Clay’s Corner – April

April 2, 2017

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

On the heels of the Entercom/CBS deal, are we about to see a lot more consolidation? Apparently, some think so and this time it will involve television as well.  Part of what is fueling all this is the belief that the changes in administration and at the FCC will change ownership limits.  This has caused a lot of rumors to fly of late.  Among them – Sinclair will do a deal with Tribune.  This would be interesting in Seattle where Sinclair owns a station and Tribune owns two.  Let’s not forget ION and CBS that both own one TV station in Seattle, which many consider to be a major market.  Any reduction in ownership limitations is likely to result in opposition from those that have been consistent in their opposition to media consolidation.

So, what is the FCC going to do about Pirate Radio? For many year’s we have been reading about how unlicensed radio stations have been a thorn in the side of licensed broadcasters as well as those that are supposed to regulate the activity.  Unfortunately, a lot of the regulatory efforts have fallen short of what’s needed to stop the activity.  There are those big fines that, apparently, go un-paid…or the pirate operation that is supposedly ‘shut-down’ by the Feds just to appear again at another address.  Some local governments, reacting to pressure from legitimate broadcasters have gotten involved as they see the Feds failing to regulate.  This matter is, apparently, finally getting the attention of lawmakers and is resulting in the FCC asking Congress to give the FCC more authority, including the ability to seize equipment.  Guess it never made sense to me for the FCC to tell a pirate operator to stop doing wrong and walk away from the equipment to repeat the process.  Today, becoming a pirate is very easy….Just Google – Pirate Radio Station Equipment and see for yourself.  Will the Fed’s new interest in combating this activity be effective, time will tell.  I still fail to understand how cutting back on the EB was the correct approach.  The Commish has this concept of having Tiger Teams doing enforcement.  Appears to me that they have this half right – The part about the Tiger.  Unfortunately, the FCC has become to all too many, a ‘Paper Tiger’.

With the news full of stories about huge radio operators like Cumulus sinking under the weight of their own debt – it’s great to hear some good news. Recently Saga Communications (who operates a cluster of radio stations in Bellingham) announced that their net revenue, operating income, free cash flow and net income all increased in Q4 of 2016.  Meanwhile, Cumulus continues to receive more bad news as they try and restructure their $2.4 Billion debt.  Certainly, the vultures are circling this firm, awaiting the time that they are forced to sell off the company for bargain basement prices.

Meanwhile the Entercom / CBS deal seems to be getting good marks from those that evaluate deals. The value of CBS Radio has been placed at 2.86 Billion Bucks!  When completed, the new Entercom will consist of 244 stations in 47 markets including all of the top 10 and all but 2 of the top 25.  Talk about a dream position to be in!  Some of the markets are huge.  Both the New York and LA clusters are valued at well north of 300 million each.  If you owned stock in Entercom…28% will be part of the new company.  If you have stock in CBS, that figure will be 72%, underscoring who was bigger than who.  I’m sure the new Entercom will be watching things very closely to avoid the tragic mistakes of a couple of other big radio outfits.

On the local (Seattle) front of the Entercom/CBS deal, apparently, all of the Seattle stations, belonging to both companies, have been put into a trust giving the new company time to sort out just which ones to spin off (and which ones to keep). They’ve made it obvious that they would like to do a deal with whoever will bring the maximum benefit to the new company.  Meanwhile, those that work at these 7 FM stations have likely been told to continue to ‘soldier-on’ as if nothing was taking place.  A pretty tall order.  I’ve been in situations like this.  There are likely a lot of hallway conversations taking place as employees are, understandably, nervous with many polishing their resumes, just in case.  Uncertainty will cause many to have less than peaceful sleep.  There is little comfort knowing that this same level of anxiety is taking place in other markets as well.

It’s happening again – the periodic call for elimination of funding for some 1,500 Public Broadcasting (Radio and TV) Stations. Interestingly there has been government funds provided for now 50 years.  With the new group in power in WDC, it remains to be seen if this will continue or not.  Many public stations are, reportedly, gearing up for the fight, engaging their listeners and viewers to write their congressmen in support of keep it going.  Some are openly expressing concern that elimination of the $445 million annual funding could cause public broadcasting to collapse.  Expressed as a percentage, the amount received is a very small percentage of the federal budget.  We need to remember that this is the ‘proposed’ budget and only one step in a process.  There are those that question should the government be funding something that is operating in competition to private industry?  I’ve often wondered what would happen if the FCC permitted Non-Coms to sell spots in exchange for dropping government funding.

