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Clay Freinwald

Clay’s Corner for April 2015

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



Wow…Finally…Spring is officially here.  Of course we have been having spring weather for a while now.  Have to feel sorry for those on the other coast as they have been setting records for winter weather.  Meanwhile, those that make a living predicting climate events are saying that we are going to be experiencing drought, however, from a slightly different cause.  In our case it’s not a lack of rain-fall but rather from a lack of snow fall during the winter in the mountains that traditionally keeps the water flowing downhill during our dry months of summer.  Who would have thought that Forks would be in a predicted drought area….Gee, isn’t that near the rain-forest?  Take a look at this map, the red outlined areas are 2015 drought areas in our state.  I’ve seen the counties just east of the Cascade Mountains in this mode before due to lack of snow-melt/stream flow …But never thought it would happen to the wettest part of the country!  With dry comes something else to worry about…. forest fires.

Drought Map

If you want to see the impact of this – Take a drive over Snoqualmie pass and look at the ski areas.  That big lake on the east side of the pass is going to be nothing but a valley of stumps very soon.

The folks in neighboring Redmond have once again gone to their collection of product names and are about to introduce Windows 10.  Never quite understood their numbering scheme - It started with 3.1, then 95 followed by 98 then XP and now 7.  Must be some logical reason why they skipped over 9…On second thought – Why does logic have to play a role here?

Don’t forget the Seaside gathering of Hams coming up June 5,6 & 7.  The annual SEA-PAC event is a great chance to get away and see old friends. …And I mean OLD friends.  Amazing how many folks I know are looking a lot older.  Smiley Face 

Interesting to watch what’s happening with radio at West Tiger.  Since we last communicated via this column CBS has installed their 2nd GatesAir FAX 30 transmitter for their 96.5 operation.  Last year Hubbard installed a new Nautel GV30 on 92.5 and now KING-FM and KIRO-FM are about to do the same with construction scheduled for late this month.

Pictured below are the present KIRO-FM Transmitters at West Tiger.  This is one of very few parallel FM transmitter installations left (this area used to have several).  These Continental 816’s were originally installed at Indian Hill (between Tacoma and Federal Way) under the call letters of KNBQ.  They were moved to this location in 1987, the first FM to operate from West Tiger.  One of the two transmitters will be replaced with the new Nautel GV30 which will become the station's Main Transmitter.  The remaining transmitter will remain as an Auxiliary.  Uniquely the same people will be making this change that installed them in 1987 – Nick Winter and myself.
KIRO-FM Transmitters
 
An interesting, albeit sad, aspect of this change is the demise of Continental Electronics.  The Continental 816 was the transmitter of choice for most of the broadcasters on West Tiger for many years.  In fact, two of the last 816’s sold in the area were on the air from West Tiger-2 running FM+HD on 92.5 and 98.9.  For reasons I fail to understand, Continental elected not to produce new, non-tube, products yielding their market share to GatesAir (formally Harris) and Nautel.  In fact, except for low powered AM and FM transmitters, these are just about the only two manufacturers left.  Do I dare mention RCA that folded its tent and slipped away about 30 years ago.

Sad to announce the passing of Peter Onnigian who died peacefully on March 13 in Sacramento at the age of 93.  Peter’s interest in broadcasting grew out of him becoming a Ham back in 1936 (W6QEU).  After WW2 he was involved in building radio and TV stations in the Sacramento area.  In 1950 he founded the Jampro antenna company.  Peter held several patents and was a Fellow in the SBE.  He and his wife were married 73 years.

Has our level of workmanship gone down over the years?  I can’t speak for TV, but I can for radio, and I think this is the case.  Back when I started in this business (in the middle of the last century) you could look inside any equipment rack and find evidence of what I call pride of workmanship.  Cabling was always laced up (This was before cable ties) …Things were neat and orderly with lots of 90 degree bends etc.  Today it’s quite common to find things very different.  Racks with no cable management at all.  Point to point connections, excess cable laying in the bottom of racks, or spilling out on the floor…and, quite often, dysfunctional or no longer used equipment still bolted in place.  So what’s going on here?  Is this because we are told by managers to just get it done and not worry about how it looks because looks does not impact performance or their bottom line?  Or, could it be that those that took a great deal of pride on how it looks have passed on and the new generation never learned how to do it right?  Or, is it just a matter of differing values?  In one case I know a contract engineer that was criticized by the station's management for taking time to make it neat, stating that he was not paying for anything beyond ‘making it work’.  I recall a manager, who upon seeing a mass of wires and cables spilling out from behind several equipment racks, stating that the wiring was ‘terrible’….However it’s not clear that he would be willing to take money from his bottom line to do it neatly.  I suspect that this has a lot to do with style – Some technical folks appear to place no value on how it looks, while others view their work with a great deal of professional pride and are happy to show it off.  There is, perhaps, another category……We have people doing work in broadcast stations that have never done this work before and have no concept of what’s neat and what’s hay-wire.  I recently ran across this item in an equipment rack – to which all I can say is – at least – the wire nuts are color coordinated.  Yes, this is a Live audio circuit!

