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Clay Freinwald

Clay’s Corner for November 2015

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


The weather predictors are out with another forward guess – Bottom line – they think the coming months (for us) will be cooler and drier.  The cool part is OK, but the dry part is scary.  When you think back about this past winter.  The map below shows brown for dryer and green for wetter.

 Weather Map

There are always those that believe that the colors of fall are only beautiful elsewhere….I beg to differ…The following was shot a couple of weeks ago looking down Gillman in Issaquah.  This was taken using my cellphone camera.

Fall Colors
 
When you say the name Orban to any broadcast engineer, Radio or TV, you are likely to be referring to the manufacturer of audio processing equipment founded by Bob Orban.  If you are in Europe the name Orban is more likely to make a person think of Viktor Orban who is the Prime Minister of Hungary.  Would be interesting if a broadcast equipment manufacturer in Hungary was called Obama!

Here’s a through the windshield shot looking at a portion of the Tiger Mountain Road.  For those of you that have to look at the back end of another vehicle while stuck in traffic…… I have no regrets at not having to commute to and from Downtown Seattle.

Traveling up the Tiger Mt. road however does have some issues.  Over the years the Tiger Mt. State Forest has become a haven for Mountain Bikes, many of which ride up the ‘Service Road’ from Tiger Summit (on SR18) to the beginning of a trail that takes them around East Tiger and back down.  It has been published that now 100,000 mountain bikers visit the trails of Tiger Mountain annually.  Generally sharing the road with these folks is not an issue, however, some of these riders have a different attitude and exhibit disdain for us using ‘their road’.  An article in the October 11th Seattle Times provides the reader with information about this growing sport, and provided those of us that drive up there for our job with some great news.  This coming spring a ‘climbing trail’ will open that should move the bikes off the service road.

Tiger Mountain Road   

Looks like the IT department at the FCC has been busy working on an upgrade to their web-site.  You can take a look by going to  prototype.fcc.gov.   The reason for this?   Compatibility with some of the new smartphones or tablets.    The legacy FCC site is still (for the time being) at www.fcc.gov.  One of the most popular items on the FCC’s site is ‘Query’ where you can locate information about radio or TV stations.  You can still get there at the new site – Look on the lower right side of the home page for Media (click there) than look for Broadcast Station Totals (no idea how these got connected, but click there) now you will find what you were looking for.  Oh Yes…The FCC wants to know what you think.

It’s always cool when someone you know and have worked with receives an award for their work.  First is Tom Silliman of ERI who was awarded the IEEE Broadcast Technology Society Jules Cohen award at the 2015 Broadcast Symposium in Orlando.    Second, David Layer of NAB who was presented the Matti Siukola Memorial Award.  Congrats to these two great guys!

Did you hear about ‘Bear’?….He’s a Black Lab (Dog) that works with the Seattle Police Department.  Not only does he chase the bad guy or sniff out drugs…He has quite a unique talent…He can still out cellphones and other electronic gizmos.  Now there is an ‘App’.  Perhaps you can teach your dog to not only fetch the paper or your slippers but locate your misplaced cellphone so you don’t have to call it.  Yes, this is a TRUE story.

I’m still receiving comments about how terms used in the past are confusing to the younger generations.  Here are some contributions emailed to me recently –

Go into your local Radio Shack (assuming you still have one in your area) and ask for a ‘Phone Plug’.  You are thinking about a ¼ inch plug you would put on the end of your earphone cord.

Ear Phone Plug
 
However the sales person is thinking – A plug you put on the end of a corded telephone, ala, RJ11.

 Telephone Plug

Just to check …I entered Phone Plug in a search engine and came up with both.

Now what if you ask for a ‘Phone Plug’.  Chances are, if you are in a more mature age group, you are thinking about something that we commonly called an RCA Plug (Yes, I know the sales person would want to know what an RCA is….But that's another story.)  Go ahead and ‘Google’ Phono Plug and see what happens.

Clark Novak who works for Telos, reminded me of a couple of old terms….
  • Telling the front-desk receptionist to ‘patch through an incoming call or ‘patch me thru to an external number’.   (Who today knows what a patch cord is, much less when telephone operators used them?)
  • After 20 years into DAW’s you still hear production guys talking about ‘spicing together audio tracks’ or ‘cutting out’ a mistake or sound….even though razor blades are no longer available in modern studios.

