Clay’s Corner – March

March 5, 2017

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

For some time now we have been hearing about how CBS was going to spin off their radio division…this would lead many to wonder, and chat about, who might buy them.  Then in early February the news broke – Indeed CBS Radio was going to have new owners…but not exactly how we thought it might play out.  The news was that Entercom was going to merge with CBS Radio, creating what some have termed a ‘super-size’ Entercom that would become the 2nd largest radio group in the country and one with an enviable financial condition, with a Market Cap of reportedly around 2 Billion!  Rather than Entercom assuming huge debt and buying CBS they are merging with stockholders of both companies ending up owning the larger entity.  The deal is supposed to close late this year.  In the meantime – Wow do they have a lot of decisions to make.  Perhaps more interesting to my readers in the Pacific Northwest is what this will mean to Seattle Radio.

First an overview –

  • Entercom has 4 FMs
  • CBS has 3 FMs and 1 AM
  • Total between the groups – 7 FMs and 1 AM
  • The FCC limits the number of stations a given owner can have in this market to 5 FMs and 3 AMs

Clearly there are 2 FMs that have to be spun-off or sold with the new company keeping 5 FMs.   This is where the fun of speculation begins –

  • We are assuming that the new Entercom will want to have 5 FMs.  (History note, this was the case before Entercom sold 97.3 and two AMs to Bonneville)
  • We can assume that there are buyers for two of the FM’s.
  • Existing local groups that could purchase the two spin-offs include Bonneville and Hubbard.
  • Then again, perhaps these groups could be seen purchasing one – each.
  • Then there is the possibility that someone not doing radio in the Seattle Market may wish to come here.   A couple of names have surfaced:

– Alpha who has been buying a lot of stations is not yet doing business in Seattle

– Cox who owns KIRO-TV is in the radio business elsewhere.

Probably one of the more interesting aspects of all of this is the fact that Entercom and CBS both currently operate competitive Country Music stations (KMPS and KKWF).  It’s not too much of a stretch to think that Entercom would like to see just one country station in this market.  (History note, 106.1 was a country station competing with KMPS many years ago.  Consolidation brought them under the same roof and one of them [106.1] changed format.)  Would Entercom risk spinning KMPS off to a competitor?…A station that has long history in that format.  Or would they keep KMPS and change KKWF/ The Wolf?

On the technical side – All 3 of the CBS FMs operate from what we commonly call West Tiger Mountain #2 or WTM-2.  All of the Entercom FMs operate at WTM-1, about half a mile away at the same elevation.  Not likely that any of the 7 FM’s can be viewed as technically inferior which is occasionally used to determine which station to spin off.

Looking at the CBS AM situation.  The historic KING-AM on 1090 (Now known as the Fan or KFNQ) has not been blessed with any history of great success in the half century that I’ve been around this area…Despite the fact that is a 50Kw full-time facility.    Couple that with the fact that the value of AM properties, in general, has been heading downward rather steeply….You have to wonder if they will find a willing taker for the AM.  Perhaps a foreign language broadcaster?

The studios of the Entercom stations have been, for many years, in the Metropolitan Park West…However, recently it was announced that they are re-locating to a new location in Downtown Seattle.  Meanwhile, CBS’s radio operations are over at 1000 Dexter, near the West Side of Lake Union.  It’s likely that the new Entercom digs will have room for an additional FM – Who knows about the rest of the stations.  Guess this is for lawyers to figure out.

Across the country, the new Entercom will be a formidable operation with a roster of historic big stations in major markets.  For instance – New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Detroit, Boston, Phoenix, Washington DC, Cleveland, Dallas/Ft Worth, Houston, Miami, Tampa, Charlotte, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Las Vegas, Baltimore and San Francisco.

I did find it interesting that, with the exception of WCBS and KCBS, and the use of the term CBS Sports Radio, the letters CBS must be phased out and not used by the new conglomerate.  The letters CBS will become exclusively a TV thing.

My thoughts on this topic need to include what must be going through the minds of those that work at the existing CBS Stations…They have to be wondering about their future, will they be working for the new/bigger Entercom or will ‘their station’ be one of the spin-offs and they end up working for who knows?  It is a hectic time for sure …All I can say is – hang in there – Trust me, I’ve been there – multiple times.

Good timing for this item –

Things turn out best for those who make the best of how things turn out.

Guess who is moving?  The FCC!  They have decided to move to a new location in WDC where they will be leasing 473,000 Sq. Ft.  (That’s about 3 average size Costcos) in an 11 story building at 45 L St N.E.  Still think of them on M Street.

There is a lot of attention focused on the FCC these days with the change of leadership to the Republicans.   One item of interest to a firm doing business in Seattle – The matter of the Entercom station in Sacramento where a contestant died in a contest that went very wrong.    One segment of broadcasting has been hearing good news from the new FCC chairman is AM Radio.   We will see.

