Providing news and views from a broadcast engineer's perspective since September 1986
one of the top stories this month has been the weather and our
continued drought that's been punctuated by massive wildfires all over
the area. The following map underscores the situation. I
can’t recall ever a time when all of Western Washington is classified as
either a severe or extreme drought! Look at the normally wet
Olympia Peninsula, home of the famous ‘Rain Forest’. It’s even in
that category. What are folks going to say in other parts of the
country… Are they going to have to re-invent their concept of Seattle
upon learning that it does not rain all of the time?
This situation is likely to have an impact on all of us…Our traditional
reliance on cheap Hydro-Power will be replaced with higher costs for
electricity. Fires will become more wide-spread. The list
Then again it depends on who you believe. The Farmer’s Almanac is
out with their predictions for the coming winter. According to
this old publication – The PNW is going to get a lot of snow in
mid-December, early to mid-January and mid to late February. Have
not heard what they have to say about rainfall.
Wonder if William Shatner (aka Captain Kirk) will retract his idea of
building a pipeline to Seattle to get water from where it rains all the
The big question on everyone’s mind – Is this going to get better or
worse? – Well the forecasters don’t paint a pretty picture of the road
ahead. Look at these maps and you can quickly see that this is not
just a California problem. It’s the whole left side of the
country. (see the following map)
I recently attended a workshop for the Cascadia Rising exercise that is
dealing with a potential mega-earthquake. From this a number of
issues have come to light. Most importantly, the likelihood that
the EAS will be either knocked out of commission, or will be unable to
handle the volume of information flow from Emergency Management to the
electronic media that will be required. In the ‘good old days’ of
the EBS, we had wireless systems installed between Emergency Operations
Centers (EOC’s) and certain radio stations (in those days they were call
CPCS’s). These systems were largely removed as the design of the
EAS called for the distribution of emergency messages via – ALL –
broadcaster (and later cable systems) instead of a particular
station. Cascadia Rising, and the wild-fires we are having, are
causing me to want to re-consider or reverse this decision. The
underlying thought is what can we do – beyond EAS – to provide this
vital communications link. The fact is, should the EAS go down in a
major quake – There is no existing method for the major EOC’s to communicate status information to the electronic media. This is something that must be fixed.
In fact SBE 16 is working on just that. In the smaller markets
impacted by the fires, we could well be better serving the citizens in
that area with those old systems of radios linking EOC’s to those
systems that can reach the public. Perhaps there is a role for all
of those old Marti RPU systems and, perhaps, that old EAS endec that
you removed a while back? This is a discussion that needs to take
place ASAP. After the ashes have cooled with the wildfires, there
will be many conversations on what we could have done better. I
hope to be a part of this and I invite you to join me. Drop me an
email, let’s have lunch and come up with improvements that go well
beyond the EAS toward an improved communications infrastructure.
In a somewhat related subject – The concept of having FM Receivers in
Cellphones appears to be gaining traction. Recently the CEO of
locally based T-Mobile said it would activate the FM chips in certain
handsets, joining Sprint and AT&T. This would be a great
addition to the WEA messages that you now receiver on you phones.
The problem, however, is knowing what station to tune into should there
be an urgent reason to do so. The other issue is that, in some
cases, the stronger FM signals (that would be easier for these hybrid
devices to work with) may be FM stations that have no news departments,
are automated juke boxes etc.
As my readers know…I work in the broadcast industry almost always near
towers of all shapes and sizes. Every once in a while I get to see
a picture of a tower that just happened to be in a picture whose focus
was on something else. In this case, the goal was to take a
picture of the Blue Moon from last month. The tower, located in Istanbul just happened to add the touch that caught my attention – Great shot!
Keep wondering if those are FM Broadcast antennas on the right side of the tower?
Another great picture was forwarded to me by DOE of KIRO Radio, Tom
Pierson. This one of the FM Panel array on Farnsworth Peak, the
major FM/TV transmission site for the Salt Lake basin. In the
event you recognize the name of the place – Farnsworth is named after
Philo Farnsworth who is credited with the invention of television.
He died in 1971 and is buried in Provo.
