|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
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 –
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.
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
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.
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 –
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.
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
- 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.