Providing news and views from a broadcast engineers perspective since September 1986
Wow !….I had just mowed the lawn…The bulbs are several inches tall, my Rhodies and trees have buds on them….and It snows! I’ve been driving up to West Tiger on a weekly basis when suddenly I’m sitting with Doug Fisher in his Gator with tracks again, heading up the hill passing stuck pickups. Mother Nature will determine when winter is over!
This unusually late dose of winter snow impacted Portland too. In fact I was supposed to travel to PDX on the 20th. Looking at the forecast, we opted to put it off. Here’s a picture of fresh snow in Gray Haertig’s backyard in Portland on the 21st.
I did note that he did not use a hardware store wood yard-stick for the measurement….As an Engineer should.
Denver is another example of where things can, and usually do, change…in their case, big changes are famous. On the 18th the temperature (In Boulder just north of Denver) hit 69 Degrees. 40 hours later, on the 20th it was 3 below zero. This is a 72 degree drop and tied for the 8th biggest swing ever noted in 2 days or less. Hate to think what the impact of that kind of change would have been in Seattle or Portland. Denver is famous for the saying –‘Lawnmower to Snow blower in one day’.
The big shake up in Seattle Radio is over and now attention is turning to the picture makers, specifically, the Sinclair/Tribune deal that will involve four of the Seattle area TV Stations…Among them KOMO and KCPQ. The almost $4 Billion dollar deal has drawn a lot of attention and, in some cases, objections and interest of the DOJ. It’s been long known that Sinclair would have to divest two of the stations in this area, and that has been sufficient to keep the rumor mills running overtime, conjecturing as to who might the new owners be. For some time the odds appear to be on Sinclair spinning KCPQ, and perhaps its stable-mate, KSJO, to FOX. Looks like the big reveal is getting close – and then we will know. This is a huge transaction, impacting a number of markets around the country…some of which may also see FOX become an O&O, for example, Denver. One unique aspect of this has been the political side. The Sinclair ownership has a reputation for being biased to the right and the FCC’s present leadership is being criticized for, in some way, helping this process. One of the issues has been the rules involving national audience reach. Bottom line – A good amount of political theater and legal maneuvering.
There is a radio side to all of this too – Sinclair, who used to be in radio, got back in with their purchase of the Fisher properties in Seattle, picking up KOMO, KVI and KPLZ. Word has it that Sinclair plans on keeping WGN Radio in Chicago. Like Seattle and KOMO, WGN has had a long standing strong ‘news-tie’ with its TV partner.
In the event you have not kept track, Sinclair is a big company, and about to get bigger, with some 193 stations in 100 markets. They are very actively involved with the next generation of TV as this article in TV Technology will explain.
In terms of ownership group size…Looking at Seattle area stations, Sinclair is #1, CBS is #2 (Owner of KSTW) Fox #3 (perhaps the new owner of KCPQ) Tegna is #6 (owner of KING/5 etc.), Cox is #13 (Owner of KIRO/7), ION is #18 (Owner of KWPX).
Picture time! This one, courtesy of Joe Taylor, West regional broadcast site manager for ATC. It is one of the two broadcast sites on West Tiger
Mt, near Seattle. We call this site – West Tiger-2. No, the towers are not leaning. It’s just the distortion caused by the wide angle lens. The 2-story transmitter building is between the towers. The Generator/Electrical building is on the right. And this picture, obviously not taken during the winter, does prove that we can have blue skies in this area. Right now these towers are likely covered with Ice and snow.
Every year about this time, attention of many in Radio turn to the Crystal Awards. I always like to look at the nominees to check for stations from areas where this column is read. Looking at the finalist list….Sorry Seattle – No stations listed. Denver did better with KYGO-FM making the cut. Portland has listed KUPL. Noted that KMOK-FM and KRLC-AM in Lewiston, Idaho (just across the river from Clarkson, WA) also are listed.
The Seattle area Radio Numbers are out- And here are some of my observations:
- KUOW is doing awesome landing in the #1 spot….Proving that you don’t have to play music to gain listeners. Have to wonder how the programmers at the 30 or so other commercial stations feel about this event? Should point out that KNKX continues to do very well in the numbers race, but they do play music.
