Clay’s Corner

September 7, 2017

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

The picture on the right was taken in early August at Cougar Mountain. The fall colors you see are partially a result of the very dry summer we have been having. For years I have been writing in this column about summer being our shortest season…. This is based on the fact that it normally is. I recall summers when we barely had a week without rainfall. This summer is certainly an exception, with a very long/extended dry period. The last one of these I recall was back in the fall of 1987. We were busy starting construction of the facility at West Tiger Mountain, thinking that the monsoons would be arriving any day. Summer just kept on going into October. The impact of this is being felt by vegetation. Lawns, normally green have turned brown.

Many evergreen trees are being severely stressed or are dying. I was recently over in Forks and could not help but notice the Sol Duc River looks more like a creek. Only thing that got in the way of our beautiful blue skies has been a couple of weeks of smoke we had to deal with from the B.C. Fires…Other than that, it’s been a warm and wonderful summer…one that helped us forget that last winter was a record wet one.

Ooops!…I did forgot about another event that got in the way of sunshine – The Eclipse. Yes It was something to see, even if we only got to about 80% in this area. I was driving at the time, but could not help but notice that it appears to be twilight, except all the shadows were in the wrong locations. Spoke with my #2 son in Boise who got a better experience. He noted how it immediately got cooler. This is the last one that we will see in the PNW in our lifetime.

Back when I received the SBE Engineer of the Year Award it was not named after anyone…now it’s named after Robert W. Flanders. Congrats to Steve Brown, winner for 2017. Proud to say that I met Steve a number of times in my travels – Lucky bum!….He recently retired. Should note that Jim Dalke received an award for his presentation at a NAB Convention on using VSATS for Broadcast STL’s. Nothing like being knowing famous people – come to think of it – Jim and I live in the same Zip Code.

Ever have a desire to move to South Dakota? A broadcast group in Rapid City is looking for a chief engineer for a five station group. Send resume with work history to Ted Peiffer, General Manager, Duhamel Broadcasting, P.O. Box 1760, Rapid City, SD 57709 or email to mailto:ted.peiffer@dberadio.com

On the topic of job openings – Another retirement in the news. November 3rd is the announced retirement date for Don Eckis. Don has been with WSU’s NWPR for many years, based in Wenatchee. On the personal side – I will very much miss Don. He is a tremendous talent and a very nice guy. For the past 7+ years I’ve worked for WSU, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Don on many occasions. Great memories – Thanks Don for everything!

For many years the FCC has been issuing fines for those that use EAS Tones for things other than EAS messages. Recently someone back in Trumpsville had the bright idea that it would be OK to use tones that sound-like EAS tones for educational efforts. Here is how the official word reads:

• Using the Emergency Alert System tones outside of an actual test or an activation is strictly off-limits. But the government has released a special set of a “sound-alike” EAS tones for stations to use as part of the public education effort leading up to this year’s national test. The Federal Emergency Management Agency says the audio file contains “non-functional sound-alike EAS data headers” which most critically won’t trigger any station’s EAS receivers. Stations can create their own public service announcements and use the dummy tones without fear of running afoul of federal regulations which bar their use otherwise. Federal law prohibits the use of actual or simulated EAS tones in circumstances other than an actual emergency, an authorized monthly test or certain public service announcements.

• The national test will occur on Sept. 27 at 2:20pm ET and it will run about one minute. If there’s any reason to delay the test from Sept. 27, such as a hurricane impacting part of the country, FEMA has already announced that Oct. 4 will be the secondary test date.

• The Federal Communications Commission has set Aug. 28 as the deadline for when stations must file its so-called “Form One” in the EAS Test Reporting System. That’s the form that gives the agency all the detailed information about the station including its transmitter location and what kind of EAS receiver it’s using. On the day of the national test, broadcasters will have until 11:59pm ET to file “Form Two.” That’s the day-of-testing form that gives basic information such as whether the station received the EAS activation and where it retransmitted the test. And then by Nov. 13 all stations and other EAS participants are required to file “Form Three.” This is the detailed report that gives the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau and FEMA a more granular read on what happened during the test—including if the station had any technical hiccups.

• The FCC has also released a revised EAS Operating Handbook. The Bureau says the new handbook must be in place in time for this year’s test and be located at normal duty positions or EAS equipment locations when an operator is required to be on duty and available to staff responsible for administering EAS tests.

Speaking of EAS – The next meeting of the Washington State SECC will take place on Sept 14th at 9:30 a.m. in the Building 11 Radio Conference Room of Clover Park Technical College. Hope you can join us. As you know, EAS in our State is a cooperative and collaborative effort.

The joining of Sinclair and Tribune is making a lot of noise. First from those who are opposed to the deal and more recently by the proponents that are fighting back. Will be interesting to see how this plays out, especially here in Seattle where the process of elimination will see a couple TV signals with new owners.

