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Clay Freinwald

Clay’s Corner for March 2015

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



My does time fly...Can you imagine that NEXT MONTH is NAB in Las Vegas?  April 11-16 this year.

Coming up really soon, March 7th, is the Mike and Key Club electronic flea Market at the Puyallup Fair Grounds.  As I mentioned last month – a number of broadcast engineers make it to this annual event…Hope to see you there.

Looking a bit further out – June 5, 6 and 7th is the 33rd Annual SEA-PAC event in Seaside, Oregon that bills itself as the Northwest’s Largest Ham Convention.

On the subject of time flying…I just renewed my SBE membership.  Been doing this a very long time – The card reads I have been a consecutive member since 2/5/1968….Whoa!  That’s 47 years ago.

For some odd reason I thought that winter was on its way…I had just put my M/T’s on my pickup and enjoyed a ‘chain-free’ trip to West Tiger in about 6 inches of fresh snow….Then it warmed and melted and it’s stayed that way.  According to what I recently read, our mountain snowpack is at just 39% of normal and that road to West Tiger has remained 100% snow-free….Snoqualmie pass only had 15 inches of snow by mid-February….Won’t be long before they announce that they are open for late winter ‘grass skiing’.  According to forecasters, and perhaps our local groundhog….we just might not have any more winter this year.  There is a chance that we will pay for this with water rationing in some areas.  I recall a previous summer where we who live in Auburn could wash our cars but those that live in Seattle could not.  For those that read this column from other areas, this is additional evidence that it does - NOT - rain all the time in Seattle.  Meanwhile, the NE part of the country is getting hammered with one snow-storm after another while we enjoy our spring/winter weather.  Cutting one's lawn in January is just plain wrong!

Seems like every month of late I am writing about the expansion of Alpha Media (who operates a cluster of stations in PDX (Portland, OR).  Their most recent addition is a cluster of stations in Virginia.  The group has now grown to 93 stations.

There is a lot of effort being made to gain acceptance for 4K TV.  The question comes back to the age old question of content.  Not many folks are willing to shell-out for a new 4K TV when there is so little compelling content.  Tragically, radio has, in most cases, not learned this lesson with their HD-Radio.  Instead of providing compelling content that would create demand by consumers for HD Radios…Many radio stations put less than popular programming on their HD channels and then point to the fact that there is less than spectacular demand to purchase HD Radios.  Interesting how TV and Radio view these matters.  Perhaps the movie Field of Dreams distorted the minds of some?  The idea of ‘build it and they will come’ seems to be a common thread here.  With that being said, kudos to those stations that have indeed invested in their radio HD and TV multicast channels and are indeed providing unique and compelling programming.

This past month I managed to do something that I rarely do….Get away for awhile…Actually only a week in this case.  The location was Depoe Bay where the weather was fantastic – Just because I like to share, this is what it looked like from the back-deck of our room –

Depoe Bay View
 
I shot this, in 16x9 with my Lumix FZ28.  For those of you not familiar with the Oregon Coast – Depoe Bay is between Lincoln City and Newport.  If you have never been to the Oregon Coast – You have missed one of the most beautiful places on earth.

What happens when a company becomes too big?  Well in this country we don’t always complement a company for their success.  Back in the last century, when I started in broadcasting in Tacoma, I recall the evil empire – It was the newspaper owned KTNT – They had an AM, and FM, a cable system, a TV station and, horrors, a newspaper too.  Of course, in those days, only a struggling smaller station, without all those assets felt that way.  That collection was broken up and it’s pieces owned by various firms today.