- Another radio operation proving you don’t have to play music to succeed is KIRO-FM in the #4 spot.
- After the breakup of CBS, Entercom and iHeart became the two biggest groups in Seattle. Of the top 10 stations – Entercom has three and iHeart has four.
- A lot of eyes were on 94.1, the frequency of the historic CBS Country station, KMPS. As we all know, Entercom elected to change the station’s format and call letters (now KSWD). The latest results put them in the #10 slot. The new format is similar to Hubbard’s KRWM which is still in the #3 slot. This will be a race to watch. More on 94.1 later.
- The race for the country audience is interesting. The numbers for Entercom’s KKWF had a small improvement, but not adding up to what one would expect. Hubbard jumped into this race with their 98.9 FM but is way back in the pack at this point. Certainly there will be a lot of changes as the two country stations duke it out.
- AM Radio continues its downward trend. The top rated AM, All News KOMO, is about #15, with ESPN KIRO-AM a couple of notches below that.
It seems like a very long time ago when I was up on Cougar Mountain taking part in a demonstration of HD Radio while the NAB Radio show was in Seattle. Not long after that, the equipment starting arriving at West Tiger for this new radio system I would be installing on five stations at a time. It was a bit like putting on the air an FM station back in the 50’s. People, then, thought you were nuts as there very few receivers out there….and almost no FM Car Radios. To this date, there are many owners and operators of FM radio stations that view HD Radio in the same way. What’s been happening should be a wakeup call to those folks in particular – HD Radio, thanks to the efforts of the makers of motor vehicles, is making some impressive gains. According to a recent release of date, the penetration is now close to 50%. Pretty hard to ignore the facts…Yet some continue to do so….especially in smaller markets. Perhaps the day that HD Channels generate rating numbers will be the turning point? With all the new vehicles with HD Radios out there and the number growing, wonder how long it will be? Part of the equation is content. Many broadcasters have been dumping low cost to produce content on their HD Channels. Perhaps a ‘Catch-22’?
It’s always sad to report the loss one of our own. On Friday, January 26, Al Bednarczyk lost his battle with Cancer. I first met Al and his family when he was dating his wife to be, Linda, back in the 60’s. Later we worked in a team to maintain a small radio station in Lakewood. Years later we were on the same team in the engineering department of KCPQ-TV. Then, as years passed, I went back into radio as he stayed with TV, but, for a while, doing radio on the side. Al was the Engineer at 106.1/KLAY following Terry Denbrook. I followed Al at that gig.
In recent years I found myself maintaining the KVTI transmitter. A quick look at some old inspection logs recently – Yep….There were notes written by Al.
There are a couple of things that will live on…First, his famous statement, ‘I hate TV’, which was usually followed with that great smile. Second, his remarkable ability to rapidly find the source of a problem with any electronic gizmo. I always swore that he could put his hand on it and tell you which part was bad. He was in a league of his own. Later in retirement, he found time to travel. A great man that left his mark, and a bunch of fellow broadcast engineers deeply respected him.
Darin told me that Al did not wish a memorial service. He did say, however, that we will have a time to gather ‘Friends of Al’ over pizza at a date to be announced. Hopefully many of you that knew him will be in attendance to share your Bednarczyk stories!
Here are some pictures of Al, thanks to Darin Gerchak. The first taken at the KCKA Transmitter on Crego Hill near Chehalis, sitting on top of their previous transmitter’s tube.
In this picture you can see Al (center) with a couple members of the Bates TV Crew, Jelson on the left and Darin on the right. They are the lucky guys having been able to work with Al.
I understand a brand new Nautel 50,000 Watt AM transmitter is on its way to KIRO-AM on Vashon Island. According to their chief, Tom Pierson, the present Main (a Nautel ND50) will be moving to the #2 spot with one of their two old Continental 316’s moving to #3. If my information is correct, this will be the 2nd NX50 on the Island, the other being at 1090. For those of you that attend the annual SBE Picnic’s on Vashon, you often get to tour these historic sources of radio signals. This year, perhaps we will get to see the new KIRO rig. What’s amazing is the reduction in size of these machines.
