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Clay Freinwald

Clay’s Corner for May 2015

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



First of all – A thank you to Marty Hadfield for inviting me to have a conversation with those attending the last Chapter Meeting where I could more fully explain what I feel is a critical need to prepare for providing citizens with critical information after our promised ‘big-one’ earthquake.  Hopefully what I said made sense to those in attendance and the SBE Board will consider taking on this as a project.

Was recently thinking about how some broadcasters focus on their position, most dreaming of when they could be #1.  Put this together with Seattle-Area-Stats and you get:
  • According to Tom Tom, Seattle ranks #5 – In the most congested traffic ratings (Ugh)….During the evening commute we rank #3 (Really bad)
  • A local (Issaquah based) retailer (Costco) now ranks #2 by revenue (Not bad)
  • A local coffee company (Starbucks) now ranks #2 among all restaurant chains (Cool)

For more of where Seattle Ranks – Check out - http://www.bestplaces.net/rankings/city/washington/seattle

KING5 is not the only broadcaster that’s moving – Down in the Valley, Bustos Media is moving its studios from Auburn to Kent.  For the past 10 years the firm's two stations (KDDS and KMIA) have been housed in the building next to their AM transmitter that was once the home of Washington Natural Gas.  The new location, just west of Kent Station and Showare Center on James.

Bustos Studios
 
Well it finally snowed at West Tiger – Albeit not much and very late as a couple of inches dusted the place early in April.  This winter, as you all know, has been largely a no-show.  The following was taken by Terry Spring, looking west from the site known as WTM-2:
Looking west from WTM-2
 
We are certainly going to pay for the lack of snow this year – Take a look at the latest Drought Map for the State of Washington –

Drought Map

The shaded areas were recently added.  The fact is a huge number of states are facing the same situation this year….of course California is the news-leader in this department….The way it’s going down there the Golden State may have to change its name  to Black and Brown.

Did you happen to notice how Captain Kirk (aka William Shatner) has assumed the duties of ‘science officer’ and has proposed the solution to the water shortage in Southern California is to build a pipeline parallel to I-5 to deliver our oversupply of water to California?  Obviously he did not bother to take a look at the latest ‘drought map’ for our state, preferring to base his comments on the ever popular ‘urban-legend’ that it rains – ALL THE TIME – in Seattle and therefore we have a surplus to share.  If you are old enough to recall, there was a proposal put forth many years ago to build a pipeline from the Columbia River, along the coast, to California.  The rationale then was the Columbia sends a huge amount of water into the ocean that could be better used by those in arid areas.  That idea too went nowhere.  The fear that I have is that we will see a high migration northward due to these climate changes, perhaps thankfully I will be outta here before that process gets too bad.

I’ve written in past columns about the need for STEM education.  Sadly I must report that an, un-named, school district has re-defined this as meaning Science, Technology, ENGLISH and Math.  Recently a TV game show underscored the issue –

Game Show

Which leads to this item –
Resistance... 

You probably have read something about the FCC’s efforts at trying to find a solution to the current state of AM Radio.  If what’s going on here locally is any indication, it could be that these efforts are too-little-too late.  Let me explain – Not long ago the station in Kirkland, KARR, on 1460 went dark because the station did not own the land under their towers and the land owner determined that more money could be made by other means.  Only recently, through the efforts of Jim Dalke, the station returned to the air with a temporary antenna (on different land).

Another station in the area, KNTB, licensed to Lakewood on 1480 has gone dark for similar reasons, as they too have lost their site.  Soon the two towers for that station will be coming down, being replaced by another cluster of houses.  Interesting to note that this station first went on the air in 1958 as KFHA and was the first ‘Day-Timer’ in the Tacoma area.  (It was sandwiched in between 1470 in Centralia and 1490 in Bremerton)  The station, in later years, operated with 1 kw Daytime and 111 Watts at night.  The coverage of the station was very limited due to the extremely poor ground conductivity in the Lakewood area (under a .5)  Silenced also is the FM translator, K221FJ, located on the KBTC Tower in Tacoma on 92.1.  Co-owned stations KBRO In Bremerton and KLDY in Lacey also went off the air.

Here are a couple of pictures of KNTB’s 150 ft. towers taken just after they went silent.

KNTB Tower #1

KNTB Tower #2
 
Add to this the fact that KWLE, 1340 in Anacortes (the old KAGT) and KRPA, 1110 in Oak Harbor have recently been off due to economic issues and you have FIVE Western Washington AM’s that are either silent or are on the verge.

Could it be that the future of AM Radio is being played out right here in our backyard?  Could it be that the process of elimination of the weakest is the route that will be followed. despite the remarks made by FCC officials recently?

Having the benefit of spending well over 50 years in this business I can see how this process appears to be going ‘full-loop’.  Let me explain…..