On the subject of new owners….Over in the world of Radio we are edging closer to the merger of Entercom and CBS, a process that will find some well-known local stations with new owners also. Just like with the Sinclair/Tribune deal – No one knows how this will end up. A process that is certain to leave a number of employees wondering. The Entercom deal is supposed to close before the end of the year. We will have to wait and see what happens with Sinclair.

Over at iHeart, they continue to work to reduce their massive $20 Billion Dollar Debt, where their interest expense is expected to hit $1.8 billion for the full year.

Now retired, former Entercom Chief, Dwight Small is happily working on his new lake-front home in Skagit County. Dwight recently announced that he has been granted a new Amateur Radio Call sign – K7KG. If that sounds familiar, it was the last call held by Jon Marcinko. Jon was a very well-known amateur in this area having worked with Land Mobile system, State DNR and DOT for many years. Dwight said that he felt privileged to have received it. Jon and Dwight knew each other.

Signaling a new approach to dealing with Pirate Radio, the FCC is now going after Pirate operator’s landlords. At least this was the case with a recent FCC action in Hollywood, Florida with the FCC enforcement team locating the unlicensed broadcaster and electing to go after the real estate company that owns the home where the operation was taking place. Apparently the Commish is also planning on going after those who advertise on these stations. Meanwhile the FCC is asking Congress for the authority to seize the equipment being used and increasing the size of monetary penalties. Personally I will wait and see whether or not this will impact the issue.

The FCC continues to pack more translators into the FM band. For example, in our area, Radio Hankook that operates the 1450 AM in Puyallup and 1230 in Everett are trying to put an FM on 102.1. The numbers speak for themselves. As of June 30th there were 7,453 translators and boosters on the air. One of the down-sides to all of this activity is the impact on existing broadcast stations. In several cases, established broadcasters have had go to the FCC to have the new station’s operation terminated to eliminate interference. Existing stations need to be watching out for themselves because in some cases the FCC is no longer doing it for them.

For folks in my generation, we often smile when a younger generation discovers something that we’ve known all along. Here’s an example – A recent Wall Street Journal story entitled ‘Millennials Unearth an Amazing Hack to Get Free TV: the Antenna” (you can’t make this stuff up). Here are some other ‘shocking’ items concerning this ‘discovery’ –

  • Young people are behind a surge in rabbit ears sales as they “discover” the decades-old technology
  • Millennials who are shocked to learn that basic TV channels are free with the use of an antenna
  • “It’s been awesome. It doesn’t log out and it doesn’t skip.”

I suspect that these are likely the same people who are shocked to learn that Milk comes from a cow etc. I can just imagine the thoughts that run through the mind of a Millennial as he tries to figure out why the call the antenna ‘Rabbit Ears’.

Back in the dark ages (prior to DTV) we had all memorized the channel numbers of TV channels that we watched. Many had no idea of the call letters of these stations…the channel number was much easier. In Seattle we had 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13 (not to mention the U’s). Then along came DTV and the first ‘channel number shuffle’. TV station owners, and ATSC, recognized the potential for mass confusion and came up with the Virtual Channel Number scheme that enable viewers, and receivers to keep their old numbers after the Analog/Digital shuffle where stations were, for a time, operating on two channels, one for each mode. When that shuffle was done, for example, KING-5 (Channel 5) moved to channel 48 and hardly anyone knew that as they were still able to access KING-TV using the channel 5 number.

Due to pressure for more RF spectrum the FCC dropped another shoe. Time to shuffle channels – again – this time to compress them into a smaller portion of the UHF band…A process called “repacking”.

To, hopefully, make this easier to see – Here is a table showing the ‘Seattle Shuffle’ (If you find an error in this, please let me know).

STATION CALL - 	FIRST  - SECOND  - THIRD

STATION: KOMO 	-  4     - 38     - 30

STATION: KING 	-  5     - 48 	  - 25

STATION:  KIRO  -  7     - 39     - 23

STATION:  KCTS   - 9      - 9     - Note 1

STATION:  KSTW  - 11      -11     - Note 1

STATION:  KVOS  - 12     - 35     - 14

STATION:  KCPQ  - 13     - 13     - Note 1

STATION:  KCKA  - 15     - 19     - 19 - Note 2

STATION:  KONG  - 16     - 31     - 31 - Note 2

STATION:  KTBW  - 20     - 14     - 21

STATION:  KZJO  - 22     - 25     - 36

STATION:  KBTC  - 28(62) - 27     - 27 - Note 2 &3

STATION:  KWPX  - 33     - 33     - 33 - Note 2

STATION:  KFFV  - 45     - 44     - 16

STATION:  KUNS  - 51     - 50     - 24

STATION:  KWDK  - 56     - 42     - 34

Note 1 – All three of these stations have elected to continue to use their historic channel for DTV and are not impacted by the latest shuffle

Note 2 – Stations that will not change channels

Note 3- Station first went on the air on Ch 62 as KTPS moving to Ch 28 in 1982

 

For many years the business of making TV Transmitting Antennas has been ‘in the dumpster’… Now with re-packing getting underway, things are ramping up rapidly. An example is Dielectric who is opening a new 33,000 sq. ft. manufacturing facility in Lewiston, Maine to produce UHF Main and Auxiliary TV Antennas. If I recall, the owner of Dielectic is Sinclair who purchased the legacy firm knowing that this day would come.

