Clay’s Corner

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

For reasons I cannot explain…I often start out my column talking about the weather.  Perhaps it’s because of the fact that we have so much of it in this area.  I would be bored out of my mind in a place where the weather changes little.  Thus far this year we have had a full course of varied weather.  A record cold February, dry March and wet April…whew!  This year was one of those that shut down conventional access to the transmitter facilities on West Tiger for about two months.  In my 30+ years of dealing with that place…this has happened only a few times.

Looking ahead, many fingers are crossed as we remember all too well how the main feature of last summer in this area was smoke!  Let’s hope that this is not the case this year.

We have had a number of notable passings:

Jim Tharp, WA7KYI, longtime resident of Vashon and Maury Island.  I got to know Jim a lot better when we found ourselves both working for Entercom back when they owned 710 and 770.  Jim had been with KING for many years before.  When Jim was not working on the Island, he and I were working together installing equipment at Cougar and West Tiger.  Jim leaves a son (Adam) and his family living on the island.

From the local Island Ham Radio Club newsletter:

Hello Everyone.

I learned some bad news today.  Jim Tharp, WA7KYI, passed away.  Jim was an integral member of the Vashon Maury Island Radio club going back 40 years or so.  Jim had some medical issues a few years ago that prevented his full participation in club events lately.  Before that Jim helped install and maintain the W7VMI repeater, he was often the “beachmaster” for field day in June as well as a key Morse code operator for multiple club contests and events.  Jim was a great source of knowledge of the ins and outs of amateur radio and was always monitoring the repeater and ready to reply if anyone came on the air.

Jim Tharp, along with Phil Zook, W7PDZ, started the first Saturday breakfasts at Sporty’s many years ago as a small gathering that has grown to an ongoing tradition.

Vashon and Maury islands have lost a good person who did so much for the club and community.

Art Blum, historic broadcaster in Tri-Cities passed unexpectedly on Tuesday March 26th.

Anyone in Broadcasting in Tri-Cities knew Art, who spent some 42 years with KONA, serving in many roles, announcer, salesperson and finally, as the station’s engineer.  To say that Art was a fixture and legend in that area’s broadcast industry is an understatement.

Our paths crossed many times over the years.  I recall, back in the late 90’s when we were launching our EAS efforts in this state looking for someone in that area that could serve as local-leader.  Art was quickly on-board.  Our paths crossed again when I hired on at WSU.  Art too had made the jump to public broadcasting.

One of his areas of interest was photographer, where he assisted law enforcement by providing images of crime scenes and accidents as well as coverage of the area’s beauty pageant.

Art was an SBE Member and past chairman of Chapter 51.  He was 76.

Ron Rackley, WE4RR

Ron passed shortly after returning home from his annual trek to NAB in Las Vegas.  He was an internationally well-known and respected engineer.  The media that covers people like Ron were quick to provide coverage.  Simply Googling his name will provide you with a lot of background.  Unfortunately I never had a chance to work with Ron on a project (it was high on my bucket list).  He left a number of footprints in this area with his collaborative work with Ben Dawson as well as call letters you would recognize.  I last visited with Ron at NAB a year ago, a wonderfully warm engaging person that always had a story to tell.  I only wish that someone could compile them into a book!

Ron loved Radio and in particular the RF side of AM.

He received a number of awards, one of which was the co-honoree (with Ben Dawson) of the NAB Radio Engineering Achievement Award in 2006 where I had the privilege of being in attendance.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that Ron also enjoyed Ham Radio.  As you can imagine, a man with his talents deployed many of them in his solution to antenna issues at his home.

You can look up Ron on QRZ, using his call letters WE4RR and read a lot more.  From QRZ, here’s a great picture at home.  By the way, Ron loved Morse Code!  He was a young 66.

Another passing, with no known PNW connections, was Glen Clark, who gained a lot of attention many years ago with his development of an audio processor known as the Texar Audio Prism.  It was quite a light show!  Glen was a prolific designer.  He reportedly passed just weeks after being diagnosed with liver cancer at age 67.

