It finally happened here !!!! Friday the
27th, the usually quiet SBE Remailer lit up with tons of activity about
how a local LPFM Station was playing something describing the POTUS in
not complimentary terms. Suddenly a lot of broadcast engineers
were tuning to 101.9 to see if they could hear it, while others were
trying to locate the source and location of the emissions. They
found it…a 2-bay antenna mounted in a tall fir tree at a church.
Eventually it was shut down (not sure by what means). Apparently
someone with too much spare time on their hands hacked into the
station's STL (Studio Transmitter Link) system and took over. This
type of action has been taking place all over the country….This time,
it was our turn. I tried to hear the operation, but my location on
the East Hill of Auburn was out of range. There were a number of
twists and turns regarding who owned the equipment and it’s license's
status…Things that will be sorted out in the coming days. The
ability to purchase something relatively cheap to get a radio station's
studio connected to its transmitter via the Internet has opened the door
to a lot of this kind of behavior all over the land, with radio
stations across the country reporting they’d been taken over in a
similar manner, perhaps by the same dude? Unfortunately, just as
was the case of people hacking into EAS equipment a while back, changing
the equipment factory default pass word is apparently far from the
minds of all too many. With the inter-connection of the Web – Who
knows where the source of this ‘programming’ was located. Sure do
miss the good old days before this kind of mischief would have been
A number of people are now, openly, questioning the need for ABIP.
Why should a station pay for someone to come in to determine whether or
not their station is FCC compliant when the FCC is backing away from
enforcement to such a degree? The Commission has created a couple
of new systems that will enable them to sit back in WDC and determine
compliance in a couple of areas remotely….Namely, EAS and Public
Files. When the FCC does get around to enforcement, the new tool
is huge, perhaps vicious, fines as opposed to random inspections.
Kudos to the Chapter Board for – FINALLY – locating Chapter Meetings in
the Tukwila/South Center area. The last meeting was at the Old
Spaghetti Factory….A location that appears to be acceptable to many as
there was a great turnout. Nice room, good food and service
etc. Best of all – A great location for me
Whew!!!...about the best word I can use to describe the recent election
cycle. Sure glad that we don’t do that more often. Now we
are all in ‘hide and watch’ mode to see just what kind of changes will
take place and, more specifically, how they will impact us. One
thing that we do know, the FCC is going to look a bit different.
Under the leadership of Ajit Pai who is reported to being nominated by
the new President. Time will tell just how this will impact the
broadcast industry…Gordon Smith of NAB has already issued a statement
that he supports the nomination.
On this topic – Mr. T is being billed as a Law & Order type of
person – I wonder if he will do anything to restore the Enforcement
Bureau of the FCC? Seems to me that restoration of the ability of
the Commission to rapidly enforce their rules would be in the best
interests of everyone. IMHO the present situation is making it
just a little too easy for the ‘mice to play’.
Other big news around here has been the Weather. Around the
Seattle area we have, other than for a few weeks of much colder than
normal weather, managed to not have any major snow or ice issues.
Not so for Portland. Interestingly, Arthur Willetts and I were in
PDX attending the Chapter 124 SBE Meeting and left town just an hour or
so before about a foot of snow landed on the Rose City, effectively
bringing things there to a stop. That storm's snow did not make it
past Olympia. Later Portland got to enjoy one of their classic
ice storms. They are uniquely situated for those things with a lot
of frigid air blowing in from the east through the Columbia Gorge being
overridden by warm wet air from the Southwest. I recall when I
lived in the Northeast part of town, that it would be snowing, while SE
Portland was getting rain. Not many places have that much weather
variety within the city limits. Then there was the winter of
1949/50 when the Columbia River froze over. In January of 1950,
Portland officially had 41.5 inches of snow. This storm was,
officially, the 5th largest snowfall in a 24 hour period according to
Around the Seattle area the only real impact on broadcast operations has
been at higher elevations. December 8th was the last time I could
drive up West Tiger Mountain. I spoke with Terry Spring on the
27th of January where he reported that vehicle access to West Tiger was
still a no-go. I made a trip up there in Doug Fisher’s ATV with
Tracks on Dec 31. Here are a couple of pictures I took during that
The first one taken looking out the door of the transmitter building -
This one showing the road to the site –
Looking at how 2016 finished up in Seattle …It can be described in one word – WET – with about 10 inches above normal rainfall.
