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Clay Freinwald

Clay’s Corner for December 2014

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


Think about this one for a moment – You build a nice new TV facility, costing millions of dollars…You go on the air … Then the whole station shuts down due to an electrical problem back in July and come to learn  that it will cost $1.8  Million to repair it and it won’t be back on-line until summer due to the lack of availability of spare parts.  Add to this the cause of the problem was a design flaw dating back 17 years and the parts must be manufactured in Germany.  Sounds like the perfect nightmare, does it not?  This is the sad story of the Ferry Tacoma.  Yet another botched project by our State Department of Transportation ….Your tax dollars at work.

For many years, before the wireless revolution, we had tons of spectrum set-aside for future TV stations.  Then came the transition from analog to DTV and a lot of that spectrum was put to work for duplicate stations during the transition.  When that process was completed the total number of stations went back to about what it was before the conversion.  But, by then, the hunt for spectrum was on  and the Feds had come to understand that the Wireless industry would happily pay for it.  Then the Feds looked at the TV transition and ‘discovered’ that they had allowed a ‘checkerboard’ pattern of spectrum utilization ....Not good for a wireless system that needed the same spectrum coast-to-coast….So the Feds decided to re-shuffle the TV stations into  specific spectrum with the goal of freeing up blocks of spectrum for the wireless industry.  Along the way the thought occurred to them that this new spectrum would fetch zillions of bucks…and just maybe some TV stations would rather shut down and take some of this new loot.  At least this is the way I understand the program.  The Feds, at least so far, are letting TV station owners decide whether to take the spectrum auction money, as handled by the Federal Broker, or continue in the business.  Apparently some stations have already looked at their bottom line and have announced that they will sell.  Others, usually majors in big markets, are likely to stay in the business.  There are some wild-cards in this mix.  What about those stations that are located near Canada?  If you recall there is a big chunk of BC that is South of Bellingham.  What will the Canadians do with this Yankee plan?  (Think the TV stations with transmitters on Mt. Constitution).  What about the NCE TV stations that are owned by the State, like Bates two operations in Tacoma and Chehalis?  Just wondering….would the State sell these to help with their budget shortfalls?  How about the religious stations operated by Daystar or TBN?  Will they sell-out, or stay on as a fund-raising tool?...Or…Will the whole idea collapse as suggested by Ion Media CEO Brandon Burgess?

Think about those that are impacted by all of this –
  • Stations that wish to continue to operate wonder what channel they might end up on.
  • Stations that want to cash-in are left to wonder if they will be able to.
  • Antenna makers are all on hold waiting to see if they get a bunch of orders for new products, or not.
  • Wireless outfits are wondering if they will get more spectrum for their users' ever increasing demands.
Looking at the first phase of the spectrum auctions has produced some pretty startling numbers with reportedly total bidding surpassing $30 Billion.  Is it no wonder that the Feds are anxious to add a bunch of former TV channels to their list of items on the auction block?  AT&T, Verizon and the Dish Network obviously have very deep pockets, or those that are financing their bidding certainly do.

Changing the focus a bit…Look at the AM Band.  There are a number of AM’s that have already cashed in…Not for funds from the wireless industry, but rather from land developers.  Recently such an event took place in Kirkland where two radio stations lost their site with one of them going dark.  As the economic situation for AM’s becomes more bleak, the property under that antenna system may well have the potential to make more money than operating the radio station.  Not all stations are in this boat for sure, for example the 1210 in Auburn and the 3 stations in the Bellevue Swamp, likely don’t have this way out, as their antennas are sitting on land that cannot be used for other purposes.  The bottom line for many TV and Radio stations will dictate their future…in not too many years all of this may well look very different.

It finally happened – KDDS managed to get a better auxiliary transmitter installed on North Mountain (down the ridge from South Mountain) with the installation of a much more trustworthy Continental.  This project was delayed for several years.  Working on the project were Doug Fisher, Alex Brewster, Nick Winter and myself.  The good news is we we're able to get this completed before the first snow.

While up there we were rewarded with a spectacular sunset one evening.

Sunset from North Mountain
 
This picture was taken from what’s called North Mountain, looking SSW.  The tower on the right is on the summit of South Mountain and is now the home for 93.7, 99.3 and 97.7.  Tower on the left is operated by the Feds.

Taken on another night is this picture, looking west, showing the harbor and the Pacific Ocean beyond.  This site is approx. 50 miles SW of downtown Seattle.