When I started really digging into what was on the air, I was living in Tacoma, back in the late 50’s.  At that time Tacoma had the following stations – KTAC/850, KMO/1360 and KTNT/1400.  There were two suburban stations, KFHA, the Day-Timer in Lakewood and KAYE the little station in Puyallup.  There was one FM - KTNT that was simulcast of KTNT-AM.  That was about it.

Looking around the area, the smaller area markets south of Seattle had one or perhaps two radio stations.  Each one was operated to serve a relatively small area and they did that quite well.  Back then it was financially viable to operate a local radio station.

Centralia had KELA and a recently added Day-Timer, KITI…..Olympia had KGY and a new Day-Timer, KITN…… Puyallup had their station, KAYE, on 1450…..Sumner, KDFL on 1560….Auburn, KASY on 1220….Renton, KREN etc.  Then along came FM to these areas, initially slow at first with limited coverage and listeners.  Slowly, habits changed and with it the viability of a local AM Radio station started to erode.  Then FM’s increased power and coverage and soon the small AM with a limited coverage area began down the road that we have recently been witnessing.  FM’s all moved to much higher transmitter sites, implemented stereo and added better programming….. leaving only those AM’s that cover large areas surviving.  More recently, as can be seen in the ratings I report on periodically, the big AM’s are finding themselves fading from favor.

Not only have we recently seen a number of smaller AM’s go silent, but we have seen many historic community AM’s move away from community broadcasting to something that’s economically viable - Specialty broadcasting.  KGY in Olympia is now a  Catholic religious station…..1450 In Puyallup now programs Korean….1210 in Auburn now programs Latino….And the list goes on.

There are exceptions that should be noted – KELA in Centralia and KLAY in Tacoma still appear to be community AM radio stations.  One can only wonder how long they have before they too will suffer the same fate?  Then again, in the case of KELA, perhaps KMNT (their FM stablemate) is carrying the AM.

Looking into my crystal ball, it does not bode well for smaller, limited coverage, AM’s.  In our area we are perhaps unique in that we have an abnormally high number of high powered AM’s and they tend to be doing a bit better, however, they two are clearly watching the grim reaper that appears to be close behind.  I find this interesting as I vividly recall many would-be broadcasters begging the FCC to break up the clear channels, petitioning for 1 kw full time for the old Class 4’s, paying thousands to consultants to try to squeeze in an AM with radical directional patterns and day/night coverage differences.  Now many of these stations are going dark and we are getting back to the way it was.  The future is likely to see a radical reduction in the number of AM’s and perhaps this is a good thing as it will permit those that survive to increase power, perhaps shedding their restrictive and, expensive to operate multiple tower directional antennas, with that beat back the ever increasing noise levels on the historic band.  Perhaps AM will survive, and perhaps it will look a whole lot like it did back when I started?  Dare I use the expression – Back to the future?

Now a bit of sad news – I recently learned that Ken Williams, W7LLW, passed away last October.  For the last couple of years Ken would join some of us for breakfast at the Poodle Dog in Fife to discuss our experiences in this industry.  Recently Nick Winter drove by Ken’s place and noted that it was being remodeled.  This started us to ask – where was Ken?  Knowing that his wife passed a number of years ago and that he had no children, we thought that he could have moved to an assisted living facility etc.  Despite being in his mid-80’s, and moving a bit slower, he did drive to our breakfast gatherings.  At one point he did mention that he had congestive heart failure.  Our group started researching his status when it was discovered that he had passed away in October.

Ken touched many lives in the broadcast industry over a number of years.  Not only did he work in the industry, in Radio and TV, but as a consulting engineer.  Many broadcast stations got their start due to the talents and efforts of Ken.  He was always there encouraging the new young kid on the block…A fact I know…First hand.

Back in the 60’s there were only a couple of Consulting Engineers that did application work in our area.  Jim Hatfield (Sr) and Ken Williams and, over in Wenatchee, George Frese.  I am proud to say that I knew them all.

When I first met Ken, he was Chief Engineer at Channel 13 in Tacoma….This was before I was able to drive and my Mom took me up to the station at North 35th so I could see how TV was made.  Over one of our breakfasts, Ken recalled that time.  That had to have been about 1957.  Over the years, as I entered the industry, I worked with Ken on a number of projects.  He was always very patient and kind and eager to teach someone the ‘tricks of the trade’.  I am proud to say that I would not be where I am today if it had not been for the great Ken Williams.

Ben Dawson contributed the following –

I first met Ken when I went to work for Washington Telecasters at KAYO.  Ken had become the consulting engineer for the stations owned by Jessica Longston and her various employees when the fellow in Montana who'd been their consulting engineer left for DC to become a cable TV consultant and broker.  (I can't remember his name!).