Are you ready for more term confusion?  Here it comes.  For some time HDR has meant HD Radio….well, not any more.  The Consumer Electronics Association has announced that HDR means High Dynamic Range (talking about video displays).  Displays were often referred to by terms like SD (Standard definition or NTSC etc.) Then came HD…Now we have HDR which features greater contrast ratios.  To keep your alphabet soup of terms up to do date….don’t forget ATSC, HDTV, HDR and, of course HDR/4K.  The hard part for Broadcasters is trying to keep up with the changes in terms of investing in new equipment…Especially with little annoyances like Reverse Auctions looming.  Then there are those that view TV stations as mere middle-providers…..and perhaps many TV stations are just that with little or no local programming.  Looking back a few years, the thought of a TV station without a number of locally produced programs and studios and staff to produce them was unheard of.  Welcome to the new normal.

On the subject of TV – The first Reverse Auction Opening Bid numbers have been released.  To view these, and look at the prices for the Seattle/Tacoma stations go to /portals/0/Reverse Auction Opening Prices 101615 Attachment.pdf.  Specifically note the prices listed for stations in this area, like KVOS.  There is much more to come on this topic as TV goes thru the biggest changes ever.  Related to this topic…..Do you find it interesting that Sprint has announced that they don’t need any additional spectrum?

By the way….If you would like to contribute to this column…You are welcome to email me at k7cr(at)blarg.net.

Every once in a while I run across a word that seems logical, but one I have not heard or used….
ENTREPRENEURSHIP or Entrepreneurship.  Toss that one into an email and see what kind of reaction you get Smiley Face

So what is the FCC going to come up with that will ‘save’ AM Radio?  A number of small AM radio station owners have been telling the Commish that they need an FM Translator to survive, perhaps as if there was an endless supply of unused frequencies for these systems?  I’m sure that many of these AM owners feel that the FCC made the wrong decision with the licensing of a number of LPFM’s.  The demise of AM Radio has a number of causes.  In my view, one of the major reasons for this is the fact that today we have a multitude of means of receiving information and entertainment that are more compatible with lifestyles today.  Recently I was in a meeting where one of the participants said that they did not listen to radio and would do so only if everything else they had did not function.  AM with its erratic schedules (People no longer tolerate nor understand a radio station that goes away at sunset etc.) and noisy reception is hardly going to be on the top of everyone’s list of places to go.  The decline of AM Radio can, perhaps, be viewed as a natural process.  Just like the demise of many other older devices that have been replaced by something better.  To be sure there were those that were opposed to the automobile and fought to keep the horse and buggy.  The decline in the number of AM stations speaks volumes for what’s taking place, with the number of AM stations now at the lowest level in the last 30 years!  I can understand that many local communities will, potentially, be left without a local Radio station in the future….however, perhaps this is a natural process?

Perhaps bucking this trend, the AM station in Oak Harbor is planning a major upgrade.  Perhaps helping this a bit is the fact that there are no commercial FM’s in Skagit County?  Word is that the new owners of 1250 who have been operating with ‘Flea Power’ at night are near a solution to the problem that was created with the loss of their night-site in Kirkland.

Well, it finally happened.  We now have HD Radio on the air in our neighbor to the north.  Vancouver’s CFMI-FM on 101.1 has added HD Radio.  Tuning your HD Radio to 101.1 will result in, for the first time, hearing the station in Digital.  Selecting HD2 you will hear CKNW AM980.  I certainly welcome our neighbors to the world of HD Radio!  I wonder if new vehicles sold in Canada are coming with HD Radio standard as they are here.

Since the introduction of FM HD Radio, one of the major little technical issues with broadcasting HD Radio has been the matter of time alignment.  For those readers not familiar with this, let me explain –

When you tune in an FM Station running HD Radio, your receiver will rather instantly start producing sound from that station's analog FM broadcasts.  Then, about 8 seconds later, your receiver will transition from FM to Digital (or to what’s commonly called HD-1).  Should you be mobile and drive into an area where the Digital or HD Signals are not as robust, your receiver will switch back to analog FM.  (This is most noticeable on stations with low HD signal levels caused by operating with less power than permitted by the FCC, inferior transmitting antennas or other reasons.)