The antenna is a 4 sided array with 7 bays. Unlike the Seattle
area where we have our broadcast stations scattered at various sites –
(Gold, Cougar and West Tiger, Queen Ann and Capitol Hill) Farnsworth is
the site of choice for that area. Like West Tiger, there is more
than one facility on the mountain (tower and/or transmitter
building). Together this mountain Is the site of choice for 17 FM
stations and 19 TV stations of various powers and classes.
Farnsworth is located at the south end of Salt Lake and West of Salt
Lake City. Coverage from the site is extensive thanks to its
physical location relative to the cities it serves and it’s elevation
(Just over 9,000 feet). Keep in mind that SLC is already at 4327
ft. AMSL. The following is a picture of Farnsworth in the
winter. If you look close, you can see the towers on the summit
just to the right of the blue sign.
Just for fun, I compared certain Farnsworth to broadcast TV and FM
facilities to those in our area. As you can see, Farnsworth
works quite well.
Height above average terrain
Service Contour length
The TV stations located at Farnsworth are looking ahead and see some potential bumps in the road.
Specifically the impact of the move to ‘repack’ the TV channels?
Reportedly 8 co-located TV stations at Farnsworth are concerned about
the impact on Interference, intermod etc. and the cost that resolving
these issues could mean. The question is – Did the FCC consider
co-located TV stations when they proposed a, post auction, repack?
There are a number of markets where this could well be an issue that
should be a part of the re-pack equation. For example – Look at
Chicago and NYC where there are a lot of co-located stations on
roof-tops. As I noted in a previous issue….Site owners (I used the
example of Mt Sutro in SFO) are rightly concerned about suddenly being
faced with government mandated changes in frequencies etc. Seattle
is fortunate in that we don’t have everyone in the same location….The
closest we have to that is Capitol Hill where we have 3 stations that
are in very close proximity. Certainly moving to another site is
not going to be a viable answer. Another factor impacting
Farnsworth is the fact that, like FM stations, TV has an 8 input
combiner for channels 34-48. Betcha they never thought the Feds
would ever want to shuffle the deck as they are now proposing.
Historically, once a station signs on – It’s on that channel for
good. All I can say is – whadda mess. The admonition of
‘hide and watch’ seems appropriate.
Repacking will certainly involve our neighbor to the north due to
failure of the 49th parallel faraday shield project. Apparently
the US and Canada have reached an initial agreement on how this would
work for stations along the border. Nice to know that the two
governments are in agreement on this…The wild-card remains what will
take place in the auction. Then there is the proposed category of
TV station that would come from those that give up (sell) their RF
spectrum and work out a sharing agreement with more or more other
stations in the market. Can you just see KING programming on KOMO
etc. All this made possible by sharing the RF ‘bit stream’.
If someone 20 years ago had predicted that TV would come to this – They
would have been thought of as a candidate for the ‘funny-farm’.
As if this were not enough – There are those that are telling us that
when ATSC-3.O arrives everyone will have to get a converter box
(again). Makes me wonder who is working harder to kill Television
in this country?
While I am on the subject of transmitters – As reported in a previous
column, KIRO-FM replaced one of their Continental 816 transmitters with a
new Nautel GV30. Apparently the one displaced will be heading
east to Lewiston, Idaho where it will have another life. Here’s a
shot of it leaving the building it’s called home since 1987 –
Meanwhile, KING-FM is moving one of their Continentals from West Tiger
(it was much newer than KIRO’s) to replace their auxiliary at Cougar
which is a Collins 831G2…Now that unit is looking for a new home.
HD Radio has been slow to take off for a number of reasons, principally
because, unlike TV, there is no government mandate behind it.