Harbor ocean view

Now that Whatcom County has turned down the application of KVRI to move to Pt. Roberts, the dust continues to fly.  The owners of the station are, apparently, going to appeal the decision.  Meanwhile the CRTC has come down with a decision to prohibit the production of radio programs in Canada and transmitting to Canadian audiences using transmission facilities in the US.

As you know, legendary AM station KGY in Olympia was recently sold to Sacred Heart who also operates KBLE (AM) in Seattle.  Now to complete the change the call letters have been changed from KGY to KBUP.  Often call letters have a hidden meaning…but in this case, I’m not even going to try.

Everyone talks about climate change these days….however little has been said about the impact on broadcasting.  In one of these columns a while back I did mention the impact on the rise in Sea-Level on a couple of AM’s in our area – 570 at Vashon Island and 1360 on Browns Point near Tacoma.  There is another impact that has not been discussed.  A recent study suggests that climate change may come with an increase in thunderstorms and lightning strikes.  Every broadcast engineer knows what that means…Often things to repair.  Here in the PNW, thunderstorms are rare compared to other parts of the country, however the tornado in the South Sound a couple of months back that triggered a TOR from the National Weather Service was certainly a wake up.  Many of the really bad fires we had in Central Washington State this past summer were lightning caused too.

Recent news this past month that iHeart Media is shutting down the business that was called Clear Channel Satellite.  Apparently the Premiere system will continue however, that’s good news as Premiere has become a valuable partner in the distribution of National EAS messages.

At one time 101.9 was a favorite frequency for pirate radio operations – Not any more as the FCC appears to be busy filling that rather quiet spot on the FM dial with little stations.  For example in our area –

•    KZIT-LP in Olympia – 16 watts
•    A new CP for an LPFM in Tacoma with a transmitter near the Tacoma Mall – 16 watts
•    A new LPFM for Bellevue – 100 watts
•    KVSH-LP on Vashon - 7 watts
•    K270CG in Sumner – 3 watts

I have to admit that I am shocked that Phil Johnson did not catch KZIT for his list of ‘interesting’ call letters. (I did let him know)  Jim Dalke added one to the list – “Can I add KSUX-FM Winnebago NE to your list of unusual calls?”

Boy oh Boy did the recent use of EAS Tones by a syndicated DJ stir the pot!  The usual came out of the woodwork calling for the bozo to be fined megabucks, to calls for a complete overhaul of the EAS system.  The FCC even sent out a document warning everyone to check their EAS equipment for a false and illegal message that might be lurking in there.  This one will remain active until the Feds determine what they are going to do about it.  One thing was made very public – Not all of the EAS equipment out there behaves in the same way.

From the ‘Pearls of Wisdom Department comes this item from the late Tom Croda –  "Nothing is fool-proof.  At best you can make it fool-resistant."

Perhaps the excuse was – because it was there?  Back on October 30th someone elected to parachute from a radio tower near St. Louis.  In this case the bozo (Technical term) got hung up on a guy wire about 150 feet from the ground and 20 feet from the tower.  The local fire department rescued the guy who was not injured….Yes, he was arrested.

Not often I mention the passing of an ‘on-air’ type…but the death of Tom Magliozzi hit me pretty hard.  For those of you that have not been entertained for years by the boys of Car-Talk, you would not understand.  Tom was 77.  Thankfully NPR continues to run these old shows that are 100% timeless.

Has it been wet enough for you?  According to the times on Sunday, Nov 23 our total precip for 2014 is standing at 40.84 inches !!!  Normal would be 30.37 for this date.  That’s about 10 inches above normal.  What the folks in California would give for 10 inches of rain about now?  So how bad is it in California?  Well….The FEMA Daily Operations Briefing for November 24th announced Red-Flag Warnings for the golden state.  At this writing we have flood warnings for Western Washington.

Changes over at Entercom: John Price is out after over 20 years as part of the shuffle of Boston market chief John Kennedy to DOE.

And from the ‘I’m sure I turned off the power’ file …or perhaps an OSHA training manual?

Power outlet in water
 
We all know that Microsoft is a pretty large outfit….Did you ever consider their size in terms of the space they occupy in this area?  The answer is 5,000,000 Square Ft.  You can convert this to CU’s and that comes out to just under 35 average Costco’s.  This compared to Boeings Everett plant that comes in at 4.3 Million Sq. Feet.  At the current rate Amazon is likely to top them both as they keep adding to their collection of buildings.

