Clays Corner – August

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

I recall the days when I was working in downtown Seattle…The creeping traffic and smell of exhaust fumes. For the last 10 + Years…Downtown Seattle has been a place I try and avoid and if I go there, it’s in the middle of the day etc.

I still have some of that to put up with making the trek from Auburn to Cougar Mt. and points north, however, I try and avoid drive time. Parking on a freeway is not ‘my cup of tea’. What I do look forward to is that 6+ miles of single-lane road up to the summit of West Tiger Mt. Not only is there less traffic, but the air and scenery is much better. Instead of homeless camps and trash…I get to look at scenes like this. Taken with my cellphone camera out the driver’s side window.

As you probably know, KIRO-TV has new owners. Apollo previously struck a $3.1 billion deal to buy Cox’s television station group.

I recall when I started in this business (in Tacoma), the big fish in the world of advertising was the local newspaper (Tacoma News Tribune). The local Radio and TV stations (back then Tacoma had several of each) were living on the leftovers. Today the world has changed dramatically with newspapers just barely hanging on. That Tacoma paper is now about the size of the weekly that is tossed on my driveway.

Job losses at newspapers are one of the major factors in the decline of newsroom employment in the last 10 years, according to results of a new Pew study. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, news room employment is down about 25% in newspaper, radio, TV and Cable. Newspapers saw a 47% drop. Radio is down 25%. Broadcast TV is pretty much unchanged. In the Seattle metro area we have lost a number of papers. The newspapers are having to re-invent themselves to remain viable. The day may soon come that a tangible, hold in your hands, newspaper may become a thing of the past. As an example, when was the last time you saw a 20-something person reading a newspaper? Probably driving all of this change is the fact that much of our information is now available on-line and on your portable electronic device. Today we are becoming accustomed to having the information we want, when and where we want it.

Can you believe it’s been 10 years since the FCC changed the rules paving the way for AM stations to install translators on the FM Band? Clearly, in some cases, those ‘other-band’ translators have helped the AM facility by putting them on the FM dial to compete for the listeners that have migrated there. Likewise, there are cases where these new FM signals have been little more than ‘Letterhead’ for the station with minimal coverage.

The problem with all of this is the government was trying to level the playing field hoping the struggling AM would, as a result, become economically viable once again. So how is it working with now 23% of AM’s operating an FM Translator? The total number of AM’s on the air is now 4610. This is a decline of 23 in the last year. Another way of looking at it…This is the fewest number of AM’s on the air since the 1980’s. Looking at this another way…This means that 77% of the AM’s don’t have a companion FM. Can we assume that those 77% are either doing well, without an FM signal, or that some will, sometime in the future, go dark too? My prediction is that the number of AM’s will continue to decline until a balance between supply and demand is reached. This may well mean that the AM Band will look much like it did back in the 60’s, or before. Another factor in play here is the fact that the price of an AM Station is going steadily down to the point that it’s affordable for groups that previously could not afford one. In the 60’s you could not find a radio station broadcasting in anything other than English. Today this is clearly not the case.

So how many Radio Stations are there in the U.S.? As of June 30th the FCC reports the following:

  • FM Translators and boosters –  8,126

  • Commercial FM’s  – – – – – – –  6,726

  • AM Stations –  – – – – – – – – –  4,610

  • Non-Commercial FM’s – – – – – 4,179

  • Low Power FM’s – – – – –  – – – 2,178

Overall, when you include Television operations, there are some 33,508 FCC Licensed facilities.

So what do you think the FCC would do if they discovered that a radio station was operating on the wrong frequency with the wrong amount of power? Seems to me that they would have ‘thrown the book at them’ and issued a steep fine.

Now suppose the station is a Low Power FM with limited financial resources?

How about a slap on the wrist?

This is pretty much what happened to KBUU-LP.

Does this not remind you of how the FCC handles Pirate Radio Stations? The Commish gets upset and fines the operator of the unlicensed station who promptly states they can’t afford to pay the amount, whereby the FCC backs off and issues an official hand-slap. Tell me how this demonstrates that the FCC is really performing – Enforcement! Would not mandatory jail-time be better?

