 volts maximum continuous voltage.

Transtector 1101-1025 48 VDC lightning protection unit
Transtector 1101-1025 48 VDC lightning protection unit

In addition, I made a service loop on the DC cable with also creates an RF choke.  Several (12-14) turns of cable 18-20 inches (45 to 50 cm) in diameter act to keep the induced RF at the input terminals of the LPU low so the protection devices do not fire on high modulation peaks.  This also helps to keep the AM RF out of the 54 VDC power supply in the rack.

Making ethernet jumper cables, TIA/EIA-568B
Making ethernet jumper cables, TIA/EIA-568B

The backup Ethernet cable has a similar setup.  Regarding the Ethernet cable and induced RF, this station runs 1 KW.  As long as the shielded RJ-45 connectors are applied properly and the tower mounted switch is grounded along with the LPU, then all of the RF should be on the very outside of the cable shield (due to the skin effect).

Base of AM tower with WISP equipment installed
Base of AM tower with WISP equipment installed

This principal also applies to lightning strikes.  Although lightning is DC voltage, it has a very fast rise time, which makes it behave like AC on the initial impulse of the strike. The voltage induced on the shield of the cable will not effect the twisted pairs found deeper within the Ethernet cable.  Of course, all bets are off if there is a direct strike on a piece of equipment.

AM stations running powers more than 1 KW, Superior Essex makes armored shielded cable called BBDG (the new trade name is EnduraGain OSP).  This cable comes with a heliax like copper shield with an optional aluminum spiral armor.  This cable looks very robust.

Enduragain OSP armored shielded Category cable
Enduragain OSP armored shielded Category cable

On series excited towers (those with an insulated base) fiber optic cable can be used to cross the base insulator without any problems, as long as there is not any metal in the cable (armor or aerial messenger).

LBA Group TC-300 tower lighting choke
LBA Group TC-300 tower lighting choke. 180 turns #12 AWG enamel wire on 6 inch coil form.

DC power can cross the base insulator using something called a “Tower Lighting Choke.”  This device is a set of coils wound around a form which passes the DC power but keeps the AM RF from following the DC power cable to ground.  These work relatively well, however, lightning protection units still need to be installed before the DC power supply.