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Clay Freinwald

Clay’s Corner for March 2014

Providing news and views from a broadcast engineer's perspective since September 1986



Well….Phil was right!  The famous Punxsutawney Ground Hog predicted more winter….For many in the eastern part of the US this little critter has proved his worth as record breaking winter weather has been relentless.  Here on the ‘Left-Coast’ that big blocking high finally moved on restoring our normal winter weather pattern…Lots of rain in the low-lands and lotsa snow in the Mountains.  Recently Bellingham got a quick foot of the white stuff.  For a time, there was mounting concern that our meager snowpack was going to be mean bad news for our area that relies on the melting of mountain snow for water on both sides of the Cascades.  Down in California the situation is more dire with a declared drought equaling a condition not seen in a very long time…You can imagine how our area would react if we got less than 10% of our normal rainfall.  Seattle with 3.6 inches of rain in a year!!  I recall, many years ago, there was a lot of talk about diverting some of the output of the Columbia River southward.  Would not be surprised if this idea re-surfaces.

More comparisons between Seattle and Denver after the Superbowl win by the Seahawks.  This time comparing our airports….Here Denver leads by a wide margin if you measure air-traffic with 1738.  Seattle is only half that size with 862 flights per day and Portland (PDX) is even smaller with 591.

MSN recently listed the 10 best cities in the US…Interestingly Denver came in #8 while Seattle was #2 and Portland was #1.

Looking at the Denver vs. Seattle matter from other perspectives –
  • 57.7% of Seattle residents 25 and over have a BS or higher degree….In Denver that figure is 44.7%
  • The median annual income in Seattle is $64,473 while in Denver the figure is 50,488….Perhaps related, the median home value in Seattle $415,800 while in Denver its 251,200.
  • Where Denver scores is in the category of average time for commuting.  Seattle is 25.9 minutes while the Mile-High city checks in at 24.6.
  • Using Neilson…Seattle is a much larger market at #13 with a population of 3,585,700 while Denver is #19 with over a million less, 2,486,500.


On a personal note – I can’t help but notice that two of the organizations I belong to are celebrating how long they have been in existence.  ARRL (The Amateur Radio Organization) is 100 (I’ve been a life member for over 40) and SBE is celebrating 50 (I’ve been a member now going on 47 of those years) ….This all happens when you get old!


The age of Lower Power FM or LPFM is certainly upon us.  According to published reports almost 3000 applications have been filed and over 1000 have been granted.  This process will certainly lead to the cramming of more signals in the FM band (Apparently we are to believe that this is a great idea because is enables more people to operate radio stations).  Here in the Seattle area, unlike much of the East Coast, the FM band is relatively free of adjacent channel issues.  You only get a sense of it when you tune below 92 Mhz.  An interesting aspect of this activity is now objections are being handled.  Existing stations, if they are at all concerned, are watching this process ‘like a hawk’.  Already in the Seattle area, some stations have taken action to prevent degradation to their coverage.  One of the casualties is certain to be the areas of bonus coverage that many have enjoyed since day one.  I could not help but think of this as I was listening to KMPS-HD2 the other day in Port Angeles.


A lot of eyes are on Aereo these days.  Recently a Judge in Utah released a preliminary injunction against it.  In this case those that were against the start-up were cable and broadcast stations and companies.  This is just one round of a fight that is certain to have more…For the latest in this battle – Put Aereo into your favorite search engine and get the latest.  This is a battle that many are saying is certain to end up at the Supreme Court.


From the looking – way back – department:

When I was a kid in Cub Scouts one of the most exciting things I got to build was a ‘Crystal-Set’ (Set was then used to describe a radio receiver).  Today if you were to attempt to do this you would go out a purchase a diode for the ‘detector’ that would be the heart of the project.  Back in those days we did not have that luxury as no one made any…Unless you wanted to use a tube and that would violate the rule of no external power.  What you did was actually purchase a crystal and use a small piece of wire called a ‘cats whisker’…with the set complete, and your headphones on, you would find the magic location on the crystal that would turn it into a detector and – viola – you had a radio!  It was not too long before enterprising folks started making crystals with an internal junction (cats whisker).  Pictured below is an example of what they looking like…way back when.  Yes, this was an AM only receiver…and that was OK because there weren’t any FM stations to receive anyway.  There are a lot of museums dedicated to the rich history on which the broadcast industry is built.  Take a few minutes and look at www.radiomuseum.org for a listing of where you can spend some time…Looking back.