More cellphone pictures out the driver’s side window. At this point I am on the West Side of East Tiger – Beyond is West Tiger. If you look closely you can see a couple of the broadcast towers. The one on the right was the location of the antenna-fire.

Fireworks arrived a bit early at West Tiger on July 2nd about 4 a.m. Thankfully the display was contained within a Puget Sound Energy metal box. The event took down the power to the whole mountain for a short time…but at the site known as West Tiger 2 the outage was much longer (this is why there big emergency generators up there). PSE had to replace the fizzled equipment which took several hours. Cause was reported to be a rodent of some sort.

I stopped by KING 5’s Transmitter Site recently and visited with Tim Schall. Been a while since I was in there. The place is a mess created by switching transmitters and channels for the ‘Repack’ project. The good news is the are new transmitters replacing mature ones and the cost is being paid by the Feds, thanks to spectrum auctions.

 

Wonder what the State Patrol would say to this guy about having an un-secured load? Maybe he is listening to Satellite Radio?

 

Mountain tops tend to sprout steel as in communications towers. In this case it’s an antenna farm in Costa Rica looking much like many sites elsewhere.

 

From the ‘Everyone makes misteaks’ Department

In last month’s Column I wrote –

1-    Interesting to note that KABC (San Francisco) is on the same Frequency.  Here, locally, 770 is the home of KTTH (Formally KXA).

Thanks to an old friend – I stand corrected.

KABC is actually on 790 (Not 770) and is in Los Angeles

KCBC is on 770 and is in Manteca, California (Between Stockton and Modesto)

And I wrote –

2-    Sitting next to our booth was a Long Ranger lunch box…

Obviously this should have read a Lone Ranger lunch box….

Perhaps you are wondering why I did not catch the second item. There are a couple of reasons for this.

  • 1)   I spent many years behind a microphone reading poor wire service news, commercials etc. I learned to read what was ‘meant to be said’ and not what was written. This is not helpful when you are proof reading something.
  • 2)    It’s awfully easy to gloss-over improper words, i.e., Lone and Long are similar and both spelled correctly.
  • 3)    Spell-check text with your computer is of little help because it has no-clue what you meant to say.
  • 4)    The most interesting reason is, perhaps, best explained by the following. Demonstrating that it is very easy to read misspelled words.

Just recently I heard someone remark that a tower did not have to be marked (colored bands and/or lights) because it was under 200 feet. Well, that’s the way it used to be UNLESS  the FAA wanted them marked or lit. There are new regulations that need to be considered.

The following explains –

New FAA regulations require towers under 200′ to be marked.

JULY 8, 2019 BY GENERAL AVIATION NEWS STAFF 14 COMMENTS

New FAA regulations require landowners to mark any towers between 50′ and 200′ on their property, as well as include the towers in a new database the FAA is developing.

Previously, towers under 200′ were not subject to any federal marking requirements, according to officials with the National Agricultural Aviation Association.

The new requirements are due to provisions in the FAA Extension, Safety and Security Act of 2016 and the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018.

Under the provisions in these laws, meteorological evaluation towers (METs) meeting the requirements stipulated in the bills must be both marked and logged in to the FAA database. Communication towers of the same size have the option to be either be marked or logged in the FAA database.

The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 requires this database to be functional by October 2019. The FAA is also finalizing the marking requirements for these towers, but they are expected to be similar to the standards found in FAA Advisory Circular 70/7460-1L.

Officials with the National Agricultural Aviation Association encourage landowners to preemptively mark their towers and voluntarily log towers on their property into the FAA’s Daily Digital Obstacle File (Daily DOF). The Daily DOF is an obstacle database that contains mostly obstructions above 200′, with obstructions below 200′ submitted on a voluntary basis. The Daily DOF gives an obstruction’s location, height, and type of marking (if any). Information on the tower’s owner or property owner is not asked for or publicly given.

