Clay’s Corner

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

OK…Let’s be honest, who thought ‘Climate Change’ would mean – hotter dryer summer, more forest fires and choking smoke?  Last year we had some fires in the Washington Cascades that gave us a couple of days of smoke and falling ash (if you recall I included pictures of chunks of burned wood on the hood of my truck).  This year we’ve been subjected to the down-wind impact of fires in adjacent areas, leading UW’s Cliff Mass to use the word – SMOKESTORM.

This graphic showed the extent of the mess (In Red) with the prevailing winds taking the stench to the East Coast of Canada.

Some of the issued statements are worth – requoting –

  • Worse Air Quality on Record.
  • As bad or worse than many 3rd world cities.
  • Unhealthy for everyone.
  • Stay inside and keep your windows closed.
  • Washington state had the worst air quality in the country.
  • Chelan and Wenatchee, the air quality Wednesday reached the hazardous level.
  • Chelan County officials to distribute masks.
  • The smoke reached levels that were unhealthy for everyone in Seattle and nearby areas.
  • According to the National Interagency Fire Center, 13 large wildfires have burned more than 211 square miles (546 square kilometers) in Washington state this year, while in Oregon, 10 large fires have scorched over 256 square miles (663 square kilometers) the Seattle Times reported.  About 600 wildfires are burning across British Columbia.
  • The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality said Wednesday that the air quality in Portland and Medford was unhealthy.

And, as this picture shows, the smoke was very visible from space –

The National Weather Service, who operates NOAA Weather Radio, issued reports like this one

An Air Quality Alert for smoke has been issued by the following agencies: Olympic Region Clean Air Agency and Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.  Air quality readings across the central and south Puget Sound region have been in the unhealthy category due to smoke from regional and local fires.  Air quality readings in the unhealthy or unhealthy for sensitive groups at times category will likely continue at times through at least Sunday and perhaps beyond.  Everyone, especially sensitive groups, should limit time spent outdoors, avoid strenuous activities outdoors, and choose light indoor activities.  Children, the elderly, and individuals with respiratory illnesses are most at risk of serious health effects.  If you experience respiratory distress, you should speak with your doctor.  For current air quality conditions, health precautions, and additional information on wildland fire smoke…

They would not have likely issued this long a message for blizzard conditions.

As August wore on, we had a couple of breaks, with air moving in from the Pacific restoring hope that, one-day, the air would be like we all remember it.  Those of us that have lived in this area for a long time have endured long months of clouds and wet waiting for, what used to be, the most glorious place on earth during the summer.  Now we are anxiously awaiting a good Pacific rain storm convinced that we’d much rather be cool and wet!

The U.S. President is known for his book – ‘The Art of the Deal’.  Perhaps the folks at Sinclair can write one titled, ‘How to blow up a deal’?   Certainly the fact that the long awaited merger of Sinclair (owner of KOMO etc.) and Tribune (owner of KCPQ etc.) was not going to happen, was a bit of a surprise.  The reason that it did not, was perhaps, even more of one.  In the end, former deal partners ended up on the opposite side of the table with Tribune filing a $1 Billion (with a B) suit against Sinclair.

It appears that Sinclair assumed that the political affiliation of some high ranking people would cause them to look favorably on this deal.  Instead, some of those that were, perhaps counting on, looked at the matter ‘objectively’ and that’s when things started to unravel on the $3.9 Billion deal that would have had considerable impact on Seattle (and other market) television.  Locals that work for KOMO and KCPQ, and their sister stations, went from wondering when the deal would close and which stations would be spun off to whom, to  thoughts of – now what?

It’s very likely that Tribune has been approached by a number of others who would like to pick up where Sinclair left off, with many big and familiar names being mentioned.

For Sinclair, the path ahead may well be a bit more rocky than before, with some now calling into question whether it’s fit to hold a broadcast license.  Certainly their relationship with the FCC has been soured, with the Commish accusing Sinclair of misleading the agency.

For the folks at KOMO etc., likely status quo.  For KCPQ etc., here we go again.

Did we or did we not have a pirate radio station in the Tacoma-Federal Way area?  Several reported hearing something like one on 101.1 in the middle of the month.  Frankly with so many LPFM’s and translators on the band, it’s hard to determine whether or not there is an unlicensed station operating.  I have to give credit to Stephan Lockwood of Hatfield and Dawson for coming up with the term ‘Informal Broadcaster’.  One, very cool, part of the Seattle area is the willingness of many to quickly track-down these operators.

