Working with rigid transmission line

Installing transmitters requires a multitude of skills; understanding the electrical code, basic wiring, RF theory and even aesthetics play some part in a good installation.  Working with rigid transmission line is a bit like working with plumbing (and is often called that). Rigid transmission line is often used within the transmitter plant to connect to a four port coax switch, test load, backup transmitter and so on.  Sometimes it is used outside to go up the tower to the antenna, however, such use has been mostly supplanted by Heliax type flexible coax.

We completed  a moderate upgrade to a station in Albany; installing a coax switch, test load and backup transmitter.  I thought it would be interesting to document the rigid line work required to complete this installation.  The TPO at this installation is about 5.5 KW including the HD carriers.  The backup transmitter is a Nautel VS-1, analog only.

This site uses 1 5/8 inch transmission line.  That line is good for most installation up to about 10-15 Kilowatts TPO.  Beyond that, 3 inch line should be used for TPO’s up to about 30 Kilowatts or so.  Even though the transmission lines themselves are rated to handle much more power, often times reflected power will create nodes along the line where the forward power and reflected power are in phase.  This can create hot spots and if the reflected power gets high enough, flash overs.

Milwaukee portable band saw
Milwaukee portable band saw

Working with rigid line requires a little bit of patience, careful measurements and some special tools.  Since the line itself is expensive and the transmission line lengthener has yet to be invented, I tend to use the “measure twice and cut once” methodology.   For cutting, I have this nice portable band saw and table.  This particular tool has saved me hours if not days of work at various sites.  I have used it to cut not just coaxial line and cables, but unistrut, threaded rod, copper pipe, coolant line, conduit, wire trays, etc.  If you are doing any type of metal work that involves cutting, this tool is highly recommended.

Milwaukee 6230N Band Saw with cutting table
Milwaukee 6230N Band Saw with cutting table

Next point is how long to cut the line pieces and still accommodate field flanges and inter-bay line anchors (AKA bullets)?  The inner conductor is always going to be sorter than the outer conductor by some amount.   Below is a chart with the dimensions of various types of rigid coaxial cables.

Length cut chart for various sizes of rigid coaxial cables

When working with 1 5/8 inch rigid coax, for example, the outer conductor is cut 0.187 inches (0.47 cm) shorter than measured distance to accommodate the field flange. The inner conductor is cut 0.438 inches (1.11 cm) shorter (dimension “D” in the above diagram) than the outer conductor to accommodate the inter bay anchors. These are per side, so the inner conductor will actually be 0.876 inches (2.22 cm) shorter than the outer conductor.  Incidentally, I find it is easier to work in metric as it is much easier to measure out 2.22 CM than to try and convert 0.876 inches to some fraction commonly found on a tape measure.  For this reason, I always have a metric ruler in my tool kit.

Altronic air cooled 20 KW test load
1 5/8 inch rigid coax run to Altronic air cooled 20 KW test load
1 5/8 inch rigid coax and 4 port coax switch mounted in top of Middle Atlantic Rack
1 5/8 inch rigid coax and 4 port coax switch mounted in top of Middle Atlantic Rack

The next step is de-burring.  This is really critical at high power levels.  I use a copper de-burring tool commonly used by plumbers and electricians.  One could also use a round or rat tail file to de-bur.  The grace of clamp on field flanges is they have some small amount of play in how far onto the rigid line they are clamped.  This can be used to offset any small measurement errors and make the installation look good.

Happy New Year!

After a bit of reflection and a few good conversations over the New Year’s Holiday, I decided that I should continue my work on this blog.  I would like to thank all those that have stuck by and waited.  I have received numerous emails and messages off line, all of which have been read and appreciated.

Since the abrupt stoppage last July, which was absolutely necessary for me, many things have happened within the business.  Fortunately, during the hiatus, I was still taking pictures.  After sorting through them, here are a few interesting things that happened:

At one of our client’s AM transmitter sites in Albany, NY a 2.6 Million Watt solar system has been installed.