Association officials note that since 2008 there have been 22 tower-related agricultural aircraft accidents resulting in nine fatalities. The number of accidents and fatalities is even higher when other low-level operations, such as EMS-Medevac operations, are included.

An NAAA analysis of accidents from 2008 to 2018 across all sectors of general aviation found there were 40 tower-related accidents and incidents resulting in 36 fatalities. The data also shows many of those general aviation aviators did not collide with the main body of the obstruction itself, but the extremely difficult to see guy wires supporting the structure, illustrating the importance of installing high-visibility guy wire sleeves or spherical ball markers, officials said.

Unmarked meteorological evaluation towers must now be marked under new federal requirements. The arrow points out the almost invisible guy wires that pose such a risk to general aviation pilots.

North Dakota farmer and aerial applicator Brian Rau has a 96′ RTK tower on his property. Short for “real time kinematic,” RTK towers supplement the GPS systems of automated ground-based farm equipment.

As an aerial applicator, Rau knows the importance of having such towers both marked and logged into appropriate FAA databases, regardless of legal requirements. He added florescent ball markers within the structure’s skeleton soon after it was converted from a communications tower to an RTK tower. This year Rau took the additional step of providing the coordinates of his tower to the FAA’s Obstacle Data Team for inclusion in the Daily DOF.

“Seeing the growth of communication towers in North Dakota and across the county, I knew it was important to both mark and properly log the tower,” Rau said. “Submitting the tower to be included in the FAA’s Daily Digital Obstacle File only took minutes and was well worth a few moments of my time.”

From a safety perspective, being transparent about the existence of low-level obstacles is vital to agricultural pilots and other aircraft flying in the airspace between zero and 400′, such as police and first responder aircraft, aerial firefighters and pipeline patrol pilots, NAAA officials said.

The FAA’s Digital Obstacle File (DOF) provides information about potential obstacles in pilots’ flight path before they take off. Once pilots download the FAA’s Digital Obstacle File or Daily DOF, they can import it into Geographic Information Systems applications, such as agricultural aviation applications.

FAA Advisory Circular 70/7460-1L on obstruction marking and lighting details the ways different types of obstructions may be marked. The document provides specifications on lighting systems, colors and light intensities. As an alternative to lighting, the document also explains tools for the “unlighted marking” of obstructions. This includes paint colors and patterns, as well as specifications for guy wire sleeves and high-visibility spherical markers.

Rau chose the latter option for marking his RTK tower.

“The ball markers seemed the easiest for an existing galvanized tower, and they really improved the visibility of the tower,” he said.

“Aerial applicators have been at the forefront of ensuring a safe airspace for low-flying pilots for years,” said NAAA Executive Director Andrew Moore. “We encourage farmers, landowners and tower companies to familiarize themselves with the dangers of unmarked, low-level towers. Towers in and around productive farmland may prevent a crop from being treated by air if it is too difficult or unsafe for an ag pilot to treat. As such, due consideration must be given to locating any type of tower on ag land. If a tower’s construction is imminent or already exists, it is highly encouraged that preemptive compliance with the forthcoming FAA regulations required by Congress occur.”

In addition to the human cost, a precedent has been established increasing the likelihood that landowners and tower manufacturers could be held financially liable for tower-related accidents, officials said.

In 2014, a milestone court settlement was reached when a group of defendants representing tower manufacturing, wind energy, land-owning and farming interests agreed to pay $6.7 million to the family of agricultural aviator Steve Allen to settle a wrongful death action brought against the tower entities for failing to mark a 197′ meteorological evaluation tower or make Allen aware of its location prior to his fatal collision with the tower in 2011. From eyewitness accounts, it was clear Allen never saw the unmarked tower before he struck it.

Landowners and farmers can submit an obstruction to the FAA’s Daily Digital Obstacle File by emailing the tower’s height and coordinates to 9-AJV-532-OBSTData-REQ@faa.gov.

Mother Nature is certainly demonstrating who is in charge of the thermostat these days.