The FCC continues to track down ‘Informal Broadcasters’ all over the country and is ramping up their efforts to involve those that are affiliated or assist in their operation.  The part that irks me, is that it’s well known that these operators don’t have to pay these big fines.  The fact is, most don’t in this day and age.  These people talk to each other and share ideas on how to do what they want, despite what the FCC does.  Confiscation of their equipment is a good first step in combating the problem, as this creates actual financial loss for them.  Perhaps, if the rules required paying the fine with the alternative being mandatory jail time, it would help?

One of our area’s broadcast sites is Crego Hill, located SW of Chehalis.  It’s long been a location of various FM and TV operations.  My work with WSU’s NWPB takes me there periodically to deal with KSWS.  On August 7th the gate to the site featured this sign, another example of the impact of our very long hot and dry weather.

While we were choking on smoke, the folks in Hawaii were putting up with epic amounts of rainfall near the end of the month, thanks to Hurricane Lane.  The first major storm to hit the islands in 26 years.  Mix this with the volcanic activity on the Big Island, they have been having their share.

The 2018 SBE elections are over.  Congratulations to the winners.

  • Jim Leifer was re-elected president.  Serving with him will be:
  • Vice President: Robert “RJ” Russell, CPBE; president, Technical Broadcast Solutions, Inc.; Middletown, Del.

         Board members:

  • Stephen J. Brown, CPBE, CBNT; director of broadcast engineering, Woodward Radio Group; Appleton, Wis.
  • Roswell Clark, CPBE, CBNT; senior director of radio engineering, Cox Media Group; Clearwater, Fla.
  • Kirk Harnack, CBRE, CBNE; senior solutions consultant, Telos Alliance; Nashville, Tenn.
  • Vinny Lopez, CEV, CBNT; chief engineer, WSTM/WTVH/WSTQ-TV; Syracuse, N.Y.
  • Thomas McGinley, CPBE, AMD, CBNT; president, McGinley Enterprises; Missoula, Mont.
  • Shane Toven, CBRE, CBNT; field engineer, Educational Media Foundation; Laramie, Wyo.

Special congratulations go out to Tom McGinley, the third person from the Seattle SBE Chapter to be on the National Board.

I’m a bit late with this one.  However, Kudos to Gates Air for stepping up and offering a class in RF Fundamentals.

Over the years there have been many changes in the broadcast industry’s two major branches, Radio and Television.  Today the job of Broadcast Engineer has changed dramatically, with an ever increasing amount of computer based, IT equipment and disappearance of analog devices.

The one place where you still find a lot of ‘older/more mature’ technology is in the transmitting plant, where digital signals (Video and Audio) are transformed into radio frequency energy (commonly called ‘RF’).

A new person entering this field is much more likely to have been interested in computers for some time and have an education in those technologies.  To many of them, RF is something strange that they know little about.  If you are interested in advancing your skills in the world of RF, contact GatesAir for more details.

If you are interested in learning more about RF, outside of the GatesAir opportunity, I still advocate getting involved with Amateur Radio.  It was my interest in Ham Radio (in the late ’50s) that provided me with the foundation for my interest in Broadcast Engineering.  Occasionally I will receive a call from someone with questions about antennas or things RF and I will send them to the ARRL   Don’t let the term ‘Amateur’ make you think that this organization is for technical lightweights.  Not only will you find publications about how to get involved with Amateur (HAM) Radio, but you will have access to an extensive number of publications that will take you as far into technology as you wish to go.

Before I leave this topic, don’t forget the Society of Broadcast Engineers, SBE.  They too can connect you with a tremendous amount of material that can help you if you are already employed or are just starting out.  Check out

One thing for sure, technology used in broadcasting is always changing and the need to stay up to speed is vital.  Here is where SBE can be a tremendous help.

Have you ever been rear-ended in your vehicle?  I have, several times.  A couple of times when in the back of a line of stopped traffic on a freeway by a person driving at freeway speeds.  More recently, I was rear-ended while waiting to make a left turn in a turn lane.  In all three cases, the person that hit me had their vehicle towed, and I could drive away, albeit with a truck in need of serious repair.  With that in mind I have been seeing a number of newer trucks on the road with huge letters on the tailgate making me wonder what the maker was thinking.

When I prepare this column, I frequently note just how many ways the Seattle area is exceptional in terms of growth.  One statistic grabbed me this past month.  There are now 65 of those huge tower cranes putting up buildings in the Seattle area, more than any other city in the country.

Late word is that the operators of these huge machines have gone on strike, certainly something that has the potential to put a dent in the construction boom.  Hard to believe they actually built big buildings without them in the past.