Not everyone was unhappy with snow in Seattle’s hills – I spotted this at the side the road on Cougar Mountain -
I’m sure that you have run across something that you would have loved to
be able to ask a teacher in your past. Here’s one. I recall
when I was a kid learning about Roman Numerals and a question that I
failed to ask – What is the Roman Numeral for ZERO? (The answer might
Are batteries burning business? Samsung got burned with battery
issues in their devices that caused them to recall a bunch of
products. Recently it was announced that they discovered what was
termed a ‘defect’ in batteries coming from two suppliers. Late in
January we learned that HP is recalling over 100,000 batteries for fear
they might overheat and cause fires. You have to admit that great
progress has been made in recent years in battery technology…however it
seems that some battery makers are having better luck than others, like
car makers. Perhaps they should talk to each other?
Before I forget – I had an enjoyable lunch recently with Jon Owen.
You may wonder who that is…If you have a piece of GatesAir equipment,
he may well be the person you reach on the phone when you call in for
technical assistance. What you don’t likely know is that Jon is a
Seattle resident. He and his wife, dog and two cats, live in West
Seattle. Congrats to Jon are in order for getting his Amateur
Radio (Ham) license, he is K7QXQ. I first met Jon when he was
working as the assistant chief at Entercom in Rochester, N.Y.
Up in Bellingham – NWPR’s Translator that was on 101.3 is now on
99.7. 101.3 worked very well until the time that CFMI in Vancouver
turned on their HD Radio system. HD Radio makes use of adjacent
channels to operate, meaning that 100.9 and 101.3 were suddenly occupied
with digital information. The effect of this was to significantly
reduce the coverage of the translator. For operators of stations
running HD, there is a side benefit that is not often discussed…and that
is it does a great job of keeping lessor powered operations, like
LPFM’s and Translators, from operating on their first adjacent
channels. Bellingham is, for the most part, line of sight to the
major FM’s in Vancouver.
Every year, just after the holidays, retailers look at their sales
numbers and make announcements. This year several retailers were
obviously not pleased. Sears shocked many when they announced that
they were selling their Craftsman Tool brand. Macy’s announced
store closings, some in this area. Obviously one local Seattle
company is having a major impact on all of this….Amazon. According
to reports, Amazon is now worth more than Macy’s, Kohl’s, Sears, JC
Penny, Nordstrom, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, Dillards, Gap and Target
– COMBINED! Their market value is now over $370 Billion (yes with
a B). Want more stats on how big Amazon has become? How
about $160 Billion more than Walmart, twice as much as Home Depot and
six times as much as Lowes. Always nice to have a local outfit
Observation department – Have you noticed how the RJ45 connector is
being phased in …In place of other connectors? It used to be the
RJ was for Data etc.…Not any more – The RJ has been taking the place of
XLR’s, DB 9’s etc. Who would have thought?
Did you see this piece the other day? Well, here it is again.
The part that hit me the hardest is that I have been sitting in the SECC
(State EAS Committee Chair) now for 20 years. Would anyone like
to take over? (Please) Another part that hit me….I have been
working in broadcasting through ALL of these systems…Yup, Conelrad was
in effect when I started. I recall our old Morrow Conelrad
receiver – The little radio was made in Salem, Oregon. Morrow also
made, for a time, Amateur Radio Equipment. Conelrad came at a
time that it was feared that enemy bombers would home-in on broadcast
signals. The plan was for AM Stations (FM was not involved if I
recall) that were near 640 or 1240 were to change frequencies of their
transmitters (Many AM Transmitters of that day had provisions for
that). These stations were connected, via a wire line, to a
central point where the stations would be switched on and off in an
effort to confuse those that were using them to obtain their
targets. If you were not near 640 or 1240, or your equipment would
not work there …You had to turn your station off until you received an
‘all-clear’ to turn it back on. Very crude by today’s standards.