  • In Alaska the heat is on with record breaking high temperatures. Still hard to get your head around the fact that it was hotter up there than here in the Puget Sound area. The hot/dry conditions caused many fireworks demonstrations to be cancelled out of fear of wildfires. On July 5th it hit 90 in Anchorage.
  • The Northeast of the U.S. and Europe have been experiencing record high temperatures.
  • I have to wonder if those that doubt climate change are also members of the ‘Flat Earth Society”?
  • A new report just came out that projects temperatures in major cities if we fail to work to limit climate change. By 2050 the global average temperature is projected to rise 7.7 Degrees F. Here’s an example of projected heat index for some cities I picked out where the heat index is projected to be above 90 Degrees F.
  • Seattle – 9 Days
  • Houston – 158 Days
  • Miami – 178 Days

The rising temperatures are likely to result in a migration of people to more northern latitudes in search of a more comfortable place to live. Our region – NW corner of the U.S. and SW corner of B.C. are likely to be impacted.

Mother nature has been having her way with us in other ways.

  • On July 4th Southern California was having a rock and roll event…actually a 6.4 Earthquake in the desert 100+ miles NE of L.A. in an area called Ridgecrest. The 10:33 a.m. quake was centered in the Searles Valley. To compound the problem, there were thousands aftershocks. Then about 8:20 p.m. on the 5th came an even bigger 7.1 Quake. This one was much more shallow. Hard to imagine having that many earthquakes in such a short period of time. Certainly the lull in quake activity they have been having is over.
  • Our local media was all over this story reminding us that we are, perhaps, overdue for a major quake in the Seattle area. One of the east-west running faults could produce a 7-something and the north-south off the coast Subduction Zone could produce the long talked about – Big One – Something in the vicinity of a 9.
  • One only needs to look at the PNSN Web Sitehttps://pnsn.org/earthquakes/recent to gain an appreciation of the fact that, next to California, Western Washington is the 2nd most seismically active area. Just off the Oregon Coast and off the northern tip of Vancouver Island you will see a number of 4 point somethings. Closer to home, a 4.6 south east of Everett, near Monroe served to underscore this fact.
  • To the South, there have been a number of quakes just south of Mt. Hood. Meanwhile Mt. St Helens appears to be becoming a bit more active.
  • One of the major problems with earthquakes is that, for some odd reason, people start calling 911 to report it as if the people that could take any action to make it stop. The effect is that 911 usefulness in getting help to those in need is slowed down. If you don’t need immediate life-saving help – DON’T CALL 911. If you feel you must call someone…Call 311…Better off, call your friends and relatives.

Despite the financial success of Seattle there are those that are opposed. Taking notice is Amazon who recently announced that they are going to build a 1,000,000 sq. ft. 43 story building in Downtown Bellevue at 10th St and 106th Ave N.E. The structure will be the tallest in the Eastside City. For those of you that are not familiar with downtown Bellevue, Google pictures of Downtown Bellevue WA. The relatively new city is quite impressive, and they are certainly willing to take advantage of Seattle’s attitude.

Do you know someone that is not on the Internet? Odds of finding someone that is not is becoming increasingly slim. A recent report showed there are now 4.4 billion Internet users. Interestingly, nearly half say they still listen to on-line radio. Guess we need to understand that radio does not have to have a transmitter anymore.

One of the big celebrations of this past month has been the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Just about anyone that was alive at that time knows where they were when Neil Armstrong set foot on our only natural satellite. A couple of related thoughts:

  • Look at the size of the camera used back then. Wow have things gotten smaller. Compare them to today’s Go-Pro.
  • First videos were in black and white, as were many of the TV’s we viewed them on.
  • One of the big issues for those doing stories on the event was finding machines that would playback the tapes from that era. Reportedly someone purchased a lot of those tapes and recently sold them for a huge profit.

As we ramp-up for a return to the Moon, we can be assured the video quality will be a whole lot better, using much smaller equipment.

