Clay’s Corner

January 30, 2017

Providing news and views from a broadcast engineers perspective since September 1986.

KQES-LP Bellevue

It finally happened here !!!!  Friday the 27th, the usually quiet SBE Remailer lit up with tons of activity about how a local LPFM Station was playing something describing the POTUS in not complimentary terms.  Suddenly a lot of broadcast engineers were tuning to 101.9 to see if they could hear it, while others were trying to locate the source and location of the emissions.  They found it…a 2-bay antenna mounted in a tall fir tree at a church.  Eventually it was shut down (not sure by what means).  Apparently someone with too much spare time on their hands hacked into the station’s STL (Studio Transmitter Link) system and took over.  This type of action has been taking place all over the country….This time, it was our turn.  I tried to hear the operation, but my location on the East Hill of Auburn was out of range.  There were a number of twists and turns regarding who owned the equipment and it’s license’s status…Things that will be sorted out in the coming days.  The ability to purchase something relatively cheap to get a radio station’s studio connected to its transmitter via the Internet has opened the door to a lot of this kind of behavior all over the land, with radio stations across the country reporting they’d been taken over in a similar manner, perhaps by the same dude?  Unfortunately, just as was the case of people hacking into EAS equipment a while back, changing the equipment factory default pass word is apparently far from the minds of all too many.  With the inter-connection of the Web – Who knows where the source of this ‘programming’ was located.  Sure do miss the good old days before this kind of mischief would have been possible.

 

A number of people are now, openly, questioning the need for ABIP.  Why should a station pay for someone to come in to determine whether or not their station is FCC compliant when the FCC is backing away from enforcement to such a degree?  The Commission has created a couple of new systems that will enable them to sit back in WDC and determine compliance in a couple of areas remotely….Namely, EAS and Public Files.  When the FCC does get around to enforcement, the new tool is huge, perhaps vicious, fines as opposed to random inspections.

Kudos to the Chapter Board for – FINALLY – locating Chapter Meetings in the Tukwila/South Center area.  The last meeting was at the Old Spaghetti Factory….A location that appears to be acceptable to many as there was a great turnout.  Nice room, good food and service etc.  Best of all – A great location for me

Whew!!!…about the best word I can use to describe the recent election cycle.  Sure glad that we don’t do that more often.  Now we are all in ‘hide and watch’ mode to see just what kind of changes will take place and, more specifically, how they will impact us.  One thing that we do know, the FCC is going to look a bit different.  Under the leadership of Ajit Pai who is reported to being nominated by the new President.  Time will tell just how this will impact the broadcast industry…Gordon Smith of NAB has already issued a statement that he supports the nomination.

On this topic – Mr. T is being billed as a Law & Order type of person – I wonder if he will do anything to restore the Enforcement Bureau of the FCC?  Seems to me that restoration of the ability of the Commission to rapidly enforce their rules would be in the best interests of everyone.  IMHO the present situation is making it just a little too easy for the ‘mice to play’.

Other big news around here has been the Weather.  Around the Seattle area we have, other than for a few weeks of much colder than normal weather, managed to not have any major snow or ice issues.  Not so for Portland.  Interestingly, Arthur Willetts and I were in PDX attending the Chapter 124 SBE Meeting and left town just an hour or so before about a foot of snow landed on the Rose City, effectively bringing things there to a stop.  That storm’s snow did not make it past Olympia.  Later Portland got to enjoy one of their classic ice storms.  They are uniquely situated for those things with a lot of frigid air blowing in from the east through the Columbia Gorge being overridden by warm wet air from the Southwest.  I recall when I lived in the Northeast part of town, that it would be snowing, while SE Portland was getting rain.  Not many places have that much weather variety within the city limits.  Then there was the winter of 1949/50 when the Columbia River froze over.  In January of 1950, Portland officially had 41.5 inches of snow.  This storm was, officially, the 5th largest snowfall in a 24 hour period according to NWS.