Another birthday to note – The Apple iPhone is 10 years old.
Certainly another example of how that California company has made major
impacts in what we buy and use.
Here’s another one – GatesAir is 95. Granted the company, for a
time, after a sale, dropped the name Gates and became Harris. The
more recent sale brought back the Gates name as GatesAir. When I
went to work for KMO in 1966 they had a Gates Audio Console – It was
HUGE. My first big Gates transmitter was at KMO in Tacoma….A
BC5A. That thing was HUGE …You could walk into and around the
inside of the power supply (OSHA would have a cow). It was about
the size of, at least, 6 of today’s Nautel NX50 50,000 watt
transmitters, yet the old KMO unit only produced 5 kW. The mate to
that rig used to live at KIT in Yakima, which is no surprise, as the
two stations used to be co-owned.
Another tidbit from that era – In the middle 60’s radio stations
purchased their broadcast equipment (all of it) from one of three
traveling vendors working for Gates, RCA or Collins. There were
not BSW’s, SCMS’s etc.…No Internet and 800 numbers. Each of these
vendors would leave you with their latest catalog. I still have
some of them when I want a walk down memory lane.
Speaking of old things - Think back to 1956. If you were in the
Seattle/Tacoma area …Were you listening to FM Radio back then?
Chances are the answer is 'no' as there were not many stations on the
air. How about how many NCE stations? If you happened to be
in Tacoma’s suburb of Lakewood and tuned to 90.9 you would have heard a
small station whose studio and transmitter were in a little wood-frame
building on the campus of Clover Park High School with the call letters
of KCPS. Many years, call letters and physical locations later,
that station is still on the air, known today as KVTI. The station
is now on the campus of Clover Park Technical College and is part of
Northwest Public Radio. The date the station was first licensed
- (according to the FCC’s records) Nov 22, 1955.
My introduction to FM in a vehicle was when I purchased a little FM
Converter which I stashed in the glove box of my new 1963 VW
Beetle. People riding with me would marvel at how good the radio
sounded. I recall one time driving over a steel girder bridge on
Highway 99 listening to the radio all the way. My passenger was
blown away by the fact that we could hear the radio while crossing the
bridge (AM radio did not work there). We’ve come a long way
I’m sure, like me, you’ve been reading about consumers called ‘Cord
Cutters’. There’s a new report out that states that there has been
a 15% increase in homes that are now classified at ‘Antenna
Only’. Another item to come out of this survey is that 12% of
viewers down-graded their cable or satellite provider's service.
Certainly good news for broadcasters that have been questioning the need
for transmission equipment. Meanwhile, there are other reports
that some 74 percent of homes in the U.S. have Internet connected
TV’s….This is up about 25% since 2013. Sounds like the cable
companies are going to continue to do well by providing broad-band, as
consumers shift away from conventional cable that provided scads of
Speaking of Local Institutions that have done well - - - Congratulations
to Dave Ross who has renewed his deal with Westwood, where he provides
commentaries. Dave has been a fixture on KIRO (AM then FM) for
many years. My claim to fame is that I was actually a guest on his
By now you may have figured out that you can no longer call your next
door neighbor on the phone by dialing 7 digits. Yes, our area
continues to grow and with that comes the requirement to dial 10 digits
as Century Link overlays another Area Code. Now we have 206,
253, 425, 360 and (the new one) 564. So when someone tells you
that their number starts with 564…Don’t think they are calling from out
On a serious note – There have been some interesting discussions in
various meetings I’ve been in recently concerning the ability that
broadcasters have to do field reporting after a major disaster such as
the forecast ‘big one’. A lot of this thinking is the result
of after the recent Cascadia Rising Exercise. The foundation of
this issue is that that we have become so reliant on cellular systems
for our voice and data communications…Arguably, over-reliant.