In order to not annoy the listener, it’s important that these transitions be as seamless as possible.  Due to the difference in the systems (FM vs HD) there are timing differences that can cause the two systems to not be in ‘Time-Alignment’, causing the listener to hear repeats, echo’s or other artifacts.  The loudness and equalization of the two modes should be matched as close as possible to minimize the impact of the transition.  The goal should be to have it be almost in-audible.

Early, first generation HD Transmitting equipment was based on a computer platform where the analog FM audio was delayed to match the HD Audio.  This system worked, but there were negative aspects to this method.  Later, the major manufacturers to audio processing equipment incorporated the FM Audio delay into their new offerings.  This was a major step forward and most stations today utilize this system.  There were still issues, mainly, the time alignment (difference in timing between the analog FM and HD Audios) would vary, causing artifacts that were annoying to the listeners that had HD receivers, especially those in vehicles where reception differences exacerbated the problem.

Granted, not all broadcasters feel the same way about this detail, however those that are looking seriously at the future of HD-R and are anticipating an increase in the number of listeners to the mode thanks to the auto industry opting to make HD Standard are moving in a couple of directions.  They are purchasing new equipment to increase the power of HD Radio transmitters and are looking at equipment that will make the FM to HD transition as smooth as possible.

Recently equipment manufacturers are recognizing these issues with firms like Nautel and GatesAir introducing transmitting equipment that will deliver the higher HD power levels.  Other firms are addressing the timing or Time-Alignment issue.  In some cases a partnership is created between makers of monitoring equipment and those who produce audio processors.  Wheatstone, Belar, Omnia, Orban, Day Sequerra and Inovonics (and perhaps others) are involved with making this process automatic.

The picture below shows the Audio processing equipment at KING-FM in Seattle.  The top item is their newly installed Inovonics Justin 808 that handles time-alignment automatically. KING-FM is one of the first in Seattle to install this equipment.  It’s likely they will be joined by other stations wishing to maximize the listening experience for those that already have HD Radios…and especially those that will be new to the mode.  KING also recently installed a new transmitter in order to maximize the coverage of their HD Radio signals.  KING broadcasts three different classical music services on their HD1, 2 and 3.

 KING-FM Audio Equipment

For some time the rumors have been flying about that Tom McGinley is going to retire as Chief of the local CBS Radio cluster.  Moving this from rumor to fact was the that a position is now posted on the CBS Web Site - http://cbscorporation.jobs/seattle-wa/chief-engineer/8489C17CBDC14CC285914DEEACF7DA76/job/.  Understand that Tom will be retiring to Missoula, Montana.  Gonna miss yah Bro!

Time to make your plans for NAB 2016 in Las Vegas….April 16 thru 21.  Every year they come up with a snazzy word to use in publicizing the show – This year – ‘Unleashed’.  I’m guessing it has nothing to do with your dog.Don’t forget you can’t stay at the Riviera….It’s gone.
Riviera Las Vegas

Broadcasters in Portland had a learning experience recently when the President was in town…A whole lot of microwave systems  were suddenly getting interference…Funny how it stopped when he left.  I recall something similar in the Seattle area during fleet-week a few years ago when the Navy turned on something that ‘did a number’ on a lot of STL’s.  Guess it’s OK for the Feds to do it.

Gee, maybe there won’t be any radio towers at Pt. Roberts.  Appears a Skagit County judge has said no to an appeal by the applicant that wanted to erect a multi-tower array just south of the BC Border.  In light of the state of AM Radio, it's surprising that anyone would spend this much money on a project like this.  But again, this is why I’m not in management.  This process may or may not have another chapter.

November 2nd will long be known as the Nielsen Scramble as the ratings outfit rolls out their new ‘improved’ software with all stations in the Seattle area expected to perform the upgrade at the same time.  Still sound like an admission that Voltaire was right to me.

For reasons not completely clear to me….many equipment operators (especially some DJ’s) have an urge to write on equipment.  Some will simply trace around buttons, controls and other hardware with a pen…Others will go as far as to write down phone numbers (as if they are denied paper to doodle on).  Dwight Small recently picked a well used Gates Yard audio console for his antique radio station equipment collection…..This one shows (graphically) what I mean.

