Providing news and views from a broadcast engineers perspective since September 1986
Looking back a year, Seattle had its snowiest February on record and the coldest one in 30 years. The average temperature for the month was 36.6 degrees. According to the National Weather Service, SeaTac Airport saw 14.1 inches in the first 10 days of the month. The old record at SeaTac was 13.1 inches in 1949. The single snowiest day of the year was February 8 when 6.4 inches fell. Just days before, we experienced the two coldest days of the year when temperatures plummeted to 20 degrees on February 5 and 6.
Looking ahead – Here is what last summer had for us –
By contrast, the hottest day of the year fell before the official start of summer. We hit 95 degrees on June 12 and the summer solstice didn’t arrive until June 21.
Here is picture from now retired Broadcast Engineer Dwight Small…A beautiful winter scene.
As viewed from the latter days of January – We certainly have stopped talking about drought. The Seattle area is in the midst of weather that could convince anyone that it rains all the time.
Just wondering department – Has anyone tallied up the amount of revenue that has been lost by the Radio and TV stations that have been covering the Impeachment activity? I found it interesting that several radio stations elected to keep their ‘main-stream’ programming going while putting the WDC events on their HD-2 channel. Perhaps they will make up for it with political advertising revenue?
The FCC is asking for input on the matter of Radio Simulcasts. In light of today’s consolidation and clustering, perhaps relaxation of the rule on this issue is in order? Part of the thinking is based on the notion that you could have the same program on two AM’s (for example) in the same market, with one of them running all digital and the other analog. Those that oppose the idea of changing the rules are concerned that it would negatively impact what’s call ‘program diversity’. In my opinion, there is plenty of diversity on the Radio dial today. The FCC has set the dates for comments on the proposal to permit all digital AM Stations – Comments March 9th – Reply Comments April 6th. Not everyone is happy with this idea.
Some are interpreting this as meaning that – every – AM will be switching to digital leaving a Jillion AM only receivers with nothing to listen to (except for electrical gizmo noise). I give more credit than that to the owners of AM Radio Stations. I would highly doubt if any market would see all of their AM’s go digital. Perhaps in an ownership that had two AM’s it might make sense to have one of each. With the proposed rule change, they could each have the same programming, which could be viewed as a financial incentive.
Another argument is that the FCC should not limit digital AM’s to HD Radio…But rather should permit Digital Radio Mondial, or DRM. to have an equal shot. The question that needs to be answered is just how many of the millions of HD Capable radios out there would be able to decode DRM? If that percentage is low, it would place DRM at a significant disadvantage. I know that both systems use COFDM, however I have no idea of there is any degree to compatibility between the systems. Perhaps that too could change?
Other question is, what will the company that owns HD Radio (EXPERI) want to extract from the owner of an AM station that’s willing to put everything on the line and go all digital?
The bottom line is there appears to be a lot of interest in this proposal. The FCC’s process will likely draw a number of comments, pro and con. This will be an interesting process to watch. I can say one thing, never did I ever dream that we would be debating this issue!
If you are in an area where Frontier is your telephone company or Internet Service Provider, you might want to read this:
Our State SECC (State Emergency Communications Committee) that manages the EAS has a committee that is slowly working through the process of re-writing our EAS Plan. Presently they are dealing with changes that will be made to the process of how EAS Participants will chose what to monitor. More specifically what Local Primary (LP) stations are expected to monitor. To get a handle on the situation they are surveying all the LP’s to see what they are ‘presently’ monitoring. The SECC determines what should be monitored and their decision is enforced by the FCC.
Radio World magazine has a new book out with an interesting title, ‘Radio Engineering in Crisis’. In their promotion piece they ask a number of questions –
- Are the number of qualified engineers in fact declining?
- How are companies balancing the needs of RF vs. IT?
- What choices are available for technical training?
- Are broadcast groups changing how they manage product buying or approaching infrastructure design with a shortage of technical talent in mind?