Live Audio Circuit

Nice to have some good news once in a while.  Apparently the Grant County Sheriff’s office has arrested someone that vandalized one of the Cherry Creek stations near Quincy.  Appears that the person was not specifically targeting the station, as he had apparently been stealing from other locations as well.  Perhaps drug related.

Speaking of Grant County.  That county is now part of the North Central Operational Area for EAS.  New, revised, Tabs for the Washington State EAS Plan will be coming out soon.  Remember it is the obligation of every station to down-load these new Tabs from the WaState EAS Remailer and/or EAS Web Site and place them in your binder insuring that your EAS Plan is up to date.

KARR and KKDZ lost their tower site in Kirkland, as you know.  Thanks to the efforts of Jim Dalke, KARR is back on the air with a temporary and rather unique antenna.  KKDZ, who used the Kirkland site for their night operation has been forced to operate with very low power from their day site at Pigeon Point.  That station, owned by Disney, is reported to be for sale.  Rumor has it that the little 1480 day timer in Lakewood, KNTB, may be looking for an alternative location for similar reasons.  It’s rumored that the property they have been leasing for many years may soon be used for other purposes.  This is the 2nd location for this station which used to operate from another location just north of the present one.  That station went on the air in 1958 under the call letters KFHA and has been on and off several times.  1 kw of power and extremely poor ground conductivity have not helped.  Interestingly KNTB operates an FM Translator located in Tacoma which may have more value than the AM station.

So what’s going on at the FCC with the announcement that they are shutting down two-thirds of their field offices…Including Seattle and Portland?  Seems there are a number of reasons cited for this action.  Some are saying that they are no longer needed, others are saying that some consulting group recommended it.  Tom Wheeler recently said that too little funding was the reason, but added that the team of field agents is ‘too large and too inefficient ‘ to maintain, adding that the Seattle office deals with just one issue per week.  Does this mean we here in this area have been too good?  Or that the Seattle office has not been aggressive enough to discover those that are violators?  I can tell you that the FCC’s folks don’t get out like they used to – obviously this is not setting well with many in our industry who are letting those in congress know how they feel.

I’ve long held the position, in light of the size of the fines being handed out, that I’d be happy to quit all my present work and accept the task of rule enforcement, with my compensation based on a fair and negotiable percentage.  Then again, perhaps the FCC will take a page from the FEMA guidelines and hire a contractor to perform enforcement – I’m sure there are plenty of firms that would be happy to do this….Gee they would not even have to bother with un-marked cars etc.

My concern is that when the cats are away the mice will play….Or how would the average person drive if they knew there was not going to be a cop behind the billboard?  Which leads me to wonder...1) Has the Commish just thrown in the towel on enforcement...or, 2) is this just a ploy to get more money from Congress.  Come to think about it, the FCC’s lease is about up at the Portals (You’d think they own their own building) Hmmmm

Meanwhile – At the enforcement bureau…The Commish just handed out a really big fine to WDBJ in Roanoke VA.  The station has been asked to send a check in the amount of $325,000 for showing sexually explicit material during a newscast back on 2012.  Apparently this is the biggest fine ever issued by the FCC for a single incident at a station.  What made this worse is the station aired this during a time that children could be watching.  Apparently there were a number of complaints.  The FCC also nailed a non-comm in New York to the tune of $10,000 for failing to have a complete public file.

One area where the Feds are apparently turning a ‘blind-eye’ is the area of noise generating devices that have raised the noise level so high in some places that AM does not stand a chance.  Some of this noise is coming from grow-lamps used in the growing of a popular crop Smiley Face.  The FCC may not be interested in noise…but local law enforcement is certainly interested in the operations using these devices and are increasingly DF’ing these operations.  My take on this is - too little - too late.  There are plenty of devices being marketed these days that create ever increasing amount of RF interference with the FCC, apparently, having better things to do.