The headline read:  Washington  Legislature Approves Daylight Time Bill

Before you make alternative plans for the twice a year ritual of changing the clocks, be aware of a couple of things: 1) This is not just a Washington State thing.  It’s part of a movement for the entire (US) West Coast to be locked on PDT (Pacific Daylight Time).  Guess they need to get Federal approval to make it official.  So what would happen if this takes place?

  • Would Pacific Daylight Time then become Pacific Standard Time?
  • What about B.C.?  B.C. Premier John Horgan indicates that the province will stay in sync and do whatever the western states do.
  • For Power/Pattern Switching the FCC requires AM stations in the US to switch according to a Table based on Standard Time.  (Frankly, I leave the stations I attend to in that mode and let the local clocks change.)  Could the FCC issue some sort of statement?
  • For those that objected to switching back and forth, I have, for years, submitted a compromise:  Change the clocks 1/2 hour one time.  It caused a lot of raised eyebrows and little support.
  • It’s really time to end all this foolishness and switch to METRIC TIME! and dispense with this ‘Base-12’ time stuff (after all don’t we divide Seconds into ‘Tenths’).

Base Time is simple:

  • Each Day is divided into 10 hours
  • Each Hour is divided into 100 minutes
  • Each Minute is divided into 100 seconds
  • Etc.

Hey….If you are going to go Metric (which we all should) why stop at Time?

Country Music Radio is about to get a whole lot more interesting in Seattle!

First, some history.  When Entercom gobbled CBS, they dropped the long standing Country Music outlet on 94.1 (KMPS), switching format to AC to become ‘The Sound’.  Sensing that this might happen, Hubbard was ready and immediately dropped their previous format on 98.9 in favor of Country.  Makes sense, as Seattle has supported two Country Music stations for some time.  The success of the Hubbard effort on 98.9 (Called The Bull) up against Entercom’s (The Wolf) has been limited.  Hubbard is obviously willing to put more into The Bull’s challenge of The Wolf by hiring Entercom’s former programmer, Scott Mahalick, who recently exited Alpha in Portland, and picked up the former Wolf morning guy, Fitz.  For those of us that have been watching Seattle Radio for many years….This is exciting.  Watching these two powerful organizations ‘duke it out’ for the Country listener is where the listeners will win.  Now to hide and watch the ratings battle between the two.  Fasten your seat-belts.

Portland, Oregon is doing some things in Radio that are unique with LPFM’s:

First there is KQRZ-LP.  Looking up the Station in Wikipedia, we find:

KQRZ-LP (100.7 FM) is a low-power radio station licensed to Hillsboro, Oregon, United States.  The station is owned by the Oregon Amateur Radio Club, Inc.  KQRZ-LP signed on the air July 22, 2012, on an initial frequency of 101.5 MHz[1]  On July 11, 2013, at 8:00 PM, KQRZ-LP changed the transmit frequency to 100.7 MHz, although the license to cover that frequency was not issued by the Federal Communications Commission until September 4, 2013.

On July 22, 2012, KQRZ undertook an affiliation with the WORC Oldies Network, which syndicates broadcast material to other low-power radio stations interested in amateur radio.  Programming includes amateur (ham) radio news, educational material, comedy, oldies, and adult standards music.

Did you catch the portions I underlined in bold?  The station is being operated by an Amateur Radio Club!  Wow.

Then there is KISN-LP.  Looking this one up in Wikipedia we find:

KISN was an AM radio station licensed for Vancouver, Washington but based in Portland.  On May 1, 2015, at 9:51 a.m. KISN-LP commenced broadcasting 24 hours a day, 56 years later to the day when the original KISN launched in 1959.  For more information, check out http://www.goodguyradio.com/kisn-radio-coverage.html

I was living in Portland back in those days and remember listening to ‘Kissin’ on 910 AM.  It was, back then, what KJR was to Seattle.  I think what they are doing is very cool.  Can you imagine being able to listen to a radio station in the Seattle area that sounds very much like KJR 50+ years ago?

