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Clay Freinwald

Clay’s Corner for August 2014

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



For some odd reason…I just about always start out this column with a comment about the weather…Whew!  We have Summer indeed.  Just before our little wet-break (with record setting rainfall) we were in the record books as one of the longest runs with temps above 80 and now we are on the road to another.  I know, those of you that read this in sunnier climates think we are a bunch of wimps.  The down side is when it’s hot in Western Washington…It’s smokin' hot in Eastern Washington and that leads to fires…This year is likely to go into the record books as the worst.  When they start measuring fires in terms of Square Miles, you know it’s bad.  According to NOAA, we are looking at more, abnormally dry and hot days to come. The long term outlook does not look good either, especially in the West, as climate change is upsetting the balance that we have known all our lives, turning much of the land into fuel for fires.  Here in Western Washington we are not immune from fires.  I recall, when we had just begun building the first broadcast building on West Tiger, there was a fire on East Tiger…I vividly recall seeing a plane dropping retardant on it.  Just look along the edges of our highways and you will find plenty of burned places, likely caused by idiots that toss their smokes out the window.  It would not take much to cause a major fire here in Western Washington.  Recently I was following a person who was flicking their cigarette ashes out the window…and as I drove along I prayed that a major fire would not be started by this person.  Unfortunately the police are little interested in stopping such behavior.  Perhaps in time that will change?

Here’s a satellite picture of the worst fire in State History.


Washington Forest Fire 
 
The smoke from our fires has made the air smoky in Boise.

What do birds and grass fires have in common?  Near Pasco, recently, a bird encountered a power line, setting the bird on fire.  The flaming bird then fell to the ground igniting a grass fire that burned several acres (Honest, you just can’t make this stuff up).

There has been some impact on broadcasting due to these fires.  To my knowledge, no transmitter sites have burned, however the fires have caused a lot of power outages as the power poles that support the lines have burned as well.  There have also been a lot of Internet failures due to the same issue.  This presents an interesting problem for broadcasters, as the FCC requires that stations monitor FEMA/IPAWS for EAS….I’m guessing, under the circumstances, they would understand.

Speaking of EAS, the issue as to why the EAS was not used with any of these fires as been raised.  I can assure you that when the fires are out, and the ashes are cold, there will be a lot of conversations that will address this very issue.  I suspect that one of the reasons that EAS was not used was that the Operational Area EAS Plans fail to address the criteria for the use of the system.  As the SECC Chair all I can do is urge these local areas to update their plans, etc.  As a means of assisting that effort, a number of us are in the process of drafting guidelines for local EAS Committees (LECC).  I’ll let you all know how this turns out.

Recently I wrote about Tom Schall leaving KCTS-9 to go back into Radio in the Yakima/Tri-Cities area.  Much to my surprise, I learned that Jerry (Jer) Hill is leaving his position with WSU in Tri-Cities, where he’s been the last 8 years, to fill the slot at Channel 9.  In the process, sounds like WSU may have an opening for someone that knows Radio and TV.  I’m sure that this will mean we will be seeing a lot of Mr. Hill at our local SBE Chapter Meetings….Welcome back to the Wet-Side, Jer!

Another passage to announce - Jack Bankson recently passed away.  When I started at KNBQ, back in the early 80’s, Jack was the GM.  Prior to that he worked for Gene Autry’s Golden West Broadcasting.  Many people recall Jack, who was nicknamed Bang-Bang.  I’ve told a few that worked there at the time of his passing, I hope you will help spread the word.  Jack was, according to the Obit in the Times, 90.  There will be no services and his ashes will be scattered in the Columbia River.

I attended a recent EAS Meeting in Olympia and learned a bit more about the sale of one of our area's oldest stations, KGY, which went on the air back in the 1920’s and has been owned by the same family for over 70 years.  Apparently the station will be running the same programming as KBLE in Seattle from the transmitter site in the Port of Olympia.  The new owners are Sacred Heart Radio, a Catholic organization.  The announced price was $250K.  Catholics are, from what I have been reading, buying up distressed AM stations around the country, leading one writer to ask if the Church is performing the last rites for AM Radio?  Interestingly I spoke with someone at KGY many many years ago and wondered why they did not try and get an FM Frequency, noting that Capital Peak would have provided them with significant coverage etc.  The response was they were not interested in FM.  Another interesting fact about KGY has to do with where it started - St. Martins College in Olympia.  Wow, how times change.

Remember the story about the former KUNS antenna on the ATC tower on West Tiger?


KUNS Antenna 

It’s still there.  No decision has apparently come down on how to get it off the tower while having a minimal impact on the FM stations using the master antenna below it.

Good news department - My Grapevine tells me that Doug Fisher’s surgery went better than expected and he is on the mend….Great news.

Think there are a lot of wireless devices out there these days?  According to ABI Research there are more than 10 Billion (with a B) now…and that number is expected to grow to 30 Billion by 2020.  At one time a wireless device was a novelty…Today, it’s expected.  I can remember, back when I was in High School (in the 50’s, last century) building wireless devices in plastic boxes using those new-fangled things called Transistors.

