This past month we here in the PNW finally saw the rains come! After a record setting dry spell with everything turning brown and forests burning and the air filled with smoke – It was a welcome site. Then, like almost overnight, winter arrived at West Tiger with snow…Adding to the mix, a lightning strike took out a number of the phones on the mountain. No idea of what kind of winter we will have this year….Just have to wait and find out. At this writing the folks on the East Coast are awaiting the arrival of Hurricane Sandy….Thankfully we don’t have that kind of weather here. However…..Back in October of 1962 we had a record setting storm that was recently acknowledged by several local stations. It’s a bit hard to admit, but I was working in broadcasting during the Columbus Day Storm. Don’t ever want to see one of those again.
Recently, on the West Tiger Engineers Remailer we had a discussion regarding, over the snow, vehicles. This one brought some smiles – A VW Bus with tracks. Perfect for the left over hippies in our midst.
Right now we are enduring a torrent of a different kind ….Political advertising…Whew! Thankfully it will be over in a few days. For some election years are like one with more than one Christmas. Reportedly the amount of money spent this year on campaign ads is record setting. For those broadcasters that got in on the action…Smiles, for those small stations that did not, it’s another story. The end of the year is rapid approaching….and for some, so is the end of time with Dec 21 as the date for the Mayan apocalypse. For some reason I keep thinking about all those folks that headed for the hills due to Y2K. I still find Y2K stickers on equipment a reminder that many are caught up (aka hooked) on this sort of thing. For the rest of us – Hope you have a Merry Christmas.The FCC is out with their official count – There are now over 15,000 full-power radio stations, 75% of whom are commercial of which 43% are FM’s and 31% are AM’s. 6,102 translators and boosters and 822 LPFM’s.
Construction is underway on West Tiger at the CBS Facility with new FM and HD Radio equipment that will increase their HD-R power levels. This is the first time I have heard of anyone in the Seattle market making the plunge in this direction. Radio broadcasters whined to the FCC a couple of years ago that the HD Radio power levels were too low, the FCC granted conditional increases and then the economy went in the tank. With the FM version of HD-R catching on and car makers installing the system in an ever increasing number of vehicles, perhaps the time is right to make the investment. The thought of a new car owner taking his vehicle back to the dealer to complain that he can’t receive KRUD HD-2 is not a pleasant one.
Over in Yakima, NWPR, operated by WSU, is installing its first HD3 operation. I am happy to see that the two major FM’s in Bellingham, KAFE and KISM have elected to join the majority and have installed HD Radio equipment. I’ve not heard whether or not they are running the new higher power level on HD.
Fisher is about to make changes to their KPLZ FM operation on Cougar Mt. This will involve the replacement of the old Dielectric antenna on the top of their ‘Green Tower’, shown below on the left. The tower on the right is the Ratelco/Jampro master antenna used by KCMS, KJR and KUBE.
As part of the project, I understand, they will be removing the old KETO antenna elements from the tower. Here you can see the original horizontal polarized antennas and later added vertical elements. At one time, the Horizontal and Vertical antennas were connected to separate transmitters.
Copper theft continues to be a problem – I’ve not heard of any broadcasters getting ripped off in this area lately, however, state and local governments certainly are victims with miles of street lighting wire being ripped out. Here in my town, Auburn, the city joined with Green River Community College as their welding class helped weld the junction box access covers all over town. Even in little Auburn there are about 4000 J-Boxes that need the modification. I can just imagine the number in Seattle. In my views copper theft is much like auto-theft. The penalties are too low to discourage repeat offenders…We recently lost another historic figure in the world of local broadcasting with the passing of Lester Smith on October 20th. Les was the ‘Smith’ of Kay-Smith that, for many years, owned KJR in Seattle, KJRB in Spokane and KXL in Portland. His partner was the better known Danny Kaye. All together they owned some 10 stations as well as other enterprises. Over the years the firm sold off its holdings. Les was 93.
In local radio, KVI has once again encountered the revolving door and, once again, has become a conservative talk station featuring some of the big names in that programming arena. We now have two major stations doing much the same thing, KVI and, up the dial a bit, KTTH. I guess I will never understand how Seattle, known as one of Americas most liberal cities, does not reflect this on the radio. Perhaps this underscores why I have stayed in Engineering.
I recall a fellow doing computer work at a station I do work for that had a giant computer tower that featured, transparent covers, tons of colorful lights, huge fans with see-thru blades. Rather than have his computer under a table…he had it on top and make a show-stopping statement with it. I often thought of how you could take some average looking equipment and turn it into an artistic experience that would be sure to dazzle. Just when you think you’ve seen it all comes this item submitted by Buzz Anderson. A local (Auburn) outfit has come up with a unique way to jazz up the looks of computers. They put them in tanks filled with mineral oil, add some back-lighting and…..Well you’d better take a look – http://www.pugetsystems.com/submerged.php. Probably won’t work for those studios where there are microphones as they did not submerge the noisy hard-drive….However, one of these babies sitting on the chief engineer’s desk would be really cool!
Likely one of most engineers’ favorite TV shows is MythBusters. One of their recent shows they set out to test the effect of high level sub audible low frequency sounds on humans. In this case, about 19 Hz. We all know about the impact of the character in the car with a kilowatt of thumping stereo. It causes me to want to drive, rapidly, away from them. Apparently the result was it does generate a freaky feeling that creates fear. Perhaps the military can use this stuff?
Apple, who seems to have gained the ability to turn anything they do into gold…Is reportedly going to enter the Internet Radio business. The announcement sent the stock price of Pandora downward which is understandable.
Some big names in our business this past month – Les Mooves will, reportedly, get a $22 mega-buck signing bonus as he stays on to head up CBS.