Kudos to these two Low Power FM’s for doing something unique and non-offensive.  Keeping memories alive is very much appreciated.

Speaking of Portland (my home-town prior to 1957), I recently learned that Kent Randles is going to be retiring on July 5th of this year.  Should not be a shock to anyone in this business, as it seems that retirement is coming in waves these days.  Congratulations to Kent (and Patti) on the news.

Remember the days before Smart Phones?  No one called them dumb or stupid phones.  Probably because the term ‘Smart Phone‘ had not yet been coined.

Just as with speakers, using today’s terms, all the speakers in my house are both dumb and stupid (the way I like them).  Speaking of which, Radio is apparently awakening to the idea that today’s Smart Speaker is the closest to a ‘Kitchen Radio’ as we will ever see again.  Ever try and go out and purchase a radio for your kitchen counter?  Sales dude will think you are from another world.  New surveys support the notion that these counter top gizmos are indeed being used to listen to Radio.

Then there are light bulbs.  Just like the previous examples, all the light bulbs, by today’s standards, are dumb and stupid, especially in light (no pun) of the fact that you can now go out and buy Smart Light Bulbs.

In the event you missed it, these new creations come in various power ratings (light output) and can be adjusted for brilliance and color with your ‘Smart Speaker’…or anywhere you have an on-line connection.  What will they think of next?

 

One thing we don’t have any of in the Seattle area is very tall towers to hold our Television Antennas.  Thankfully we have hills and mountains to do a lot of the elevation work for us.

An old friend from Wisconsin, Nels Harvey, recently sent me the following video showing how they changed a TV antenna in Florida on a very tall tower.  In this case, using a huge helicopter called a ‘Sky-Crane’.  After viewing this you will better understand why they say this is the most dangerous type of work there is.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pitEq8gjNj8

It was not a heavy one.  The weight was a little over 10,000 pounds.

And the Headline read RTDNA Announces Regional Edward R. Murrow Awards.

The Radio Television Digital News Association has announced recipients of its 2019 regional Edward R. Murrow Awards.  The prestigious kudos recognize more than 309 radio, television and digital news organizations in the U.S. and around the world, from more than 4,600 entries.

All regional winners will compete for National Edward R. Murrow Awards, which will be announced in June and presented at Gotham Hall in New York Oct. 14.

Here’s how Radio stations in the Seattle area faired:

  • Overall Excellence – KOMO-AM
  • Breaking News Coverage – KOMO-AM
  • Continuing Coverage – KIRO-FM
  • Excellence in Innovation – KUOW-FM
  • Excellence in Social Media – KIRO-FM
  • Excellence in Sound – KIRO-FM
  • Excellence in Video – KUOW-FM
  • News Documentary – KNKX-FM
  • Feature Reporting – KNKX-FM

On the Television side, these Stations were honored:

  • Overall Excellence – KING-TV
  • Continuing Coverage – KING-TV
  • Excellence in Innovation – KING-TV
  • Excellence in South – KING-TV
  • Excellence in Video – KING-TV
  • Excellence in Writing – KING-TV
  • Feature Reporting – KING-TV
  • Hard News – KOMO-TV
  • Investigative Reporting – KOMO-TV
  • News Documentary – KOMO-TV
  • News Series – KING-TV
  • Newscast (11PM) KING-TV

According to John Poray, Executive Director of the Society of Broadcast Engineers, this is the first case of broadcast engineers being killed on the job as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning.  Their deaths are a reminder that we face more dangers on the job than an overload of electrons.

Adrienne Abbott, who announced the news added, Engineers here in Nevada are adding CO detectors to their transmitter buildings and purchasing personal CO monitors.

And the Headline read – Green River College adult alternative KGRG-FM Seattle (89.9) marks its 30th anniversary with a month-long on-air and online celebration.

Wow! This is news to me.  According to the FCC, KGRG is licensed to Green River College in Auburn.  “KGRG-FM WA AUBURN    USA”

Gee – Even Wikipedia got this one right.