Gates Yard Audio Console

 
From time to time someone comes up with a unique Clock.  This one certainly fits that category.  Time displayed on analog panel meters.  Wonder how many kids today that are unable to tell-time from an analog clock would be able to decipher this item?  I would be tempted to find some meters like they use in industrial applications with 270 deg. movements…Bigger the better!

 Angular Clock Kit
 
Clock Meter

Just imagine this meter with a new scale – 0-60 minutes…Very cool!

Broadcasters are again hearing lots of praise as they provide the public with valuable/needed information during the recent rain-storms in South Carolina.

Every once in a while you run across a couple of signs that poke your funny bone.  Likely that the two folks that put these signs up didn’t have a clue as to how they related.

Electric - No Outlet

On the topic of Signs – How about this one for the more technically challenged on your staff?
 
Caution No Brain Sign

Understand that the new CIRH-FM 98.3 in the Vancouver area is causing folks to call Seattle’s KING-FM to complain about interference.  KING-FM is, of course, on 98.1.  Their protected contour is well short of the Canadian Line.

One of the big news items this past month is the purchase of Audion Labs by Wheatstone.  Audion is well known for making the very popular audio editor called Vox Pro.  For those of us in the Radio Biz in Seattle we have followed the development of this product by a former DJ at KUBE, Charlie Brown.  I vividly recall him bringing by this device when I was Chief at KBSG back in the 90’s.  It would do what nothing else would and was quickly added to the system at the station.  Wheatstone says Vox Pro will remain independent but they will be handling sales and support.  Congrats to Charlie for his vision that has made life a whole lot easier for many in Radio.  Another great Seattle success story.

Congratulations to Hubbard Broadcasting stations as they did very well in the recent round of Marconi Radio Awards, winning 6.  Of particular note is Seattle’s KQMV/92.5 which was named CHR Station of the year for 2015.

I recently had fun with the word ‘Line’ ….causing a couple of old friends to respond.  Nels Harvey (who reads this stuff from Milwaukee) said I had a great line and he could not hold the line on that remark.  David Christian (retired Chief from KPLU) submitted a couple more uses for the word line – Plumb Line and Chalk Line.  Thanks guys, glad you enjoyed it.

A couple of birthdays to note –
  • The Grand Ole Opry is 90 years old.  How many broadcast programs on radio or TV can beat that?
  • On Oct 15th our own KIRO-710 AM turned 80.

(Nice to write about things that are older than I am.)

Congratulations to retired KIRO announcer Phil Johnson on passing his Amateur Radio Exam.  He is well on his way to re-gaining his old call letters K7BNU from 1958.  Phil is the Chairman of the Central Puget Operational Area for EAS.

Could Heathkit be making a come-back?  Heathkit

Could be.  Not likely you will see the broad range of offerings that we recall from years ago, however they are moving forward…..again.  Check out www.heathkit.com.  I especially love their home page…A picture of a kit that I built back in the early 70’s of an SB-303 Amateur Band Receiver!  I do wish them well.

Always enjoy seeing statistics related to our industry.    Here’s some new data –
  • 86% of all US households own at least one HDTV
  • 64% say they have two or more

They say that timing is everything – In the middle of October, Tiger Mountain experienced a 6+ hour power failure that was not storm related.  Then a couple of days later, on Oct 20th I received an email from PSE….A portion of which is shown below. (Note the date.)

October 12, 2015
 
Prepare your business for stormy and cooler weather.
 
With the season's approach of stormy and cold weather, we want to make sure you're aware of the resources that can help you and your business in the event of a power outage or if you have concerns about your natural gas equipment.
 
Be prepared. Stay connected.
 
Report and track power outages online or from your mobile device.  Use our online outage map or download the free myPSE app to your mobile device to report your business's power outage and track the restoration process and progress.
 
Find additional outage information

•    Check our social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter and Flickr.
•    Get local weather updates from NOAA(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).
•    Prepare your business and family through the American Red Cross' Safe in the Sound program.
 
We appreciate the opportunity to serve your energy needs.
 
Puget Sound Energy
Your Business Services Team

Reports are that Ernie Jones, noted tower designer and climber/inspector was killed on Oct. 21st in Oklahoma City while working on the KOCO tower there.  Reports are the accident involved the use of the towers elevator.  Ernie was 65 and will be missed by many in this industry.

