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Clay Freinwald

Clay’s Corner for March 2016

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



Keeping up with my routine of mentioning weather early in this column….The NWS announced that the Seattle area has broken the record for winter rainfall….as if any locals needed them to tell us that it’s been awfully wet.  My guess is…This is all about getting even for those that were griping about our record dry summer last year.  Something along the lines of be careful what you wish for.  Looks like this will also turn out to be a snowless winter too, at least in the low-lands.

What happens when a track-hoe encounters a buried power line?  Answer – The power line always loses.  Around the middle of February a contractor was installing water-bars -  (Our dry-land readers can read about it here - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waterbar) and encountered the buried (not so deep) power line that serves the Boeing site on West Tiger Mt.  The resulting BUZZZZAP caused an excessive amount of current to flow, resulting in about 4 hours of unplanned generator testing at the electronic sites.

Congrats to KING-TV for accomplishing their move to Sodo, kitty corner from Safeco Field.  Here are some of my rambling thoughts –
  • Hard to believe they are going to tear down 333 Dexter.
  • If you are old enough, you recall when they added that tilt-back glass front.
  • The 333 Dexter address used to also include KING-AM and FM.
  • In the old days, radio stations would build studios at street level so that anyone could walk by and see what was going on…..Then everyone moved inside…out of sight.
  • TV stations, becoming increasingly concerned about security made getting inside feel like entering Fort Knox.  Then the Networks and some cable-news outlets moved to street level for all to see.  Now, bringing the trend to Seattle….you can actually see KING-TV in action.
  • Who would have predicted that Sodo would be the home of new car dealers and a TV Station?
  • And for those from other places – Sodo stands for South of Downtown.  (No idea why the other side of Downtown Seattle is not called Nodo).
  • With KOMO operating from pretty new digs….who is next?
  • Did you note how the ownership of KING-TV is shown as Tegna and no longer Gannett?  Tegna Media is a 42 station group operating in 38 markets, billing themselves as the largest independent station group of major network affiliates – So there!

I have to think that the local Chapter Board has already made plans for a tour of the new KING5 facility !!

Just so you know….The FCC is requesting a budget of $358 megabucks for 2017.  So what are their goals for that pile of taxpayer cash?  Some of their announced goals –
  • Expansion of competitive telecommunications networks
  • Protecting public interest goals
  • Ensuring that networks are widely available to the American public
  • Effectively managing the FCC’s resources
  • $16.8 Million for finishing their move to newer quarters
  • Shifting legacy applications and other matters to a cloud-based platform
  • An increase in the amount of spending for spectrum auctions and the costs of incentive TV auctions.
  • Just in case you missed it….There was nothing said about enforcement of their rules.  Oh how soon I forget…They are now issuing huge fines to the big players while everyone else is on the honor system.

Tried listening to KMNT/104.3 in Olympia lately?  Something nasty has been making this impossible…Preliminary investigation has ruled out the Entercom 104.1 Translator.  Matt Green is busy sniffing out the source.  My guess, from the sounds of it, he will find it to be an Intermodulation product with the contributors being a couple of local FM stations.

No shortage of news these days about how to pump new life in the legacy AM Broadcast band.  An item I found interesting is the matter of AM receivers in vehicles.  Apparently BMW concluded that it would be easier to just omit AM in their vehicle radios than to eliminate the noise created by their electrical and computer systems.  Apparently this has not set well with some of their customers with some users even resorting to trying to ‘hack’ AM radio capability back in their cars.  Have to wonder just how much AM band noise these cars create….Perhaps you will see a nearby ‘Beemer’ when you think that your radio has gone on the fritz?  (Shades of the Seattle electric busses?)

Last month I wrote about the call letters, KNBQ.  Over the years the logo was changed….This was the first one, if I recall correctly, right after they changed from KTNT-FM.

KNBQ Logo

Sinclair, who owns stations in Seattle and Portland, recently purchased the Tennis Channel for 350 Million bucks.  Hmmm, me thinks there are other things on their mind with this move.

For years many have been wishing that those that sit on the FCC had some technical background…I recently found out that German chancellor Angela Merkel has a doctorate in physics….Who knew?