Around the Seattle area the only real impact on broadcast operations has been at higher elevations.  December 8th was the last time I could drive up West Tiger Mountain.  I spoke with Terry Spring on the 27th of January where he reported that vehicle access to West Tiger was still a no-go.  I made a trip up there in Doug Fisher’s ATV with Tracks on Dec 31.  Here are a couple of pictures I took during that trip:

 

The first one taken looking out the door of the transmitter building.

This one showing the road to the site.

Looking at how 2016 finished up in Seattle …It can be described in one word – WET – with about 10 inches above normal of rainfall.

Not everyone was unhappy with snow in Seattle’s hills – I spotted this at the side the road on Cougar Mountain.

I’m sure that you have run across something that you would have loved to be able to ask a teacher in your past.  Here’s one.  I recall when I was a kid learning about Roman Numerals and a question that I failed to ask – What is the Roman Numeral for ZERO? (The answer might surprise you.)

Are batteries burning business?  Samsung got burned with battery issues in their devices that caused them to recall a bunch of products.  Recently it was announced that they discovered what was termed a ‘defect’ in batteries coming from two suppliers.  Late in January we learned that HP is recalling over 100,000 batteries for fear they might overheat and cause fires.  You have to admit that great progress has been made in recent years in battery technology…however it seems that some battery makers are having better luck than others, like car makers.  Perhaps they should talk to each other?

Before I forget – I had an enjoyable lunch recently with Jon Owen.  You may wonder who that is…If you have a piece of GatesAir equipment, he may well be the person you reach on the phone when you call in for technical assistance.  What you don’t likely know is that Jon is a Seattle resident.  He and his wife, dog and two cats, live in West Seattle.  Congrats to Jon are in order for getting his Amateur Radio (Ham) license, he is K7QXQ.  I first met Jon when he was working as the assistant chief at Entercom in Rochester, N.Y.

Up in Bellingham – NWPR’s Translator that was on 101.3 is now on 99.7.  101.3 worked very well until the time that CFMI in Vancouver turned on their HD Radio system.  HD Radio makes use of adjacent channels to operate, meaning that 100.9 and 101.3 were suddenly occupied with digital information.  The effect of this was to significantly reduce the coverage of the translator.  For operators of stations running HD, there is a side benefit that is not often discussed…and that is it does a great job of keeping lessor powered operations, like LPFM’s and Translators, from operating on their first adjacent channels.  Bellingham is, for the most part, line of sight to the major FM’s in Vancouver.

Every year, just after the holidays, retailers look at their sales numbers and make announcements.  This year several retailers were obviously not pleased.  Sears shocked many when they announced that they were selling their Craftsman Tool brand.  Macy’s announced store closings, some in this area.  Obviously one local Seattle company is having a major impact on all of this….Amazon.  According to reports, Amazon is now worth more than Macy’s, Kohl’s, Sears, JC Penny, Nordstrom, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, Dillards, Gap and Target – COMBINED!  Their market value is now over $370 Billion (yes with a B).  Want more stats on how big Amazon has become?  How about $160 Billion more than Walmart, twice as much as Home Depot and six times as much as Lowes.  Always nice to have a local outfit succeed.

Observation department – Have you noticed how the RJ45 connector is being phased in …In place of other connectors?  It used to be the RJ was for Data etc.…Not any more – The RJ has been taking the place of XLR’s, DB 9’s etc.  Who would have thought?

Did you see this piece the other day?  Well, here it is again.

The part that hit me the hardest is that I have been sitting in the SECC (State EAS Committee Chair) now for 20 years.  Would anyone like to take over?  (Please)  Another part that hit me….I have been working in broadcasting through ALL of these systems…Yup, Conelrad was in effect when I started.  I recall our old Morrow Conelrad receiver – The little radio was made in Salem, Oregon.  Morrow also made, for a time, Amateur Radio Equipment.  Conelrad came at a time that it was feared that enemy bombers would home-in on broadcast signals.  The plan was for AM Stations (FM was not involved if I recall) that were near 640 or 1240 were to change frequencies of their transmitters (Many AM Transmitters of that day had provisions for that).  These stations were connected, via a wire line, to a central point where the stations would be switched on and off in an effort to confuse those that were using them to obtain their targets.  If you were not near 640 or 1240, or your equipment would not work there …You had to turn your station off until you received an ‘all-clear’ to turn it back on.  Very crude by today’s standards.