Every once in a while you run across a question that makes you smile and perhaps don’t even try to answer. Here’s one of those – Where does the light go when you turn off a flashlight?

For many years those that use Morse Code have used a form of short-hand. The goal is to send fewer letters to convey a longer word or words. For example CUL has meant See You Later. Rather than sending – A N D – (a word used often in our language) the person would send E S. Amateur Radio Operators use what are called ‘Q-Signals’ which are 3 letters starting with a Q. Example QTH would mean – My Location, etc.

Now that email and texting have become popular forms of communications, we have done much the same thing for the same reasons. Example is – BTW – for ‘by the way’….IMHO for ‘in my humble opinion’ etc. I ran across one the other day that I had to stop and think about – YGWYPF. After a bit of head scratching I got it – ‘You get what you pay for’.

Likely teenagers have gone well beyond in their efforts to communicate with each other and keep adults (Parents etc.) from knowing what’s being communicated. The principle is all the same.

In late June I had an opportunity to go to Boise to visit family, and from there I drove a route I’ve wanted to take for years to Anaconda, Montana via Stanley and Salmon Idaho, Lolo and Chief Joseph Passes and 25 Miles of Montana 569. It was a wonderful trip. The scenery was spectacular. In fact, we have vowed to do it again, next time going the other way.

This picture on the left was taken of an unknown stream flowing into the Salmon River – between Stanley and Salmon.

 

Here’s another of the Anaconda Range in Montana.

Thrills me, no end, to see something that’s older than I am….still working! Thanks to Don Eckis for sending me a picture below of the famous KOMO RCA 50 kW Transmitter.    Yes, those copper thingies are Vacuum Tubes.

  • Looks like the major radio broadcast groups that were in bankruptcy are slowly digging out.

IHeart, now carrying less debt appears to be doing better with increased revenues. The company has begun trading on NASDAQ.

 

Meanwhile, the other big radio company, Cumulus, has not only emerged from bankruptcy, but has been selling off stations to further reduce debt. They recently sold KLOS-FM in L.A. Even with that, their reported debt is just over $1 Billion.

Another firm that has apparently been struggling is Salem. This firm has made a list of stations they may sell to pay down their debt. I found it interesting that their CEO just inked a new employment contract that will pay him $1 million a year.

I-Heart and Salem have stations in the Seattle market.

There has been tremendous growth in the number of Low Power FM Stations, commonly known as LPFM’s. There are now 2,100 of them in the U.S. Recent news coming out of the FCC is there are some technical changes being considered that will reportedly provide more options for these little stations, perhaps including the ability to use directional antennas and translators.

News reports of a large scale power outage in Venezuela caught my attention as some officials blamed the outage on an ‘Electromagnetic Attack’. I found that term interesting…then learned that the U.S. Military has been experimenting with something in that area. In all my years of dealing with interference issues caused by proximity to broadcast transmitters, I’m surprised no-one ever used that term. (This may change.)

Seems like Sea-Tac Airport (aka Bow Lake Airport) has always been there…Guess not…in fact Sea-Tac is younger than I am…(Guess many things are). At any rate, our regional airport is now 70. The first runways were built between 1942 and 1944. The first airlines were Northwest and United. By 1954 there were about one million a year coming and going from the place. In recent years Sea-Tac has struggled to keep up with the demand. The place is under constant construction. Hard to believe how busy it is today with about 170,000 passengers per day. This year will be the busiest yet with some 50 million passengers.

So how big is SeaTac? Reports are it’s now the 8th busiest in the U.S. With 50 million passengers, this is still less than half of Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta and behind places like LAX or O’Hare, DFW, Denver, New York’s JFK,  and San Francisco’s SFO.

I caught this sunset picture on the Accel Net Web-Camera at Cougar Mountain on the 21st. The tower on the left with the 4 gizmos on the right side is used by 94.1 and 96.5 FM as an Auxiliary.

The 2019 NAB Marconi Radio Awards finalists have been announced.

Here I have only listed the categories where a local Seattle Area station is in the running.