Unfortunately, this is typical for many news reports.  The writer of the story sees the actual location and uses the name of the nearest major city, in this case, Seattle.  Not long ago there was an incident in Mt. Vernon.  Yup! the national press called it Seattle.  Perhaps geographic accuracy is not as important as it once was, or this is more of what some refer to as ‘Fake News’?

I am very reluctant to endorse a particular vendor’s processes.  However, in this case, Kudos to Ben Barber of Inovonics.  For those of you that are not familiar with this firm, they are a relatively small manufacture of problem solving items for, primarily, radio broadcasters.

Recently Ben posted a question on four different email groups asking for input on how they should handle the matter of technical documentation for equipment they manufacture.  (I don’t recall this ever being done.)  According to Ben, they received over 125 responses.

Here are the numbers:

  • 37% prefer a paper manual.
  • 52% prefer a QSG with link to downloadable PDF.  (QSG is a Quick Start Guide)
  • 4% prefer a CD ROM.
  • 7% thought that data on a USB / SD card was a good idea.

Here is what Ben posted:

Here’s what Inovonics is going to do:

Inovonics will continue to supply paper manuals with all of our products.  This seems the best idea for those who are at a transmitter site without internet connection, or if you’re trying to read the manual on your phone.

Inovonics will supply more QSG with our gear so you can get into it more quickly.  For instance, our Site Streamers are hooked to the network and then best operated and adjusted via their web interface.  To aid in this, a QSG will tell you how to hook up the Ins/Outs and how to enter the IP address.  Once into the device, most things should be easy to find.

Inovonics will NEVER require you to make an account and log into it, just to download a manual, datasheet or the latest firmware!

I have a two word summary – VERY COOL!

Perhaps the one place where radio has a huge edge is in the motor vehicle, aka, car and trucks.  There are several reasons for this:

  • Most vehicles come with car radios standard (yes, I am old enough to recall when that was an option).
  • Radio has been an ‘Audio Only’ source of information.  Historically these radios had two knobs and a few push-buttons.
  • Later came tape players for those that wanted ‘their tunes’.

Then along came the Cellphone:

  • Early versions were adaptations of earlier ‘mobile-telephones’ with a handset, cradle, outside antenna, etc.

Then came the much smaller cellphone that you carried with you –

  • First the ‘Brick’, then the flip phone etc.
  • And the first ‘Pairing’ with the vehicle.
  • And the first sharing portions of the vehicle radio to permit ‘speakerphone’ operation.

Intro the Smart Phone:

  • Now we have a phone with a display that shows more than just a phone number.
  • This has evolved into a hand-held device that will display a lot of distracting information for the driver.  Most notable is the feature called ‘Texting’.

Automakers have responded:

  • Now the ‘Car Radio’ is a connected piece of the cellphone.
  • And now, distracted driving is taking lives and laws have been created to roll back the clock.

The problems are:

  • If you don’t own a fairly new vehicle, suggest you stop by a dealer show room and ask the salesperson about the stuff in the ‘Center Stack’ that used to be called ‘The Radio’.  You will be amazed how anyone can navigate all that and drive at the same time.
  • As has been said, today’s car buyers are choosing their new wheels based on style and acceleration specification.  They are buying them based on what’s called the “in car entertainment experience’.
  • That experience is not just audio….but visual as well.  Title and Artist and Album Art of what’s playing.
  • Today’s Car-Radio and Cellphone are being integrated in ways that, not long ago, seemed not possible.
  • Despite all the new technology being deployed with new vehicles to keep you safe, demand is increasing for things, inside the cabin, that create more distractions and the death rate statistics are a grim reminder of what’s taking place.
  • The Genie is ‘out of the bottle’.  Users want it all and STILL safely drive the vehicle.
  • We have ‘Trouble in River City’ because of consumer demand for yet a more connected vehicle that is running headlong into an ever-increasing number of laws and regulations regarding distracted driving.
  • This puts the automakers in an interesting and perplexing position.
  • Are people going to stop using their cellphones in their vehicles and go back to just listening to the radio?  Unfortunately,  Probably not!
  • Perhaps one bright spot is in the area of voice recognition (think smart speaker).