Could it be that NAB Labs is thinking beyond the broadcast transmitter?  That’s my guess with the announcement of what they call ‘Pilot’ complete with a snazzy logo -
Pilot Logo

The announcement explained Pilot is “an initiative to bring together leading-edge companies, organizations and educators to advance broadcast technology and broadcaster innovation.”  Guess we will have to see what develops under the leadership of new hire, John Clark.

So why am I including a picture of an airplane in my Column?  A number of reasons…
1 - How many cities are home to an airline?  (Alaska is based in Seattle and Frontier in Denver)
2 - Alaska only flies Boeing 737’s (which are made in Renton, adjacent to Seattle, that Denver based carrier buys foreign made aircraft)
3 - They have a new cool paint scheme….Did you see a hint of Seahawks colors in it?

Alaska Airlines Plane 

Congrats to Jim Stenberg for his promotion to Principle Engineer RF Broadcast at American Tower.

Interesting recent headline – US HOME PRICES RISE IN NOVEMBER; ALL-TIME HIGHS IN 4 CITIES.  That got me wondering who those might be and if Seattle was one of the 4.  The 4 are – Dallas, Denver, San Francisco and Portland Oregon - have either matched or eclipsed their all-time highs.  On that topic, the growth in home values in Western Washington has spread north with reports that home values are up in the 4th quarter of 2015 by 7.8% in Whatcom County (Bellingham area).  Washington State ranked 3rd in the country in terms of home appreciation with 10.7%, tied with Idaho.  Colorado is at 10.9%.  Compare this to the national average of 5.8%.

It was bound to happen – The FCC has adopted an R&O that will require pretty much all broadcast and cable operators to put their public files on-line.  This seems to be yet another step by the FCC to make changes that will enable them to manage compliance from WDC.  With local FCC offices being closed, who is going to stop by stations to inspect the old public files?  This will, also, make it easier for the ABIP inspector to check your files from their office.  This change will be phased in with the top 50 markets and stations with 5 or more full time employees being first.  One piece of good news is that will prevent some yahoo from coming into your stations and making off with a critical file that the FCC would be looking for the next day.  I can see some stations having a problem with this however…especially those stations that have had Pub File/FCC issues in the past.

Well folks – HE FINALLY DID IT.  Dwight Small, chief engineer of Entercom’s cluster of radio stations, has announced his retirement date…March 31.  Some random thoughts about Dwight – He has worked at Met Park for 31 years which must be a record <> He’s a genuine Cougar (WSU Grad) <> In the past, I was his boss and he was mine <> For the last 6 years I’ve been working for him as a contractor <> We have this thing about vehicles…He now owns the car and truck I used to own. <> He is a Ham who just happens to also own an Elecraft K3. <> We have a similar sense of humor and love of our language.  The bottom line is that I will significantly miss chatting with him professionally – He is, simply, the best.  No word on his replacement.  I do know a couple of folks that are inquiring.  As for future plans….I know that he has started building at his place on Lake Cavanaugh in Skagit County a place that has been his get-away for some time.  I have not heard about any retirement party for Dwight…But am sure it will be very well attended.

Dwight Small

Speaking of retirement – Don Peters, DOE at WSU in Pullman (and my boss) retired at the end of February.  Nice to have been able to be in Pullman to wish him the very best.  They have a number of applicants being reviewed….Gee, one of the readers of this column could be on that list…..Don said that he was going to remain in the Pullman area and go fishing.

Don Peters

At Don’s retirement gathering, in the NWPR/Murrow College facility in Pullman they had a very cool cake….Don’t think anyone ate the piece with the tower on it…Likely saving this for Don.

Don Peter's cake

These retirements are all part of what is being called the ‘Silver Tsunami”.  I was talking with a friend recently about how public utility firms are being impacted.  He told me that one of the PUD’s said that 40% of their electrical crew members will be retiring in the next couple of years.  Just recently I was asked by a fellow in the HVAC business if I was thinking about retirement.  I asked him if he thought I was looking old…He said no…It’s just that he was in his 20’s when we first met and he’s in his late 40’s now and was just doing the math.  Frankly I’m not sure that I will completely retire, however I will be cutting back….I’m just waiting for the employer or customer to make the first move.

