Electronic death

Good audio clip below of the WIYY’s (Rock 98, Baltimore) console melting down during the morning show.  These things happen from time to time. I often found, when it happened at one the stations I was working for, nobody would know anything about it. Nope. Just stopped working. What? No, I don’t know anything about the coffee dripping out of the bottom of the console.

Rock 98, (WIYY) Baltimore, coffee spilled into console courtesy of the Baltimore Sun.

If that link doesn’t work, try this one (7MB .mp3 file).

Pictures and stuff at their facebook page.

Off the air for twenty minutes during morning drive.  I wonder what kind of console it was?  From the pictures on facebook, it looks like Wheatstone stuff.  Ouch! That’s going to leave a mark.

I tried to enforce a no eating no drinking in the studio rule.  Most of the time I was successful, however, there were various incidents over the years.  The worst was the morning show spilling “distilled water” in the console, but not saying anything about it.  Months later, the air monitor stopped muting when the main mic was turned on. Nearly caused the guy who did the spilling to loose his hearing.  Karma.

At another station, someone spilled soda on all the remote mic on/off/cough switches for the guest positions.  That prompted an early morning phone call, which the morning show producer yelled at me and told me I must be at the station in five minutes (I lived about 25 minutes away at the time).  Ha!  I took my sweet time getting there.  The soda cooked all the +5VDC regulators on the guest microphone modules, thus, for the next several days, all the morning show DJ’s had to share one microphone.

Old time radio guys will tell you, do not mess with the engineer.

Why be a Broadcast Engineer?

That question was posed to me this afternoon by a coworker.  It is, indeed, a good question.  Certainly, broadcast engineering is more of a vocation than a career, especially where it concerns radio stations.  Why would anyone work for low wages, long hours, little or no recognition, 24/7 on call, and or unappreciative management.

Further, in this risk adverse, zero defect, micromanaged environment, what is the upside to being a radio, RF or broadcast engineer?

I suppose one would have to have some appreciation for history.  One of the reasons I cover radio history here or certain historical events is that  without knowing the roots of radio, one would be hard pressed to find today’s version of radio broadcasting even remotely interesting.  Understanding the before there was an internet, web streaming, Spotify, Youtube, Sirius/XM, television, cellular telephones, 3G, 4G, and so on, radio was mass media.  Radio was people driven, people oriented, not an automation computer programmed from afar.  People tuned in for the music but also the personality and the personal connection.

Growing up in the late sixties and seventies, radio was my link to the outside world.  As a young boy living in rural upstate New York, my mostly agricultural surroundings seemed a bit provincial.  Through radio, I was able to listen to the clear channel stations from New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Nashville, Charlotte, Pittsburgh, Washington DC, Cincinnati, etc.  The street that I grew up on did not get cable TV until 1980, prior to that, the roof top antenna received exactly two channels, when it wasn’t blown over by a storm.  The black and white TV was often broken, sometimes for over a year.  It was of not great consequence however, when nightly under my pillow, the battery powered transistor radio was employed until midnight or later.

When I got older, shortwave radio kits were built and listened to.

Through that medium, I learned about life outside of my small town.

Author, sitting in front of Atwater-Kent Model 20 regenerative receiver
Author, sitting in front of Atwater-Kent Model 20 regenerative receiver

The upside is being a part of something that can still be great, although those stations are getting harder and harder to find.  Still, there is a certain pride to a job well done, a clean transmitter room, a well tuned machine working into a properly tuned antenna.  Does anyone even appreciate that anymore?  I do.  Lou Dickey, John Dickey, Bob Pittman, Leslie Moonves, and other CEO’s may not care that transmitter site is clean and well kept.  They may, in fact question it as a waste of salary.   I appreciate it. Fellow engineers will appreciate it, too.

Starting a transmitter, especially a high powered tube transmitter, is a joy all it’s own.  Nothing against Nautel, they make fine transmitters, however, when pressing the on button, the outcome is almost assured: The transmitter will turn on.  Not so with certain tube type transmitters.  Pressing the plate on button for one of those can have many different outcomes.  There is certain thrill when it all works right, the first time.  There is a certain pride driving away from a transmitter site, listening to the radio and knowing; I caused that to happen.

Why stealing is bad

Eventually, you will get caught, odds dictate.  The local engineer for Cumulus Broadcasting in Cincinnati found this out earlier in the week.  Of course, innocent until proven guilty, so I won’t assume anything.

Broadcast engineering, especially radio engineering is a small field. Sadly, when something like this happens it makes all radio engineers look bad and there is no good reason or excuse for it.

I have seen several cases where an engineer or technical person has taken advantage of their position to pilfer from a radio station.  These vary from cashing in on dud tubes from a transmitters site to taking high value equipment and selling it on eBay.  I recall on recent instance of backup transmitter and STL systems being sold.  I cannot imagine what these people are thinking.  A transmitter, STL system, console or even a dud tube has a serial number and is traceable.  Anything with a serial number is likely part of a station inventory list and or will have some record of manufacture and sale.

There are instances when old equipment is getting thrown out.  In that situation, I always get permission before removing anything, even from the dumpster.

I have made several trips to the scrap yard with old transmitter chassis, wire or left overs from transmitter installations.  In those circumstances, I always get a receipt and write the source of the scrap on the back.  This way, a record is kept and if there is any questions, I can refer to it.

Generally speaking, it is better to be overly cautious.

The Engineering department bitch-o-gram

I was cleaning out the engineering room at WBEC in Pittsfield, MA today. The previous engineer, Ken Jones, past away last July and we have been hired to do the engineering work. Part of that job is knowing where key information and parts are, thus the clean up.

Whilst in the middle of that fun, I found a sheaf of papers consisting of this:

That is the classic engineering department bitch-o-gram, typed out on a typewriter.  There were no fewer than eight memos to Ron (Stratton), who appears to be the General Manager, from Don Coleman, the lowly engineer.  Since WBEC was a directional AM station, the engineers had to walk out to the towers every day and take a set of base current readings to confirm that the antenna sample system was working properly.  A rule no longer in effect.  Like many AM stations, WBEC is located in a low, swampy area.  You will notice that this engineer had given the swamp a name and one wonders what the significance of that name is.

Back in the day of typewriters, sending off memos was no easy task.  After the document was typed, a copier had to be found, copies made and distributed to all parties.  Often times, distribution consisted of handing a copy directly to the person and waiting for a response.  It was a way to put things in writing and to create a paper trail if needed in the future.

Here is another one:

In this memo, our hero references all of his previous memos on the same topic.  Obviously, this engineer was very concerned about tower access and not breaking his or anyone else’s leg.  I like the invitation for a walk out to the tower.  The studios and general manager’s office are located at the WBEC transmitter site, so it would not have been a long walk.

These are fairly mundane, I can remember typing a few memos to the programming department on asbestos paper to keep them from bursting into flames.  Ahhh, those were the days.

Anyway, it is a lost art, one of many.