Fire! Fire! Fire!

Class Charlie fire in the transmitter room electrical panel.  Away fire party from repair locker forward.  Set condition ZEBRA throughout the ship, this is not a drill.

Or something like that.  If you were driving around Albany, NY this afternoon and noticed WDCD-FM was off the air, this is the reason why.

WDCD AM/FM main distribution panel
WDCD AM/FM 480 volt 3 phase AC main distribution panel

A little after noon time, the 480-volt main distribution panel at WDCD AM/FM caught fire, taking the FM station off the air.

WDCD conference room clock, time of power outage noted
WDCD conference room clock, time of power outage noted

According to this clock, it happened at 12:19 pm, when there was a loud bang and the lights in the studio flickered several times, followed by the building fire alarm going off.  Thankfully, a quick response by the station staff and the Town of Colonie fire department limited the damage to the interior of the distribution panel.  Other than the dry chemical fire extinguisher residue all over the place, the building is none the worse for wear.

WDCD distribution panel burned parts
WDCD distribution panel burned parts

The 480 Volt three-phase electrical distribution panel was installed in 1947 when the original building was constructed.  The power company cut the power to the building and an electrician was able to re-route the distribution for the dry step-down transformers that power the studios and equipment racks.  The original 480 volt service was installed due to the 50 KW AM transmitter for WPTR (WDCD-AM).   Currently, WDCD-AM is silent, pending programming decisions by the owner, Crawford Broadcasting.

WDCD burned electrical distribution panel parts
WDCD burned electrical distribution panel parts

So, we spent the late afternoon vacuuming the NextGen computers and UPS out, wiping down the equipment, and making sure to clean out the power supplies and other nooks and crannies.  Then, we powered everything back up, one at a time, and to our pleasant surprise, all came back up without error.  The total off-air time for the FM station was about 6 hours.

Local Radio, WDEV style

I found this article in an interesting read:

Vermont’s unsung Hurricane Hero

Just as the flood waters were rising and people in Vermont were struggling to escape their homes with merely the clothing on their backs:

…when I checked the CBS Evening News moments later, I watched in astonishment as the head of the National Hurricane Center, with a sweep of his hand toward Vermont, declared that the danger had passed. The storm was over, and overblown. The national media, focused on New York City, missed where Irene hit hardest. Vermont simply didn’t exist.

This is why radio, locally owned, locally run radio is vitally important.  In the midst of the disaster, WDEV opened its phone lines to the listeners and received information about flooded roads, people needing to be rescued, evacuation centers, and a whole host of other things that kept the people informed and the potential death toll low.  All of this while the power was out, the cable system disabled, the internet unavailable and battery-powered radios were people’s only information source.

I have driven by the WDEV AM site in Waterbury, VT several times.  It sits back on a hillside off of US Route 2/I-89 with three, what look like Miliken self-supporting towers.  It signed on in 1931 and has been owned by the Squier family since 1935.  An FM signal was added in 1989.  Stations like this are one of the reasons I still work in this business.

Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene wrap up

Creek overflows roadway, Ulster County, NY, Tropical Storm Irene, August 28, 2011
Creek overflows roadway, Ulster County, NY. Tropical Storm Irene, August 28, 2011

I read through the FCC’s Hurricane Irene information on which stations were off the air and when, I believe there are a few more to add to the list.  Starting from South to North:

  1. WNYC (820 KHz) (New York Public Radio) See WMCA below.
  2. WMCA (570 KHz) (Salem Communications) went off when the fetid swamp known as the Meadowlands flooded, which is where their transmitter sites are located.
  3. WFAF (106.3 MHz) Mount Kisco, (Cumulus Broadcasting) Loss of power, no backup power
  4. WLNA (1420 KHz) Peekskill (Pamal Broadcasting) is another AM located in a fetid swamp, this time in Peekskill.  It is likely this station will be off for several days.
  5. WOSR (91.7 MHz) Middletown (Northeast Public Radio) reasons unknown.
  6. WKIP (1450 KHz) Poughkeepsie (Clear Channel Broadcasting) transmitter room flooded with about 18 inches of water, water overtopped the base insulator and ATU.
  7. WVKR (91.3 MHz) Poughkeepsie (Vassar College) no backup power, back on at 12:00 pm 8/29
  8. WKXP (94.3 MHz) Kingston (Clear Channel Broadcasting) Loss of emergency generator when fan belt broke, restored four hours later.
  9. WAMK (90.9 MHz) Kingston (North East Public Radio) Kingston transmitter site, which looks like it is located in a Revolutionary War relic, is noted for being unreliable.   It goes off frequently and was off and on all day.
  10. WFGB (89.7 MHz) Kingston (Sound of Life Radio) Located in the same building as WAMK, is an LP-1 station.
  11. WKNY (1490 KHz) Kingston (Cumulus Broadcasting) antenna field flooded, back on the air by 9 am 8/29.
  12. WYJB (95.5 MHz) Albany (Pamal Broadcasting) Generator voltage regulator failed, equipment was secured to prevent damage.  Is an LP-1 station.
  13. WZMR (104.9 MHz) Altamont (Pamal Broadcasting) Co-located with WYJB
  14. WAJZ (96.3 MHz) Voorheesville) (Pamal Broadcasting) Co-located with WYJB
  15. WROW (590 KHz) Albany (Pamal Broadcasting) STL passed through the WYJB transmitter site
  16. WPTR (96.7 MHz) Clifton Park (Crawford Broadcasting) reasons unknown
  17. WTMM (104.5 MHz) Mechanicville (Townsquare Media) reasons unknown
  18. WEQX (102.7 MHz) Manchester, VT (Northshire Broadcasting) loss of power