Another birthday to note – The Apple I-Phone is 10 years old.  Certainly another example of how that California company has made major impacts in what we buy and use.

Here’s another one – GatesAir is 95.  Granted the company, for a time, after a sale, dropped the name Gates and became Harris.  The more recent sale brought back the Gates name as GatesAir.  When I went to work for KMO in 1966 they had a Gates Audio Console – It was HUGE.  My first big Gates transmitter was at KMO in Tacoma….A BC5A.  That thing was HUGE …You could walk into and around the inside of the power supply (OSHA would have a cow).  It was about the size of, at least, 6 of today’s Nautel NX50 50,000 watt transmitters, yet the old KMO unit only produced 5 kW.  The mate to that rig used to live at KIT in Yakima, which is no surprise, as the two stations used to be co-owned.

Another tidbit from that era – In the middle 60’s radio stations purchased their broadcast equipment (all of it) from one of three traveling vendors working for Gates, RCA or Collins.  There were not BSW’s, SCMS’s etc.…No Internet and 800 numbers.  Each of these vendors would leave you with their latest catalog.  I still have some of them when I want a walk down memory lane.

Speaking of old things – Think back to 1956.  If you were in the Seattle/Tacoma area …Were you listening to FM Radio back then?  Chances are the answer is ‘no’ as there were not many stations on the air.  How about how many NCE stations?  If you happened to be in Tacoma’s suburb of Lakewood and tuned to 90.9 you would have heard a small station whose studio and transmitter were in a little wood-frame building on the campus of Clover Park High School with the call letters of KCPS.  Many years, call letters and physical locations later, that station is still on the air, known today as KVTI.  The station is now on the campus of Clover Park Technical College and is part of Northwest Public Radio.  The date the station was first licensed –  (according to the FCC’s records) Nov 22, 1955.

My introduction to FM in a vehicle was when I purchased a little FM Converter which I stashed in the glove box of my new 1963 VW Beetle.  People riding with me would marvel at how good the radio sounded.  I recall one time driving over a steel girder bridge on Highway 99 listening to the radio all the way.  My passenger was blown away by the fact that we could hear the radio while crossing the bridge (AM radio did not work there).  We’ve come a long way indeed.

I’m sure, like me, you’ve been reading about consumers called ‘Cord Cutters’.  There’s a new report out that states that there has been a 15% increase in homes that are now classified at ‘Antenna Only’.  Another item to come out of this survey is that 12% of viewers down-graded their cable or satellite provider’s service.  Certainly good news for broadcasters that have been questioning the need for transmission equipment.  Meanwhile, there are other reports that some 74 percent of homes in the U.S. have Internet connected TV’s….This is up about 25% since 2013.  Sounds like the cable companies are going to continue to do well by providing broad-band, as consumers shift away from conventional cable that provided scads of RF/Video sources.

Speaking of Local Institutions that have done well – – – Congratulations to Dave Ross who has renewed his deal with Westwood, where he provides commentaries.  Dave has been a fixture on KIRO (AM then FM) for many years.  My claim to fame is that I was actually a guest on his show .

By now you may have figured out that you can no longer call your next door neighbor on the phone by dialing 7 digits.  Yes, our area continues to grow and with that comes the requirement to dial 10 digits as Century Link overlays another Area Code.   Now we have 206, 253, 425, 360 and (the new one) 564.  So when someone tells you that their number starts with 564…Don’t think they are calling from out of state.

On a serious note – There have been some interesting discussions in various meetings I’ve been in recently concerning the ability that broadcasters have to do field reporting after a major disaster such as the forecast ‘big one’.   A lot of this thinking is the result of after the recent Cascadia Rising Exercise.  The foundation of this issue is that that we have become so reliant on cellular systems for our voice and data communications…Arguably, over-reliant.

