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Clay Freinwald

Clay’s Corner for September 2015

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


Certainly 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?

Drought Monitor

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 goes on.

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 time?

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)

Drought Outlook 

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!

Blue Moon Tower
 
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.

Farnsworth Tower Site

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.

Farnsworth in winter

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.

Site Station Height above average terrain Power (ERP) Service Contour length
Farnsworth KSL-TV 1267 Meters                                       
546 kW
525 Miles
West Tiger
KWPX-TV 716 Meters 400 kW 430 Miles
Queen Anne KOMO-TV 224 Meters 1000 kW 324 Miles
Farnsworth KSL-FM 1140 Meters
25 kW 370 Miles
West Tiger KMPS-FM 698 Meters 69 kW 299 Miles
Capitol Hill
KUOW-FM 224 Meters 100 kW 261 Miles
 
The TV stations located at Farnsworth are looking ahead and see some potential bumps in the road.

Farnsworth TV
 
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 –

Old KIRO GV30

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.

Video Transfer Equipment

Obviously film was put out to pasture with the advent of video tape and now tape has joined film with servers doing the work.
If you’d like to know more about broadcast terms – Look here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glossary_of_broadcasting_terms

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)

And -

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.

Alpha Media

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 will tell.

Radio Shack

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 clearance.

Gates Air

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’

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 attention.


So what is it?

Mohu Sky 60 Antenna
 
Mohu Sky 60 Amplified TV Antenna - Amplified multidirectional attic/outdoor HDTV antenna.

Kudos to Crutchfield who is classically known for selling upgrade options for vehicle stereo/music system for their publication on TV Antennas.  You can read it here – http://www.crutchfield.com/S-QyAqFrzqXZi/learn/learningcenter/home/antenna.html

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 Gold Mt.

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 translator.

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 program…..”SyNapse”.

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.