(Think the All-Channel law and shift from NRSC to ATSC). This has
caused many station owners, especially in smaller markets to be quick to
state that they will not make the investment until such time as there
are more receivers out there. (Perhaps transmitting to no-one
might not please the average bean-counter.) That excuse may be
starting to evaporate with all the new vehicles coming out with HD built
in. Previously, if you wanted HD in your vehicle you had to go
out and buy one and have it installed (unless you are like me and do
this yourself). According to iBiquity, the outfit behind HD-R, of
the almost 250 million vehicles on the road, 10% or about 25 million are
equipped with HD built-in, a percentage that is bound to increase as
time goes by. Interestingly, HD-R is viewed very differently in
smaller markets. Here in Seattle, we now have a number of stations
that have purchased new transmitters…A decision that has been partially
driven by the desire to increase HD channel power levels and coverage,
yet in smaller markets, HD transmitting equipment is still not in the
budget. User experiences are likely going to drive the future
here. A station operating with -14 or -10 dbc HD carriers is going
to have superior coverage to those that are still operating -20.
No broadcaster enjoys having another one get the best of him. The
smaller markets have been pretty immune to the HD-R movement because of
poor receiver penetration. With vehicles now coming with the mode
built in…They may well change as well. If you are old enough to
recall – The very SAME THING happened with FM. Early on, only
geeks (like me) had an FM in his car (an add-on box that I had to
purchase and install)…Finally radios were coming with FM built in….and
the rest is history.
Familiar with the AFCCE? They are the Association of Federal
Communications Consulting Engineers…Recently noted that a fellow whom I
worked with at West Tiger is now their President. At the time Eric
Wandel was working with ERI and we were putting our heads together on
how to ‘back-feed’ the original West Tiger combiner for HD-Radio.
Last month I wrote about old equipment and manufacturers - How could I
forget the Kinescope? For years I would hear, on the air, a
statement telling viewers that the following program was a ‘Kinescope
recording’. The problem was, no one knew what this meant.
Here’s a picture of one of the devices that did the work of transferring video to film.
Thanks to everyone that sent me emails from all over the country about
this topic…Certainly caught the attention of many. From the ‘I
stand corrected department’ –
Mark Huffstutter at KING5 – Wrote –
Clay! - I think You have been out of the TV Station
line for too long! Or at least The Studio. In the Studio, a
“Truck” is a Left or Right movement of the camera, Relative to the
set. There is no “Truck” in or out. You “Dolly” in or out. End of Whining from TV Boy! 73 Mark KB7WAL
(This one was also caught by Dwight Small)
Fred Greaves from Red Lion, PA reminded us about the term ‘Mickey Mike’,
which meant Micro-Micro Farad later replace with the term Picofarad or pF… now more commonly call a Puff.
Factoid - Cost of renting an apartment in Seattle = 1500/Mo or about 30%
of the average workers’ pay…High you say? In LAX and SFO land
it’s about 50% more.
Looks like Alpha Media is the big deal maker in the world of Radio these
days and they continue to gobble up stations and whole groups. So
far….No Alpha stations in the Seattle area.
The latest, the way I understand it, with the Nielsen/Voltaire matter –
Nielsen is making changes to their encoding scheme claiming that it will
make the Voltaire un-necessary ….Hmmm – Could this be that Nielsen is
admitting that the folks behind Voltaire were correct? Does this
mean that those stations that thought that Nielsen results were accurate
in the past are finding out that this was not the case? What’s to
prevent some legal action as a result of all of this? Guess time
Here in my hometown of Auburn, our local Radio Shack is open for
business. Went in the other day looking for a couple of items
(They had one). Apparently inventory of electronic parts is still
pretty minimal. About a third of the place's floor space is now
devoted to Sprint.
Kudos to GatesAir on being awarded a number of patents for broadcast
related systems. It’s great to know that creativity continues to
move forward with the former Harris Broadcast folks.
These seven patents join the 238 other U.S. and Global patents GatesAir
has received. The company also has seven other patents pending
Speaking of Gates Air – Had a very enjoyable lunch recently with Jon
Owen who works out of his office in West Seattle. I got to know
Jon when he was the assistant chief at Entercom’s Rochester, NY.
cluster. Great to have you in our area Jon!
I’m always on the lookout for new technical terms – This one was new to me- A ‘VARIATOR’
The trend continues – This time it’s Townsquare Media that has sold a
number of its towers. In this case, 43 of them to Vertical
Bridge. The towers are located in 41 states and 28 markets.