The firm known as GatesAir today, used to be called Harris, and before that Gates.  This name change has caused a number of issues for all involved, especially around the time that the names were changed.  A product may have one name on it while the instruction manual another.  The other day, in referring to one of their products, I got a bit tongue-tied and out came a new word.  I had to stop and laugh and, as I thought about it, it made sense.  I simply put a G in place of the letter H in Harris and came out with Garris.  Oh well, it could have been worse.

I recently received a note from Kris McGowan, who, as you know, used to head up the Seattle office of the FCC.  She noted that she has been under the weather, but is now on the mend.  Her husband Ken recently received a new hip.  I recall presenting a tearful Kris with an award at a past SBE Christmas party.  She is very much loved and missed by all.

Saga Communications, owners of a cluster of stations in Bellingham, are, as they say in the trade, moving to the Big Board, meaning their stock will be traded on Nasdaq under the symbol SGA.  Saga owns or operates broadcast properties in 26 markets with 75 FM and 33 AM stations, in addition to a number of translators.

Now here is news I did not expect – According to a new study, earbuds or headphones are now used by 77% of U.S. adult broadband users, with penetration up 20%.  It’s perhaps due to the increase in on-line sources and the ever-rising noise level?

I often carry a camera with me.  Most of the time to document equipment, and, as you have seen, catch interesting scenes that I like to share with my readers.  Not often do I take pictures of people (although I should do more of it).  Recently I was able to observe two engineers working on KNKX equipment.  That’s Lowell Kiesow on the left, Nick Winter on the right..

It’s official, Bonneville, owners of Seattle’s KIRO-AM/FM and KTTH are buying eight stations in Sacramento and San Francisco  from Entercom for $141 Million.  This is part of the Entercom/CBS transaction that required the new company to spin off some of their stations.

Reports are a number of broadcast stations lost their transmitting facilities in the Carr fire Northern California.  I don’t have a lot of details.  It’s certainly easy to understand how it could take place.  Broadcast transmitters are typically on the top of the highest location possible to maximize coverage.  Fire, unfortunately, likes to ‘race to the top’ of these locations, creating a very dangerous place for equipment.  I’ve often thought about the equipment at West Tiger and what would happen should that place have a forest fire.  The buildings up there are all non-combustible, however the heat and smoke would certainly create a serious problem.  Hopefully this year we have escaped natures wrath.

Good news for Radio – Pew Research has shown that the audience for every major sector of U.S. news media went down in 2017….except for Radio.  Local and network TV were down 7%, cable news was off 12%.  Circulation for newspapers was off by 11%.  NPR and Public Radio held steady with impressive numbers.  Perhaps proving the continued viability of our legacy radio broadcast industry.

For one, I have never understood why there are not more women involved in the technical side of this industry.  Getting young girls involved with STEM is a great first start.  Saw this T-Ssirt the other day.  It made me think of it.

Here’s another Seattle headline from this past month:

Passenger traffic is outpacing Sea-Tac Airport development

The statistics are interesting:

  • Passenger traffic – Up 6.1% for 2018 thru June
  • Up 7.3% over last year
  • For the past 5 years, Sea-Tac has been the fastest growing airport in the U.S.
  • Over the last 5 years, passenger numbers are up 43%

As you know, if you’ve been at the airport lately, there is a lot of construction going on, just trying to keep up.  What makes this interesting, is that Seattle is in the corner of the country, not in the middle with flights going in all directions.

The Radio Ratings are out and with that, some interesting observations of Seattle-Tacoma Market #12’s 6-Plus numbers.

  • Hubbard’s KQMV is quite firmly In the #1 Slot
  • IHeart’s KJR is at #2
  • #3 has two stations tied – Entercom’s KISW and Non-Comm KUOW
  • Entercom’s country station, The Wolf has put a bit of light between them and challenger, Hubbard’s The Bull.  KKWF pulling a 3.9 with KNUC at 3.0

A number of other ‘Ties’

  • KIRO-AM and KJAQ-FM with a 3.5
  • KNKX and KNUC at 3.0
  • KHTP and KUBE at 2.8
  • KCMS and KTTH at 2.4

How is AM Radio doing?

  • KIRO-AM with a 3.5 is #10
  • KTTH-AM with a 2.4 is #16
  • KOMO-AM with a 2.3 is #17

Probably the biggest surprise this time around is that KNKX’s HD-2 channel showed in the ratings.  To my knowledge, this is the first time that an HD-2 channel has been listed.  In my view, this is a considerable accomplishment and a testimony to the station and their format called Jazz-24.  With the ever increasing number of vehicles on the road with HD Radio – the up-side for these HD Channels is considerable.  Some call them ‘Side Channels’ or other names.  The problem  remains that there is little effort being expended on instructing radio consumers on how to tune in these stations.