It seems to me that, perhaps, too many conventional, privately owned,
communications systems have been sent to the dumpster due to the feature
rich capabilities of cellular systems. This is not just a
broadcast issue, but rather a situation that involves communications
systems in the public and private sector. You can’t totally blame
those that utilize these systems…Let’s face it… Their capabilities and
features far out-shine systems of old. Today we find that the
majority of our communications systems involve either the Internet or
cellular in in some manner.
Dealing with the Broadcast side of things, first in Radio –
It used to be that many radio stations had their own 2-way radio system
for use by their news or engineering departments. Broadcasting
from remote locations was commonly accomplished via RPU (Remote Pickup)
wireless systems often call Marti’s, named after the popular equipment
that many stations employed. Flash forward and you find that
stations today have shelved these systems in favor of feature rich
cellular based systems. Today you can plug your microphone into a
smart-phone and you are able to be on the air from almost
anywhere. Additionally, this equipment is small and can be
operated by non-technical people. I recall the days when on a
Saturday afternoon the UHF RPU (450mHz) spectrum in Seattle was wall to
wall remote broadcasts – today the spectrum is quiet. Those
Wil-Burt masts and remote trucks are probably all gone.
Television has followed the same path….Largely via the use of the
technology of what’s called ‘Bonding’ or the combining of more than one
cellular data channel. This has provided TV with the ability to
have those live video shots while driving down the street, etc.
Like radio, a lot of point to point (2 GHz) systems have been idled
…and, in some cases, removed from service.
Now the big question….With all of these systems providing the capability
that once was in-house…What happens when, after a major disaster, these
systems crash? Some stations have, in my view, correctly read
this and have elected to keep their in-house field to studio equipment
operational….Just in case.
Another interesting aspect of all of this - I recall the days when
a radio or TV station wanted to originate from a remote location, they
would call the ‘Telephone Company’ to provide the circuit…Slowly
broadcasters installed their own equipment. Today - the
‘telephone company’ is likely a wireless phone company and, to some
extent, we have come full-circle.
A lot of broadcasters have been selling their tower sites, and many TV
broadcasters have been wondering just how long they will actually need
those power hungry big plants. A couple of interesting things
going on – 1) The number of TV Viewers that are using Antennas is
actually increasing. 2) The firms that are buying these towers,
and those of wireless carriers, have become huge. Take for example
– American Tower – This firm now claims to have a portfolio of 57,000
communications sites. In the Seattle area alone they have multiple
sites on locations such as Tiger and Cougar Mountains as well as in
town to include the Channel 11 tower on Capitol Hill and the Pigeon
Point AM tower.
I have been amused at the term that has cropped up in the recent
election cycle – Fake News. What has made this a huge factor has
been the use of social media to spread news stories of questionable
accuracy all over the world. In fact, one of the major -fake news-
stories involving a presidential candidate was originated well off
shore. This has had quite an impact on news organizations that are
supposed to sort out this kind of thing and give us – straight and
accurate news. The term ‘Fake News’ is a new one….Us old-timers
used to simply call it Rumors.
I love studies – How about the one out of Stanford University that
recently disclosed that multitasking is actually bad for you?
Yep…That study showed that it kills your performance and might even
damage your brain! Those that claim to be great at multitasking
may well be great at another skill – Pulling your leg Perhaps Mom knew better when she tried to instruct us to do ‘first things first’ or ‘stay on task’?
One thing that Radio does not lack - The number of formats that
appear to appeal to every possible taste. The question is which
formats are the most popular? Nielsen has the answers – In 2016
News Talk was the #1 format with 9.6 % of the audience tuning in.
Perhaps the elections had something to do with this? Next was
what’s called CHR with 8.1% followed by AC with 7.5%. Country is
right behind with 7.4%. Interesting that what they call Mexican
Regional is up to 3.7% right behind All Sports.