Occasionally you will see me write about the necessity of having a good security system on your broadcast transmitter building.  What recently took place in Tri-Cities should help underscore it.  The transmitter building used by KJOX AM that also served as an STL Relay site for two FM’s was recently torched, knocking the 3 stations off the air and causing an estimated $100,000 in damage.  Due to the magnitude of the damage, a $10,000 reward is being offered to find those who vandalized the property.  Looking at video from a local TV station, the building appears to have been the target of vandals in the past, at least to the extent the place was heavily ‘tagged’.  In the most recent event, the fence was cut and the building was forcibly entered.  I have not heard whether or not the facility had an alarm system and/or cameras…if it did not, I can bet this is something that will be considered going forward.

A number of broadcast companies and equipment vendors have been sold to outfits known as Venture Capital Groups.  A friend in California explained to me recently that the proper term for ‘venture capitalist’ is  “_vulture_ capitalist“.

The new regional American Tower Broadcast Site Manager, Joe Taylor, has moved from Northern California to the vicinity of Portland, Oregon.

Now here is an interesting idea – TV Freedom.org, Antennas Direct and LG are getting together to start giving away free TV antennas.  I suspect that this promotion is likely to be largely misunderstood by the masses.  First you will have to explain that free TV can be picked-up with an Antenna…Then you will have to explain what an antenna is etc.  This is very much like the folks that are confused when you try and explain that milk comes from a cow…All the time they know it comes in a carton at the store.  Perhaps they can explain that it’s like free satellite TV with the antenna looking different?

Has it been that long since Sleepless in Seattle was a hit movie?  I caught this great flick on the tube recently and could not help but notice that all the computers shown were Pre-Windows - Green and Orange displays…Wow how time flies.

Speaking of displays….You may be hearing more about ‘Computer Vison Syndrome, or perhaps Digital Vision Syndrome.  Kids are complaining about double vision, eyestrain etc. caused by viewing computers, tablets, smartphones etc.  What do you want to bet that there will be a new generation that will be requiring glasses?  Perhaps this is not as bad as the folks that walk into things while looking at their smartphone (a lot of videos showing this available on-line) or those that look at these gizmo’s and try to drive.  Driving a 4x4, I am able to look into folks windows while driving along and I am here to tell you that the prohibition on texting while driving has only caused people to place their devices where they think they can’t be seen.  Let me go out on a limb and suggest that driving while texting likely causes more deaths and injuries than firearms.

Looking at the latest Seattle area 12+ radio-ratings a  couple of things caught my attention.
  • Of the 34 stations listed, 4 of them are Non Commercial (KUOW, KING, KPLU and KEXP).
  • Only one AM is in the Top-10 – KIRO…8 are positioned lower than #10.
  • Of the bottom 10 stations (24 thru 34) 5 are AM’s.
  • Of the Top-10, 9 are FM’s.  Of those 9….7 are transmitting from West Tiger.
There was a time that Continental sold the majority of FM transmitters in the Seattle area.  To this day, many of these historic work-horses are still at work pumping out the kilowatts.  However the days of Tube transmitters in AM radio history and the vacuum devices are slowly being replaced with solid state models for use on the FM Band.  For reasons not fully understood, Continental elected to yield to manufacturers like Nautel and GatesAir (formally Harris) and not introduce solid state transmitters for our industry.  Recently Continental announced they were ending their 24/7/365 tech support in favor of a Weekday ‘Normal business hours’ operation.  One can’t help but guess that sales of their long-popular tube transmitters have dropped significantly making one wonder if the day will come that CEC will join those others that have exited the business.

On the flip-side – American Tower continues to grow bigger and bigger.  It was recently announced that ATC is buying an outfit in Brazil that operates 6,480 towers for a cool 1.2 Billion Bucks.  American Tower says this will fatten their annual bottom line by over $170 megabucks.

I normally don’t write about many personal things in this column… However this time I need to make an exception.  For those who encounter me in my travels around the area to various transmitter locations, you know that I often had my best friend with me.   That friend was Taylor, a large Yorkshire Terrier, more commonly referred to as a Yorkie.  In the past few weeks she has begun to lose weight with the Vet telling us that her kidneys are failing.  With that came the knowledge that she would not be with us very much longer.  Her pain and suffering ended on November 25th.  I was extremely fortunate to have become very close to this little girl, and for those of you that have deeply loved a dog, you know what I am going through.  I’ve included a couple of pictures of a truly wonderful companion.  The second picture shows her in the snow she loved at West Tiger a few years ago.  I recall driving up the mountain and seeing her get excited at the first site of snow.  Thank you sweetheart for 12 wonderful years….I could not have asked for more…You gave more love than I ever deserved.

Taylor

Taylor

That’s it for this month – Hope to see you all at the SBE Christmas Party……Have a Wonderful Holiday Season and the best in 2015.

Clay Freinwald, K7CR, CPBE