WROW-AM Steel mounting poles on antenna array field
WROW-AM Steel mounting poles on antenna array field

This project required many steel mounting posts be driven into the ground around the AM towers.  I don’t even know how many, but I would hazard a guess of over three hundred.  Each one of those mounting posts was hand dug down a depth of 6-10 inches to look for ground wires.  Where ever a ground wire was found, it was moved out of the way before the post was set.

WROW-AM ground wire moved out of way
WROW-AM ground wire moved out of way

Basically the solar array covers about 1/2 of the antenna array field.  All of the steel mounting hardware is tied into the ground system, making, what I am sure is a pretty large above ground counterpoise.

WROW-AM solar panel mounting hardware
WROW-AM solar panel mounting hardware

View from the south looking north:

Solar Array installed on WROW antenna array, Glenmont, NY
Solar Array installed on WROW antenna array, Glenmont, NY

View from the north, outside of the transmitter building, looking south:

Solar Array installed on WROW antenna array, Glenmont, NY

Power company interface and disconnect:

Solar Array utility company disconnect, Glenmont, NY
Solar Array utility company disconnect, Glenmont, NY

The utility company had to upgrade the transmission lines to the nearest substation to handle the additional power produced by the solar system. All in all, it was a fun project to watch happen.

At a certain studio building, which is over 150 years old, the roof needed to be replaced.  This required that the 3.2 meter satellite dish and non-penetrating roof mount be moved out of the way while that section of the roof was worked on.

3.2 meter satellite dish

Dish ready to move, all of the concrete ballast removed and taken down from roof.  The roofing contractors constructed a  caddy and the entire dish and mount was slid forward onto the area in front of it.  Since the front part of the roof was not reinforced to hold up the satellite dish, we did not reballast the mount and the XDS receivers ran off of the streaming audio for a couple of days until the dish was put back in its original position.

3.2 meter satellite dish ready to move
3.2 meter satellite dish ready to move

A couple of other studio projects have been underway in various places.  Pictures to follow…

One of our clients sold their radio stations to another one of our clients.

There has also been a bankruptcy of a major radio company here in the good ol’ US of A.  Something that was not unexpected, however, the ramifications of which are still being decided on in various board rooms.  One of the issues as contractors is whether or not we will get paid for our work.  All things considered, it could be much worse.

Learned a valuable lesson about mice chewed wires on generator battery chargers.  I noticed that the battery charger seemed to be dead, therefore, I reached down to make sure the AC plug was in all the way.  A loud pop and flash followed and this was the result:

Arc burns, right hand
Arc burns, right hand

My hand felt a bit warm for a while.  The fourth digit suffered some minor burns.  There is at least one guy I know that would be threatening a lawsuit right now.  Me, not so much…  All of the high voltage stuff we work on; power supplies that can go to 25 KV, and a simple 120 VAC plug is the thing that gets me.

The return of the rotary phase maker.

Rotary phase maker, Kay Industies T-10000-A

Mechanically derived 3rd phase used when the old tube type transmitter cannot be converted to single phase service.

Those are just a few of the things I have been working on.  I will generate some posts on current projects underway.  Those projects include a 2 KW FM transmitter installation, another studio project, repair work on a Harris Z16HD transmitter, etc

It is good to be back!

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This information is from an occasional reader who wished to remain anonymous.

Another AM station surrenders its license, this time from north of the border. CKSL, London, Ontario, Canada is gone for good.  Current owner, Bell Media, has determined that it would cost more to repair the deficiencies with the antenna system than economically feasible, especially considering it’s low ratings.  Here is their filing with the CRTC:

Bell Media is the licensee of CKSL-AM 1410, assuming stewardship of the station in 2013 as part of the Astral Media acquisition.

A technical review of the transmitter site was recently completed both by Bell Media and contractors, which has resulted in the determination that the AM array poses an unacceptable risk from a health and safety perspective.  The five towers are experiencing serious structural degradation and also require repairs to the aviation safety lighting system. In addition, the building which houses the transmitter has shifted off its foundation (as have several of the individual tower sheds).

Given these problems, Bell Media would need to make a significant financial investment to bring CKSL-AM’s transmitter up to compliance with Human Resources Development Canada, Industry Canada and NavCanada operational codes and standards, all of which is estimated to exceed $3 million dollars.