One change is the elimination of certain Public File Requirements – Go here for details https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-343246A1.pdf

For TV, aside from the Spectrum Auction, is the FCC’s actions regarding ATSC-3 in the form of an NPRM.

Another effort by the FCC is to bolster AM Radio with FM Translators.  New rules will allow the translator be located anywhere within he AM’s day-time contour or within a 25 mile radius of the transmitter.  For many low powered AMs in areas of poor ground conductivity, this could mean they could have an FM Translator where they presently have little or no AM Signal!  (Assuming I understand this correctly)

I received word that Boise State Public Radio is hiring a Senior Broadcast/IT Engineer.  For more information – check out https://boisestate.taleo.net/careersection/ex/jobdetail.ftl?job=170020.

Am saddened to report on the passing of Dick Engh, W7HGX.  Many years ago when I was just starting in this line of work I was doing part time work on KTNT Radio in Tacoma…At that time KTNT was an AM/FM/TV operation.  Their GM was Max Bice who had moved up from Chief Engineer (not a move you hear about very often).  The operations Chief Engineer was Dick Engh.  His assistant was a young fellow named Paul Crittenden.  Dick left the station to take a job in American Samoa and Paul was elevated to Chief.  Dick came back and became the station’s RF guy.  Later, for a short time, he worked for Trinity in Federal Way as their Chief.

His Obit, in the Tacoma News Tribune read as follows-

Dick F. Engh – Dick was born in Tacoma, WA on 10-21-1920.  He died on 1-28-2017. He was 96 years old.  He is survived by his two daughters and many other family members.  Dick was a Broadcast Engineer for over 40 years.  He was a member of the Tacoma Yacht Club and the Elks Club.  Dick married Sally Rae M. Wyckoff in 1958.  At 80, Dick had 3 PC’s with different operating systems.  He loved “computing” and helping others with them.  Donations to the Franciscan Hospice Org. would be appreciated. He is interred in the National Cemetery in Kent, WA.

Wheatstone, already a major player in the audio business just became a bit larger with the announcement that they have acquired PR&E from GatesAir.  Gates, under its former name Harris, purchased the California firm back in 1999.  If you recall Wheatstone, not long ago, purchase a Seattle based firm that make the VoxPro audio editor.

You often see me write about traveling to West Tiger Mt.  The fact is, there are quite a few broadcast engineers that travel up there to install and maintain equipment.  For those are not familiar with the place…I had the pleasure of being involved with the installation of the first broadcast station at this site about 28 years ago.  That station today is known as KIR0-FM on 97.3 (Back then It was called KBSG).

Today there are over a dozen FMs in addition to TVs, ENG systems etc. now located on the mountain.

This picture is from a surveillance camera operated by Acell-Net.  Here we are looking to the East toward the twin towers of what we call WTM-2.  (West Tiger #2)   You can see the Cascade range beyond.

In the many years I’ve been going up there – This is the first winter that you could not drive a rubber-tired vehicle (with chains on all 4 wheels) up there this early in the year.  Thanks to our rather unique winter this year – we have been snowed out from approx. Dec 10 to Feb 10 when Arthur Willets and Terry Spring managed to drive up.  More recently increased snow depth has curtailed easy access.  In normal years, our snowed-out periods are in late February and March.  Thankfully, Doug Fisher has a John Deere Gator with tracks that takes getting up here in stride.

To be sure the scenery up there beats what you see driving on a freeway in town!  To the South you can see Mt Rainier and, if you pick your spot, you can see Mt St Helens.  With my 10X Bi-Noc’s I can see the Lava Dome on a clear day.  To the North, Mt Baker and the mountains to the north of Vancouver are visible.  Of course, to the West is the Puget Sound basin with Seattle, Bellevue etc. and the Olympics beyond.

It’s hard to predict just what kind of winter we are going to have until we get there.  There have been mild ones that enabled access with vehicles without chains all winter….Then there are those like this one.  .

The NWS is not a lot of help with their predictions either.  According to State Climatologist, Nick Bond, the reason for all the snow is the simple fact that our temperatures have been well below normal.  No one is blaming a La Nina or El Nino…but rather that thing they call with a non-scientific name…The Blob.

I recently heard that they are now guesstimating that we will have an abnormally wet spring followed by a hot summer.  Like all of us – We will just have to wait and see.  Weather here in the Pacific Northwest is, as we are being reminded, very very hard to predict. One note, according to the NWS, this is the 2nd wettest February in Seattle

After recent a big dump of snow – Doug Fisher took this of West Tiger #1 (WTM-1) The original broadcast site on the mountain.  You can see his Gator parked in front of the building.