Years later that little local software creator reached the size threshold that made them despised by many.  In this case the firm's name, Microsoft, were not enough…many personalized it by naming one of its founders, Bad Bill Gates to their vocabulary of negative terms.  Funny how times have changed.  I wonder how many now are bad-mouthing Apple, now they have a market-cap that is twice that of Microsoft?  Interesting that Boeing is not criticized like Microsoft was…perhaps that’s because most folks don’t have an airplane sitting on their desk?  Our area is the home of some other pretty impressive businesses – Amazon, Starbucks and Costco.  They must be doing something right as they were recently listed near the top of the most admired businesses.  Another local outfit has recently gotten a whole lot bigger…Expedia who recently gobbled up Orbitz and Travelocity.  Getting back to broadcasting, after the FCC opened the doors to multiple ownership of up to 8 radio stations, Entercom became the first group to own 8 stations in Seattle.  They have since shrunk back to 4.  Many had predicted that there would be 2 or 3 eight-station groups in Seattle radio…That has not happened.  Perhaps the fear of being too big is still with us?

Finally!!!  KXOT has been sold.  This 91.7 station, formally located on the building top tower at Bates Technical School in Tacoma, and known then at KTOY, and later moved to Indian Hill and finally to the KCPQ-TV Tower on Gold Mountain, has been purchased by Bible Broadcasting Network (BBN).  Capital Radio Partners has been operating the station for some time airing the audio from TVW.  Sale Price was announced as 2.4 Million.  According to Wikipedia, BBN is headquartered in Charlotte, NC and operates 44 full power stations and 87 low power translators in 31 states.  This will be their second station in Washington.  The other, KWFJ,  is located in Roy, south of Tacoma.

Bible Broadcasting Network
 
I have to commend the Seattle Times for having the guts to take on a sensitive subject.  We all know what happens when someone brings up the topic of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)….Well the Seattle Times took a deep breath and openly discussed  - ‘Geography’ in a recent edition of their Sunday magazine.  What was particularly gutsy was their mentioning of such terms as “Mercator Projection”…Then they pulled a doozie….They wrote “Look at a real map”.  Come on now…No one has a real-map anymore…You know, the ones printed on paper.  They went away with service attendants that pumped our gas and gave away glass-ware.  Everyone knows that a map is some drawing of highways that appears on your Garmin or a newer vehicle's display.  On the positive side, the piece was quite instructional for those that managed to turn off their deer in the headlights long enough to read it.  Gee Seattle is pretty far North.  North of the two largest cities in Canada and north of 77% of the population of our neighbor.  I recall visiting the Nautel Plant outside of Halifax N.S. and having fun explaining that I had to come SOUTH to get there.  Congrats to the Times for their recent science lesson for the masses, I hope you don’t get too much hate mail!

Up at West Tiger, across from what we have come to call WTM-1 or the former Entercom Site, is a facility that has been operated for a very long time by John Collins and, in recent years, his Son Richard.  Apparently the site has new owners.  Accel Net.  This is an interesting change and part of the fact that land-mobile, 2-way radio has faded and wireless internet has become part of the mixture at multiple user sites like West Tiger.  John Colllins was the first person to install a 2-way radio system on that site, mounting his antennas on the tower that used to hold an old ‘Airways’ beacon.  I am proud to say that I was the first one to install a broadcast station at this site.  Add that to your list of factoids that will be lost to history.

Once in a while the results of a study comes along that makes you scratch your head and think about it a bit more.  In this case - Grandmothers of students who are failing a class are 50 times more likely to die than those of other students, according to a study quoted in the current issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education.  More broadly, the study found, grandmothers in general are 10 times more likely to die before a midterm, and 19 times more likely to die before a final exam.  Another reason to keep our grades up?  This was forwarded to me by Lawrence Pintak at WSU.

John Barrett checks in with news about KMCQ (104.5 FM)….Their studio building on Dexter is being demolished and they are looking for a new location.  Despite rumors that the station has been sold, they have recently purchased a new studio and automation equipment.  This station, if you recall, was part of a multi-station shuffle that moved the station from The Dalles, Oregon to its present COL, Covington, WA.  The station operates with very modest power from Cougar Mt.

Speaking of radio station studio moves – With much fanfare, KEXP is moving to a historic part of the Seattle Center from their present studios, also on Dexter Ave.