Should be an interesting read for those within the industry or those considering it.
WSU recently released a piece called Clock is Ticking on Tackling Threat to Power Grid.
This is an interesting, thought provoking, item. In this day and age of hacking into computer systems where several large broadcast companies have been hit, one is always thinking about how to keep the bad guys out of your system. Within a broadcast facility, you have to be concerned about what might be called a ‘port of entry’ or the route that a ‘bug’ is able to get into your computer network. Obviously one of the first concerns are the websites, or links to things, that we have all seen. Then there is the well-meaning employee that comes in with a thumb drive containing something that they believe this just has to have at work…all the while not knowing that the little drive could well open the door to something nasty. My own computer system will, occasionally, flag and isolate one of these saving me from the grief they can cause. Think in terms of a business with a huge number of employees and computers. When your company has an ‘on-line’ presence, things can get even more scary. Sure, you can install various software solutions that are design to identify and, hopefully, isolate an unwanted interloper. That’s just one tool in the IT tool-box.
One of the tools that your company has on their defensive squad is the firewall to keep the perps out of your company network. Here are a couple of definitions I found –
From Barracuda: Network firewalls are security devices used to stop or mitigate unauthorized access to private networks connected to the Internet, especially intranets. The only traffic allowed on the network is defined via firewall policies – any other traffic attempting to access the network is blocked.
From Cisco: A firewall is a network security device that monitors incoming and outgoing network traffic and decides whether to allow or block specific traffic based on a defined set of security rules. Firewalls have been a first line of defense in network security for over 25 years.
Back to the story from WSU –
The ever increasing problem is the rapid-rise in the number of things we have that are connected to the Internet….Some of which we, perhaps, have not considered as being an ‘Entry-Point’ for something that could ‘swim upstream’ and attack bigger things, like the computer system that’s used by public utilities.
This is a good read – something that should give us all pause.
As most of you know, I’ve been a member of the Society of Broadcast Engineers for a very long time. My membership card shows that I joined on Feb. 5th of 1968…coming up on 52 years ago. Along the way, SBE determined that it needed an executive director…someone whose skills included how to guide a professional organization like SBE. In 1992 they hired John Poray (28 years ago). During my 10 years on the National Board, John had the chore of reviewing his performance – and every year we knew we were blessed to have him. A lot of mixed emotions flowed with the announcement that John is going to retire at the end of 2020. My hope is that SBE will try and fill his shoes with another person that came from the Poray mold. He certainly will be missed!
If you are looking for a change of scenery, here’s a job opening that you may want to consider:
I’m looking for a motivated, experienced Chief Engineer for one of our station clusters in northern California. We need someone who has strong skills in IT, automation (we use Wide Orbit), STL’s, analog audio and FM transmitter site work. All of the transmitters are new, solid state, mostly Nautel and less than two years old.
The stations are the “live and local” types. We do dozens of remotes every month and we are fully involved with the local community. As a result, we are far-and-away the number one station group in the market! It’s a good place to work, evidenced by the fact that a substantial number of our employees have been with us for more than 20 years. Unlike the big radio groups you’ve been reading about, we’re not laying people off. Results Radio, LLC is hiring and growing! Check our website at www.resultsradio.com.
If you’re interested or can point me to someone who might be, please email me at email@example.com.
Equal Opportunity Employer
Chief Technical Officer
Results Radio, LLC
The new Fair Labor Standards Act is going to impact a lot of people who may not be aware of it. Here, thanks to Barry Mishkind – is a good summary: https://www.thebdr.net/articles/ops/ops/FLSA.pdf
There is a new tally of Radio broadcast stations in the US out. Perhaps no surprise to anyone, the headlines are:
- There are more Translators
- There are more FM’s
- There are fewer AM’s
Because the gains are about the same as the losses – 2019 ended up about where it was to start with about 15,500 full power radio stations.