Large Market Station of the Year

  • News/Talk KOA Denver (iHeartMedia)
  • Hot AC KSTP-FM Minneapolis (Hubbard)
  • CHR KQMV, Seattle WA (Hubbard)
  • Hot AC WMTX Tampa (iHeartMedia)
  • Rock WXTB Tampa (iHeartMedia)

AC Station of the Year

  • KODA Houston (iHeartMedia)
  • KRWM Seattle (Hubbard)
  • WBZZ Pittsburgh (Entercom)
  • WMAG Greensboro, NC (iHeartMedia)
  • WSHE-FM Chicago (Hubbard)
  • News/Talk Station of the Year
  • KIRO-FM Seattle (Bonneville)
  • KTMY Minneapolis (Hubbard)
  • WDBO-FM Orlando (Cox Media Group)
  • WINS New York (Entercom)
  • WKXW Trenton, NJ (Townsquare Media)

Congratulations to those local stations – My fingers are crossed.

Looking for a job in Radio Broadcast Engineering? Here are a couple that came to my attention recently:

Received this one on July 3rd. I received the following information concerning a job opening in Redding, California. (It may be filled by now.)

A full-time opening for a Chief Engineer at our 5-station cluster in Redding, CA. This is a fantastic place to live and work with every imaginable recreation opportunity close at hand. We have all new, mostly Nautel transmitters and recently upgraded transmitter facilities and our cluster is far and away #1 in the market. Interested or know someone who is?  Please contact me at eng@resultsradio.com <mailto:eng@resultsradio.com>

Alpha Media – Portland, OR is seeking an experienced full-time Broadcast Engineer for our radio stations located in downtown Portland. If you feel you are a qualified candidate and want to join a fast-moving, growing entity, submit your cover letter and resume ASAP by clicking on the Apply button at:

https://recruiting2.ultipro.com/ALP1009ALMD/JobBoard/8a5ecde6-7408-45f9-8d5d-1bf4e35b089c/OpportunityDetail?opportunityId=85887a63-4297-4267-8e24-72896c447c8d

If you ever wondered what a broadcast engineer does at a cluster of radio stations today…The information from Alpha pretty much spells it out.

Responsibilities of this position may include the following:

Installs and performs maintenance on control consoles, boards, recording equipment, microphones, digital audio systems, transmitters, controls, remote equipment, etc. Performs necessary measurements of equipment performance.

May have responsibilities relating to IT. Assists Chief Engineer in assigned duties. Any and all other duties as assigned. Required Knowledge, Skills & Abilities

Knowledge of all applicable FCC rules and regulations. Technical knowledge of electronics and electromechanics. Experience with cluster-wide studio equipment and operations, audio routing, AES and AoIP protocols, digital audio delivery and radio automation systems, EAS, studio telephone and engineering IT systems. Knowledge of electrical systems, UPS, and standby generators and recordkeeping.

Knowledge of telephone systems and protocols including POTS, 1A2, ISDN, T1, DSL, VoIP, and PRI circuits. IT skills including PC/server troubleshooting and repair and knowledge of TCP/IP, UDP, and local area networking. Excellent written and verbal communication skills. Excellent problem-solving ability and skill in prioritizing.

Interact with management and staff at all levels in a personable and professional manner. Ability to multi-task and handle pressures and deadlines.

Education and Licensing Requirements

Associates or technical degree in Broadcasting Engineering Technology or related field or equivalent level of experience. SBE Certifications a plus. Must possess a valid state driver’s license, a clean driving record, and have proof of insurance.

Physical Requirements:

Ability to lift and/or move loads up to 75lbs. Ability to climb ladders and work on elevated surfaces. Ability to be on 24 x 7 x 365 callout for after-hours emergencies or routine maintenance as needed.

So…. Now you know.

As usual, I like to leave you with something to smile about. Here are a couple of gems sent to me recently.

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 Summer !!

Clay, K7CR, CPBE

SBE Member for over 50 years, #714.