We recently lost a long time entertainer that worked in radio, TV, cartoons etc.  Gary Owens, the announcer/funny man that we watched on ‘Laugh-in’ was 80.  His trademarks included – Holding his hand over his ear while he used his deep ‘announcer-voice’ and the phrase – ‘Beautiful downtown Burbank’.  For me there was always a personal connection to that line as that was where I was born.  Many times, when someone would ask where I was born, I would put my hand over my ear and say, "Beautiful Downtown ……………", just to hear the person respond with Burbank.  Thanks Gary!

The ‘Big Show’ in the dessert is not far away and this may be the year of the drone.  Especially in light of the fact that the FAA recently proposed a set of rules for the use of these things.  They have to weigh less than 55 pounds and not fly higher than 500 feet and stay below 100 mph and their operators will have to obtain a certificate from the FAA.  Apparently Amazon’s plan of using the gizmos for package deliver has been nixed.  The use of camera mounted drones for ENG work appears to be a natural.

The term "drone" is new to many.  I first heard it when I was in high school as a friend had an engine from a military drone that we were always talking about putting in a go-cart.  In this case the engine was a 4 cylinder, opposed, air-cooled model made by a popular maker of chain-saws used by the military.  In recent years drones have become more sophisticated due to many technical advancements.  The term drone appears to be applied to any remotely controlled aircraft.  The term Quad-Copter fell out of favor and the word drone was applied and the rest is history.  Like all things, there is an effort to have a group of letters replace the name – UAS or Unmanned Aircraft Systems is being suggested.

Several years ago I recall watching a U-Tube video of what was then called a Quad-Copter….It was pretty amazing in what it could do.  My first thought was, why did it take us so long to come up with a device like this?  Soon these things were available from a number of sources as toys.  The marriage of Lithium batteries, a quad-copter, gyro-stabilization and broadcast quality miniature cameras and we had a device that had oodles of potential for our industry.  Perhaps you have already seen spots using them…I recall a great one where they were flying over a large auto-dealership.  I’m sure that a lot of news content has been aired using them already…The door is open and Las Vegas is likely to be filled with vendors for the latest, gotta have device.

Cumulus Media recently did something that many AM stations have done, or are seriously considering dong…They put their 75-acre WMAL-AM antenna farm up for sale.  Reportedly the property could bring hundreds of millions.  At this point it’s not clear whether the big ownership will give the license back to the FCC or seek another location.  The station operates on 630 with 10 Kw Day and 5 Kw night using different patterns and a number of towers.  WMAL dates back to 1925 and claims they are the oldest station in Washington DC to continue to use their original call letters.  We may be witnessing the end of an era.  If indeed the station can fetch hundreds of millions of dollars for the land under the large array, it’s likely they have come to realize that this would be a good time to cash-out.  This issue has faced the Seattle area recently on a much smaller scale with the Kirkland AM site used by 1460 and 1250.  The big AM stations in our area are all on Vashon Island, or in the Bellevue Swamp,,  and the land under them is not in the same category.

One of the bigger stories this past month has been surrounding Brian Williams – Perhaps the good news for NBC is that Jay Leno is still not on the air – He would have had a field day with this issue.  If you are like me, your In-Box has been receiving a steady stream of Brian Williams ‘Items’.  In the Internet we have Snopes for fact checking – Perhaps the time has come to do the same with network news anchors.  Interestingly the cable news channels apparently have their bar set at a different level.  With the line between entertainment and news becoming increasingly blurry … It’s nice to know that accuracy, at least in this case, has had priority.

The FCC has had their ‘ticket book’ out recently in Florida, where they imposed a fine of $3000 for a CB’er who refused to let FCC agents inspect his station in response to a neighbor’s complaints about interference to home electronic equipment.  The reason?  The owner of the CB equipment said he had a doctor’s appointment which the FCC could not verify.  Wonder how this would work with red and blue lights behind you …Hold up a sign…Sorry can’t stop now…Have a doctor’s appointment …Yup!