You don’t hear about fires impacting broadcast operations very often…But that’s what took place recently at the CN Tower in Toronto on the 16th of August. The fire was within the 3 foot diameter tube that’s used as a conduit for transmission lines serving the multi-station site. From what I have read, it sounded like insulation on semi-rigid coaxial cable was burning or melting. No word on what caused the fire. A number of stations were impacted.

There was posted recently a list of the top 25, privately held, companies in the U.S. Coming in at #14 was Cox enterprises. I did not realize just how big Cox is. They have 60,000 Employees and reported 2017 Revenue of over $20 Billion. In addition to owning KIRO-TV in Seattle they own cable systems, newspapers, radio stations, Autotrader, Kelley Blue Book etc.

I often write about firms that are based in the Seattle area – Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon etc. For some reason I fail to mention Bellevue based T-Mobile. This cellular operator recently was in the news for getting its first 600 MHz LTE network up and running in Cheyenne, Wyoming. T-Mobile also announced that they will be soon rolling out a new 600 MHz Site in Northwest Oregon.

As I have reported, Entercom is no longer occupying the Metropolitan Park West Tower. After many years operating their 4 FM stations from the 15th and 16th floor of the ‘Spam-Can’ looking structure on Olive Way, they are now settling into new digs on the 14th floor of 800 5th Ave. Watching the crews demolish the former facility at 1100 Olive Way was a bit hard, especially when you saw systems that you installed and maintained be put into a dumpster. Crews working on taking everything apart were a bit taken aback by the weight of the studio doors. I was in the building as crews were attempting to take apart one of the studio floors using hand-tools. They later came back with equipment better designed for the task. In the following picture you can see the corner of one of the floating floors. This was a completely isolated concrete slab sitting in spring isolators (Red Arrow) on top of which were constructed the walls and ceiling of the studio….Literally, a box within a box. I assure you, they don’t build them like that anymore.

Right across the street from Met Park I caught this image of a construction crane. Just one of many that are rapidly transforming downtown Seattle into a forest of big/tall buildings.

A lot of eyes are on the FCC these days as they deal with what they are calling modernizing media ownership rules. This is especially being watched in light of the pending Entercom/CBS and Sinclair/Tribune deals. Should Entercom be able to own 7 FM’s and Sinclair 4 TV’s in Seattle? As expected, there is a lot of pushback from those that fear the evil of too few owners. A huge amount of money is on the line. Fasten your seatbelt.

Meanwhile, the FCC has pulled the plug on an owner of several stations in the NE part of the U.S. The owner in question here, Brian Dodge, has agreed to pay a $100,000 fine for not playing by the rules. The latest salvo from the Commish is to cancel the owner’s licenses. Always someone who feels they can get away with it.

Shorter than normal column this month as ’tis the season for other things. Before I leave you, I would disappoint many if I failed to leave you with some smile material –

  • If you attempt to rob a bank you may not have any trouble with rent/food bills for the next 10 years, whether or not you are successful.
  • Do twins ever realize that one of them is unplanned?
  • What if my dog only brings back my ball because he thinks I like throwing it?
  • If poison expires, is it more poisonous or is it no longer poisonous?
  • Which letter is silent in the word “Scent,” the S or the C?
  • Why is the letter W, in English, called double U? Shouldn’t it be called double V?
  • Maybe oxygen is slowly killing you and It just takes 75-100 years to fully work.
  • Every time you clean something, you just make something else dirty.
  • The word “swims” upside-down is still “swims”.
  • Intentionally losing a game of rock, paper, scissors is just as hard as trying to win.
  • 100 years ago everyone owned a horse and only the rich had cars. Today everyone has cars and only the rich own horses.
  • Your future self is watching you right now through memories.
  • The doctors that told Stephen Hawking he had two years to live in 1953 are probably dead.
  • If you replace “W” with “T” in “What, Where and When”, you get the answer to each of them.
  • Many animals probably need glasses, but nobody knows it.
  • If you rip a hole in a net, there are actually fewer holes in it than there were before.

That’s it for this month. Be thankful for our extended Summer. Catch you next month in most of these same locations. Hard to believe, I’ve been doing this for 31 years!

Clay Freinwald, K7CR – SBE Member #714 – CPBE (September 2017