One reads, or hears, about the demise of AM radio. The fact is only 26 of them went dark last year. Perhaps the total would have been much higher if the FCC had not dropped them a life-line in the form of an FM Translator.
In the world of ‘Optical Broadcasting’…aka, Television – there are 1762 full power and 1892 low-power TV stations.
Another, Radio related, survey looks at the various formats in use today…..
The format that gained the most in 2019 was in the category often called ‘Religion’ where 92 stations joined that group where there are now over 2,000 stations. Historically a ‘Religion Station’ was one that aired mainly ‘preaching and teaching’.
Today we have a new category called ‘Contemporary Christian’. Well known in this area is EMF which has a number of full power Stations nation-wide. Even the operator of a large number of Satellite fed low powered stations has dropped their historic preaching theme for music targeting younger ears. Seattle has a local station in that category, KCMS. There are now over 2000 claiming that format title with over 60 newcomers.
Just ahead of Religion is Country with about 2200 stations. I can recall the days when there was no major radio outlet in the Seattle area that played Country Music. That all changed years ago when Country KAYO was launched. Today we have two stations, KKWF and KNUC, both owned by major broadcast companies duking it out for the ears of country fans. Country has undergone a lot of changes in recent years, making it hard to distinguish the difference between it and other formats targeting the same audience, like Taylor Swift. It appears that the steel guitars and fiddles have been put out to pasture.
Other formats doing well are those playing Classic Hits and, of course, Spanish. Not many years ago the only way you would be able to hear Mexican Music is by listening to a far-away station, on the AM Band, late at night. Today we have a number of stations in this area, on AM and FM that are airing the format. One only has to peek at the Nielsen market totals to get a sense of why this is happening. In the Seattle area, out of 3,863,400 – 336,900 are Hispanic.
Of course, with more stations joining a format, you will find formats that have lost stations. Looking at the ‘losers’ category we find the following on the declining list:
Sports Talk with 23 less stations. Can Seattle be an exception to this? We still have 3 AM’s doing Sports Talk?
Alternative lost 20 outlets in the past year. Again, Seattle may be bucking the trend with an apparently successful KNDD still in the mix.
I can’t help but look back to when I started into this radio game – in the early 60’s – and how Radio has changed so very much. At one time, most radio stations were what was called ‘full service’. This means they air programs designed for everyone. Most stations were still airing an hourly newscast, time and temperature was standard. Music may have had some variation through the day, with many playing Country in the early mornings (perhaps aimed at farmers that got up early?) and easy listening later in the evening (people were getting ready for bed). Telephone talk programs were just starting. Sunday mornings were church services and, despite TV gaining audiences, there were still some network programs to be heard. Newspapers would run ‘program schedules’ for TV – and – Radio Stations so you would know when your favorite show would air and on what station and/or channel.
As the TV footprint became larger (and the radio smaller) Radio set out to re-invent itself. Back then there were only a few ‘formats’, meaning stations that specialized in one type of music programming. There was the ‘MOR’, or ‘Middle of the Road’ format, often left-overs from the Big-Band era (Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, etc). The Rock and Roll format and, of course, Country. Still, early on, all of these stations were likely to air hourly newscasts (remember the telegraphers ‘Bug’ that was used for newscasts on the rock stations?) Everyone wanted to air Pass Reports and the closing Stock Market numbers. Then the real revolution started – with stations (horrors) dropping their newscasts (and news staffs). Specialization became the name of the game. The notion that a radio station should be all things for all people was fading in favor of a station dedicating it to a particular type of music, or, in some cases, News or Talk. Country and Rock stations would be the first to join that club. Later, as years rolled by, we have ended up with perhaps a dozen or more niche formats. Radio stations advertised based on their specialty, as they do today. This was the beginning of programming on demand, you wanted a particular audio experience, you went to where it was. To some degree, Cable TV has followed the same pattern.