It seems to me that, perhaps, too many conventional, privately owned, communications systems have been sent to the dumpster due to the feature rich capabilities of cellular systems.  This is not just a broadcast issue, but rather a situation that involves communications systems in the public and private sector.  You can’t totally blame those that utilize these systems…Let’s face it… Their capabilities and features far out-shine systems of old.  Today we find that the majority of our communications systems involve either the Internet or cellular in in some manner.

Dealing with the Broadcast side of things, first in Radio –

It used to be that many radio stations had their own 2-way radio system for use by their news or engineering departments.  Broadcasting from remote locations was commonly accomplished via RPU (Remote Pickup) wireless systems often call Marti’s, named after the popular equipment that many stations employed.  Flash forward and you find that stations today have shelved these systems in favor of feature rich cellular based systems.  Today you can plug your microphone into a smart-phone and you are able to be on the air from almost anywhere.  Additionally, this equipment is small and can be operated by non-technical people.  I recall the days when on a Saturday afternoon the UHF RPU (450mHz) spectrum in Seattle was wall to wall remote broadcasts – today the spectrum is quiet.  Those Wil-Burt masts and remote trucks are probably all gone.

Television has followed the same path….Largely via the use of the technology of what’s called ‘Bonding’ or the combining of more than one cellular data channel.  This has provided TV with the ability to have those live video shots while driving down the street, etc.  Like radio, a lot of point to point (2 GHz) systems have been idled …and, in some cases, removed from service.

Now the big question….With all of these systems providing the capability that once was in-house…What happens when, after a major disaster, these systems crash?   Some stations have, in my view, correctly read this and have elected to keep their in-house field to studio equipment operational….Just in case.

Another interesting aspect of all of this  – I recall the days when a radio or TV station wanted to originate from a remote location, they would call the ‘Telephone Company’ to provide the circuit…Slowly broadcasters installed their own equipment.  Today  – the ‘telephone company’ is likely a wireless phone company and, to some extent, we have come full-circle.

A lot of broadcasters have been selling their tower sites, and many TV broadcasters have been wondering just how long they will actually need those power hungry big plants.  A couple of interesting things going on – 1) The number of TV Viewers that are using Antennas is actually increasing.  2) The firms that are buying these towers, and those of wireless carriers, have become huge.  Take for example – American Tower – This firm now claims to have a portfolio of 57,000 communications sites.  In the Seattle area alone they have multiple sites on locations such as Tiger and Cougar Mountains as well as in town to include the Channel 11 tower on Capitol Hill and the Pigeon Point AM tower.

I have been amused at the term that has cropped up in the recent election cycle – Fake News.  What has made this a huge factor has been the use of social media to spread news stories of questionable accuracy all over the world.  In fact, one of the major -fake news- stories involving a presidential candidate was originated well off shore.  This has had quite an impact on news organizations that are supposed to sort out this kind of thing and give us – straight and accurate news.  The term ‘Fake News’ is a new one….Us old-timers used to simply call it Rumors.

I love studies – How about the one out of Stanford University that recently disclosed that multitasking is actually bad for you?  Yep…That study showed that it kills your performance and might even damage your brain!  Those that claim to be great at multitasking may well be great at another skill – Pulling your leg     Perhaps Mom knew better when she tried to instruct us to do ‘first things first’ or ‘stay on task’?

One thing that Radio does not lack  – The number of formats that appear to appeal to every possible taste.  The question is which formats are the most popular?  Nielsen has the answers – In 2016 News Talk was the #1 format with 9.6 % of the audience tuning in.  Perhaps the elections had something to do with this?  Next was what’s called CHR with 8.1% followed by AC with 7.5%.  Country is right behind with 7.4%.  Interesting that what they call Mexican Regional is up to 3.7% right behind All Sports.

Some not too pleasant news just after the start of the new year for a number of staffers at Fisher Plaza with the announcement that Sinclair was cutting a number of employees…including their investigative reporting team.  Reportedly the cuts impacted other stations with some 54 nation-wide receiving pink-slips.  Over across the street from Safeco Field there were other reductions as Northwest Cable News (NWCN) suspended operations.