I very much recall the days when I would spend a lot of time removing and inserting FCC rule updates in binders. Like a lot of things, the requirement that licensees have a copy of the rules on the shelf are over with. Public files are gone too. Everything is on-line these days. The issue is that as powerful as these Internet systems are, they are still fragile. The term ‘Backhoe Fade’ did not exist back in those days.
Every time there is a change in Administration in this country, we all wonder how it will impact the Broadcast Industry. With a lot of new attitudes in WDC, we have already seen a lot of what has been termed ‘modernization’. Like all things in our government, there are the ‘proposals’ of the Administration and then the wait to see what, if any, parts actually become laws.
Example – The Trump Administration recently has proposed a boat-load of new user fees to be paid by broadcaster, cable and satellite operators, etc. The rationale is that these fees would pay the cost of the regulation that they have to adhere to. We are not talking about pocket change here. The proposed fees would bring to the FCC some $4 Billion over the next ten years. [Got that? Hold on to that thought for a moment]. Meanwhile the FCC Chairman is calling for more staff cuts…over 100 employees…all the while the new proposed budget says it will need all the existing staffing. So what will really happen? Anyone’s guess. The old admonition of hide and watch sounds like good advice.
Are you ready for the roll out of ATSC 3.0 or Next-Gen Television? The new standard will be rolling out this month (March). I have to wonder what amount of public education will be involved explaining this to consumers? Consumers (at least older ones) are used to –
- The All Channel Law
- Conversion to Color
- Conversion to HD
This time a lot of the rules are different and things have the potential to become quite a bit more complicated. This time it’s a voluntary roll-out (Dare I say like HD Radio?). Will the lure of 4K TV be enough to entice new buyers? Certainly those that provide broadband services to consumers have a horse in this race too. There are a lot of questions. Will the other big broadcast outfits join Sinclair in their push for this new technology? How would this impact folks like Ion that operate a huge ‘Central cast’ system? Will the religious broadcasters like Daystar or TBN jump into this? What about the Cable Channels like Fox or the offerings of Discovery. Exciting times for sure.
Last Month I touched on the term that we hear all too much these days – Fake News. If you stop and think about it, have not the grocery store check-out lines given us a steady diet of that for many years? Seems to me that Fake News (at least the print version) has been with us for a very long time. You do read this stuff don’t you? Apparently they are similar. Consumers lap it up and the only ones that complain are those that are offended.
One of the bigger radio deals to come along following the big CBS/Entercom deal is the sale of the Emmis stations in St. Louis to Hubbard and Entercom. In the deal, both firms will pick up a pair of stations and Emmis will pocket, reportedly, 60 million. That’s approx. 15 Million apiece for a radio station in Market 21.
Interesting to look up Market Ranks of some of the locations where this column is read –
|Market||Media Market Nielsen||TV Market||TV Stations|
The number from this that jumps out at me is the number of TV stations in Denver – 30! That’s the same number of stations as the #1 Market, New York City. NYC has over 7 Million TV households while Denver has just over 1.1 Million. Wow!
The changing media landscape upset what was a long formula used by artists, composers etc. Now comes word that royalty payments paid by streaming firms like Apple and Spotify are going to be going up by almost 5%. This ever-changing situation requires a program to keep track. A little Seattle outfit called Amazon also has a horse in this race.
The Commish was busy recently in the area north of Denver shutting down a pair of pirate radio stations, both on FM. Interestingly they both had call letters…KNED and KWHR…apparently of their own choosing. Similar to what pirate Ham Operators do, pick out an un-used set of call letters. Unlike Amateur Radio, probably no-one in the area bothers to look them up. The stations stated on their Facebook page that they were under attack by the FCC. Interesting choice of words. In the minds of many of these types, they feel that they have the God given right to broadcast…or that the First Amendment somehow does. Perhaps the big test here will be to see if the FCC really means it. Historically, stations like this come back on the air while the FCC does nothing. In other cases, they get fined and, for some reason, get away with non-payment. The Commish is very aware of this and is trying to get additional authority to deal with the problem. Someone with one of the groups publically stated that they just want the FCC to leave them alone.