As we get closer to the day of decision I wonder which TV station owners in the Seattle market will take the money instead of agreeing to stay in the TV Biz?  There has been a lot of talk about those stations that run religious or foreign language programming going away.  One has to wonder about those stations that ask for and accept donations…Is it OK to keep the money?
Save KPLU

Speaking of decisions….KPLU appears to be heavily promoting their Save KPLU efforts.  They have a few months to go to raise the 7 Million necessary to become an independent station (Much like KING-FM).  I understand they are working to become an official non-profit so that contributions will be tax deductible…It's likely that this will help bring in the donations.  Frankly, with the amount of money in this area, I would not be surprised that someone would step up and write a check for the 7 Million.

Talk radio tends to be conservative in nature with names like – Limbaugh, Medved etc. and can claim the most number of stations airing it.  If you recall, 1090/AM in Seattle, at least for a while, ran programming bearing the label – Air America.  It’s ‘slant’ was decidedly more liberal.  What surprised me was that in Liberal Seattle it did not succeed and the owners (CBS) opted for something else.  This brings me to the news that in Milwaukee, Wisconsin there is an effort being made to get a Liberal-Talk station on the air.  In this case, there are some interesting aspects - -  A group called 'Citizen Action of Wisconsin' is trying to raise enough money to purchase, and change the format of an AM station.  Milwaukee, like Seattle and other markets, has two local conservative stations.  I find this of interest in light of the efforts to purchase KPLU from PLU so that the format might continue.  Something similar was done with KING-FM.  I’m not saying there is a trend here…however, we have citizens, who like a particular format, are going beyond the typical levels of support and are going out and buying stations to achieve their goals.  With the values on AM stations going downward, perhaps the cost of these ventures are now less than they would have been in the past? 

State broadcast associations have a lot in common in what they do.  Some deviate a bit – Kentucky’s association recently surveyed their members to determine what areas of broadcasting will be seeing the most employment opportunities in the next 5 years.  The top 3? – Sales (of course)….Digital content creation (Duh) and ….(surprise) ENGINEERING.  Here is what they are saying –
 
“The third job growth area is for engineers.  The engineering workforce was downsized due to consolidation and many of those left are nearing retirement age", Taylor says. But the jobs have changed. “Computers and digital put new demands on radio engineers to learn new technologies or leave.”

My guess is the same could be said for Television.

Back on January 28th – Comcast suffered a huge outage.  I became aware of this due to the failure of a radio broadcast circuit that utilized the carrier.  What I found interesting that the outage not only impacted the system I was involved with in Western Washington…but in checking their Web Site, involved a number of other markets as the following maps show.  Interestingly this was posted on their Web Site which you might not be able to see if your Internet provider is Comcast.  Smiley Face

Comcast Outage Map

This reminds me of some statements made by local electrical provider, PSE.  One of their reps was on local TV telling viewers that if their power was out they could check their Web-Site for more information.  I found this a bit strange in that most folks Internet access requires power…Unless you use your smartphone…and that only works until your batteries run down.

I often write about statistics that support why living in the Pacific Northwest is a great thing.  Often Seattle and Portland receive high marks, and good press.  Recently a new survey of the best places to live in the WORLD got my attention.  What was  interesting that the ONLY place in North America that was mentioned was Vancouver, B.C.  Our neighbor to the North.  As viewed from north of the 49th…This would be the Pacific Southwest perhaps?

You can read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3459417/Vienna-best-city-world-live-London-Paris-New-York-don-t-make-35-German-speaking-cities-dominate-quality-life-rankings.html#ixzz413z6IUh1

The FCC now has their famous M3 maps of Ground Conductivity available on-line in a printable form.  Interesting part of this announcement is the fact that they have specific data for the Puget Sound area.  Anyone who has measured AM Propagation in these areas will tell you that the Commission's M3 is a very rough and perhaps crude tool.  This is due to the fact that conductivity of Puget Sound varies with tidal movement, added to the fact that we have some extreme ‘conductivity breaks’ thanks to the actions of glaciers that left shortly before I was born.  This has been good news for engineers as only actual measurements tell the whole story.