Fixed Crystal Detector

 

The HD Radio bandwagon seems to be gaining steam with the news that, reportedly, 17.5 million HD Radios have been sold.  The safe-haven for Radio – Motor vehicles – is where the majority of these ‘sets’ are located and the numbers appear to be on their way up with frequent announcements from automakers that they too are on the ‘band-wagon’.  As I have stated, now is the time for Broadcasters to take another step and get those power increases up and running.  The last thing we need now is for tons of new HD Radio owners complaining about drop outs.  If you have any doubt about the value of increasing HD power - Go out and compare the local CBS stations that are running more than -20dbc with those that are not - I’ve done it - Have you?  Another place where progress is needed is at the retail level.  How is it that many retailers still don’t have products for sale?  I did note a local TV spot however where a firm that installs auto-stereos was featuring an HD Radio model.  The spot clearly showed the HD Radio display on the front of the unit.


I probably had the same reaction as you did reading about the fact that 2.6 inches of snow paralyzed the city of Atlanta.  Gee, everyone know it would take at least 6 inches of snow to do the same to Seattle.  :)  The impact on areas that rarely see snow and ice was certainly dramatic.  In the world of broadcasting the impact was, occasionally, severe.  Many FM and TV stations don’t have radomes or heaters on their antennas and were, as a result, forced to reduce power etc.  In some cases, the weight of the ice apparently was worse than their occasional hurricane force winds and brought down towers.  Here’s an example of a tall tower for an FM station in Augusta that ended up as a pile of scrap metal.  In this shot you can see the tower, along with its transmission lines, neatly folded and setting on top of the transmitter building, with some on the ground in the lower left.

Augusta GA Tower

 

Now if you want to see some serious ice accumulation….Think about what it looks like where spilled water comes out of one of our local hydroelectric dams in the mountains near here. (W7AML Picture)


Serious Ice
 

Not exactly broadcasting news, however I could not help but notice Sears is pulling out of their historic location in Sodo (South of Downtown Seattle for non-locals) where it’s operated for over 100 years.  The building has been more recently thought of for Starbucks, whose logo is the one that catches your eye.  We’ve seen a lot of coming and going in that area.  Gone are the Rainier Brewery (even though the big –R- is back)…Amateur Radio Supply
left quite a while back.  The KAYO studio and tower used to set just north of 4th and Lander.  We had many SBE meetings at Andy’s Diner and just down the street on 6th, many a Cougar Lunch was held.  Incoming have been two huge sports stadiums (Safeco and C-Link) and more recently the area has seen an influx of car dealers.

From the department of  - What took them so long - NAB recently said that Broadcasters and wireless operators should not be designated as co-primary spectrum users by the FCC…To which I say – DUH !  Seems to me that the FCC is trying to reduce their own injuries by coming up with these sharing arrangements that have the effect of telling competing industries to duke it out themselves.  This would be like the Feds declaring they no longer want to protect certain lands for particular uses and telling preservationists and industries that would like to log or mine those lands that they will become co-primary users…..Good luck.  This is not what I call spectrum management – What do you call it?  Certainly Canada and Mexico are watching this battle wondering how these decisions will impact their spectrum users.

Here’s something you don’t hear about very often.  CBS requested permission to erect another tower on the site of WPHT-AM.  Certainly there were residents that expressed concerns about radiation etc., but in the end, the Zoning Board voted 7 to Zip to approve it.  Towers are, of course, devices designed to cause harm in the minds of many…..Just look at the battle in Everett.  I recall, many years ago, erecting a Ham Radio tower in my backyard.  Before I put any antennas on it, some neighbors stopped by to express concerns about various issues.  Gotta wonder how the wireless folks were able to erect a zillion towers across the country.
   

Meanwhile, just to the North of Seattle the battle of Point Roberts continues.  What makes this interesting is that the FCC has approved the application for the multi-tower array for KRPI, leaving final approval with Whatcom County.  The site is on a little finger of real estate that sticks into US territory from Canada.  In fact, the only way get there (by land) is to drive into and out of Canada.  The residents of Tsawwassen, just across the border (in B.C.) are really upset.  As is the case with many issues involving these matters, the objectors express concerns about health.  You would think that, but now, with zillions of AM Radio towers all over the world that the health impact would have been resolved long ago.  It may have been, but to the residents near this site, it’s a focus of their concern.    Wonder if this would have been handled different if the station were owned by CBS?


Point Roberts sign


The Seahawks participation in the Superbowl had a major impact in this area's TV viewing.  It was reported that 2.5 million local viewers tuned in and the game had a 56.7 rating and a 92 share.  That will go down in the record books for sure.  The victory parade was hugely popular too.  My #1 Son lives in Boise and is a huge Hawks fan in a city that has a lot of Bronco support.  He called me the day before to announce that he and Teresa want to come over to the parade.  He got off work at 7 PM and showed up at 3:15 a.m. for a couple of hours sleep.  I then took them to the Sounder Station here in Auburn.  Wow! …I’ve never seen that many people waiting for a train.  Understand ridership hit an all-time high.  Even the Washington State Ferry reported record breaking crowds coming from the West to witness this historic event.