Those of us that have been following the boom in Seattle know that the cost for housing has been climbing rapidly.  A new study underscores the situation concluding that the cost of living in Seattle is now the 9th highest in the world!  Seattle is now the 5th most expensive city for rent in the U.S.  Yes Seattle is behind New York and San Francisco.  Perhaps this will explain the exploding homeless problem?  Rents for everyone have gone up dramatically, including those that cannot afford it, forcing many into tents.  Some have called this a price of progress.

Plenty of survey and study results to share this month –

First of all – this one from MoneyRates – The best and worst states to make a living –

Coming in at #2 is Washington.  One of the reasons they like this state – One of the highest wages in the country and no Income Tax.  At # 7 is Colorado credit given to high wage and low unemployment.

Unfortunately Oregon is ranked #49.  They did not like the fact that the cost of living is 28.5% higher than the national average.

Forbes recently published a list of cities where workers are ‘flocking to’.  Coming in at #1 – Seattle; #2 Portland, Oregon; #3 Austin, TX and #4- Denver.

Seattle made it into a list of cities that you can’t brag about – Worst Commute.  LA (no surprise) is #1 worst commute in the world.  Seattle is (Ugh) ranked #10.

I love the fact that my readers are sending me pictures these days – Anyone care to venture a guess as to who this is?  (Look at all that hair !!!!)

I have been writing, for some time, about the spectrum auction that promises to have a big impact on Television.  Knowing that Rick Kemp has been following this closely – I asked him to explain it to us – and help us understand what this will mean here in the PNW – Rick has written a separate story on the impact in the Waveguide.

Now what is it likely to mean around here –

To start with, looks like a lot of construction activity around Queen Anne Hill with at least 4 stations going to have to change channels (I’ve highlighted them in Yellow) in Portland, several there are also going to have to make major changes.  This will be the 2nd time for the Seattle changes, the first time was the shuffle from VHF to UHF.

In some cases, where FM Stations are sharing towers with TV stations that are going to have to move, there will be impacts to those radio stations.  Perhaps rightfully, some of these stations are asking that some of that auction money should pay for instances where they have to make expensive changes through no fault of their own.  Apparently the NAB agrees.  Not sure that the FCC planned on doing so.

To the best of my knowledge this will not impact FMs in Seattle.  KUOW/94.9 on the Ch. 9 tower on Capitol Hill is not impacted as none of those TV stations on that hill are impacted.

Recently there was a small, low power, station in the Seattle area that got hacked by someone getting into their un-protected Barix based STL system.  Obviously the FCC has been following this.  The question is being asked…If the FCC fines your station because it was hacked – Are you liable?  Whereas older aural STL systems were (usually) not vulnerable to hacking, we have not had to think about these things.  In today’s Internet based systems, STL, EAS etc. stations (apparently) have become easy targets.  Seems to me that the fault lives with these stations that fail to protect their systems from intrusions.

A few years ago a TV station aired some adult material with the FCC taking action against them.  As with a lot of things these days – it may depend on whether or not someone complains.  Larger stations and/or ownerships may have insurance to deal with this kind of thing…Not likely a small LPFM would enjoy the same degree of protection.  Then…We have a new administration at the FCC and time will tell just how tough they will be in these matters.

A lot of radio stations are facing the need to switch ‘birds’ for satellite fed programming this summer.

The change is from AMC 8 to AMC 18.  For many stations, their receive antennas are not designed to be moved….Then there is the issue that some existing receive dishes will not work with the new satellite due to their spacing, making larger dishes a requirement.  The good news is there is an overlap period when both satellites will provide the same programming.  You may have noticed an increase in advertising for these kinds of products ….This is why.

Every so often you start seeing advertising for some new version of yesteryear’s ‘snake oil’…. Are you ready for Himalayan Sea Salt?  Not only can you sprinkle this on your food …but you can purchase Himalayan Sea Salt Lamp fans of which claim they emit negative ions which lowers your blood pressure, increase oxygen flow to the brain, purify the air – and (GET THIS) Protect against electromagnetic radiation.  Perhaps you should only use your cellphone near one of these?

Speaking of Cellphones…..Looks like the Washington Legislature is, once again, working to toughen up laws regarding distracted driving.  Not sure how much good this will do as, despite the existing laws, I continue to see a LOT of folks driving down the road with their cellphones to their ears or looking down at their device with their thumbs flying.  There is concern that this might negatively impact those that are Amateur Radio operators (Hams).  Looks like they may been have been successful.