Some not too pleasant news just after the start of the new year for a
number of staffers at Fisher Plaza with the announcement that Sinclair
was cutting a number of employees…including their investigative
reporting team. Reportedly the cuts impacted other stations with
some 54 nation-wide receiving pink-slips. Over across the street
from Safeco Field there were other reductions as Northwest Cable News
(NWCN) suspended operations.
Meanwhile good news at the local iHeartMedia radio factory – Marty
Hadfield was delighted to announce that Jeff White, an engineer from
iHeart Portland will be moving back to the Seattle area and is joining
him in Seattle as his Assistant Chief Engineer. Marty added - Jeff
has been with iHM Portland since March of 2013 and previously was CE
for Morris Broadcasting. Jeff has also been an active engineering
With news that the Seattle Times is cutting staff, comes news from the
recent study that found newspapers continue to reach 69% of the
population every month. (That’s 169,000,000 if you are
counting.) Does this mean that newspapers are rebounding?
Not really. The place with the greatest increase in advertising
revenue continues to be Digital.
The two big, hugely in debt, broadcasters continue to be sources of how
they are able to keep the bear away and avoid the ‘B-Word’.
Cumulus Media and iHeart continue to operate and do the fiscal
dance. Amazing, to say the least. More amazing is some of
their leaders are getting huge bonuses.
I shot this one recently as I was coming down Striped Peak (west of Port
Angeles). Beautiful piece of the Olympic Range peaking over a
cloud bank. There are so many scenes like this that continue to
confirm that I live in a beautiful place.
Lots of news out of Norway this month as they begin the process of
turning off FM Radio. Apparently not everyone is pleased by the
decision. A lot of European countries have been making great
strides with various digital radio systems and are eager to move away
from anything analog.
Another survey with a local flavored result – In this case – the study
of the 50 worst commutes in the country (based on commute times).
Coming in at #37 – Kent, WA just south of Seattle. Figures!
So when a local engineer retires – Where does he go? Someplace
warm with tons of sunshine?...Well not always – Witness this picture of
the new residence for Tom McGinley who retired this past year from CBS
in Seattle to Missoula, Montana.
One of the issues facing the makers of radio
receivers is being able to have one platform that would decode all the
different digital radio schemes – Apparently the problem has been
resolved by a firm called NXP that has developed a one-chip solution to
the problem that will decode all of the popular, but different systems
in use today.
Sad news this month….The passing of Bill Sacks on January 12th. Bill was, for many years, an audio innovator who was known by many in this industry.
So what is Amazon up to? They have filed with the Feds for
permission to test what they are calling experimental wireless
communications technologies using frequencies from 734 to 2170 MHz,
apparently in the Tri-Cities…Hmmm?
Remember me telling you about the dump-truck that caught the guy wire of
a tower at Cougar Mt recently? The tower is back up and so is
this sign -
This month’s feature…..ARE YOU OLDER THAN DIRT?
To determine the answer to that question, I have a number of questions about things you may (or may not) remember -
It took three minutes for the TV to warm up?
Do You remember the Hoffman ‘Easy Vision’ and the Sylvania with ‘Halo Light’?
Telephone numbers with a word prefix...Yukon 2-6012 and Party
lines. And for old folks in the Seattle Area - How about Sunset
Hi-Fi's & 45 RPM records.
78 RPM records!
Mimeograph paper. (And purple fingers)
Saturday morning cartoons weren't 30-minute commercials for action figures?
If you can remember most or all of these, Then You
Lived!!!!!!! And – You are older than dirt!!! Just remember a couple of things –
Be very very thankful that you are able to
remember these things and recall the friends that we have lost that are
younger than we are.
Next time a younger person remarks about your age – Remind them that old
age is a privilege that is NOT granted to everyone. For those
that have achieved it, they likely don’t regret it – but rather are
That’s it for this month –
Think SPRING and warm weather!!!!!
Lord Willing – I’ll do another edition of this column next month.