So I got to work with Ken on various little projects and problems for the "Longston and Associates" collection of stations while was the director of engineering for her company, Washington Telecasters.  (It had that name because it had been KRSC - Radio Sales Corporation - and of course KRSC-TV was the original channel 5, and somehow the name Washington Telecasters stayed as the licensee of the radio station, but Radio Sales Corp. became the licensee of the TV when Ms. Bullett bought it.)

And once Ken figured out that I knew how to calculate AM and FM coverage contours and draw maps - I'd learned from Harold Singleton, whom I worked for when I was in high school - Ken would sometimes subcontract that work to me for his clients.  So I  got to work with him in that way as well as when he did work for my employers.  And he was very smart, and very nice to work with.

I don't know how Ken ended up in Tacoma.  I was told - maybe by him - that he was from somewhere in the midwest, and eventually ended up working transmitter shifts at KOMO-AM on Vashon before he got his PE license and took up his consulting practice.  In addition to broadcasting work he did a fair amount of power system consulting too, which is why he was able to keep his practice going nicely with the help of his wife.

Brian, one of Kens friends that we had breakfast with, shared this –

I don't know that much about Ken's personal life.  I met his wife at his office in Tacoma.  She ran a printing business out of the same office.  Many years ago, Ken and another guy owned an AM radio station in Yakima.  He was doing work for Wally Nelskog and Wally told him he should build a station.  He sold it after a few years.  I think his wife was tired of him going over there.  Ken also was involved with Bates Technical College in his spare time.  He told me once that he used to work for the Tacoma Police Department doing their radio system.  As a favor to me when I had KQBE in Ellensburg, he did the engineering for Central Washington University's radio station.  He found an FM frequency so they could broadcast around the valley rather than just on their campus.  Ken had many longtime clients in several states doing radio and television engineering for the FCC.  When he first started, he worked for a few years for KOMO babysitting their transmitter on Vashon Island.

If you have memories of Ken and a story you would like to share – Please let me know.  Here’s a picture I took of Ken, at the Poodle Dog, a couple of years ago.

Ken Williams
 
The RTDNA has announced the 2015 regional winners of the Edward R. Murrow Awards and a couple of local stations claimed their share –
  • In the large market TV category, KING-TV led the way with Ten Murrow’s with awards in Overall Excellence, Breaking News and Investigative Reporting.
  • KIRO-FM Radio won 6 Murrow’s in the large market category.

Congratulations to these stations and the teams that worked to earn these honors.

Those radio engineers returning from this year’s NAB show in the desert all felt one item was the ‘talk of the show’….and we are talking about a piece of equipment called a Voltaire.  This device, developed and promoted by equipment maker Telos, is claimed to assist the Nielsen (formally Arbitron) rating system that uses in-audible ‘water-mark’ encoding.  I could write pages on this topic based on the huge volume of comments that have recently been posted on-line.  There appear to be a couple of camps – 1) Believers and 2) Those that feel that this is electronic ‘snake oil’.  One thing for sure – Nielsen must be watching this ‘like a hawk’ (Likely with lawyers standing by) as well as competing manufacturers that are certain to want in on the opportunity to market a similar piece of equipment.  This subject is not likely to die soon….Fasten your seat-belt.

Speaking of the NAB Show –
  • The Proceedings of the 69th Broadcast Engineering Conference are available on a USB Flash Drive from the NAB Book Store ….Remember when this used to be available only on paper?
  • Reportedly 103,000 from 164 countries attended this year’s show.  This is up from the 97,915 that attended last year.

Bad news from the commodity market – Copper Prices are edging upward again with bare copper approaching $2.50/lb. and copper tubing $2.20.  The message is clear – How is the security system at your transmitter site?

There was a piece in the Times recently about Moores Law….Inside was a reference to “Steins Law”
- If something will not go on forever, it will stop - Whew ….Talk about profound!   Those of us that work on the technical side of this industry are more likely to believe in ‘Murphy’s Law’.
- Everything that can go wrong will go wrong - or - Anything that can possibly go wrong, does - or - If anything can go wrong, it will
One can add the following  to Murphy’s law - and usually at the worst time.  In my experience this is very true.  I’ve said many times – The incidence of failure is inversely proportional to the availability of parts and personnel - Later I added – Multiply times 2 for after-hours, times 3 for weekends, times 4 for holidays and times 5 for the times the holiday falls on a weekend.
Over the years I have begun to feel that – Anything built by man will one day fail – The more you think about it the more you come to understand that Murphy reigning is not such a bad thing.  It can be thought of as an asset to employment.  Think of it this way….If things quit going wrong there would be a reduction in the number of people required to keep things running and that would be bad.