Maybe this technology will keep more eyes on the road?

  • The bottom line is that not much of this is good for Radio as the choices for the driver are increasing all the time.  Radio is fighting back with the automakers to make sure that they are not squeezed out.  In some cases, AM Radio already has been.
  • I still see radio stations that are not on the visual band-wagon…not even displaying their call letters or logo etc.  In some cases radio is its own worst enemy and continues to go through life with ‘Blinders’ on.

Another place where the status quo is on the chopping block is in Television.  I’m sure you recall the days when having a TV set also meant having a TV Antenna on the roof, unless you were close enough to the transmitters where having ‘Rabbit Ears’ was a status symbol.

Then along came Cable TV.  Replace your old ugly antenna and get a better picture and more channels…bla-bla-bla.

So many jumped on the band wagon and subscribed to cable.  Later Satellite TV joined the list of providers.

Then something happened.  It’s called the Internet.  The Cable Companies woke up one day with a chunk of coaxial cable into millions of homes that could be used for two-way communications.  The telephone companies made a similar discovery with their physical plant and developed DSL (albeit at a slower rate).

With ever higher speed Internet connections and cable video steaming, suddenly the cable outfits discovered that their coaxial cables (and fiber) were in demand for something other than watching TV.  As their prices went up, consumers became frustrated with their cost of getting television via cable and cord-cutting started, along with the re-discovery of Free OTA TV via an antenna.

So what’s going on now?  A recent survey provides some insight.

  • 4.56 million TV households will cut the cord this year.
  • For the first time, the number of households that are watching TV via streaming will surpass those that are watching conventional Pay TV.

For the cable outfits, this is not all bad news as the ‘American Couch Potato’ will continue to send them money.

Frankly, In my opinion, broadcasters have been asleep at the switch in this race.  It appears that they have thrown in the towel in terms of promoting over-the-air (OTA) viewing.  Perhaps they would be just as happy to see that expensive transmitter plant be replaced with a simple feed to their local cable outfits?

To help underscore the fact that Radio continues to be a big factor in broadcasting, consider:

  • Cumulus recently sold KLOS in Los Angeles for $43 Million.
  • Billing numbers are impressive
  • WTOP-FM in Washington DC – $69 Million
  • KIIS-FM in Las Angeles – $61 Million
  • KBIG in L.A. – $46 Million
  • WLTW in NYC – $44 Million
  • Looking at the top 10 Billing Radio Stations we find
  • IHeart has 5, Entercom 4 and Hubbard 1.

I’ve written a lot over the years about the demise of AM Radio.  A lot of this is simply due to the reduction in consumer demand.  Like what I wrote earlier about the Car Radio, there is a lot more going on vying for the consumers ear these days.  AM has a lot of negatives in the first place – Reduced Audio Bandwidth (Poor audio quality) No Stereo, ever increasing amount of noise, etc.  AM Station owners, watching their audience head to FM, sought relief from the FCC in the form of FM Translators.  (Any doubt as to the value of those signals to an AM will be erased when you look at the prices being paid for them).

The problem is that adding translators may be a Band-Aid to the station’s business model, but it does nothing to resolve the three core issues I just mentioned.  This has caused some AM station owners to look beyond having economic relief come from law-makers to something that could, in the long run, change the equation in their favor — changing modulation mode from AM to Digital.  Granted most AM stations could have opted for the HD Radio system that’s been pretty successful on FM, however that system has a number of technical and economic issues.

Now a Texas broadcaster has joined others and would like the FCC to consider allowing Digital-ONLY AM’s.  This action has, perhaps predictably, given voice to a number that are very critical of the idea that our original modulation mode might be scrapped in favor of something else.  What about the fact that few, if any, have a radio that will receive something like DRM?