Looks like Radio Shack is about to go away.  I recall the days when you could actually go into one of their stores and buy resistors, capacitors and Ham Radio equipment.  Apparently some of them may survive for another day – Time will tell.  We need to face the fact that the number of people who actually have electronics as a hobby have faded.  Today Ham Radio operators are more likely to purchase sophisticated equipment that could not be constructed at home.  (Even Heathkit died).  Recently I called a local store that many of us used to go to for electronic parts just to find out that they are no longer selling fuses!  If you want these things now – You go on-line and order them from a large nationwide firm located elsewhere.  By the way, if you are looking for some #47 or #1829 lamps….Let me know, I still have plenty.

From the category of very obvious issues – The NAB has asked the FCC to reserve spectrum for wireless microphones.  This is an example of money driven spectrum management at its worst.  Yesteryear we had spectrum set aside for various purposes, including TV stations that might someday be built and with it plenty of vacant TV channels whose spectrum could be used for wireless mics.  Not anymore with the Feds fixation on everything broadband and selling spectrum to make money, the lowly wireless mic has been a can that’s been kicked down the road largely because there is not a powerful lobby or zillions of bucks riding on the line.  With more and more wireless mics being used for sporting events, concerts and gatherings of every sort – finding clear spectrum for these little guys is tough.  Let’s hope the NAB can get some support in their requests to the FCC for a place for these little, very necessary, transmitters and receivers.

Thankfully it does not happen very often …but when it does, results are not good.  In early February a small plane struck the guy wire of KCBD-TV in Lubbock, TX.  The pilot died in the crash of the aircraft and the TV station was forced off the air with a substantial portion of their tower ending up on the ground.  Apparently weather was a factor with a very low ceiling of 800 feet.  The tower fall also took out power lines serving the station.  Because the lower portion of the tower was located near the studio building and was compromised, the station temporarily moved its operations to the TV studios owned by the Lubbock School District.

In my travels around the area to various transmitter sites I, almost always carry my trusty camera with me.  I got curious what the view was like from the new home-sites just west of the Cougar Mt tower farm (Great is an understatement).  As I was on my way back to the gate for the day's chores I could not help but notice the following view of the (Green) Sinclair/KPLZ tower and to the right, painted Orange and White, the Ratelco master antenna with its unique Jampro Spiral used by 93.3, 95.7 and 105.3.

KPLZ Tower/Ratelco master antenna
 
The FCC has another efficiency improvement announcement –

ARLB007 FCC "Paperless" Amateur Radio License Policy Now in Effect.  Starting on February 17th the Commish will no longer issue paper licenses to Amateur Radio licensees.  Apparently this means if you want a paper copy of your Ham ‘Ticket’ you will have to go to ULS and print your own.  Apparently they figure this will save them over $300K each year.  Really!  Wow they must have been using some pretty expensive paper!  I guess now you can print your own on the paper of your choice and, presumably, the color you wish too.  Now the lady-Hams can have a PINK license if they want it.  I wonder how this will work with the cop that pulls you over because he thinks you are a distracted driver and you flash him your pink Ham-ticket?  Paperless Ham licenses….Oh well….We’ve had ‘worthless’ commercial licenses for years and those you don’t have to renew.  Come to think of it, how did they miss the opportunity to have us - PAY- to renew our old First Phone or General?

Those of us that live in the Seattle area know that we have mountains on both sides of us – The Olympic Range to the West and the Cascade Range to the East.  The biggest mountain in the Cascades is what we fondly call ‘The Mountain’….14,411 foot Mt Rainier.  Recently our ‘Mountain’ was used as an example when describing how big Mt Sharp is on Mars where the Curiosity Rover is exploring.  According to NASA, Mt Sharp is about as big as Mt Rainier…..and that’s big.

A sad story this month about a broadcast engineer named John Valenta.  John has been charged with felony theft to the tune of perhaps half a million dollars from a campus radio station he worked for, WDCB.  They are accusing him of submitting phony bills for equipment they never received.  If convicted, the 65 year old could face up to 15 years in prison.  Apparently this all took place between June of 2006 and December of 2013.  In my mind, this calls into question the station's accounting methods.  Apparently Valenta sold equipment to the station through his own company that was never installed and cited power failures as cause for phony repair work.  The station, is operated by the College of Du Page, one of the largest community colleges in Illinois.  Valenta is referred to as a skilled engineer who simply gave into greed and dishonesty.  In all my time in this business, I’ve known of a couple of other engineers that were not totally honest, but none of them rose to this level.