Perhaps the FCC could do as they did with CB Radio – throw up their hands and let the mice rule? Perhaps, in the future, a segment of the AM Broadcast Band could be set aside for un-licensed broadcasting? It would be kind of fun to watch.
Speaking of AM – the last round of license applications for AM Translators ended up producing some 850 applications. All in all, there has been a tremendous amount of interest by AM’s wishing to add FM, even if it meant at very low power or the use of a directional antenna. This is all part of the FCC’s effort to ‘revitalize’ the AM band where broadcasters have seen audiences adopt FM as their primary source of radio. As of the end of 2017 there were over 7500 Translators and Boosters licensed.
One recent issue has cropped up – the apparent FCC willingness to consider a new class of FM (C4) that would boost power of some stations to 12,000 watts. Concern has been expressed that this could adversely impact translators and other lower powered FM operations. It will be interesting to see how the FCC deals with that issue.
The Seattle area has been getting a lot of press of late, much of it regarding the pace of housing and rental price increases causing a huge increase in homeless etc. One statistic that has helped Seattle be recognized as a world class city is the area’s traffic congestion. According to INRIX, an outfit that keeps track of such things, Seattle now ranks #9 in terms of the most congested. Tacoma (just south of Seattle) is ranked #16. INRIX is able to put a price tag on all this congestion too – $5 Billion for Seattle and $2.4 for Tacoma. OK, so it’s #9 in the US. Consider that Seattle area traffic ranks #20 in the world! You probably guessed – LA ranked #1 in both the US and World.
The fact is that people are pouring into this area and this has created a housing shortage that contributes to the rising prices (and with it, rising property taxes). Being a homeowner (with no mortgage) puts me in a much better position than someone moving to the area or just starting out. In the last couple of weeks I’ve received letters from firms making it clear that they want to buy my house or have buyers for it. One of them sent along a color picture of the place with my pickup in the driveway. They call this a sellers’ market.
There has been a lot of buzz regarding these new smart speakers in the radio industry. Not only can you ask it questions, you can ask it to find a radio station for you. You’ve probably seen a TV spot for them, or perhaps a comedy U-Tube video. There was a recent survey that turned up some interesting findings. What was perhaps surprising is how popular they are with Country Music listeners. Meanwhile, Country stations need to do more to develop their own skills with these new devices so they work to their advantage.
Getting back to Seattle Radio – The Entercom/CBS deal resulted in several ‘spin-offs’ in the Seattle market. Among them was 1090 AM which went to iHeartMedia. Many wondered what they would do with KFNQ. That answer came early in February, with the company announcing that they would indeed keep the station, and do some re-branding. If you recall, CBS aired their network Sports on the station. Well it appears that it will continue with Sports, doing something a bit unique, calling the station 1090-KJR, airing mainly national sports/talk shows, but clearly linking it to KJR/950 (Seattle Sports Radio). Meanwhile, down the dial to 850….KHHO is being rebranded South Sound Talk 850. This station, which does not propagate very well into Seattle, will be a mixture of syndicated talk shows. However, they will be airing the Tacoma Rainiers baseball games.
Regarding 1090 – This station has had quite a history, going way back to the late 1920’s with call letters of KVL, KGBS, KEVR and, of course, KING-AM, operating on a number of different frequencies over the years, 1321 (yes an odd number) 1480, 1370, 1100 etc. They started with only 100 watts and now operate with 50,000, using 2 different directional patterns. One interesting fact is, at one time they operated on a share-time basis with KRKO in Everett.
Another takeaway from all this is the fact that iHM has elected to stay with their 3 AM’s. In this day and age of declining AM listeners, no-one would have been surprised if they had elected to sell the station rather than operate it. Of course, with all the financial issues facing the company, who knows how long 1090 will remain ‘1090-KJR”?
I love to see old magazine ads about broadcasting. Here’s a jewel about Television, using expressions you would not see today. Note the round picture tube on the left, a far cry from today’s 16×9.
Apparently not everyone got the memo explaining that international broadcasting was dead. It was recently announced that Christian Broadcaster, TWR Bonaire just put on line a new Nautel NX400 AM transmitter that produces 450,000 Watts! They are saying that it’s the largest (perhaps most powerful) AM Transmitter in the Western Hemisphere. Kintronic Labs supplied the phasing equipment that connects the new transmitter to the station’s tower.