This past month the Clear Channel cluster of five radio stations in Sacramento went silent during morning drive – (not a good time). The problem was traced to a software problem with their new program delivery computer system. This underscores the need for redundancy in broadcasting plants. As broadcast stations have become more and more reliant on these systems, often automatic backup systems have been slashed from the budget resulting in systems that will dazzle you when they work – and create havoc when they do not. Back when I was doing corporate engineering, I recall going into stations and asking a lot of what-if questions just to see how prepared they were for dealing what are called SPOF’s or single-point- of-failures. The failure that most broadcasters are not prepared for is ‘Caution Tape’
This is when, due to a Haz-Mat or similar type of problem the Fire or Police Department puts caution tape around your studio building and firmly states – We don’t care what you are god of, you are not entering the building. Entercom quickly learned about that a few years ago in Denver when, due to a heavy snow, the roof collapsed on their building. Most stations are simply not going to spend the money, especially in this economy. In many ways, it’s gambling…or electing to not purchase insurance.
The FCC has been busy asking people to pay up for the marketing of devices designed to jam cellular signals and advertising them in Craigs List. The reason these devices are offered is there is a demand for them. Many don’t want cellphones to go off in certain locations and these gizmos do the job. They are advertised for use in restaurants, doctors’ offices, stores or ‘just plain fun’ The FCC reminded all that the tab for using these things is 16 Grand per day.
Now here is something you don’t see very often – An open house at a tower site. That’s just what’s going to take place at the transmitter site of WSM in Nashville. Likely unlike any tower sites in our area, the WSM –AM famous Blaw-Knox tower site in nearby Brentwood is on the National Register of Historic Places. That tower has been used to beam the Grand Old Opry to millions over the years. The structure was first put on the air on Oct 5th, 1925 (Gee that was before even I was born) More details are at – http://www.wsmonline.com/events/wsm-tower-open-house/
So how much debt does Clear Channel have? According to recent published reports, about 5 Billion bucks worth.
Our local little software maker (Microsoft) has recently introduced their latest creation – Windows 8. From the looks of things this will be quite a change. Personally, I will likely stay with Win-7 for quite a while – Gee it took a major equipment failure to give up on Xp.
There is a growing about of debate regarding what to do with AM Radio. Certainly everyone agrees that AM is on the decline. Many options are being explored including creating more space for more radio stations in spectrum once used for TV and then closing down the AM band. Canada and Mexico and European countries seem to be intent on moving AM operations to FM…but in this country with a packed FM band that does not seem possible. Then there is talk about an all-digital AM band. There a few that will argue that Ibiquity’s Hybrid HD system has not been the salvation that was once promised. This opens the door to conversations about what to do with the millions of AM radios out there (gee what about my crystal set?) and whether it should be Ibiquity’s HD Radio or perhaps DRM. Not sure if I will live to see the end of AM…but I may be around to witness the debate about what to do with it. The silver lining for AM seems to be talk formats. In our area, KIRO, KVI, KTTH, KJR, KOMO etc. continue to find the legacy bands value…However, only KIRO-AM is ranked in the top 10.
In recent columns I have written about how the Seattle area is ranked. Recently Bloomberg Business Week ranked Seattle in the top 20 at #2. Interestingly San Francisco is ranked #1 and Portland Oregon comes in at #5. So why do they like Seattle? High average median income, beautiful water bound location, standout clean air – Microsoft and Boeing and – the Pike Place Market. The Urban Land Institute ranks Seattle as #7, nationally, for investment, development and home building. But we are behind our neighbor, Vancouver BC which ranked #4. Portland came in at #20
One area where Seattle’s rankings are nothing to be proud of is traffic. According to a recent study our area is the 4th worst in all of North America. Just for drill, the question was asked how much would I-5 need to be expanded to get rid of the congestion at drive time…The answer – 22 lanes in each direction. I don’t think we will see what happening.
Certainly one of the bigger recent stories in our area has been the plans of Amazon to build a very impressive complex very near the radio-TV broadcast operations in Seattle. By just about any measure, Seattle is doing quite well, in fact, better than most.
Once again Public Broadcasting is the subject of speculation with one of the presidential contenders going on record as saying if he is elected their funding would be cut. This set off a lot of conversation regarding Big Bird. Pretty much goes without saying that public dollars for public broadcasting is going to be in the conversation as these government entities attempt to get their financial house in order. It is interesting that stations like KUOW has seen their donations go up….Of course, their lofty ratings help a lot. Look at KING-FM, they have switched from commercial to listener supported and appear to be doing well.
Wow…It’s that time of the year already – NAB is accepting nominations for the 2013 Engineering Achievement Awards. The winners are announced at the Technology Luncheon in Las Vegas, this coming year, on April 10th. I still recall Ben Dawson being awarded a TV set!
In closing this month, some questions –
Why does ‘slow down’ and ‘slow up’ mean the same thing?
- Why does ‘fat chance’ and ‘slim chance’ mean the same thing?
- Why is it called ‘after dark’ when it’s really ‘after light’?
- Why do reporters refer to aircraft accidents while flying as ‘mid-air’…is it not, mid-flight?
- Why can we have a ‘wise guy’ but you never hear about a ‘wise woman’?
- Why is the word ‘phonetic’ spelled with a ‘PH’?
- Why do we still have TV – ‘sets’ while radio no longer has ‘sets’?
- Why do we have ‘antennas’ but no longer have aerials?
- Why do we still see images of reel-to-reel tape machines when an audio recording is being played back?
- Why do reporters still call them ‘steam-rollers’ when steam has not been used to power them in years?
A bit of humor, in pictures –
Have a great Thanksgiving as we enter the Holiday Season – And – NO –
Please don’t consider cooking that turkey in a chair!
Till next month, Lord willing –
Clay, K7CR, CPBE (etc)