Another radio station has demonstrated that they’d rather pay the FCC than pay to comply with their rules.  A Radio broadcaster in Louisiana has been requested to pay $14,000 for failing to maintain operational EAS system logs and for operating outside his power limits.  Another station, same owner, has been asked to pony up $22,500 for EAS and tower/lighting issues.  The broadcaster is telling the FCC that he is operating at a loss and is asking for a reduction in the fine amount.  My question is - Would it not be cheaper to comply?  Perhaps they are betting on not getting caught?

Congratulations to the local Hubbard cluster of stations for being the first in the market to receive one of the new Nautel GV transmitters.  Here’s a picture of Dave Ratener standing in front of the still, shrink wrapped, beauty.  Not sure why he’s pointing at the AUI.  (A number of caption ideas came to mind…I rejected them all.)

Dave Ratener

Another manufacturer of broadcast equipment is no more.  This time Larcan has shut down and dismissed all its employees.  The reason stated - The transmitter business had ‘dried up’.  Larcan was formed in 1981 when GE Canada exited the business.  I’ve seen a number of their TV Transmitters in this area and WSU still operates some of their radio products.  I know that the TV RF Business is on-hold waiting to see what the Feds finally do with re-packing etc.  Nautel will, perhaps, gain some more ground with this change.

A big - Congrats - to Anna Winter, K7ANA (Nicks wife) and to Debra McManus, WA7WKT (Arne Skoog's widow) who both recently passed their General Class Amateur Radio tests.  Debra, if you recall, got Arne's call after his passing.

Hard to believe it’s been a year since Arne Skoog left us.
In the event he reads my column up there…We miss you, big guy!
Arne Skoog  Arne Skoog
  
Last month I ran a picture of a ‘device’ atop a tower and asked if anyone knew about it -

Tower Top 
 
I received this from Matt Green.  Did anyone come forward with the correct answer on what the ‘device’ is on top of that tower here in Western WA?  It’s a damn shame the rest of the system isn’t still In place or at least in a broadcast museum somewhere so we could gaze upon it and know the beginnings of FM broadcasting.

Tom Gorton let me know about the ‘other one’ in our state - and sent the following picture: Attached is a picture I took a few years ago of the Eastern Washington chicken wire FM antenna.  I guess that means I know what and where it is...


Tower Top 2
 
If you look closely you can see they are slightly different.  Yes, they are FM Antennas…from long ago.  Now they are just funny looking extensions of AM antennas.

Ben Dawson provided a great deal of information - He explained how these antennas were called CellRays (The name I recalled) and were made by C.H. “Pop” Fisher who was a significant tower manufacturer and installer in the late 40’s and early 50’s.  Fisher apparently made and sold a number of the CellRays.  Ben noted that six of the original Portland FM’s used them.

Electrically they were the same as the RCA Pylon, however mechanically they were different in that the Fisher version used Screen while the RCA’s were solid.  Tom Gorton called it chicken wire…Actually the material was a heavy steel mesh.  Check out Pages 286 and 287 of this historic catalog for details of how the antenna works as well as the various models offered.
http://thehistoryofrecording.com/Literature/RCA/RCA-Broadcast-Audio-Equipment-Catalog-1950.pdf

As to where these antennas can be found?  The picture I started with I took in Longview.  I’ve seen another on a tower top in Walla Walla.  According to Ben there may well be others in various locations in the PNW.  I don’t know of any that are still in use as FM Radiators.

I’ve only been up-close to one of these in my time…Here is what I recall.  Many years ago, KTNT-FM went on the air in Tacoma.    (Now known as KIRO-FM).  One of their first antennas was a CellRay.  In fact there was a full page piece in the Tacoma News Tribune (they owned the radio station) talking about the advantages of FM and in this was an artist sketch showing the CellRay mounted on the top of the roof of their old studio building at 11th and Grant.  Now change scenes to the Clover Park School district in Lakewood in approx. 1957.  They had recently erected a tower (reportedly came from Kennewick) at the east end of Building 11 on what is now the Clover Park Technical College campus to support their TV antenna for Channel 56.  This old KTNT-FM CellRay found its way to Lakewood where it was ‘hung’ inside the big 4 legged tower with cables and was put to use with the Clover Park FM Station on 90.9 (Now KVTI).  I recall looking at this creature on the ground.  It was big and heavy and, if I recall, painted green.  The Antenna was replaced with a side mounting something-or-another and, if I recall the old CellRay was cut up for scrap.

In telling this story it’s interesting how apparently very few today know what that funny looking tower top is all about…In not too many years there will be no one that will recall that those devices were FM antennas…Likely thinking they have something to do with, as Tom put it…Birds…or chickens.

Of interest locally because they own 2 TV stations in the Seattle market - After some 90 years, the Chicago Tribune and their broadcast stations will no longer be owned by the same company.  The print business is being split off.

