Clay’s Corner – August

August 4, 2018

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

Have you been enjoying summer?  Hot enough for yah?  From what I hear, this July has been the 2nd hottest on record.  Perhaps all part of global warming….Heard someone say recently that the Pacific Northwest is the only place in the country where Climate Change is making things better.  Perhaps, frankly I’d trade some of these 90 degree days for some 70’s in October.

Well the big news has certainly got to be the action of the FCC regarding the Sinclair/Tribune deal.  Media watchers were all saying that the deal was about to be approved by the FCC when – BOOM!  The FCC honcho, Ajit Pai announced that he is recommending that the merger be reviewed by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).  As a result, those same outlets did a ‘180’ saying that this move could kill the deal.  Sinclair has been scrambling to make modifications in the hope that the FCC would back down.  Thus far this does not seem to be happening.  Some have been so bold as to suggest that Sinclair has shot themselves in the foot due to the way they were handling the matter of divesting of some stations.  In other situations, sending a merger to an ALJ can mean a ‘dead-deal’.  If you recall, AT&T tried to buy local cell provider, T-Mobile – In that case the FCC just threatened to send the matter to an ALJ for review causing AT&T to give up.

Then there is the political side of this….Sinclair is known for having a very conservative position on things.  As such, many figured the FCC Chairman, being a Republican would help…Apparently it did not…Perhaps surprising a lot of media-watchers.

So what’s going to take place in the Emerald City with the two Tribune Stations?  Not sure anyone is bold enough to be making bets.

Right after this bombshell – Cox, owner of KIRO-TV, announced that they are putting their 14 TV stations up for sale!  In an interesting reversal, where we have seen Radio/TV groups shed their Radio stations (CBS for example), Cox owns 61 Radio stations.

My heart goes out to all of those that work for the Tribune and Cox stations as they deal with a special kind of ‘Limbo’.  In my career I endured several ownership changes…In the end, most of them ended up being positive….However, getting there can be very unsettling.  In all of these it was pretty cut and dried…The old owners announced they were selling and identified the new ones…Then you waited for the FCC to approve the sale followed by the introduction of new management and, with fingers crossed, the announcement came that you had a job with the new firm.  In this case, things are far from clear, which is a breeding ground for anxiety.

On a much more cheerful note….I took my camera to the transmitter site recently and captured some scenes to share.  This first one is looking north at the ridge that is West Tiger Mountain with a foreground of wild flowers.  This is not a setup…There is a ton of nature’s color up there this year.

On the left is what we call West Tiger #1 or WTM-1.  It was the first broadcast site developed on the mountain back in 1988.  On the right, the two towers are at WTM-2, a site developed some years later by American Tower.  Although it does not look like it from this angle, the tops of all three towers are at the same elevation, 3148 feet above sea-level.

In recent columns I’ve written about Smart Speakers.  New reports are the sales of these devices will reach 100 million by the end of this year….and there will be 225 million of them by 2020.  Of special interest locally is the news that the Amazon Echo will account for more than 50% of sales.  Pretty impressive.  This is another classic case of a lot of people asking the question ….’Why didn’t I think of that?’

One of our area’s Non-Comms…KUOW is making use of these devices.  They’ve been chosen as a test station to receive donations from listeners who stream the station via the Alexa.  Amazon teamed up with NPR and KUOW on the project.

Time to look at the Seattle Radio (6+) Ratings in what Nielsen calls ‘Market #12’ –

  • Hubbard is at #1with their CHR formatted KQMV (92.5)
  • Close behind is KIRO-FM with News/Talk
  • Non-Comm, KUOW has dropped to a tie for 4th place with KISW
  • The top-rated AM station is KIRO/710.  Perhaps the hot Mariners having a role here?
  • The other highly rated Non-Comm, KNKX comes in at #10
  • The two Country Music stations, KKWF and KNUC (The Wolf and Bull) are tied
  • The next highest rated AM is KOMO at #16
  • Of the bottom 10 stations – 4 are AM’s with 3 of them 50 Kilowatts.

More examples of wildflowers along the road to West Tiger.  There are still some that think I’m crazy for preferring to drive up this ‘rustic’ road than drive on a freeway.

Road and Track magazine recently had a headline that read:

The 100 Worst American Cities for Driving – Adding – “You don’t want to be in the driver’s seat when visiting these cities.”

Sure, you knew where I was going with this one …Ranking #96 is Seattle…They added –

“Downtown Seattle is surrounded by a collection of lakes and peninsulas, meaning a lot of choke points for drivers trying to get places.”