Oh yes….This is not shortwave broadcasting …They are operating on 800 KHz. Target audience for the station are listeners in Venezuela, Brazil, Columbia and Cuba. For more information, you can check out their web site – http://www.twrbonaire.com/
The new One World Trade Center building in NYC is taking shape as a broadcast transmitting facility. Five of the new stations there will be using Rohde and Schwarz transmitters which, according to the maker, are the largest solid state digital transmitters in the world. The new structure, some 1776 feet of it, replaces the twin towers that were destroyed in 2011.
I recently had an opportunity to play show and tell at one of ATC’s facilities on Cougar Mountain, where I explained to several from the FAA how we combine and filter FM transmitters. This picture shows a portion of the big Shively Combiner at the site. That’s me in the white baseball cap.
Hey Chuck Morris, are you reading this? We have yet another call letter change in Seattle Radio. In this case, KVRQ has become KNUC. Something that perhaps you don’t know is that often radio station call letters are used for other things. Just Google KNUC and you will see what I mean.
The picture below is of KNUC. In this case, this is the FAA designator for the US Navy landing field on San Clemente Island off the coast of California. It’s been owned by the Navy since 1937.
Now to be honest, when I first saw the letters KNUC – I thought of how you would pronounce it.
KaNuck After all, we have a number of ‘pronounceable’ call letters in this area – (KIRO, KOMO etc.) That got me thinking about Hockey and the Vancouver Canucks.
Just to be fair – I Googled KSWD, the new call letters for Seattle’s 94.1. No FAA designation popped up …However some interesting tid-bits worth sharing:
Entercom calls KSWD ‘The Sound’. This requires the use of the ‘Radio broadcaster’s magic dictionary’…(Stay with me now)… – K So Wn D – From the letters SWD we get the word Sound….Got it? Can’t be any greater stretch than pronouncing KMPS – Compass. Of course we now have KNKX…which the ‘magic dictionary’ says is pronounced ‘Connects’.
Meanwhile – the call KSWD was moved from LA where it too was used by Entercom and pronounced ‘The Sound’. Entercom clearly liked KMPS, for they moved that to Sacramento where it replaced KRAK (I’m going to leave that one alone).
Looking at 94.1 – I see it went on the air in 1961 as KOL-FM. At that time the station was running a 1 kW Gates transmitter into a big antenna hanging on that huge KOL tower on Harbor Island. Later they increased power at that location. Then it was moved to Cougar Mt. In 1975 it became ‘Cute’ or KEUT…then in 1978 the call was change to KMPS for (Manning P Slater). In 1988 it was moved from Cougar to West Tiger along with 3 other stations, becoming the first use of a multi-station combiner in the area. A few years ago it was moved to the new ATC site on West Tiger where it remains today. Even though the call letters are now KSWD, they continue to call their HD2 – Classic KMPS. More on that below…..
With the battle cry of – ‘PAY ME FIRST’ the various creditors of heavily in debt Cumulus are trying to figure out how to best deal with it. Reading about this is head-bending. Secured vs. unsecured creditors etc. According to some reports, Cumulus owes Broadcasters General Store just under $1,000,000. One has to wonder why they did not have their credit line turned off a while ago. Cumulus is underway using Chapter 11. As is the case with situations like this – many will only receive a portion of what they are out, while others will get nothing. The true winners – the lawyers that are crafting all the language, who get well over $1000 per hour, will be, reportedly making millions. Apparently, the process is supposed to end up with the firm having a Billion Dollars less debt (but still not debt free). We have a few more months to go to see how this pans out.
Oh yes – as if they did not have enough bad news – Cumulus was recently slapped with a $58,000 fine by the FCC for some public file violations.
A number of comments have been made regarding the FCC’s apparent move to allow 100% control of a broadcast station by a foreign entity. In this case, the Commish has granted a petition by a pair of Australian citizens involving stations in Alaska and Texas. They have permitted less than 50% in this past, This could just be a start. Apparently there is a small FM station in New York State that has a buyer that would keep the station from going dark. However the buyers are not US citizens.