Some local translator news to report –

103.3/K277AE – The historic Entercom translator in Downtown Seattle that runs the same programming as their West Tiger based 103.7/KHTP, recently had to change antennas to one more directional (aimed south) to avoid the new co-channel operation on 103.3 in Oak Harbor.

94.5/K233BU – Is now on the air from Cougar Mountain with a directional antenna (aimed north) re-broadcasting Bonneville’s 770 AM KTTH. 94.5 was on Capitol Hill operated by a non-commercial station.

On the subject of translators…April 10th is the day that the FCC is supposed to begin their new rules regarding siting of AM Translators. Under the old rules, an AM had to place their translator either within their daytime service contour or within 25 miles of the AM translator, whichever was less.  The new, and certainly more relaxed rules drop the ‘whichever is less’ part allowing that AM to install their transmitter anywhere within 25 miles of their AM, even if its outside their service contour.  The feeling is that this will create more opportunities for the AM station.  The problem is, with all the LPFMs and new translators, there is not much spectrum left to do it.  That is unless you are in a very sparsely populated area.

Yes, once again, it’s time for many to make their annual trek to Las Vegas for the NAB show. I can well recall making that trip annually for many years.  Nowadays, without any compelling reason to go, I don’t.  I do need to mention that John Kean is going to be receiving the NAB Radio Engineering Achievement Award.  John is best known for his work with NPR.  Last year’s recipient was Andy Laird who I am proud to say I was able to work with.  John Lyons will be receiving the NAB Television Engineering Achievement Award.  John is involved with the Durst Organization in NYC.

Slowly but surely, the Radio industry is finding a role for HD Radio channels. Early on Radio had no idea of what to do with these new resources, with no receivers out there, they simply filled them with minimal expense programming.  This is changing as more receivers are coming on line every day.

Most recently, HD Radio got a shot in the arm with the announcement that Radio Disney is going to be on Entercom HD2 Channels in 9 markets including one in Portland, Oregon. Interestingly there was no mention of Seattle.  Disney, for several years, operated the 1250 AM.  Perhaps there will be an announcement coming?

Another item that comes around periodically is the matter of public health issues caused by cellphones.

This time the California Department of Public Health has release a draft document dealing with the issue that was apparently kept out of public view for some time. Like a lot of previous items in this category…It is suggested that there is a connection to having a cellphone pressed next to your ear and brain cancer.  Perhaps the move to more texting is a good one suggesting that repetitive stress disorder with our thumbs is a better option?

Things I learned recently –

  • Cubic Light years – Try and get your head around that one! It’s actually a measurement that’s being used to describe the amount still out there that has been found by the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey.
  • QoE – An expression meaning Quality of Experience being used by the wireless industry to describe whether a customer has dropped calls etc. (I can see this one being used in many places)
  • Amateur (Ham) Radio continues to grow. You’d think with all the computers and smartphones out there that this legacy hobby would be shrinking…Not so according to the ARRL.  As of the end of 2016 there were over 742,000 licensed Hams in the US.  New licensees are growing at a rate of about 30,000 per year.

What other people learned recently –

In this case, former Corporate Engineer for Entercom and now retired John Price wrote–

Thumbing through the April 2017 QST I noticed the Eclectic Technology column on page 71. Columnist Steve Ford has the story of an interesting WSJT project by a Chuck Kelly, W9MDO/VE1MDO.  Even though Chuck Kelly sounds like a pretty common name, I wondered, with the VE1 call, could that possibly be Chuck Kelly from Nautel?  BINGO.  A quick check of the W9 call at QRZ.com confirmed my suspicion…it’s him.  Pretty cool.

Chuck has moved from his role as Sales Manager to taking the Southeast Asia sales rep. position due to the recent retirement of John Abdnour. It’s my understanding that long time Nautel fixture Wendell Lonergan will be now heading up their sales efforts.