Once again I can write that Alpha continues to grow.  They recently announced they have picked a group of radio stations in Texas.  Including the cluster of stations they own in Portland, the company has now grown to 96 stations.

Seems like it was not that many years ago that Seattle was thought of by most in the country as a place up near Alaska where it rains all the time.  Times have certainly changed thanks to local firms like – Boeing, Starbucks, Amazon, Microsoft, Costco, etc.  In publications that deal with the broadcast industry, it is now rather common to see something written about an event in Seattle or by someone from here.  In a recent issue of Radio World there is a piece showing a car radio display showing KIRO-FM and describing how Allen Hartle has been the man behind a number great advancements.  Then near the back of the magazine is a picture of Tim Vik standing next to his brand new Nautel GV40 on Mt. Constitution with the article written by Bryan Hubert.  Way to go guys, making us proud!

If you have been going to the NAB convention over the years, you have been struck by the rapid pace of construction in that city.  Seems like in just one year a huge, multi-story building is constructed.  A couple of years ago I asked about that and was told that once they start on a new high-rise they work 24/7 on it.  The primary reason for this speed of construction was cited as being because the building owners are in a hurry to start making money on the property as opposed to having it take 3 times as long in locations where construction means one-shift.  If you are going to Vegas this year, you’d better take a good look across the street at the Riviera because next year it’s likely to be gone.  In this case the buyer is the Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Authority….meaning that the, already huge, convention center is about to get bigger…..Again.  At one time I thought that it was as big as it could get…just to find the next year that they had built over the top of a freeway (Desert Inn Road) and beyond on the other side.  So how much bigger is the convention facility going to get?  According to press releases the expansion will come in two phases….First will be 750,000 sq. ft. of new exhibit space and 187,500 sq. ft.of supporting meeting space as part of a 1.8 million sq. ft. expansion.  Phase two will see renovation of the existing convention center.  When completed, the present 3.2 million sq. ft. of convention center will grow to 5.7.  This process will take 5-8 years to complete.  Those of you that are familiar with the area know that the Riviera is not adjacent to the existing convention center building, but rather some distance away to the northwest with a big parking lot between the two.  Just how they are going to join the two, or if they will, remains to be seen.

Ever wonder why the NAB or CES hold their conventions in Las Vegas?  Consider how huge the convention center is and the fact that the number of hotel rooms in Vegas is over 125,000.  (Compare that to the number of hotel rooms in King County – Just over 34,000.)

Oh, one more thing about Las Vegas and the NAB event.  As you know there is a huge hotel with many meeting rooms just across the alley from the LVCC.  For years this was the Las Vegas Hilton, then it became the LVH and now it’s known as the Westgate.  That huge sign, out front, has undergone many Changes.  Anyone remember when a wind-storm blew it down?

Westgate Hotel sign

In the Seattle area, construction is booming and the population is increasing.  Any doubting the latter has not driven one of our freeways lately.  With a booming economy comes higher and higher costs for housing.  Recently there have been a number of stories in the media on how rent prices in Seattle are increasing at a rapid rate, forcing out many who have lived there for a long time.  House prices are doing the same thing.  So just how much do you have to make to afford to purchase a house in the Seattle area?  According to HSH.com that salary needs to be $72,844.  This is $12,241 more than Portland Oregon and $11,202 more than Denver.  Just to put things into perspective, this is $69,604 - LESS - than San Francisco where you would need to make $142,448/year.  My question is, does our industry offset the cost of housing with larger salaries?  Does a position in Seattle automatically pay 12 Grand a year more than one in Portland?  My guess the answer is no.  We need to remember that there are a lot of folks making north of 100 grand in Seattle and these are the folks that are helping increase the cost of housing for the simple fact that they can afford it.  So what is the new hire, making less, going to do?  Simple – Live further out where they can afford housing and help clog up the freeways.

Thought you’d enjoy seeing this video caught by KING-5 of a couple of folks ‘Jumping off a perfectly good mountain’…Technically ‘flying-off’ West Tiger's Poo Poo point.  From the looks of this video, the weather was a bit cool and no one was catching some good thermals that would have kept this aloft for a much longer period of time.  There are many times that they have flown right by the towers on the summit of WTM.  The story also explains how Poo Poo point got its name.