Sad but likely true – that 90% of the American population below the age of 30 has never read a paper map and can’t use a compass. Ever think about our reliance on GPS? Do you still carry maps in your vehicle, or perhaps a Thomas Guide? Likely not anymore. Want to go somewhere? Look up the address with your smartphone and enter that in your cars Nav-System and let it tell you how to get there. Do you think that FedEx and UPS or Amazon delivery people use Maps? Guess again. Now ask yourself, what would happen if that system went down? Would anyone go to the corner Gas Station to get a map? The problem with all of these wonderful technology features is our hyper-reliance on them. Those that plan on dealing with the aftermath of natural or man-caused disasters shudder to think of how helpless many could become in a very short period of time.
Recently I was communicating with a person, via email, and wrote the following. Funny how when you are in your 4th quarter you think of these things –
- With time comes knowledge based on experiences
- With time and knowledge can come wisdom, provided you have been paying attention with an open mind.
- If you are blessed with being able to spend a long time on this earth, always be willing to share with others.
- Tis said that knowledge is power. However, to refuse to share your knowledge to benefit others is selfish.
- The most efficient way to the top is by learning from the mistakes and successes of those that have come before you.
- Part of growing up is being able to avoid the temptation to repeat the mistakes of others to satisfy your own ego.
I’m sure you are like most. You are constantly receiving Robocalls on you phone. How many are getting Robotext Messages? This seems to be a growing issue. I happened to catch the following from the FCC’s Daily Releases back on December 27th:
Released: 2019-12-27. CONSUMER AND GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS BUREAU SEEKS COMMENT ON PETITION FOR DECLARATORY RULING FILED BY LUCAS CRANOR. (DA No. 19-1332). (Dkt No 02-278). Cranor seeks a ruling that “consumers have the right to revoke consent on receiving unwanted marketing text messages from their wireless providers at any time by any reasonable means. Comments Due: 2020-01-27. Reply Comments Due: 2020-02-11. CGB. Contact: Richard D. Smith (717) 338-2797. DA-19-1332A1.docx DA-19-1332A1.pdf DA-19-1332A1.txt
Another item, or two, from the looking back at 2019 file –
CBS was the most-watched broadcast television network of 2019, attracting 7,140,000 viewers. NBC dominated among viewers 18 to 49, while many basic cable networks saw double-digit declines.
This past year saw almost 4000 newspapers losing newsroom staff as the Newspaper industry continues in steep decline. Newspapers are stopping publication, combining weekend editions, combining with competitors or, as did the PI long ago, going to an on-line format altogether. The problem is that you can find a great deal of what you are looking for online for free. Many newspapers will put part of a story online – and then, when you agree to pay, bring you the rest of the story. Seems to me that this is a classic case of supply and demand. I, personally, if I go out for a meal by myself like to look at a newspaper. However, I am in the minority. Today the Smartphone is placed alongside the knife and fork.
Just after I sent my January column off for distribution the FCC announced they had granted a construction permit to Akal Media for KZIZ to move from their present site in Pacific to the former 1210 Night Site on the east side of Auburn. The new operation will be non-directional days with 3,000 Watts and 430 watts at night directional. The new operation will be using the former 1210 night towers that are still in place. Whereas I live only a couple of miles from this location, I drive by periodically. Thus far…no sign of activity. I’ve not heard who will be building the new facility. Not many, non-retired, folks these days have those skills. Can’t think of a class being taught on how to construct a directional antenna AM Radio transmitter site. Even if one were to be offered there would likely be little interest.
Here’s a beautiful picture taken by the AccelNet Tower Camera at Cougar Mountain looking at downtown Seattle late in the day:
The FCC recently revoked three licenses for FM’s associated with a William Zawila for making what the Commish calls ‘misrepresentations’ and ‘showing lack of candor’ (perhaps you and I would use different terms?), among them Transferring control of a station, without their approval and violating their rules. The stations were in California in various markets. The FCC’s first decision, back in August of 2017 was appealed and Zawila’s appeal was rejected by an administrative law judge. It remains to be seen whether Zawila will continue to fight the decision.