There has been a recent discussion on Pubtech regarding the impact of wind turbines on radio and TV reception. If I recall, the Tri-Cities area of Washington State dealt with this a few years ago, however I don’t recall what happened.  In this discussion, many were calling these huge wind generator ‘Wind Mills’.  Whereas I had recently been ‘nailed’ for using the same term…I jumped into point out that these machines did not ‘mill’ anything and should be called by a more proper term.  This set off some discussion about terms that we have carried over – Here are a couple –

CUTTING A SPOT – From the days when radio commercials were recorded with a cutting lathe for later playback on a phonograph.

PUMPING GAS – As many of you probably suspect – I am indeed old enough to remember seeing this done. Gas pumps were indeed ‘pumps’.  The attendant would ask how many gallons you wanted and then ‘pump’ gas up into a big glass container on the top of the pump (they had graduations marked on them).  When that process was completed, he would transfer the fuel to your vehicle.  You can see these today in museums

FILM AT 11 – A classic TV phrase used in earlier newscasts.  News crews would go out and capture images on Film…Rush back to the station to process it where it was loaded on a file projector (on a film island) for playback during the 11 p.m. news.  Amazing how many today think that film is still being used.

ROLL UP YOUR WINDOW – Motor vehicles all used to have a crank that you would use to ‘roll’ up or down your windows.  Today they are a rare site with power operated windows becoming standard.  This does not stop folks from continuing to use the term.

DIAL A PHONE NUMBER – Telephones of yesteryear had a ‘Dial’ (that rotary motion devices that you would operate with your index finger) to enter the number you wished to call. The ‘Rotary Dial’ was replaced with push buttons (often called a Touch-Tone Pad).  This does not stop the use of the term today where many continue to ‘Dial’ phone numbers.

Got some more of these? Drop me a note, (oops, I meant to say send me an email) so we can share.

Are you looking for a job in Radio Engineering? There are a couple of openings that I’ve heard of – 1) Bonneville (same folks that own KIRO In Seattle) are looking for a Chief Engineer for their Phoenix, Arizona stations.  2) Binnie Media is looking for a Chief for their Maine Radio Group.  Talk about climate alternatives.

One area where all can agree that the FCC has left something to be desired in enforcement is the matter of RF Noise pollution. Finally, AM Broadcasters and broadcast associations are starting to catch-on that we have a problem that’s largely out of control.  Ham Operators have long known that noise levels are increasing as they often have meters on their equipment measuring it.  Lately, in certain areas of the country that noise level has shot upward….The reason?  The legalizing of pot and the RF noise that is generated by the high powered lighting equipment used in grow operations.  I’ve read of some interesting cases where there is a power failure resulting in a dramatic reduction in RF Noise.  So, what can be done?  The FCC’s enforcement capability has been shrunk to the point of being useless…and all the FCC will likely do with a noise polluter is send him a letter requesting he fix the problem.  Likely those with RF Noise generating equipment read the same ‘playbook’ as pirate radio operators that advises them to simply ignore the FCC.  If we are lucky, the FCC will gain some new teeth and be able to confiscate pirate radio equipment.  Now if they could do the same with equipment that also generates illegal amount of radio frequency energy.  The missing element here is, of course, who is going to do the leg-work that was formally accomplished by your local FCC Field Office?  The fear I have is that all this congressional interest in solving the pirate problem will result in the creation of a bigger tiger who will never visit my neighborhood.

Some Washington State EAS News to report –

  • The State EAS Committee, SECC, has moved their meeting location from the Washington State Emergency Management facility at Camp Murray to the Radio Conference Room at Clover Park Technical College.
  • In the SECC’s recent meeting a number of items were discussed resulting in the approval to create two new Tab’s for the EAS Plan. Tab 17 will deal with ENS (systems used by Emergency Management), the other (Tab 13) details how the State Duty Officers deal with the issuance of warning messages.
  • Tab 8 will be expanded to more fully explain which event codes can be used with EAS and WEA.
  • Tab 26, which deals with Amber, is being re-written reflecting changes in how Amber, aka Child Abduction Emergencies (CAE) are handled.