I recently caught a news clip from CES about the resurgence of Vinyl phonograph records…Are you ready for a comeback for Super 8?  Seriously – Take a look at this – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cn-AwhYOHZE and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmuCfeKGB2w

Meanwhile good news at the local iHeartMedia radio factory – Marty Hadfield was delighted to announce that Jeff White, an engineer from iHeart Portland will be moving back to the Seattle area and is joining him in Seattle as his Assistant Chief Engineer.  Marty added – Jeff has been with iHM Portland since March of 2013 and previously was CE for Morris Broadcasting.  Jeff has also been an active engineering contractor.

With news that the Seattle Times is cutting staff, comes news from the recent study that found newspapers continue to reach 69% of the population every month.  (That’s 169,000,000 if you are counting.)  Does this mean that newspapers are rebounding?  Not really.  The place with the greatest increase in advertising revenue continues to be Digital.

The two big, hugely in debt, broadcasters continue to be sources of how they are able to keep the bear away and avoid the ‘B-Word’.  Cumulus Media and iHeart continue to operate and do the fiscal dance.  Amazing, to say the least.  More amazing is some of their leaders are getting huge bonuses.

Picture time!

I shot this one recently as I was coming down Striped Peak (west of Port Angeles).  Beautiful piece of the Olympic Range peaking over a cloud bank.  There are so many scenes like this that continue to confirm that I live in a beautiful place.

Lots of news out of Norway this month as they begin the process of turning off FM Radio.  Apparently not everyone is pleased by the decision.  A lot of European countries have been making great strides with various digital radio systems and are eager to move away from anything analog.

Another survey with a local flavored result – In this case – the study of the 50 worst commutes in the country (based on commute times).  Coming in at #37 – Kent, WA just south of Seattle.  Figures!

So when a local engineer retires – Where does he go?  Someplace warm with tons of sunshine?…Well not always – Witness this picture of the new residence for Tom McGinley who retired this past year from CBS in Seattle to Missoula, Montana.

 

 

 

One of the issues facing the makers of radio receivers is being able to have one platform that would decode all the different digital radio schemes – Apparently the problem has been resolved by a firm called NXP that has developed a one-chip solution to the problem that will decode all of the popular, but different systems in use today.

 

 

Sad news this month ….The passing of Bill Sacks on January 12th.  Bill was, for many years, an audio innovator who was known by many in this industry.

 

So what is Amazon up to?  They have filed with the Feds for permission to test what they are calling experimental wireless communications technologies using frequencies from 734 to 2170 MHz, apparently in the Tri-Cities…Hmmm?

 

Remember me telling you about the dump-truck that caught the guy wire of a tower at Cougar Mt recently?  The tower is back up and so is this sign –

 

 

This month’s feature …..ARE YOU OLDER THAN DIRT ?

To determine the answer to that question, I have a number of questions about things you may (or may not) remember –

It took three minutes for the TV to warm up?

Do You remember the Hoffman ‘Easy Vision’ and the Sylvania with ‘Halo Light’?

 

 

Telephone numbers with a word prefix…Yukon 2-6012 and Party lines.  And for old folks in the Seattle area – How about Sunset 3-24-04?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hi-Fi’s & 45 RPM records.

 

78 RPM records!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mimeograph paper.  (And purple fingers)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday morning cartoons weren’t 30-minute commercials for action figures?

If you can remember most or all of these, Then You Lived!!!!!!!  And – You are older than dirt!!!  Just remember a couple of things –

  • Be very very thankful that you are able to remember these things and recall the friends that we have lost that are younger than we are.
  • Next time a younger person remarks about your age – Remind them that old age is a privilege that is NOT granted to everyone.  For those that have achieved it, they likely don’t regret it – but rather are thankful.

That’s it for this month –

Think SPRING and warm weather!!!!!

Lord Willing – I’ll do another edition of this column next month.

73, Clay Freinwald, K7CR, CPBE