The Washington State EAS Committee, formally known as the SECC, is changing its meeting location.  We have been meeting at the Washington State EOC at Camp Murray –  The new location, for the March 16th Meeting will be at Clover Park Technical College (CPTC) in Lakewood in the Building 11 KVTI Conference Room.   This change will bring with it some benefits –

  • A larger room better able to accommodate a greater number of participants
  • Easier access in that you will not have to go thru a military checkpoint
  • More parking (Camp Murray has become increasingly difficult to find parking)
  • Better conference telephone to make it easier for telephone participants to hear and be heard

I hope you can join us in person.  I will have more, detailed, information on the EAS Remailer as we approach the meeting day.  The May Meeting of the SECC will again be on the other side of the Cascades at Kittcom in Ellensburg on May 25th.  This annual meeting on the East-Side has been popular with good attendance by those from the other side of the State.  In July we will be back to CPTC.

I have heard it said that the vultures are circling Cumulus as the big radio company is struggling with a mountain of debt (2.4 Billion bucks worth) and efforts to deal with it have been facing headwinds.  The questions that many keep asking is – How long can they avoid the ‘B-Word’?  Should they fail, there could be a fire-sale with some very well-known properties going for bargain basement prices.  Then who wants to buy them.  Let’s face it, media companies are not exactly the darlings of Wall Street.  The financial woes of iHeart and Cumulus have not exactly helped.

For those of you that are into electronics, Ham Radio, computers etc. – Don’t forget the annual Mike and Key Club Electronic Flea Market at the Puyallup Fair Grounds on March 11th.  A sure sign of Spring!

A bit further out is the Annual SeaPac Ham Convention in Seaside, Oregon June 2- 4.

Are you ready for a reversal of the Magnetic Poles?  There are a number of scientists that feel that this may well happen and point to evidence to support their contention, specifically, the magnetic field has been decreasing for the past 160 years at a rapid rate.  In fact, there is evidence that this has happened in the past.  It’s during the switch that concerns the experts as the Earth’s magnetic field would become very weak and during this time a number of bad things could take place…Like an increase in harmful radiation that the magnetic field protects us from, messing up our navigation and power distribution systems etc.  In the end, your compass would be pointed South.  No this is not a run up to an April 1 story.  You are welcome to do some research on your own.

And this brings me to thoughts of terms that we don’t use any more.  In fact, if you were to use them around a typical broadcast station today you’d discover a significant number of the staff would likely be giving you a classic ‘Deer in the Headlights’ expression.

Let’s try a couple for TV –

  • Registration
  • Film chain
  • Pre-roll
  • Kinescope
  • Racking Lenses

Or for Radio –

  • Wow and Flutter
  • Rumble
  • Turn-over cartridge
  • ET’s
  • NEMO

In general there are a lot of terms that we stopped using….For example the word ‘Kilter’.  When was the last time you used or heard it?    Perhaps you recall the term ‘out of kilter’.  Something that is ‘out of kilter’ is – ‘out of balance’.  Or, you could say that something is ‘off kilter’.  For example something that is not plumb is ‘off kilter’.  Your game could be ‘off’ ….or ‘out of kilter’.  Now that you are with me….Time for some fun.  Try using this term with a more freshly minted person.

  • The video looks out of kilter
  • The Audio sounds out of kilter
  • The computer network is out of kilter
  • When your expenses exceed your income – your cash-flow is ‘out of kilter’

What we really need is a device that will detect and alert us to a condition where kilter is about to be compromised or the level of kilter is approaching a condition where intervention is called for.   That device would be (of course) a “Kiltometer’.  Kiltometers can be linear or utilize some other acceptable curve depending on the nature of the matter being monitored.  Certainly a Kilter reaching a critical level should trigger automatic alarms.  Might I recommend that engineers take this matter seriously and consider producing devices that would be able to display these types of conditions?  Any indicating instrument, like a Kiltometer, would need to have a unit of measurement associated with it.  In some cases Kilter could be displayed in Degrees or perhaps, in extreme cases – Units of Aggravation.  Oh yes, you are invited to do your own research on Kilter.  You will discover that the word (Kilter or Kelter) goes back to the 1600’s.  It’s just that it has, like a lot of things, fallen from favor.

Another term that could be used instead of Kilter is – ‘ Whack’.  Perhaps the newbies will understand when you tell them that the device is simply ‘out of whack’.  You may wish to bone up on this topic because you just might be ask to define when something becomes – IN- whack as opposed to be ‘out of whack’.  The origin of Whack is easier to understand as it likely came from the experiences that a person had with a piece of equipment that failed to perform as expected that could be corrected with the application of a ‘whack’ in a particular location using a certain amount of G-force….But this is only a guess.

Then there is the old standby ‘Fritz’.  We all know when a copy machine is ‘on the fritz’….However we may not be able to tell if it’s ‘off the fritz’.  Using simple deductive and detective principles…It appears that this term is German in origin.

I believe, with all that, the time has come to end this month’s Column.

Thanks again for all the reader feedback I have been receiving – It’s good to know that there are those that will take the time to read what I have written.

Till next month, in most of these same locations,

Think SPRING !

Clay, K7CR, CPBE