Most of these stations are now back on the air, however, several suffered much water damage due to flooding and will be off for a while.  Lots and lots of roadways washed out, trees down, and power still out for tens of thousands of people, it’s a mess.

These stations that went off the area are but a small fraction of the radio stations that serve the Hudson Valley and upstate NY. Most of the large class B stations, and regional AM stations, which are also the LP-1 EAS stations, stayed on the air for the duration of the storm, as did all of the NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards stations in the area.

Kudos to the DJs, meteorologists, news people, and field reporters for keeping us informed and safe.

Storm Preparation

With Hurricane Irene taking aim at the northeast, now is the time to make preparations for bad weather.  This is the five-day forecast:

Hurricane Irene five day forecast
Hurricane Irene five day forecast

Now, five-day forecasts are notoriously inaccurate. There are too many variables to make it accurate and even the most seasoned meteorologist will admit, it is an educated guess.  However, the large semi-transparent disk is almost always accurate.  Therefore, it seems we may be in for a bit of a storm this weekend, with the eastern end of Long Island and Newport/Providence RI in the landfall area. The Bridgeport, CT stations will likely see the worst of it if the storm follows the predicted course.

Having a good disaster recovery program in place reduces much of the pre-storm work.  This includes backup equipment and personnel allocations to keep the stations on the air and provide valuable information during the event.  Wherever and whenever our clients allow us, we make sure that these systems are properly designed, installed, and working.  When trouble is milling about offshore in the form of a Hurricane, then we make a few final preparations, both personally and for the clients:

  1. Top off all generator fuel tanks and test them.  This includes my home generator.
  2. Make sure all loose items are secured.
  3. Make sure other redundant systems; backup transmitters, backup STLs, and backup transmitter sites are in order and ready to be deployed.
  4. Check the personal safety items; first aid kit, rain gear, flashlight batteries, work gloves, eye protection, hard hat, some type of energy food, and extra water are in the truck.
  5. Get out a clean sleeping bag and a set of clean dry clothes and put them in the truck.
  6. Gas up the chain saw and put it in the truck with extra gas, bar oil, and blade sharpener.

During the event, it is important to recognize when a situation is too dangerous to proceed and wait for the danger to subside. Examples of this are local flooding of roadways, downed power lines, high winds, and or electrical storms while working at transmitter sites.

Radio may have lost much of its relevance as an entertainment medium, however, there is still one thing it does very well; broadcast emergency communications and information to the public.

Update: As of 5 am 8/25 it looks as if the hurricane is making a b-line toward Bridgeport, CT.  Most of the computer models are now in agreement which means the forecast is getting a better handle on the variables and is becoming more accurate.  Strength is still somewhat debatable, but even a Category 1 storm could do significant damage.  We shall see.

Update 2: As of 5 pm 8/26, Irene is still on course for the greater NYC/Long Island sound area.  As much as possible, preparations are complete.  There are some things that cannot be helped, like the height above the mean sea level of the WICC and WEBE transmitter sites (10 feet) or the lack of a generator at WXPK studios, etc.  Estimates are for Hurricane-force winds by this time tomorrow, so the only thing left to do now is get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow may be one of those long days.

Here is an interesting thing; several people have suggested that IBOC signals on both AM and FM NYC stations be turned off so that smaller local stations will be listenable to local residents in NJ and Long Island.  A secondary consideration would be the amount of power IBOC uses and the possibility of backup generators running out of fuel to run something that has little or no audience.  If that isn’t telling….

It should be interesting.