The next SECC Meeting will be on May 25th at Kittcom in Ellensburg. The following, July 13th Meeting will be at Clover Park Technical College.  Completed details are always posted on the State EAS Remailer.

To learn more about the Washington State EAS system, consider subscribing to the WaState EAS Remailer by checking out http://sea.sbe16.org/mailman/listinfo/eas-wa. Good time to remind all that this electronic communications system is provided by the consulting firm of Hatfield and Dawson to whom we should all say thank you.

Occasionally there is a bit of good news for broadcasters. In this case a new survey has shown that 82% of Americans listen to AM/FM Radio in their cars every month.  Add this to the fact there are estimated to be 250,000,000 vehicles with radios – it is good news indeed.

From the ‘end of an era’ department came the recent announcement that International Crystal was shutting down. For those of us that have been in this industry for a long time – This is a shocker…but probably not un-expected as we have devised circuits today that have just about completely eliminated the need for the products that they produced.  For those of you that are not on the technical side, for a very long time the frequency that transmitters operated on was controlled by a little piece of quartz crystal.  International was one of the major suppliers.  I understand that there are a few firms still in the business…just for how long remains to be seen.  International Crystal was 66 years old.

So, what about the impact of the TV Repacking on radio? On the non-commercial side, CPB has determined that 95 of their eligible radio stations are co-located with TV stations that are involved in the process and that over a third of them are sharing towers with those TV Stations.  Then there are the commercial FMs that share towers and sites with impacted TV stations.  Here in the Seattle area it appears that we will not see much of a problem….But I can’t speak for other areas of the country.  If you know of a situation where a radio station will be adversely impacted by the TV repacking process, please let me know and send me some details of how it’s being handled.

From the ‘department of they should have known better’ comes news that the FCC has fined a church and its pastor for operating an unlicensed station in Arleta, California. Additionally the FCC said they had warned them multiple times.  Perhaps they felt they were given permission by a higher authority?

Picture time – this time of Arthur Willetts, with Terry Springs pickup, having fun trying to drive up their transmitter site on West Tiger Mt.   As you can see, from the angle of Terrys truck, it’s time for chains.

If you look closely at this picture you can see that they have chains on all 4 wheels, but are heading down hill. From the looks of all of the tracks in the snow, my guess it was one of those days that they were unable to get to the top.  By the way….Just in time for Spring – Terry reported, on March 20, the news we have all been waiting to hear….He was finally able to drive up to the top of West Tiger.  It’s been a VERY long winter.

On the 14th of March I had to make a quick trip to West Tiger to repair a transmitter in distress. Whereas Terry had told me that he was only able to get to within about half a mile of his site and had to walk from there…and whereas the site I was going to was another half-mile and higher in elevation…Doug Fisher got another call to provide transportation services with his Gator.  He told me recently that he has made more trips this year with that machine than any other previously.  This has indeed been an interesting year, weather-wise.  I keep thinking back to the winter weather predictions of last year.  If I recall they really did not know what to expect…Apparently, we have now learned what that means.

From time to time in this column I have featured a Radio/TV transmitter site in another market and compare it to Seattle. For those of you not familiar with Seattle we have multiple transmitter sites.

For TV –

  • Gold Mountain west of Downtown about 16 miles
  • Queen Ann Hill – just north of Downtown
  • Capitol Hill – Just East of Downtown
  • West Tiger – East of Seattle

For FM –

  • Capitol Hill – Just east of Downtown (only one station there)
  • Cougar Mt – East of Seattle about 15 miles
  • West Tiger – East of Seattle about 22 miles

Whereas Seattle is, essentially, at sea level…All elevations are in relation to that. The area’s lowest sites are on Queen Ann and Capital Hills where the tower top beacons are all at about 1049 feet AMSL.  The highest site in the area is West Tiger Mt where the tower tops there are 3148 ft. AMSL.

The site we are going to visit is reportedly the highest Radio/TV site in the country and is known as Sandia Crest and it’s over 10,600 feet above sea level! Just east of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

To put this into perspective – Mt Baker (just about 100 miles North of Seattle) is about the same elevation (10,781).

You may have noticed the difference in color….All due to the difference in latitude. At about the same elevation, Mt Baker’s summit is pretty much white all year long with the peak covered in glaciers and hardly a place to put towers and transmission equipment.