Also on the legal front, the DOJ (Department of Justice) has expressed concerns regarding iHeart Media and SiriusXM merging. Perhaps it should be viewed as Liberty Media buying iHeart? The reason – It would merge the biggest radio station owner with the only satellite radio provider. The size matters, however, it also attracts a lot of negative attention in the process.
And…to show the Commish employs humans, the FCC recently announced that they were going to cancel forfeitures imposed on several stations after discovering that it was all a mistake. What was not disclosed was whether or not the stations lawyers aided in the process.
Perhaps good news, there have been some sun-spots suggesting that the sun will indeed continue to cycle. There was a lot of concern expressed that, should the sun remain quiet that it would impact our weather, perhaps, reversing climate change warming. Currently the experts are saying the solar activity will bottom-out this coming April with the next peak, plus or minus a few months of July 2025. Of course, like a lot of things, there are experts that don’t agree. For more info read this: https://www.swpc.noaa.gov/news/solar-cycle-25-forecast-update.
Here’s a relatively new term for your vocabulary – LINEAR TV.
So what’s that you ask? Linear TV is a real-time television service that broadcasts scheduled programs, conventionally over the air or through satellite/ cable, not streamed to a specific user. Nearly all broadcast television services count as linear TV. The model of traditional linear television programming is for a schedule of shows to be selected by the broadcaster and then viewed in real-time, for example, if you watch a live 11 p.m. newscast on a local channel, you are likely watching Linear TV.
There is also On-Demand TV. This is the term used to describe watching that newscast at a later time or delayed by some process. This is now termed non-linear TV.
Now you can dazzle your friends with a new term.
Wonder if this will catch on. Remember when TV shows would start with the announcer saying –
‘Live from______________it’s the ______________Show’? Then for a while, they would tell you that the program was ‘recorded from a previous broadcast’ etc. Not so sure if content providers will be quick to use this one.
Everyone using a computer or smartphone these days has run into a situation where ‘Spell-Check’ appears to stubbornly determine to spell something the way ‘it’ wants and not what you want. There are times that it refuses to let you use a word that you need to adequately convey what you wish. This happens, a lot, when you are using technical terms that ‘spell-check’ considers that something is misspelled. Then there are times spell-check will come up with its version of something that needs to be stated. It overrides the author’s intent and it gets sent out for all to see just how stupid you must be. The February issue of Consumer Reports magazine, in its ‘Selling It’ page has a couple of great examples:
The ad was supposed to read – Free WiFi Extender – but ended up as ‘FREE WIFE EXTENDER’. In another case a restaurant overlooked the text that read ‘Chocolate Mouse Brownie’.
Perhaps you have had a similar, and hopefully humorous, outcome. If so, send me an email so we can share the laughs.
We recently had something take place along the Washington Coast. On January 21st, the National Weather Service in Seattle issued four Tornado Warnings for Grays Harbor County on the central coast. As it turned out, thankfully, there were no reports of damage, however, it did serve as a great wake-up call for many broadcasters and emergency managers. For instance, the Warning (in EAS Lingo a TOR) was not broadcast on the Seattle NWS Radio (162.550) but on all the NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) transmitters serving the coast from Astoria to Forks including the Capital Peak transmitter on 162.475 near Olympia. The fact that many Seattle-area based broadcasters only monitor the Seattle NWR station, and not the one on Capital Peak, many of those stations did not get the warning until it was picked up by other news services.
My recommendation for all those broadcasters that have listeners and/ or viewers in areas outside of the service area of the Seattle Weather transmitter on 162.550 should install a second/ additional receiver tuned to the Capital Peak NWR station on 162.475. This is particularly important if your station has translators or a significant signal into coastal areas where those listeners/ viewer’s only connection to these warnings is via your station. The Capital Peak transmitter should be easily received in the Seattle area.