Another business item of interest in this area are the changes announced by Microsoft that they are going to cut 18,000 jobs in the next year.  Apparently a lot of these will be associated with Nokia which the local software giant purchased last year.  Not sure how many of these will involve their Seattle area operations.  The growth of Amazon is certain to offset the job losses.

So just how good is the tower business?  Well, according to American Tower….Business is good as they just reported their new revenue figures of just over a billion-bucks.


American Tower
   
Interestingly, many broadcasters have sold their towers to American and now lease space on them, apparently a good deal for both.  Here locally, ATC has a number of major sites, some of them devoted to Broadcast Operations.  Two on West Tiger, Two on Cougar and the Channel 11 tower on Capitol Hill are examples.

In previous issues of this column I have been commenting on how the Seattle area, or Washington State, ‘stacks-up’ in various categories.  This month the category is - Top States for Business.  Showing only those states where I know this column appears I found Washington ended up at #7 followed by Colorado at #8.  Idaho placed # 16 and Oregon at #22.  The best, Georgia…The worst, Road Island.

We keep hearing that the Feds are conducting another EAS National Test (EASNT)…Rumors now are that this will not take place until 2015.  The reason for the delay is the desire to make sure of a couple of things…One of them is the desire to be able to distribute a National Test using the FEMA/IPAWS system and the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP).  Another issue is the use of the Event Code NPT (National Periodic Test).  Granted this Event Code has been around a long time, however, it’s not been used.  Obviously the last EASNT unearths a few flaws that they don’t want to repeat.  Then there are the matters that are subject to the present EAS NPRM to consider.  In short, a lot of testing before the big test.  The goal of all of this is to be able to start doing EASNT’s on a more routine basis and develop assurance when this is done that everything will work as intended.

Another item this month that demonstrates that the Feds don’t like to rush into things (Health Care Website aside) The FCC has announced they have - tentatively - selected 5 winners out of a number of applicants for some translators that go back to the year 2000.  14 years ago!  Wow.  How’d you like to be one of those applicants?

I am old enough to when TV started catching on, resulting in a rapid decline in radio programs and with it the openly expressed thought that radio was doomed.  Radio responded by re-inventing itself into much the same thing you hear today.  Full Service stations were out, various music formats were in.  Long form broadcasts were out and DJ’s were in ….etc.  The true salvation for radio was the automobile radio.  (Remember when a car radio was an extra-cost option?)  Then along came 4 and 8 track tapes and cassettes and then CD’s…They too were to spell the demise of radio.  But Radio came along with better news programming and traffic reports.  Ever listen to 730 AM in Vancouver?...All traffic-All the time.  Many thought that Satellite Radio (XM Sirius) would kill local radio, or that it would never last.  History has proved that both of these predictions were wrong.  Today’s challenge to Radio is the Internet and its ability to ‘broadcast’ (stream) a number of radio type programs or music formats.  Systems like Pandora have gained a segment of the vehicle listener.  Radio is firing back with HD Radio and a number of textual and integrated systems to enhance the listener experience.

Then comes the result of a recent Forbes Survey….Mellennials (Those that are about 30 now) feel their smart phone is more important than their vehicle.  In fact, that phone they carry with them all the time is viewed as more important than a host of other things and devices.  To these folks, only 25% feel that their car comes first.  I guess we should not be surprised over this finding when you look at the number of people that appear to be consumed by these devices at the expense of whatever else is going on around them.  Is it any wonder that some radio groups have been fighting to get radios in cellphones…or that TV stations have spent millions to get their programming into the ‘hands’ of these folks.  We now have a society all hooked on their electronic binky.

Late word just in….The SBE has named Jim Dalke as its Engineer of the year.  I might note that winners of that award are a very select group (Ahem…I received that honor twice in the past).  Jim winning this award just shows you what hard work can do….and that age does not stand in the way.  Over the years Jim has come up with some great ideas for which he has received several patents.  He is always happy to share his ideas, being one of few from this area that have offered to do presentations for the chapter and, on the national stage, at NAB.  One of the projects that Jim has been working on for our local SBE Chapter is the Web Site…and here again his efforts have paid off as the Seattle SBE Chapter was just named the winner for the best Chapter Web Site.

As I wrap up this edition of Clay’s Corner - A couple of thoughts -

Be Silly - Indulging in a little silliness may have serious health benefits.  Cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center for a stronger sense of humor in people with healthy hearts than those who have suffered a heart attack.  They concluded that ‘laughter is the best medicine’…Especially when it comes to protecting your heart.  Seems to me that Readers Digest has been saying that very thing for many years…The Bible even speaks of this.  Pass this on to Mr. Grumpy, you may be doing him a favor.

If you are like me (I hope not….perhaps similar would be a good word) you probably have a collection of coffee cups that bring back memories.  I lost my favorite one some time ago (RF IS GOOD FOR YOU) ….Nothing like having a cup on your desk for a conversation piece…How about this one?  Great for the Chief Engineers desk!


Complaint Mug 

That’s it for this month ….Take some time to enjoy the summer we have left.  It won’t be long until the rains will return and the dried up Californians will be lusting after what we take for granted.

73, Clay, K7CR & CPBE