From a market perspective, CKSL-AM has consistently ranked last out of all ten commercial stations in the London market, both in audience share and revenue generation, over the last several years.  In fact, since 2013 the London market has seen radio revenues drop 4% and CKSL-AM generates the least amount of revenue of the stations in the market. Even with a significant investment in programming, this trend is unlikely to be reversed. 

In light of the significant capital costs coupled with the absence of revenue and audience share, Bell Media is respectfully requesting the revocation of the CKSL licence.

Well, 24/7 comedy will do that to you.  Somebody in the business said to me recently “The listeners are abandoning radio!”  No, it is the broadcast station owners who are abandoning their listeners and their cities of license.  I have a news flash for all current broadcast station owners; as surprising and radical as this might sound, bland, boring, canned, completely irrelevant, dismal, uninformative, unimaginative, unentertaining, dreary, stale, unenjoyable programming will drive away even the most loyal listeners.  People really want to listen to radio, it is an easy habit and readily accessible.  Radios are ubiquitous; they are in our kitchens, bedrooms, cars, hotel rooms, offices, restaurants, barber shops, etc.  That, however, may not always be the case, as more and more people move Spotify, Pandora, or Apple radio when they are tired of the disappointment.  I was listening to a certain sports radio format the other day and I kept waiting for something interesting to happen.  I waited and waited. I would say to myself; okay, this will be the segment when I will learn something or be entertained.  This upcoming guest will say something interesting.  Sadly, those expectations were never met and I will never tune into that station again. Elevator music would have been better.  Worse than sports radio, 24/7 comedy is the absolute death knell.  This is like saying; we are out of ideas and we do not care.

Here are a few pictures of the former CKSL-AM transmitter site:

CKSL antenna array
CKSL antenna array
CKSL_transmitter
CKSL transmitter building
CKSL_transmission
CKSL transmission line bridge
CKSL_tower
CKSL tower base

Actually does not look too bad, at least the field is mowed. I have seen much, much worse.  Those bolt together towers, though. I would bet that they are the real problem, bolts are deteriorating faster than the tower steel. Very likely all the towers need to be replaced and that is why the license is being surrendered.

If you are a radio geek, get out there and take some pictures of your favorite radio station.  If the current trends continue, eventually they will all be gone.

A Linux based remote control system

We are extending LANs out to transmitter sites for many reasons; backup audio, control and monitoring, security systems, VOIP phones, etc.

I am casually (very casually) toying around with creating my own Linux based remote control system.  The ongoing Windows 10 upgrade debacle continues to not end, I can’t help but think that there are many potential clients who could use a reliable transmitter/studio remote control and monitoring system based on a stable operating system.  Hmm, sounds like a sales pitch 😉

Anyway, I have run across several Ethernet board manufactures that offer a variety of boards with 8-12 contact closures and a variety of analog and digital inputs.  Most new transmitters have some sort of web GUI which are great for transmitter control and monitoring.  As we all know, there is more than just a transmitter at any given transmitter site.  In addition to the transmitter, I would like to control and monitor things like tower lights, interface and control of coax switches, temperature monitoring, generator status, the old non-web interface backup transmitters, STL signal strength for those old 950 MHz links, etc.

Since Google is my friend (when they are not storing my search data), I came up with this: Internet-ethernet-12-channel-relay-board

That particular PC board is made in Bulgaria, which is home to this: Mount Buzludzha

What I like about these particular boards is the DRM software (DRM has, apparently, many different meanings) which will run on Linux or Windows.  There are also iOS and Andriod applications that can be used as well.  It appears that the GUI can be customized for various uses.   This seems like it is written in Java, so perhaps I could have some Java expert customize it for radio use.  It looks like up to 32 boards can be controlled by a single instance of the DRM software.  Alarm reporting would be via SNMP trap and email.

I don’t know, there is one particular cluster of stations that needs new remote control gear at almost every transmitter site.  Perhaps a little alpha testing is in order?  It could be fun…

Anyway, just a thought…