One interesting aspect of this event was that the Cellphone systems crashed.  Apparently lots of people trying to send pictures to their friends etc.  Last time I recall that taking place was after the Nisqually Quake.  The reliance that the average person places on these devices to work whenever they want them to is interesting.  Explaining terms like ‘Concentration Ratio’ or not using them so they would work should someone get hurt etc. does little good.  I have no idea how you could discourage people from using their phones in events like this.  Certainly radio and TV were there, albeit in some cases, with not a lot of planning time.
  

If you think that Radio is dead - Get your head around this item - Nielsen recently reported that 92% of Americans over 12 years of age listen to Radio…..or 242 Million are listening each week.  No word on how many of those are listening to AM however.


It’s been some time since an AM station went dark around here…but it looks like that time has come again.  This time it will be KARR in Kirkland.  Their transmitter site, located on Kirkland’s Rose-Hill is surrounded by residential uses, and a church.  The location is the home of KARR (1460) as well as the night operation for KKDZ on 1250, all sharing some 6 towers on the site.  Apparently neither station owns the land and the land owner determined that it’s time for a change.  KARR, operated by Family Stations has announced that the end of February they will be off the air.  KKDZ has apparently filed for an STA to operate nights from their West Seattle day site.


There are a number of items to consider when you think about this story.  First is, of course, not owning the dirt under your business can be risky should the dirt owner wish to do something different when your lease runs out.  Second is having a multi-tower AM in a residential area like Kirkland, where demand and prices are high, is not good.  This is likely why the 3 AM’s to the South of Bellevue (near Factoria) are likely safe.  They are in a swamp that is unlikely to see any development.
 

Even if the station had owned the dirt, the value of the property would have likely exceeded what they could reasonably make in this day and age of diminished returns from AM station operations.  I understand that houses in that area are selling for north of 500K.  Across the country, AM’s are going dark for similar economic reasons.  The question now is will KARR find a site and ever return to the air?  I guess only time will tell, but it does not look good.  As for KKDZ, I recall working there, many years ago, when it was KTW.  Back in those days, they didn’t have a night site and the station signed off at sunset to protect KWSU in Pullman.  Likely if they do operate Non-Directionally from their Pigeon Point transmitter site, it will be with very low power and they will essentially be a Day-Timer again.
   

Every once in a while you hear about one company purchasing another and you wonder how they came together.  Similar thoughts entered the minds of many as it was announced that Belden (the maker of wire and cable) was buying Grass Valley, known for their TV broadcast equipment.  Perhaps this is no different than when a venture capital group purchased Harris?


MSN’s Healthy Living segment recent stated that watching TV for 6 or more hours per day could take 5 years off your life.  My guess is that MSN does not own any TV stations…Guess MSNBC does not count any more.


On Feb. 14th the FCC issued a public notice on what they call ‘Process Reform’…Let me quote from the piece –

The Report seeks to further the goal of having the agency operate in the most effective, efficient and transparent way possible.  It examines the agency’s internal operations with the aim of improving the overall functioning of the agency and its service to the public.  Based on both internal and external suggestions for process reform, the Report identifies initial steps in what will be an ongoing process of re-examining, and revising, the way the Commission does its work.


The Report proposes more than 150 process reform recommendations covering a wide range of specific topics.  For more info – Check out -
GN Docket No. 14-25.


I received an interesting email from Dan, WA7HTP
[mailto:ru223w@hotmail.com] He is now the new owner of the old 1 kW transmitter from Forks which is not on the Ham Bands.  Dan is looking for broadcast type (AM) audio processor for it - If you have one laying around - drop him a note.


Recently,  in this column, I have been writing about what I view as a problem with our educational system….Especially in the area of STEM.  Now this from Gallup - More than one-third of business leaders are not confident that U.S. college students are graduating with the skills and competencies that their businesses need.  

The FCC has been making noises regarding what are called JSA’s or Joint Sales Agreements.  This is where one station agrees to take over the sales for another market station (for a price).  Obviously there are those that are concerned about this representing a concentration of power in two-few hands.  Looks like the new FCC Honcho, Tom Wheeler, may move ahead with regulations that would make these deals harder.  Interesting how the Cable outfits can buy each other and this does not create a stink…Is it just me or are the Feds up to something when it comes to broadcasting?
 

Because I am a poor speller, I usually have ‘Spellcheck’ look at what I have written.  I could not help but smile at Word 2010’s suggestion for Superbowl  - - “superb owl’…Wonder what the NFL thinks about that?


Till next month – Thanks for the read.
 

Clay, K7CR, CPBE