We are joined at the bottom of the list of desirable places to drive by Oakland and San Francisco, Detroit and Philadelphia.  So what about Portland, Oregon?  Not much to brag about.  They came in at #60.

Meanwhile – Back to the tranquil road to West Tiger Mountain…and Foxgloves

The battle over what we call ‘C-Band’ continues to rage (3.7 to 4.2 GHz).  As time goes by, it appears that indeed wireless will end up with a portion of the band.  The question remains, where and how much.  Clearly the message that this spectrum is being used has been heard, with the FCC acknowledging that the existing users of this spectrum need to be accommodated.  I have contended that we will be looking at another ‘repack’ on this band.  That position is being echoed by others now as well.  One segment that has been very vocal has been Non-Commercial users.  Even Chairman Pai is on record that no action should be taken that threatens Public Radio.  Driving all this is the desire by the Wireless industry for spectrum for their 5G systems.  So now we wait for announcements to come from the east.

An interesting story out of NPR this past month.  They are reporting a spike in donations for Non-Comm Radio and TV Stations.  Interesting to note that this is the first time in decades that these facilities have seen increases in donors and revenue.  I wonder how much that is a result of the current battle between elected officials and news organizations?

So now that IHeart Media is Bankrupt – What’s next?  Sensing there is ‘blood in the water’, some organizations with money to spend are circling.  Already some of them have trotted out offers sparking comments of a coming bidding war.  Will the media giant be parted out…or what is the question?  Like all of these issues, only time will tell.

Just when we are getting used to the term ‘Fake News’ comes word on how ‘Fake Video’ could mess with our heads in the future.  Think of it a photo-shop for video.  I recall the term – You can’t fool a camera – Well, sorry Grandpa….Today you can using facial mapping and AI.

Received news that Kelly Alford is moving back home.  He recently wrote –

We’re in the process of packing and putting our Virginia house on the market to move back to the PNW in the coming months.  I don’t want to disclose where yet, but I start in my new position August 1st.  I’m sure there will be announcements accordingly.  Suffice it to say it will be nice to get back to my roots, with no more endless overseas work-related travel.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed getting to know the various cultures and customs in my prior gig, but at my age, 14 to 16 hour flights through numerous time zones, including dangerous places for American’s like Baghdad, was taking a toll.

Not everyday that the retirement of a local Radio General Manager makes the news.  However, a lot of attention is being given to the retirement announcement that Hubbard’s Marc Kaye is going to hang it up.  Marc’s been in the business 45 years.  He was the Cluster Manager for the Sandusky group in Bellevue and continued in that role with Hubbard.

Whereas I am one of those ‘older people’ that has elected to keep working beyond conventional retirement age (whatever that is) I found this item interesting –

The headline read – A record number of folks age 85 and older are working.

70 may be the new 60 and 80 may be the new 70…but 85 is still pretty old to work in the U.S.  Interestingly 255,000 people 85 and older are working, the highest number on record.  So what are they doing?  All kinds of things…crossing guards, farmers and ranchers and even truckers.  The number has doubled since the last depression.  There are a number of supporting reasons for all of this.  Longer life expectancies, lack of retirement plans, less physically demanding work.

What is not mentioned is doing what you like.  This is the situation in my case.  Frankly, I like what I do, perhaps because of its relationship to my hobby.  For the last eight plus years I have been working for a number of different firms…pretty much doing what I’ve done for the last 55 plus years.  The best part is I don’t have to deal with any politics and my hours are pretty flexible.  The best part is knowing that I could quit any one, or all, of these jobs any time I want and live comfortably thanks to doing some good financial planning.

Does the name Randy McCune ring a bell?  I first met Randy over eight years ago as he was leaving WSU after 15 years, in Pullman as I was coming in.  He moved on to KIRO-TV here in Seattle.  Where is he now?  Director of Engineering at Sinclair in Memphis.

A name that is very familiar with Radio Broadcast Engineers is Nautel.  There have more more new Nautel radio transmitters installed in the Seattle area made by the Canadian company than any other in recent years.  What you may not know is that Nautel has been awarded the prestigious, “Canada’s Best Managed Companies” designation.

For those of you that are members of the Society of Broadcast Engineers, SBE, you know that elections have taken place.  I have not heard any results.  One of the members of the Seattle Chapter is running for the board, Tom McGinley.  If he is elected he will be the 3rd member of our Chapter to serve at the national level.  The others were John Schnider and myself.