When you compare the elevation of the site to the elevation of the primary target or major city you wish to cover you get a clearer picture. In the case of Seattle, our highest site is West Tiger with transmitting antennas approx. 3000 feet above the downtown town area.  (Other Seattle sites are considerably lower).  Sandia is extremely impressive!

When you consider the city of Albuquerque is nominally about 5300 ft elevation, and do the math, you can see that, even at ground level, these transmitters are well over 5000 ft. above their City of License.  Just take a look at this picture looking down at the city from Sandia Crest.  There are about 700,000 people down there.

 

 

 

 

 

Looking back up toward the towers you can see they don’t have to be very tall….Not with that much elevation.

 

 

 

Thanks to friend, Bill Harris, here are some other pictures of the Sandia Crest facility –

One of the American Tower facilities on Sandia Crest.

In addition to Sandia’s elevation above sea-level and it’s elevation above the city of Albuquerque…A standard way to measure transmitter location is by using what’s call Height Above Average Terrain or HAAT.

Here is a table comparing the two locations, using an FM Station at each –

Location                  Sandia Crest West     Tiger
                                Albuquerque    Seattle
Market Rank                             69          13
Market Population                  760,500   3,779,500
Station                            KRST-FM     KING-FM
Effective Radiated Power (ERP)       22 kW       68 Kw
Height Above Average Terrain (HAAT) 1268 M       707 M
Height Above Sea Level (AMSL)       3284 M       940 M
Height Above Ground Level (AGL)       41 M        41 M

A couple of interesting comparisons –

  • The Power of the stations at Sandia is considerably less and this is because the FCC requires that power be reduced once you exceed the maximum elevation for that class of station. For example – KING-FM ran 100,000 watts ERP when they were at Queen Ann Hill due to its much lower elevation.
  • The reason the power at Sandia is so much less than at West Tiger is due to their AAT.
  • The AMSL number is somewhat meaningless as it’s the relationship to the surrounding terrain that really counts
  • I found it interesting that the AGL number was the same, indicating that the tower height at both locations was the same.
  • Both locations have extensive site management handled by American Tower.

There are some other interesting, and perhaps unique, aspects of Sandia Crest – (Unlike the Seattle Sites)

  • Public Access – You can drive to a location near the broadcast towers to catch the view and buy food.
  • Ride a Tram up the mountain
  • Ski (they have a 7500 foot chair lift)

With that being said…. Yes, you can drive to the base of the towers in Seattle.

I asked local broadcast engineer, Bill Harris, some questions about the Sandia Site and the broadcasters that use it –

  • With a site elevation of 10,612 (According to ATC) it’s one of the highest in the country??

Actually, we all think of it as more like 10,670. I’m told that the two FMs on the pole above what is now the ATC building/tower are definitely among the highest anywhere in the country. (KDRF is one.)

  • How many TV stations are up there?

Most of them. Though not actually on these channels in many cases.

2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 13 and quite a few other UHFs of various powers. In fact, the only TV that comes to mind that is NOT up there is Ch. 14, which used to be, but moved out to a tall tower west of the city some years ago.  Let me put it this way, at my house on the west side of the metro, my TV will scan 50 program sources (4.1, 4.2, etc.) with a pair of rabbit ears with a UHF loop.  BTW, 7 and 13 stayed on their VHF channels.

  • How many FM’s?

Many of the ABQ and ‘near suburban’ licensees are up there. There are, however, a couple other ‘near market’ signals out on the west side on ‘Nine Mile Hill’ (C2s) and a class A, believe it or not, licensed to a suburb whose antenna is mounted on the building at the base of the tram going up to Sandia mountain!  Then, there are a half dozen or so ‘rim shots’, some north, some south, with varying degrees of effectiveness.

  • Do all the Class C FMs operate with 22 kW ERP?

Most of the FMs run in that general ERP range, give or take. 250 watt translators perform admirably from up there!

  • What about beam tilt, is it used?

