Clay’s Corner – February

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

Thus far, except for a couple dandy wind-storms, we have been having a pretty mild winter.  From what some say…It’s because of the Polar Vortex that’s giving much of the country something to shiver about.  The wind storm on January 6th was, thankfully, short in duration…Had it lasted longer there would have been a lot of damage.  Because my power was out…I decided to break out my ‘fiber and carbon based’ computer system (Paper and Pencil) and make some notes –

The Great January 6th Windstorm of 2019

A few, random, thoughts about this ‘big-blow’

  • NWS was ‘right-on’ with their predictions.  Kudo’s to the crew at Sand Point.
  • I was watching the progression of the winds, on-line, using – https://www.wrh.noaa.gov/map/?obs=true&wfo=sew From this I could watch the wind increases to the south.
  • Winds hit my place, in Auburn, about 1 a.m. as if a switch was thrown.
  • About 1:30 a.m. – My power was out, and I could watch flashes of Green, Blue, Amber etc. in the skyline to the South and West (quite the light show)
  • About 2 a.m. my first phone call from a Board Operator at a ‘certain radio station’ telling me there were alarms going off all over! (He may have quoted from ‘Chicken Little’)
  • At 2:29 a.m. received my first message from PSE on my Cellphone – “We’re on it! Work will be underway soon to restore power at your location, estimated restoration 4 a.m.”
  • At 3:35 a.m. – Another message –
  • It’s taking longer than expected to restore your power
  • About as quickly as it started, the winds died down, as did the phone calls, and I got some sleep.
  • About 6, I woke wanting information…. So, I dug out my trusty wind-up Radio and went to the station that bills itself as a ‘news station’…. I quickly learned a few things.
  • — They apparently did not plan on this event, or staff up for it.
  • — Information was very sketchy and lacked much detail.
  • — Apparently, I was alone in thinking that after a major wind-storm radio would have tons of information about damage, power outages, roads blocked etc.
  • — Soon afterward, the station started running some canned talk-show (No help).
  • — I decided to tune into another radio station in the area that used to do a lot of news…No help there either as they too were running ‘canned’ talk shows.
  • — I concluded that these radio stations bill themselves as places for news, so long as it fits with their programming.
  • — Sunday mornings, apparently, bad times for bad events.  Had this storm come 24 hours later, they’d probably would have been all over it,
  • — Interesting how the Engineering Department is ‘expected’ to be all over storm related events, but the news department is not?
  • — Not having a Generator, or a wind-up TV Set, I have no idea of what local TV was doing.

So, I spent the day doing what I usually do after an event like this – Gather Data, make phone calls, visit sites, damage assessments etc.

My truck ‘display’ shows signal strength of cell sites (taken from my phone) could not help but notice, as I drove along, there were a number of locations with zero cell signal.  Apparently not all cell-sites have auxiliary power!

By about 4 p.m. – I called my wife to see if power had come back on at home…She said no, so I told her to get ready as I was going to stop and pick her up and go out for dinner.

At about 735 PM – My power came back on.  Only about an 18-hour outage, but it seemed like days.  We were ready to settle down around our wood-stove for another night.

At 739PM I received a text message from PSE – Power should be back on in your area.

So, what’s it like when you are a broadcast engineer and, after the storm, you have to go out and fix it….and your location is on a local mountain?  Often you are called to deal with things that have fallen down.

This from Doug Fisher as he was trying to get up South Mountain:

Of course, Broadcast Engineers are supposed to carry chain-saws!

And this from Arthur Willets as he was trying to go up West Tiger

Further up the road you get into snow.   Here you can see a couple “Broadcast Engineers’ sawing up a downed tree.   This view is looking ‘down’ the road as indicated by the vehicles in the background waiting to get ‘up’ the road.  (Thanks Alex Brewster)

Meanwhile, in the low-lands and big city – The wind had its way with things too.

Gotta love this one – From Mike Brooks of a Porta-Potty he found in the middle of Western Ave. on his way to work at KING-FM.   Hope it was not in use at the time!

From PSE comes this one. What are the odds that a falling tree would do this? UGH!

Here’s a great picture of one of the towers at West Tiger-2 taken by ATC’s Site Manager Joe Taylor…. Note the ice covering everything.

The amount of ice on the West Tiger Tower is nothing compared to the following.    From the looks of the antennas, I suspect Europe.   Note the poor guy trying to make it up the climbing ladder.

According to NWS…. We have indeed been having some rather warm weather…In fact, on January 11th it broke a record for the warmest on that date – 61 Degrees.  This beat the old record, set back in 1987, of 59.  Guess I should have known…buy new MT’s for the Pickup and – No-Snow!  Guess we have some winter left.

Here’s a nice shot, from the AccelNet camera on West Tiger.  Towers on the right are what we call – West Tiger-2.

In the next picture you can see the top of the easterly tower at WM-2.

At the top, side mounted on the pole that used to be used by KUNS-(TV) prior to their move to Queen Ann Hill, is the temporary KZOK/102.5 Antenna.

Below that is the 4-foot face square tower that housed the FM Master Antenna that burned.

On the left, or West Side, is the new – Temporary- Antenna that will be used until summer when the Master Antenna is replaced.  If you look closely, you can see a man in yellow sitting on the 3rd bay from the bottom. 

This antenna is also made by ERI and is what they call an Axiom, consisting of 4-half-wave space, 2 bay antennas.

This temporary antenna is not capable of handling the power of all 6 of the stations at the site, therefore, KBKS/106.1 will continue to operate at the other (West Tiger-1) site until the Master Antenna is restored.

I asked one of the Engineers working at the site recently how the temporary antenna was working, noting that I had not heard any reports…He said he guessed that everyone was just happy to again be able to operate their main transmitter.   