I find myself on the side of the broadcaster.  After all – ‘It’s their money’!!

The fact is that AM is a dying mode all over the world, perhaps the only reason it remains viable in this country is because:

  • There are still some successful AM Stations left.
  • There are a zillion radio receivers out there.

I say – let them do it – if they want to experiment with this new mode and find it has all the advantages they feel it has.  Let them be pioneers.  Who knows, we might just learn something.

If you have been an Amateur Radio Operator for a long time, this will sound familiar, as they went through the pain of walking away from AM and, over time, embraced Single Side Band (SSB) as their chosen mode for a host of technical reasons.  Maybe this will happen here?

Oh yes, if you think that traffic is bad where you live, sit back and enjoy this video….

https://www.youtube.com/embed/UEIn8GJIg0E?rel=0

Amador Bustos

Over the years you have read comments I’ve written about Bustos Media.  I ran across this picture recently of the man behind the company, Amador Bustos.  Amador operates the 1210 AM KMIA as well as 99.3 FM, the first FM in this area deploying a Single Frequency Network (SFN) of co-channel boosters.

Each month I look for something to bring a smile to conclude my column.  Thanks to my readers that share my love of this stuff, I never suffer from a lack of contributions.

This month – IDIOSYNCRASY AND AMBIGUITY

  • DON’T SWEAT THE PETTY THINGS AND DON’T PET THE SWEATY THINGS.
  • ONE TEQUILA, TWO TEQUILA, THREE  TEQUILA, FLOOR.
  • ATHEISM IS A NON-PROPHET ORGANIZATION.
  • I WENT TO A BOOKSTORE AND ASKED THE SALESWOMAN, “WHERE’S THE SELF-HELP SECTION?”.  SHE SAID IF SHE TOLD ME, IT WOULD  DEFEAT THE PURPOSE.
  • WHAT IF THERE WERE NO HYPOTHETICAL QUESTIONS?
  • IF SOMEONE WITH MULTIPLE PERSONALITIES THREATENS TO KILL HIMSELF, IS IT CONSIDERED A HOSTAGE SITUATION?
  • IS THERE ANOTHER WORD FOR SYNONYM?
  • WHERE DO FOREST RANGERS GO TO “GET AWAY FROM IT ALL”?
  • WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU SEE AN  ENDANGERED ANIMAL EATING AN ENDANGERED PLANT?
  • IF A PARSLEY FARMER IS SUED, CAN THEY GARNISH HIS WAGES?
  • WOULD A FLY WITHOUT WINGS BE CALLED A WALK?
  • WHY DO THEY LOCK GAS STATION BATHROOMS?  ARE THEY AFRAID SOMEONE WILL CLEAN THEM?
  • IF A TURTLE DOESN’T HAVE A SHELL, IS HE HOMELESS OR NAKED?
  • CAN VEGETARIANS EAT ANIMAL CRACKERS?
  • IF THE POLICE ARREST A MIME, DO THEY TELL HIM HE HAS THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT?
  • WHY DO THEY PUT BRAILLE ON THE  DRIVE-THROUGH BANK MACHINES?
  • HOW DO THEY GET DEER TO CROSS THE  ROAD ONLY AT THOSE ROAD SIGNS?
  • WHAT WAS THE BEST THING BEFORE SLICED  BREAD?
  • ONE NICE THING ABOUT EGOTISTS: THEY DON’T TALK ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE.
  • DOES THE LITTLE MERMAID WEAR AN ALGEBRA?
  • HOW IS IT POSSIBLE TO HAVE A CIVIL WAR?
  • IF YOU ATE BOTH PASTA AND ANTIPASTO, WOULD YOU STILL BE HUNGRY?
  • IF YOU TRY TO FAIL, AND SUCCEED, WHICH HAVE YOU DONE?

That’s about it for this month, my friends –

Thanks for the read…….

Lord willing, I will be back to most of the same locations next month at this time.

Until then, may you have a wonderful Spring!!

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