Whoa – Is that Allen Hartle with a BEARD?  And – wow – Look at the color – Welcome to the club, Bro.

Alan Hartle
 
Gee didn’t we just have a big switch from Analog (NTSC) to Digital (ATSC)??  Now the wheels of progress are rolling full speed toward what will become ATSC 3.0.  In this case it does not appear that the FCC will be mandating backward compatibility.  Jerry Whitaker, VP for standards development put it this way, "We can't make consumers adopt it.  It needs to be a 'pull' technology".  This puts ATSC 3.0 in a similar category as HD Radio.  Speaking of which, it appears that vehicle makers are quickly catching on to the ‘trick stuff’ that HD Radio means for vehicle radios….Much of which depends on the data capabilities of HD-R.  In this case, consumers are wanting real time traffic reports, album art and weather forecasts on their vehicle radio.  All of this was not available prior to HD Radio.  In light of all of this, it’s hard for me to believe that smaller markets are going to be able to ‘hold-out’ and not install the technology much longer.  What is a radio station going to say when car dealers in their market tumble to the fact that these gee-whiz features don’t work because the broadcaster has been dragging their feet, and start asking questions?

Recently I started looking for a replacement meter (Yes those electro-mechanical devices used to display an electrical value) for a transmitter.  I learned that the manufacturer had none…The next step was to check the manufacturer of the meter to see if they could be of help.  This turned into a dead end search.  I guess I have not been paying attention as I quickly discovered that all my searches for Weston turned into history lessons of this once great company that – went out of business in 2010!  Unfortunately meters are no longer used in new equipment, having been replaced with computer based displays.  It was then I recalled how Nautel, in their V – Series transmitters had a single meter.  I was told they were pressured by some to keep it – So they did.  The next generation….No more meters.

Who hasn’t had their cell phone ring just to discover that someone has dialed them in error.  A friend of mine called me a while back….He was in his doctor’s office discussing his condition and I sat back listening in…without his knowledge.  Butt Dialing is becoming more and more of an issue, at least with me.  Earlier I got a call, at home, from Ichabod who was working on an issue at a transmitter site in Eugene.  I listened for a while trying to figure out who it was, finally I heard him say something about butt-dialing…at that point he put the phone to his head and we were able to talk.  I am now receiving several butt-dialed calls a month and wonder if this has something to do with a particular brand of phone or what?  Don’t recall my old Flip-Phone doing that.  Smiley Face

Alpha Media continues to grow….With the closing on a $264 Megabuck deal, they are now the 4th largest group in terms of total stations.  Let’s hope they are in better financial condition that a couple of those that are bigger.  Alpha does not have stations in Seattle (yet) but does in Portland.

One of my readers, Charles Shaffer, K7NW, correctly guessed the location of the unusual tower light fixture I had in a previous column and wrote – “ I'm going to try "Eiffel Tower."

Received an email from Stu Seibel (retired from KIMA in Yakima) informing me that Tim Schall has moved on to Cherry Creek Radio.  Tim was at KCTS-TV in Seattle for quite a while.  Apparently longing for more dusty surroundings, moved back to the dryer - east side of the State. 

It seems like every month there is a news release about the nasty effects of cellphones….This month comes the news that these communications tools are cooking mens sperm.  Not sure they mentioned what they were doing to women – I’ll let you read it and get back to me - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/12167957/Mobile-phones-are-cooking-mens-sperm.html

Everyone loves a mystery and, apparently there is one going on in Forest Grove, Oregon (Not far from Portland).  According to news reports, residents are reporting a mysterious shrieking sound, the source of which they have not been able to locate.  What we do know is that it comes and goes and only is heard at night (perfect for a mystery).  You can Google Forest Grove Noise and hear what they have been concerned about.  I’m sure that readers of this column in the Portland area have been following this with great interest….What broadcast engineer would not be?  For another mysterious noise…Read about the Taos Hum.  For me…I hear what sounds like an old noisy horizontal output transformer in a Conrac monitor most of the time….They call it tinnitus.  Likely due to working all these years listening to all the blowers at West Tiger.