Lots of buzz over the recent decision of Norway to establish a sunset date for FM radio in that country and move entirely to DAB.  The announcement, made by the Ministry of Culture, will make Norway the first country to do away with FM Radio.  Apparently, from what I have been seeing, a number of folks are trying to draw a parallel with broadcasting on this side of the pond.  We need to understand that FM Radio in Norway is nothing like what we have here with our great diversity, land area, ownerships etc.  Perhaps we need to think back at the experience that Canada had with their DAB  system.

Sorry to hear of the recent passing of Scott Mason (N1CBS) CBS West Coast Regional Engineer.

Scott Mason
 
I’d met and chatted with Scott a number of times during the time I was on the SBE Board and attending a lot of conventions.  Scott went on to serve on the SBE Board as well, serving three terms, 2008 to 2014.  My understanding is that he had a number of serious medical issues.  One would have never known as he was always very upbeat.

Another passing to mention - Jim Campy  (Jim Kampmann), a broadcast teacher at Green River Community College, passed away last month.  Jim had been active in local radio news and voice work for over 40 years.  Jim taught announcing, newswriting, and production to hundreds of students at GRC (was GRCC) for 17 years.  (Thanks Jon Kasprick)

Travis LeBlanc, the new FCC Enforcement Bureau honcho is trying his best to put a positive spin on the decision to close a number of the regional FCC offices, including those in Seattle and Portland.  It appears that one of the tools they will be using is a technique used by a other federal agencies…The classic ‘high-profile case’.  Apparently they hope that if they can ‘nail’ a big offender, here and there, and get lots of press that some of the would-be rule breakers will be deterred.

Clearly the matter of Pirate Radio is a concern – His comments about this issue are quite interesting – Responding to concerns that the pirate problem will be exacerbated by a bureau plan to reduce the number of field bureau offices and agents dramatically.  He likened fighting pirates to playing Whac-a-Mole; the agency may force a pirate off the air but it turns up again six months later.  “We want to get to a world where there are no pirates on the airwaves,” said LeBlanc, who said he’s looking forward to working with the NAB and broadcasters on that.  Sounds to me like he is saying the FCC has been less than effective in dealing with this issue and is looking for help from private industry.  Interestingly, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly has stated that Broadcasters should be able to sue Pirates.

Meanwhile - The FCC has proposed a 20 Grand fine against a person for operating a pirate station in the Queens borough of New York.  In nearby Trenton, NJ a station owned by Townsquare Media was able to track down a pirate that was interfering with its signal.  In this case, the station used area police to quickly shut it down.  Seems to me where a business is being hurt by an illegal operation that broadcasters should not sit back and rely on the FCC to get around to dealing with the issue.  It’s really quite easy to find these operations.  The big issue, is likely to be convincing a local government that they should deal with it.  In this case the pirate was violating an ordinance by running a business out of a residential zoned area ….In addition to having an antenna that was considered an illegal structure.

As you have heard, Disney is selling just about all of their radio stations, including the one in Seattle.  So where is the ‘Mouse’ to go?  Apparently the answer is HD Radio.  Reports are that some 60 existing FM stations around the country will be airing on some 60 HD2/HD3’s.  I’ve not heard anything about Disney on a Seattle HD channel – Anyone know anything?

On the subject of HD Radio, the mode has been around now for 10 years.  There are now 25 million HD Radio receivers in the market with 80% of them in vehicles.  About 40% of new cars are being sold with a digital radio.

We recently wrote about how KEXP was going to be moving their studios into a corner of the Seattle Center…Word has come down now that the State will not be supplying funding, apparently a big part of the budget.  As we know the State is having a rough time agreeing on how to fund many things these days.

GatesAir showed off a new radio transmitter at the NAB show - What’s new? …It’s Liquid Cooled.  This should be a popular item for certain installations.  TV Transmitters have been mainly cooled in this way, but not so for radio.  Last I heard, Continental offered a liquid cooled version of their 816’s however…but that was a ‘tube’ transmitter.

More and more broadcasters are selling their towers – Recently iHeartMedia joined that group by selling 411 towers to Vertical Bridge Holdings for reportedly $400 Million.  Understand they will lease them back for about 20 Million a year.  The reason for this – A reduction in operating expenses and a big, one time, hit in the revenue department.

And Finally –

Let’s finish this off with some items to help you smile –
  • I had amnesia once --- maybe twice.
  • Protons have mass? …I didn't even know they were Catholic.
  • All I ask is a chance to prove that money can't make me happy.
  • Teach a child to be polite and courteous in the home and, when he grows up, he'll never be able to merge his car onto the freeway.
  • Experience is the thing you have left when everything else is gone.
  • One nice thing about egotists: they don't talk about other people.
  • My weight is perfect for my height--which varies.
  • I used to be indecisive.…Now I'm not sure.
  • If swimming is so good for your figure, how do you explain whales?
  • Is it me….or do buffalo wings taste like chicken?

That’s it for this month – Enjoy!

Clay Freinwald CPBE (aka K7CR)