Their landing location (of choice) is located on the east side of the Issaquah-Hobart Road just south of Issaquah.  This explains the wind-sock that they use when doing their final approach. 

Perhaps a status symbol is whether or not your city is on the latest version of Monopoly?  As you probably guessed – Seattle is – As is Denver – Sorry Portland, better luck next time.  The Emerald City is actually a magenta property, along with Atlanta and Little Rock.

Monopoly Board

I recently wrote about how camera equipped drones are likely to become a highly used tool for TV news as well as spot production.  In this past month a couple of stories caught my eye ….

  • First there is this video, shot from a drone, of the dropping of a tower. Can’t imagine getting shots like this with anything else.
  • Then there is the situation that took place in Seattle near the middle of last month where KIRO and KOMO-TV were covering a fire using their helicopters when one of the pilots noted a drone flying above them at about 1500 feet.  Whereas they are not supposed to go over 400 ft., the matter was brought to the attention of the FAA.  News reports indicated that the KIRO-TV chopper team located the guy controlling the craft….Gotta bet that this fellow has become acquainted with the local FAA folks.

There is a lot of good reason to be concerned over where these drones are going and who is controlling them.  Hopefully the FAA will - not - follow the FCC and will have the local manpower to deal with these issues.

Meanwhile, down in LA, KFI Radio has announced that they will be using drones for news gathering.  Reportedly the drones will be equipped with cameras, which is in itself interesting in that KFI is a Radio station.  What do you want to bet they have a ‘deal’ with a local TV station?

Time for a quiz – Look carefully at the following picture and tell me what type of circuit this is - A - Short  B - Feed back  C - About six-feet  D - Self regeneration

Powerbar Circuit
 
The latest (12+) radio ratings are out ….and here are a couple of ‘technical ‘ observations –
  • Now that the Seahawks season is over, there is no longer an AM station in the top 10…In fact the highest rated AM (KIRO/710) is at #14.
  • AM’s continue to struggle, KOMO is now #20 and the bottom 3 (32-34) are all AM’s.
  • Playing spots does not make a radio station more popular – KUOW is #5, KING is #15 and KPLU #16.
  • Contemporary Christian KCMS, rated at #8 is likely going to face competition with the sale of 104.5 to EMF.
  • The country music ratings battle between Entercom’s KKWF and CBS’s KMPS appears to be one-sided with the present score 6 to 19.
  • High School operated station KNHC is at #25 beating out 9 other stations.

The NAB has announced a publication…A Broadcast Engineering Tutorial for Non-Engineers.  They are billing it as a guide to understanding the technical world of radio and television broadcast engineering.  Seems to me that few technophobes I have met over the years are not likely to read this one.  Most have their minds made up and are not likely to want to change their definitions of their favorite ‘buzz-words’.  Something about ignorance is bliss. Smiley Face

The following came from Kerry Swanson, GM of WSU’s NW Public Radio in Pullman – 77 years ago, March 13 1938, Edward R. Murrow and his colleagues at CBS launched what many consider to be the start of electronic broadcast journalism as the world watched the events in Europe unfold leading up to WW II.

If you’ve not seen them yet..there’s a couple of great posts about it on the NW Hall of Radio History Facebook page - including clips from historic broadcasts from 1938 (with narration by NW Hall of Radio History curator Feliks Banel).

Inspiring to think of how radio helped bring news, context and understanding of world events to so many people.

The recent bout of tornadoes in Oklahoma gave me more reasons to love our weather.  Now I fully understand that a lot of people that live in other areas of the country would – never – live here due to the ‘urban legend’ that it ‘rains all the time’.  I think we are smart enough to understand that Oklahoma does not have tornadoes all the time.  At least our rain is a whole lot less destructive!  On March 25th they had a bunch of twisters and one of them silenced a historic radio station – KOKC formally known as KOMA.  From preliminary news reports, the station's 3 tower array became a partial one tower system with that tower folded over like a jack-knife.
KOKC Tower
 
However I do recall a number of tower failures due to straight-line winds in our area.  The old KTOY tower in Tacoma and the 1090 array on Vashon come to mind.  Of course there are some memorable man-induced tower failures, ala KRKO in Everett.

I like to end my ramblings with a bit of humor – This month credit goes to old friend Bob Gorgance whose young family member came up with this jewel –

Engineering Flowchart 

Lord willing we will be able to do this again next month in most of these same locations.

73, Clay, K7CR & CPBE