Ernie Jones

WSAB has selected Keith Shipman as new President and CEO, who will be replacing Mark Allen who is retiring on Dec. 31 of this year.  Keith will be the 7th CEO to Lead the 80 year old organization.  He has an extensive background in broadcasting, having started as a DJ at KPUG in Bellingham in 1978.  He will start working with Mark on Dec. 1 during a 30 day transition period.  Mark
Allen has been CEO of the WSAB for 25 years.

Keith Shipman

The folks at Radio World recently released some interesting information in the form of how many broadcast stations are on the air in various categories and how things have changed in the last 10 years.

First of all, despite all the crying about the death of AM Radio …There are still 4692 Stations.  That down 66 from 10 years ago.

Commercial FM’s continue to increase in number with 6688 now compared to 6215 in ’05.  The big gain is in the number of non-commercial FM’s, now at 4090 up from 2626 only 10 years ago – a big 56% increase.  As expected, LPFM’s are up 128% (with more going on the air all the time).

TV Station totals are about the same.

Speaking of TV – Antennas Direct has been going around the country giving away thousands of TV Antennas.  Most recently 300 of them were given away in Sioux Falls, S.D.  This all in an effort to help OTA TV.  I’ve not heard of such a program in the Seattle area.  Come to think about it…I wonder why TV stations in Seattle (and perhaps other cities) never mention the fact that people can actually get their station with an antenna and tell people how to do it?  With all the news about cord-cutting, you’d think that TV stations would be actively promoting OTA TV.  Perhaps more reasons why I am in Engineering and not management?

And finally - (Time to stop the pain.)

Our collection of things of the past was received well…So how about some of the sounds the ‘more mature’ of us would instantly recognize that would not be recognizable by the more ‘newly minted’ among us?

Mechanical Alarm Clock – I remember falling asleep to the ticking of an old Alarm Clock….to me it was restful, to a young person today it would probably be viewed as distracting.

Mechanical TV Tuner - Remember the clunk, clunk, clunk of the old turret tuners?

Vibrator Buzz – Remember when you turned on the car radio and you heard this buzzing sound like an embedded electric razor?

Dial pulses - This little tic-tic-tic sound was often hear in telephone conversations back in the days of rotary dial telephones.

The sound of silence - That’s what we heard when we turned on a radio or TV….It was the lack of sound produced while the set was ‘warming up’.  Ask any young person what ‘warming up’ a radio or TV means.

Dial Tone - With the demise of land-line phones, especially with the younger set, it’s doubtful that many of these folks would recognize that funny noise coming from your phone.

Hiss, crackle, scratch etc. - Today’s equipment is capable of delivering reliable great sounds with minimal noise (Sorry AM Radio)….In days past this was not the case and it was not at all unusual for a person to listen to a program from a distant station with lots of noise that today would not be tolerated.  TV is now crystal clear and in full color….Many of us watching a snowy, black and white, picture thinking it was great.

Manual Typewriter or Teletype machine - Boy did those things make noise, chunk-chunk-chunk-ding!
Now in an office all you hear is keys clicking.  Speaking of which, how come they still call it typing?

The National Anthem - Remember when radio or TV stations signed on or off with the playing of the Star Spangled Banner?

The Bulk Eraser - That once familiar buzzing made by those devices to erase tapes is no longer heard.

Mechanical Bells - Hardly ever hear them anymore…They’ve all been replaced with electronic sound producers.  And tell me…How can a phone be said to be ‘ringing’ when it is clearly ‘tweeting’??

Getting fuel for your vehicle – As I was filling up the tank on my truck the other day I recalled a number of sounds that are not in-audible - That ding-ding when you drove over that hose that told the ‘attendant’ that they had a customer.  How about when the attendant came to you, after washing your windshield asking if you would like your oil or tire pressures checked?  Then again, what happened to the term ‘service-station’?....oh never mind.

Then again there are those of us that remember when radio announcers/aka, DJs could hear much of anything.  Back then headphones were made of a substance that came before plastic and were not fed with 50 Watt Amplifiers!

That’s it for this month - Thanks to all of you that take the time to read this column…Hearing that you do certainly makes my day….And encourages me to do another one next month.  If you have sounds from the past or pictures to share – Please do forward them to me and I will share with my readers.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving (Yes, it’s just about here).

Clay, K7CR, CPBE