This will all happen over again this summer when the Master Antenna is installed.  The temporary antenna will come down and these stations will again be operating from Auxiliary facilities.  There is some consideration being given to installing the present temporary antenna on the other tower at the site providing FM users with an auxiliary antenna should something cause the new/replacement master to fail.

How about a complete change to something pretty?   

This from old-friend, Dwight Small taken from his home on the Lake – Hard to imagine having to wake up to this view in the morning.

So, what’s happening elsewhere –

  • Sirius XM wound up 2018 with 34 Million Subscribers.  Not too bad for a system that many said was doomed to fail when it started.
  • Do you have a Smart Speaker?  Some 8% of Americans received or bought one over the holidays.  It’s estimated that 21% or 53 million Americans now have one.
  • The Federal Government shut-down was impacting the FCC and its relationship with broadcasters.  At least for now, the situation has eased.  At this stage, all the crystal-balls used to forecast things in W.D.C. are out of commission.
  • One of my daily activities is to check the FCC’s Daily Releases…Wow, not much there these days.
  • The recently completed CES in Vegas created a lot of interest in new/fancy electronics for vehicles…From 5G to Voice Commands.
  • Lawmakers, with apparently some time on their hands, have been persuaded to urge the FCC to take what they are calling a ‘balanced approach’ to changes in the ‘C-Band’.  Perhaps as a result of the pressure being brought by broadcasters.
  • I understand that CBS Sports is going to use 4K and 8K cameras for Super Bowel LIII.

In one of those ‘Click-Bait’ items I looked at recently was a list of items that put out to pasture.  Among them was the Rolodex.

I have you know I have one of these just to my left as I type this…. I am happy to report that it continues to be used on a regular basis to contain a lot of information I need for my activities.

Anyone else still using a Rolodex?

We recently lost a giant in the world of broadcast engineering with the passing of Warren Shulz, WA9GZX on December 31st.  Warren not only was an EAS Leader in Illinois, but long known as Chief Engineer of WLS.

I first met Warren a number of years ago, when he invited me to Chicago to talk about EAS.  In the last couple of years, he and I would be exchanging emails on a regular basis talking about a variety of broadcasting issues.  Warren was an engineer’s engineer, after retirement building amateur radio projects…He loved antennas!

Did you ever wonder where they test those rovers that are on Mars?  Apparently, Morocco.

Here’s a picture of Doug Fisher.   He and I were involved in the removal of the Antenna Tuning Units at the 1210 Site East of Auburn recently.  Doug owns Comtech Service.

On the subject of the disassembly of the 1210 night site…. here are a couple of pictures of that process.  This shows the inside of the 4-Tower ‘Phasor’.  There is some interesting history here.  Notice the 3 holes on the left side of the left cabinet.  This equipment, as supplied by Kintronic back in 1990, was originally a 3-cabinet system designed for a 50 kW Day/10 kW night operation.  That cabinet was disconnected and moved to the other 1210 site on the west side of Auburn where it became part of the 27.5 kW ‘Day Site’.  For many years 1210 operated via this equipment at night.

Whereas AM Directional Antenna equipment is pretty much all custom-built, it was taken apart so that its components (Coils and Capacitors) could be used with some other AM station making changes and/or upgrades.

The Antenna Tuning Units (more Coils and Capacitors etc.) were housed in cabinets at the base of each tower.  Those have been moved from the site where they too will be harvested for component needs.

In taking this apart, I was constantly impressed by the amount of planning and labor it took to create this device.  It’s no wonder that Kintronic has the reputation they do.

I will have to admit that it’s hard to dismantle something that you worked so hard on 30 years ago to construct.

After removal of everything of value…. We are left with this.  All the parts are gone and only the skeleton remains that will soon see the scrap dealer.

The facilities equipment racks, shown behind in this picture, are going to move on to become devices to house components for another station.

1210 is just one of many AM Stations that are contracting.  In this case, choosing to operate from their Day-Site, at night, with substantially less power.  Some AM’s are also choosing to reduce expenses and operate with less power…while others are throwing in the towel all together.

I’ve read stories about AM’s that have gained an FM Frequency via what’s known as an AM Translator, who have asked the regulators if they can keep the FM Frequency and forever turn off the AM.

Perhaps related to this issue are the tests that are being conducted using all-digital AM.  My guess is that there are many that feel that perhaps the lack of digital AM receivers could be overcome by the potential advantages that an all-digital system could provide.  I guess time will tell.

In the meantime, we are likely to see the AM Band begin to resemble what it looked like 50 years ago.  Certainly, the Station/Listener ratio is out of balance.  Broadcasting is not exempt from the laws of ‘Supply and Demand’.

Here’s a gem I just had to share – Another example of technology changes:

Remember when you had the cassette deck in your car radio do this?

Geography is something that challenges many – I recently read this one:

‘Nothing is built in America any more…I just bought a TV and it said – BUILT IN ANTENNA’

I have little time to browse on-line…But once in a while I come across a face I recognize.

In this case, a very serious Ben Dawson.

From the look of the items on the workbench and the equipment behind him, I’d say he was deep into a Directional AM Station somewhere.

I was looking through my recent emails to find a chuckle to leave you with this month –

How about what happens when you ask a younger person to use a Dial Telephone?

These two 17-year-old guys attempted to use a rotary phone… And it’s as hilarious as you think! 😂😂

These two 17-year-old guys attempted to use a rotary phone… And it’s as hilarious as you think! 😂😂

Posted by Did That Just Happen? on Thursday, January 10, 2019

Short on time this month.  Lord willing, I will do it again in a month.

Thanks for the read!

As they say in Amateur Radio, 73

Clay Freinwald, CPBE, K7CR

SBE Member # 714 (2-5-68)