So what’s going on with the Sun?  That’s what scientists would like to know.  We were all taught how the sun goes through 11 year cycles and how those cycles track electromagnetic propagation etc.  These cycles have been given numbers and, for as long as I have been around, these ups and downs have varied to some degree….But not like what’s going on now.  The next peak in activity, called Solar Cycle 25, which is supposed to peak about 2022 could be one of the weakest in centuries.  Driving all this is what’s known as the Sun’s Great Conveyor Belt which has recently slowed to a crawl.  So what does this mean for us?  1) It means lower solar activity (Flares and sun-spots 2) For Hams, perhaps much less DX on the higher HF Bands 3) Changes in the normal 11 year cycle of AM Broadcast propagation.  Historically, this could mean  the lowest solar activity in centuries.  This is great news for those planning on vacationing on Mars.  The other potential impact is global cooling.  Minimums in the past have been accompanied by colder periods.  Certainly this situation is one that will keep scientists, NASA, NOAA busy.  If you live in the NE part of the country, you may well be wondering if this is part of it….Not likely.  When we start seeing the ‘average’ temperatures - world wide - go down…Then you might want to start thinking about what I just wrote.

Did you ever come back into the building from inspecting a satellite dish that had malfunctioned and explain the failure using the term ‘basket case’?  If you have, here’s a picture for you –

Basket Dish

I was driving south on I-5, just north of Centralia recently following a Tesla-S.  Ever stop and think how this electric car company has been driving battery technology?  According to a recent news report, since 2008 the cost of the car’s battery pack has been cut in half while the storage capacity has increased by 60%.  If you are like me, you are ready to toss those old fashioned battery powered tools that use Ni-Cads in favor of the new ones running on Lithium-Ion batteries.  Where would cell phones and all the other battery power gizmo’s we take for granted today be if battery technology had not made such great strides?  Occasionally something goes sideways in that march forward, as Boeing can attest.

At West Tiger Mt, east of Seattle, there are two transmitter sites with a total of 13 FM Stations.  Of those 13….Two have installed new transmitters in the past year.  One for Hubbard and the other at CBS.  It appears that this year will see 3 or perhaps 4 more transmitter upgrades to new equipment.  The next one will likely be CBS as their new rig is in the building awaiting the start of the process that will see the trusty old Continental headed for the exit.

CBS Transmitter

I like to end my column with something to bring a smile.  This month’s contribution comes from Jerry Lebow –

"Lexophile" is a word used to describe those that have a love for words, such as "you can tune a piano, but you can't tuna fish", or "to write with a broken pencil is pointless." ….Ready? …Let’s go – IT’S GROANER TIME!
  • When fish are in schools, they sometimes take debate
  • A thief who stole a calendar got twelve months
  • When the smog lifts in Los Angeles U.C.L.A.
  • The batteries were given out free of charge.
  • A dentist and a manicurist married. They fought tooth and nail.
  • A will is a dead giveaway.
  • With her marriage, she got a new name and a dress.
  • A boiled egg is hard to beat.
  • Police were summoned to a daycare center where a three-year-old was resisting a rest.
  • Did you hear about the fellow whose entire left side was cut off? He's all right now.
  • A bicycle can't stand alone; it's just two tired.
  • When a clock is hungry it goes back four seconds.
  • The guy who fell onto an upholstery machine is now fully recovered.
  • He had a photographic memory which was never developed.
  • When she saw her first strands of grey hair she thought she'd dye.
  • Acupuncture is a jab well done. That's the point of it.

And the cream of the twisted crop:
  • Those who get too big for their pants will be totally exposed in the end.

Enjoy spring.  The way things are going, summer is not far behind.  See you all in most of these same places next month.

73, Clay Freinwald, K7CR, CPBE.