How about we look back a bit with this one –
Reflecting on how things have changed –
- Back then Shafer was a big name in Radio automation systems.
- Note the terminal the girl is operating – Black and White display, obviously a big box to house that CRT.
- This model was computer based permitting things that previously were impossible.
- Back then Commercial announcements were all on Tape Cartridges. To handle that chore were three Shafter Audiofile multi-cart systems.
- Likely the station’s music was being played on those ITC Model 750 Reel to Reel machines.
- Logging was done with a dot-matrix printer.
- Walk-away time was limited to the amount of music those reel-to-reel machines could hold or the number of commercials the Cartridge Players could handle.
Think how much of this has changed. Now computers play the announcements from hard-drives. Broadcast schedules still have to be entered, however. Likely the station’s music library is all on a hard drive as well and is managed by yet another computer. Today a radio station will be operating from a computer based system most of the time and certainly all weekend…With no one in the building.
Looking for a job in Oregon? Here is the message I received about it – OPB is hiring for their Bend Oregon operation. Details below:
Network Support Technician
OPB is looking for a Network Support Technician (to be based in Bend, OR) passionate about technology to join an expanding team supporting OPB’s content creation and distribution. This non-exempt regular status represented position is full-time and includes benefits.
Jonathan Newsome | Director of Engineering
Last month I ran a picture of a circuit board with a strange component. The question was answered by Mike Graves of KIRO-TV.
It’s a ZERO OHM resistor, of course! Why do such a silly thing? Sometimes circuit boards are designed to have different components stuffed depending on what model/features are required of it. A hand built board might have a piece of jumper wire added. Automatic component insertion machines can’t install bare wire so the solution is to have a zero ohm resistor.
Contributor Mike Brooks at KING-FM has another one this month –
What’s wrong with this picture?
Here’s another one that I caught on my vehicle radio recently. A good example of mixed messages. (Excuse the glare, but I was in a hurry to get this before it went away.) I sent this onto Matt Green at Entercom who informed me that they corrected the problem. Call letters are, these days, hidden in strange places.
On this topic – If you have a funny or picture of something a bit unusual …Please send them to me. Would love to share.
A familiar name to many in this industry – Belden, long time maker of wire and cable, has been buying things related to broadcasting. Most recently they purchased Snell Advanced Media which will become part of Grass Valley which became part of Belden a couple of years ago.
In my many years in this industry I have encountered a variety of people – Some are afraid of change, while others view change as a vehicle for advancement. Some I’ve worked with will burn 1,000 calories trying to get out of a 100 calorie job. Some will find a zillion reasons why something cannot be done, while another will accept the challenge and be quick to tackle and resolve the issue. I was reminded of some of these experiences recently when I read a comment made by long time Califormia-based broadcaster Bill Ruck regarding why some issues with EAS could not be quickly resolved. I asked Bill if I could use this in my column. He said yes – I wanted to share it with you. Very applicable to many situations.
So why can’t this be done now?
In U.S. Navy boot camp I learned the difference between a “reason” and an “excuse”. Being kinda thick it took more than one instance of my Company Commander screaming into my face “That’s an excuse. Now give me the reason” before I recognized the difference. Hint: In that environment there is no “reason”, just “excuses”. So far all I have heard about why this can’t be done falls into the category of “excuse”.
Many of us are faced with challenges – perhaps we need to ask ourselves and/or the people we are dealing with whether or not we are dealing with a ‘Reason’ or and ‘Excuse’?
Another picture to share with you. This was taken just north of Depoe Bay on the Oregon Coast (one of my favorites places in the world) …Yes, it was January!
One more thing – The annual trek to the Puyallup Electronic Flea Market is on Saturday, March 10th. A bunch of us traditionally gather at Odd Fellas Pub in Auburn about 7:30 for breakfast and conversation, and then make our way to the day’s event. Hard to believe that this is the 37th year. Hope you can join us.
With that, it’s a wrap on this edition of my little contribution.
May the snow go away and warm spring breezes fill your life as well, look forward to longer days and the glory of summer in the Pacific Northwest.
‘Til, Lord willing, next month – Clay Freinwald, K7CR, CPBE