If you were planning on attending the 2016 Crystal Radio awards on April 19th in Las Vegas to cheer a Seattle radio station accepting their award….You can forget it – We struck out this year.

Just about everyone has seen the EAS Handbook hanging somewhere near the control point of a broadcast station.  (An FCC Requirement)  If you ever opened it you have likely thought that it was in need of updating.  The good news is that it will be.  I’ve been working with a CSRIC Committee on this task and I believe you will like what you see…..Someday….When the FCC decides to release it.

Speaking of the EAS – The FCC has out for comment an NPRM that has the potential to make substantial changes to EAS.  If you are involved with EAS or work at a station where you are responsible for compliance with the FCC’s EAS Rules you should be paying attention to this….Better yet, you should down-load FCC PS Docket No 15-94 (Released January 29th) and respond to the Commission with your thoughts and comments on their proposed new rules.  You don’t have to respond to every ‘We seek comment…..”.  The bottom line in failure to respond is telling the Feds that you will be happy with whatever they come up with.

As many of you know, I have been chairing the Washington State SECC for about 20 years (despite efforts to find a replacement).  In this proceeding the FCC deals with SECC’s (State Committees) and LECC’s (Local Committees) like never before.  Historically they have only addressed issues involving their licensees….This time, they have included emergency management, EAS messages using various platforms…Including Social Media, Security issues etc.

The day finally came when Sumner Redstone would step down as chairman of CBS/Viacom.  Phillippe Dauman is the new CEO.  I have a lot of memories about this as I was working for Viacom when Mr. Redstone and his firm National Amusements came along back in the 90’s.

I’m not sure which is more irritating, being placed on hold by a real-person or being put there by some telephone computer system…. Certainly there are times that you feel that someone has not pushed the ‘hold-button’ but rather the one marked ‘forget’.  Well a new study has found that more than half of Americans spend 10 to 20 minutes of every week on hold – That adds up to 43 days in a lifetime.  There are those that understand this and have made a business out of those who are waiting by playing messages, or spots to the victims.  Then there is the automated attendant that will not let you speak with a real person and will hang up on you if you try.

We all know about smart phones…But what about Smart TV’s?  Those are the ones that combine the function of the home TV and a computer.  Projections are that half of US homes will have one by 2019.

Back to how Seattle is growing….News early in February about plans for a pair of 41 story buildings at Denny and Fairview.  I very much recall standing on the 20th floor deck of Met Park East and having nothing blocking my view of the Sound all the way around to the Ship Canal Bridge.  Today, blocking that view is a forest of cranes and new buildings.  I used to tell people how Met Park was on the northern edge of the Seattle high-rise area…………Not any more !

SiriusXM appears to be doing very well with the announcement that their revenue was up 9% in 2015 to a record setting 4.6 Billion.  Guess they are here to stay Smiley Face.  

Well that’s about it – Spring is on the way…Temps are rising, my lawn needs mowing and my summer To-Do-List is being created by my wife Smiley Face.

The following is a contribution from old friend Bob Gorgance in Wisconsin ….Oops, almost forgot – [GROANER WARNING]

ARBITRAITOR -  A cook that leaves Arby’s to work at McDonald’s

BERNADETTE - The act of torching a mortgage

EYEDROPPER - Clumsy ophthalmologist

CONTROL - A short, ugly inmate

COUNTERFEITER - Workers who put together kitchen cabinets

ECLIPSE - What an English barber does for a living

LEFT BANK - What the bank robbers did when their bag was full of money

HEROES - What a man in a boat does

PARASITES - What you see from the Eiffel Tower

PARADOX - Two physicians

PHARMACIST - A helper on a farm

POLARIZE - What penguins see through

RELIEF - What trees do in the spring

RUBBERNECK - What you do to relax your wife

SELFISH - What the owner of a seafood store does

SUDAFED - Brought litigation against a government official

PARADIGMS - 20 cents

I hope my warning was sufficient Smiley Face

In the meantime – If you have some feedback, or a contribution, I’d love to hear from you.  My email address is k (seven) cr@blarg.net

Lord willing, will do this again next month in most of these same locations.

Clay, CPBE aka, K7CR