We lost Mike Scott, who passed away July 5th.  In recent years, you would see Mike’s picture in the Seattle SBE Chapter newsletter – The Waveguide.  Mike had retired from teaching broadcast technology at Bates Technical College in Tacoma.  Prior to that, he was on the Engineering Staff at Channel 11.  Those that knew Mike, will long remember that twinkle in his eye and his wonderful sense of humor.

I recall traveling to various SBE Functions with Mike and his wife.  In fact, one of the pictures that showed him with his hair blowing in the wind was taken on one of those jaunts.  When I posted the news of his passing on the Chapter Remailer, the rapid response and volume of comments underscored how much Mike was thought of, and his incredible value to our industry.  Many of his students work in broadcasting in this area.

WSU’s Northwest Public Broadcasting deploys technical support people in various locations in the State.  One of those locations is Wenatchee.  Replacing the recently retired Don Eckis is Brady Aldrich.  I recently had the opportunity to spend a couple of days with Brady visiting some of the Western Washington sites I look after.  Brady is a familiar name in these parts, having worked for KOMO in years past, having roots on Vashon Island.  Most recently he had been working in Mississippi and was (as you might guess) anxious to return to the PNW.  I found it interesting that he happened to have relatives in Wenatchee.  I got this picture of Brady will visiting KVTI in Lakewood recently.

In recent years I have been receiving emails from readers of this column.  Many reach out to me, perhaps concluding that I have become a historian in this market.  One such email was from Charles Reinsch.  To be honest, the name was not familiar.  Chuck wrote –

It would be highly unlikely, but thought I would ask anyway: Could one of those old Collins on Cougar Mtn be KRAB’s?  It was a 737A that Lorenzo claimed was SN 1.  I would very much like to find some photographs.  All I have right now is a Collins sales brochure, and a pretty awful scan of a student newspaper photo of the front panels of the exciter and final.

Chuck Reinsch

I did not have the answer to his question, so I reached out to Dwight Small who worked at 107.7 with Sunbelt back on the air in 1984.  Dwight reported that the old Collins was gone by that time.

Chuck and I had several email exchanges and from this I received the following information about the type of transmitter that was used by KRAB.  Take a look –

Things have changed a great deal since that old transmitter was made – For openers, there are no longer Vacuum Tubes in modern 5Kw FM Transmitters.

Here is a comparison of the old, circa 1948,  Collins 737A with a modern Nautel GV5

 

Collins 737A Nautel GV5
Width 93 ¼ inches 23 inches
Height 79 inches 72 ½ inches
Depth 37 1/3 inches 33 inches
Weight 4700 Pounds 333 Pounds

As I mentioned earlier – I receive some interesting emails – Here is one I recently received.

Hello Clay, I enjoyed your recent article about the improvements to AM….it

was mostly spot on!

However, you said “The old “Clear Channels” are not there anymore, folks.

Just turn on your AM radio at night and try and find them”

Here in Massachusetts I can get WFAN(660), WABC(770), WCBS(880),WBAL(1090),

WQEW(1560), WFED(1500), WTAM (1100), CFZM(740), WBT(1110), WPHT(1210), WWVA

(1170).

These listed above come in at night regularly….and reliably.  So, from my

standpoint…they are “still there”.

Now, is there any programming on them that anyone would be interested in?

That’s another story!  😉

He signed his email with a simple ‘D’ However his address included his Amateur Radio Call Sign, so I looked him up.  He is David Boucher, KB1USP from Methuen, Ma.

A question for you, my readers here in the Pacific Northwest – How many Clear Channel AM Stations can you receive?  David sent along this link to a fascinating site that shows all the AM Nighttime patterns:

http://www.nf8m.com/patternmaps_night.html

I’m always happy to hear from you – feel free to drop me a note – if you work in the industry.  Let me know what’s going on, and send a picture while you are at it.

Speaking of pictures – Thanks to Kent Randles of Entercom Portland for this picture of one of the big FM Station Combiners in that city.  A lot of plumbing for sure!

Before I forget it – Congratulations to Kent on his promotion.  He is now overseeing the technical operation of Entercom’s cluster of Stations in Seattle as well as Portland.  He was up here recently spending a day with me while I showed him the transmitters and systems used in Seattle.  The following is Kent taking a picture of me.

Well that’s about it for this month.  Not a lot of news, but certainly some interesting happenings non-the-less.  We have a month or so of Summer left – make the most of it.

Lord willing, I will catch you next month with more.

Clay, K7CR, CPBE, SBE Member for over 50 years, #714.