As to why they did this – Their CEO Steven Price put it this way – “We
are very excited to complete this transaction which will allow us to
unlock capital sequestered in non-strategic tower assets at an
attractive valuation level”. Guess I never thought a broadcaster's
tower was viewed as a ‘non-strategic asset’. When one goes down,
they certainly do!
I’m a long-time antenna watcher….Always looking up to see the latest
‘wave catcher’. This one (borrowed from Crutchfield) did catch my
Taking a page from broadcasting history – the movement has begun to try
and convince the FCC to permit certain LPFM’s to increase their power
from 100 to 250 watts. The same arguments, just different
proponents. But hey!....The FCC did roll-over with the old Class 4
AM’s and let them increase power from 250 to 1000’s watts even though,
in many cases, it insured their mutual destruction….And they are about
to drop broadcast TV into a similar ‘solution machine’. The
Commission, rather than being a protector for what’s there…appears to be
on the path of doing anything to avoid having a group unhappy with
them. Why should we expect less?
What happened to 91.7 (KXOT)….It was reportedly sold, then went silent,
just to remain that way?? Just listened on my truck radio and all I
can hear is two weak stations (at the same time). I wrote about
the sale of this station to Bible Broadcasting Network back in
February. Last I heard, they were supposed to come back on the air
as KYFQ. The station's transmitter was at the KCPQ/13 Site on
Another mystery is 1480 AM from Lakewood….The station was sold, along
with a couple of others, but the towers are gone and, reportedly the
equipment is in storage. Perhaps this will be another place for a
bit of creative antenna engineering by Jim Dalke? Interestingly
they also had an FM Translator that is also now dark. KPLU
recently took advantage of that situation by improving their View Park
IBM (Remember them?) has been at work developing a chip with a million
neurons that enables it to function like a human brain. This is
something to be concerned about as I have observed that not all human
brains function the same way. Big Blue (as they were once called)
says the device is a giant step forward for artificial
intelligence. Apparently the size reduction has the potential to
cram the power of a super computer into a form factor the size of a
postage stamp. Gotta love the name of their development
An official ‘welcome to the PNW’ going out to Jason Royals, new to the
Engineering Department of WSU’s Northwest Public Radio. He will be
based in Pullman.
Every once in a while I hear an expression that puts a smile on this old
face….In this case a description of a radio receiver having less than
desirable sensitivity…Using a reference that we are all familiar with.
“As deaf as a motel radio".
How often have you found a great working and sounding motel radio? The acid test is one that really works on AM.
Every once in a while I come across something that really expresses
it. In this case it was a comment posted to the popular
engineering remailer “Pubtech” by Michael Leclair. With his
permission – here it is –
Of course you have to first figure out if you
are dealing with a complex problem or not! It's like when someone
calls the IT helpdesk and the first action they ask you to take is to
reboot the computer (is this a complex problem or not?) they are using
this question to see if it is a Mencken's Rule situation, before going
off into an elaborate decision tree to determine what might be at
fault. It's surprising how many times someone will respond, "no I
haven't rebooted yet because I'm afraid that I will lose all my
data." Or sometimes they just want to see if you can crank out an
explanation without any information at all, like the priestesses at a
Roman temple (known to occasionally answer questions about the
unknowable, whether right or wrong). I also combine Mencken with Occam's Razor - in a
situation where there are two possible solutions the simplest one is the
most likely answer. Note "most likely," as in "not always but
most of the time." Which tends to somewhat contradict
Mencken. Over the years I have encountered a certain class
of technicians/engineers that always trend toward the most complex and
expensive answers when it comes to finding a solution to a
problem. An example might be trying to replace all the capacitors
on a pre-amp before checking to see if the microphone cable is
broken. These are people you should rarely listen to. But
sometimes they are right, in the same way that a broken clock will get
the time correct twice a day. And then there are complex problems
that humble us with how much we don't understand about the world.
For those there is Pubtech!
That’s about it for this month – Enjoy summer and pray for rain!
Especially for those of us that never did like ‘second-hand smoke’.
Clay, K7CR, CPBE
DON’T REGRET GETTING OLDER. IT IS A PRIVILEGE DENIED TO MANY.