I’m sure that varies a lot from system to system. None of the FMs up there cover really well in the foothills on the east side of the metro area.  When I had to replace an entire antenna for one of our FMs in the mid-2000s, we put in a couple of degrees and some first null fill as I recall.  Still, it really isn’t a heck of lot better performer than any of the others.  It’s a REALLY steep angle!  On the other hand, I have carried most of the signals from up there a looooong way in some directions depending on terrain.  Nothing to get in the way.  Sandia rises pretty abruptly in most every direction.

  • What about combining, most of the Seattle Stations now operate via Combiners and Master Antennas?

There is a ‘tri-plex’ system, 3 FMs on one Shively antenna. There might be another two in one….not sure.

  • Are their radiation concerns at this site, especially because there are public facilities so close?

As for all the building shielding and limited exposure times…there have been at least a couple fairly extensive surveys done of the entire site. Yes, there are some fairly hot spots near the ground, all of which have been located, but I don’t know of anyone who is too concerned on a day to day basis.  Now, gain any altitude and that all changes.  Since most of the towers are not very tall, it doesn’t take long to get into the aperture of some serious RF.  Believe it or not, the Forest Service allows hang gliders to launch right from a location ON the site.  They have been known to ride a thermal too close to the antennas.  We warn them about that on occasion.

I want thank Bill Harris for his contributions.   If you would like to read more about the Highest Transmitter site in the U.S.  Here are some sites with more information:

http://www.sandiapeak.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandia_Mountains

https://www.fybush.com/site-of-the-week-11162012-sandia-crest-albuquerque-2011/

http://www.king5.com/money/markets/real-estate/high-tech-condos-on-sale-this-weekend/423397520

Recent reports say that Norway has decided to expand the number of FM Radio channels available, unlike their neighbor, Sweden, that appears to be moving to shift things to an all-digital mode.

Downtown Seattle continues to grow at an all-time record rate. I recall working in the, then new, 20 story Metropolitan Park East Tower where our top floor deck on the north side of the building had an, unobstructed, panoramic view from West, thru north.  Not any more as the forest of construction cranes have dramatically changed the South Lake Union landscape.  Just recently it was announced that a new 40 story building is going to be built across the street.  This video, from KING-TV, tells the tale.

http://www.king5.com/money/markets/real-estate/high-tech-condos-on-sale-this-weekend/423397520

In last month’s Column I dealt with some terms that are likely not familiar with some of the more ‘freshly minted’ types that we deal with Such as Fritz, Whack and Kilter.

One of my readers contributed another term that belongs in this category – copacetic. If you are a ‘more mature’ person you may have responded to a question like – How’s it going – with a response – Everything is copacetic.  Which is likely to produce some additional ‘Deer in the Headlights’ responses.  In the event you are new to this term – Here is the official word –

Copacetic is an adjective used to describe something or someone as pleasing or meeting one’s expectations…Good, Excellent, Fine etc.

From the department of Call Letter Re-use – KBSG was the call that then new owner Viacom gave 97.3FM (changing it from KNBQ). They wanted to use KBST for their new station slogan – ‘K-Best’ but were apparently un-successful in getting the station using those letters to let them go…so they chose KBSG.  Now those call letters are used by the Chehalis Valley Educational Foundation for their little FM station in Westport on the Washington Coast.

Time to once again put my spin on the latest radio ratings. Radio ratings are like a lot of things, they are taken apart in segments, in the case of radio, age groups.  In my case I just look at what’s called 12 Plus.  Here we go –

  • There are 35 stations listed, meaning that the radio pie is divided into 36 slices. This may sound excessive, consider there are well over 200 different models of automobiles for sale.
  • The #1 Station (KQMV) continues to prove that CHR is a popular and viable format.
  • Non-commercial stations are doing very well here – KUOW is ranked #2, KNKX #9, KLSW #23, KING #24 etc. beating out many commercial facilities.
  • AM’s continue to struggle. The highest rated one, KOMO, is at #15, KIRO at #18.
  • Power used to make the difference with AM…Not so much anymore. KJR is #28, KIXI #29, KFNQ is #34 – All of them 50,000 Watters.

In closing this month’s Column – The following contribution comes from an old friend. This is a great example of how many things that seem new really are not as new as you might suspect.

That’s it for this month – Enjoy Spring ! –

Clay Freinwald, K7CR, CPBE