One item that makes you think – HUH?  The same Nielsen survey lists KNWR with a Point-One.  KNWR is a NWPR station in Ellensburg.

If you want to look at how a broadcaster could, or should, provide instruction for using their HD Channels, you need look no further than CKNW Vancouver’s website.

What’s HD Radio?

We are so excited to let you know that you can now enjoy CKNW in High Definition.  HD Radio stations broadcast a digital signal over traditional radio frequencies.  This technology enables your receiver to display song titles, album art, and station information so you get the best listening experience.

Why switch to HD?

Our HD channel broadcasts in clear digital quality to your local area making radio static, hiss and fuzz a thing of the past.  Experience all news, all talk in crystal clear HD quality!

How to get CKNW in HD:

  1. Determine if you have HD radio. Best bet is to check your car manual or check out the list of car manufacturers below
  2. Tune your radio to the FM band and dial up to Rock 101
  3. Wait about 8 to 10 seconds for HD radio to kick in (you may hear a change in audio when this happens)
  4. Use your seek up and down/side to side buttons to switch to channel 2 on your radio – this is where you’ll find us, on HD2
  5. Add us to your presets so next time listening to CKNW in HD is just one click away

Meanwhile, Hubbard continues to lead the way with HD Radio in this market as they make plans to add another Nautel GV10 to their Auxiliary Transmitter line-up at Cougar Mountain.  This is their second station with a West Tiger Main and a Cougar Mountain Auxiliary to operate FM and HD.  According to Chief Engineer, Dave Ratener, their HD power will be -10 dBc.

Kent Randles was recently in town to take a tour of the Entercom transmitter facilities.  Whereas we both had cameras, it was only natural that we would take a picture of each other.  Yes, that’s me behind my Lumix.

Perhaps by the time you read this, the FCC will have made its decision regarding a new class of FM’s called C-4’s.  This would raise the power of present lower-powered Class A stations (not LPFM’s).  Not a slam dunk, with many opposed, citing the fact that the FM band is already cluttered.

Perhaps the headline for this item could be  ‘Pai High’?  Recently FCC Chairman Ajit Pai learned what it meant to be a tower climber while visiting Colorado.  The Chairman tweeted about his experience:

Whew! Climbed to the top. Thanks to @NATEsafety, EasTex Tower, and SBA for letting me get a literal bird’s-eye view at the top of this 131-foot cell tower. Wireless infrastructure is essential for mobile broadband services; great to see firsthand what it takes to make it happen.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Climbs a Communications Tower in Colorado

Gotta hand it to him!   How many FCC Chairman have done this?

Sign of the times?  I love the warning sign below.


On the lighter side – some more paraprosdokians:

A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or re-interpret the first part.  It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect, sometimes producing an anticlimax.



There are some real gems here – I’ll bet you will use a few of them.

I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn’t work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.

Do not argue with an idiot.  He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.

I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather. Not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.

The last thing I want to do is hurt you.  But it’s still on the  list.

Light travels faster than sound.  This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

If I agreed with you we’d both be wrong.

We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public.

War does not determine who is right – only who is left.

The early bird might get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

Evening news is where they begin with ‘Good evening’, and then proceed to tell you why       it isn’t.

To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism.  To steal from many is research.

A bus station is where a bus stops.  A train station is where a train stops.  On my desk, I have a work station.

How is it one careless match can start a forest fire, but it takes a whole box to start a campfire?

Dolphins are so smart that within a few weeks of captivity, they can train people to stand on the very edge of the pool and throw them fish.

I thought I wanted a career, turns out I just wanted pay checks.

A bank is a place that will lend you money, if you can prove that you don’t need it.

Whenever I fill out an application, in the part that says “If an emergency, notify:” I put “DOCTOR”.

I didn’t say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.

Why does someone believe you when you say there are four billion stars, but check when you say the paint is wet?

Why do Americans choose from just two people to run for president and 50 for Miss America ?

A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.

You do not need a parachute to skydive.  You only need a parachute to skydive twice.

The voices in my head may not be real, but they have some good ideas!

Hospitality: making your guests feel like they’re at home, even if you wish they were.

Money can’t buy happiness, but it sure makes misery easier to live with.

I used to be indecisive.  Now I’m not sure.

When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department usually uses water.

You’re never too old to learn something stupid.

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

Some people hear voices.  Some see invisible people.  Others have no imagination whatsoever.

Well, my friends, that’s it for this month.  Thanks for reading my stuff.  Lord willing, see you next month in most of these same locations.

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