Another lesson learned here. Not all broadcasters have their EAS Equipment programmed so that it will automatically forward a potentially life-saving message, like a Tornado Warning. This is clearly a situation where minutes count, where delay could mean lives lost. I fully understand that many broadcasters are afraid of airing EAS Messages out of fear that their listeners and/ or Viewers will be tempted to change channels to avoid the message. I submit that in the case of a Tornado Warning, every Broadcaster and Cable system should be on the same page so that would not be an issue. The more broadcasters that air a short-fused warning, like a Tornado Warning, increases the odds that those in harm’s way will get the warning in a timely manner.
The other factor involved here is the fact that disasters are not always timed to coincide with station staffing levels that would permit a warning to be manually put on the air without delay. Today a large percentage of stations (Radio and TV) are un-manned for long hours at a time. Having your EAS equipment programmed to automatically forward a TOR is the right thing to do. Our common goal should be to get these messages to our citizens as fast as possible.
While I have the floor, there are a couple of other EAS ‘Event Codes’ that all stations (and Cable Systems) should have programmed to automatically forward (in addition to the TOR). These are EAS event codes that are NOT going to be used – unless – there is a REAL emergency.
CEM – This is a CIVIL EMERGENCY Message, a warning that something extremely serious is taking place that EVERY citizen should be aware of – immediately. Examples: Riots, Sniper and mass shootings, events involving law enforcement etc.
EVI – This is an EVACUATION IMMEDIATELY message. It simply means ‘time to get out of there’. The message will provide, quick/ short information as to what do so. Examples: Landslides, Fires, Flash Floods…anything that would warrant a warning to get out of harms way – QUICKLY.
And finally –
SPW – This is a SHELTER IN PLACE Message. It means to close our doors and windows and turn off anything that would bring outside air – in. Examples: A Hazardous Material event in your area where going outside could mean exposure to something harmful. There could also be uses of this warning by Law Enforcement.
My wish that this event in Gray Harbor County will serve as a wake-up call for all Broadcast Stations and Cable Systems to review just how they handle EAS Messages. A lesson identified, a lesson learned and a lesson addressed.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me and/ or your state or local Emergency Management office.
I love alternative terms. A great oldie is a Janitor or Street Sweeper being referred to as a Sanitary Engineer. I recently came across a new alternative for someone that works in accounting aka book-keeper. We’ve all heard the term ‘Bean Counter’ right? Are you ready for ‘LEGUME ENUMERATOR’?? Let me know how that one works.
Perhaps you have seen me write about how the ‘smart speaker’ is becoming the new, inside the home or kitchen Radio? New data released confirms my contention. According to the report, time spent listening to AM or FM radio on Smart Speakers rose to 24% in 2019 from 18% the previous year. One very positive effect of Smart Speaker listening is that it puts AM and FM Radio stations on an equal footing. These speakers are not truly radios in that they are not picking up over the air signals, but rather, they are connecting to the Internet Streams from the station.
As most of you know, I work for Northwest Public Broadcasting which originates at Washington State University in Pullman. My work, with few exceptions, involves only NWPB facilities in Western Washington. Other members of the technical crew are based in Wenatchee, Tri-Cities and, of course, in Pullman.
Here is a picture of the KRFA site was taken in early January by Jason Royals. KRFA is operated by WSU’s NW Public Broadcasting. The Station operates on 91.7 with 28 Kw ERP and covers a large portion of the SE Corner of Washington State from this site on Paradise Ridge. Their antenna is the 4-bay structure in the middle of the tower on the left side. Due to winter conditions, Jason had to snow-shoe his way in. Also on the tower is KUID-TV as well as a number of other services.
In the event you are wondering — no, the tower is not bent or leaning.
That’s about it for this month, my friends – Lord willing, I will be back, next month to most of the same locations next month at this time.
Until then –
Clay, K7CR, CPBE
SBE Member #714 since February 5th, 1968