Providing news and views from a broadcast engineer’s perspective since September 1986

There are times that I sit down to write this column and have little to write about…This month is not one of those!     I almost don’t know where to begin.

Probably the biggest news was the tragic helicopter accident at Fisher Plaza that took the lives of the pilot and a KOMO-TV news photographer.     I’m not going to try and tell the story again, as you have all seen the pictures and read what happened.   Some things do come to mind however that I’d like to share.    1) Preliminary findings appear to show something wrong with the tail-rotor system as the chopper spun around and, according to some witnesses, made strange noises.  2) I keep thinking if they had been at ground level, and not on top and edge of a building, perhaps they would have survived?  3) Granted there are other stations that fly off their roofs, in addition to a number of flights to and from Harborview Hospital, however I can’t help but think that there will be calls to review the regulations that permit this.  4) I was very pleased to see how the other stations pulled together to carry this story as if it were their own crew that was involved.   A lot of class was shown!

The other big story of this past month is the Oso landslide.   Another tragic event that is still un-folding as I write this column.    This too has brought together a lot of people from a large number of agencies as they deal with the aftermath of this event.   Many have ranked this event up there with Mt St Helens and other natural disasters.    I have to hand it to Sno-County, they have their hands full, but from what I see, they have some very talented folks in Emergency Management.     Just like the other major events of this past month, those stations with news operations jumped in with significant coverage on both radio and TV.   It was heart-warming to see some of our major stations and groups work on fund-raising etc.    I did note in several of the press conferences officials were thanking the media.

I was talking with Ted Buehner  (Seattle WFO WCM) recently about this and noted that this event is very much like a tornado in terms of response.  Fortunately we don’t have big tornado disasters, and the flat-lands don’t have huge landslides, however there are some parallels.   Unlike tornados where the NWS  issues a Tornado Warning , or TOR in EAS lingo,  there was no warning that the mountain was about to come down.   The NWS however did note that the river level below the slide suddenly dropped telling them that a slide had occurred.  From this data an EVI or Evacuate Immediate EAS Message was issued.  Thanks to our area not having a lot of disasters,  we don’t put the EAS to use very often for something other than Amber or an abducted child. Unfortunately,  there are some broadcasters that likely did not run the message for reasons that only they understand.    There are those that feel the main purpose of EAS is to ‘run-tests’.  However the main purpose is to Save Lives ! .  With that in mind, here are some recommendations –

1 – Make sure that your station (or cable system) has it’s EAS equipment programmed to automatically forward urgent/lifesaving messages (There are a list of these Event Codes in the State EAS Plan)

2-  Do not permit your station to ‘sit-on’ or otherwise delay the forwarding of these messages, time is critical.

3- Don’t wait for someone on your stations staff to ‘voice’ the message to make it sound better or ‘more broadcast like’ – Again time is critical…it’s the message that’s vital – not how it sounds.

4 – Remember that potential victims may well be watching your TV or listening to your Radio station.  The goal of the EAS is to broadcast these messages – BY ALL AVAILABLE MEANS.   This means everyone runs the same message at the same time.   

5- Should a lifesaving message not reach someone that is injured (or worse) because you did not follow these guidelines…..How can you justify your position?

6- There will be more disasters, this is guaranteed – Please do your part.

7- Granted the FCC expects you to participate in the EAS, however you should be eager to do so not just to be compliant with their rules, but because it’s the moral thing to do.

A closely related topic is what are you, or your station, going to do after our predicted mega-quake?  I have written about this matter in this column several times and my concerns remain the same.   In general, I feel that the too many stations under-estimate just how bad this will be and how long it will take for stations to get back on the air and have failed to plan accordingly.   Just like the Oso Slide – Earthquakes have no advance warning…As they say in the Emergency Management world, they are self-announcing.     The Seattle times ran a great story on how long  disruptions caused by this big quake would last on March 9th.  If you did not read this – I highly recommend you do so…and use this as a basis for a serious conversation with station management.    Here are some example categories from that story of how long it will be before normal conditions are restored.

Ø      WATER SUPPLIES – 1 month to 1 year – (What is your staff going to drink?)

Ø      SEWAGE TREATMENT – 1 month to 3 years

Ø      ELECTRICITY – One to three months (How many stations have made concrete plans for running their generators for 3 months?   Or have multiple sources of fuel when everyone is trying to get it too?)

Ø      PETROLEUM DISTRIBUTION – 1 to 3 months – (What are you going to do to fuel that generator when your normal supplier tells you they can’t get it? ….You’ve planned for that, right?)

Ø      TELEPHONE AND INTERNET – 1 to 3 months – (How are you going to communicate with  your staff?  Remember that 2-way radio system that was junked in favor of cellular?)

Ø      FREEWAYS – I-5,I-90, I-405 – 1 to 3 years – (How are you going to get around?  How is your staff going to get to work?)

I recently read a local broadcast stations emergency plan and It a couple of things were clear –

Ø      The writer wrote this for something other than a mega quake

Ø      They assumed that Engineering would be able to fix anything.

Ø      The writer has a serious denial problem, or simply does not grasp what they must be prepared for.

Are you, and/or your station ready ?  

One of the biggest news stories of this past month was the missing Malaysian airliner.   This story captured a huge segment of every news cast and the lion’s share of CNN’s programming.    Technology has been a huge part of this story with lots of references to Boeing.  After all that airplane was built right here in Everett.   In the end, it appears to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean.   The reasons why this happened will take perhaps a long time to sort out.   

Now, as they used to say on the air …. In other news –

NAB is just about upon us in Las Vegas.  After missing the last couple of years, I will be attending this year.   I’m involved with, as you might suspect, some EAS Related activities.         If you are an SBE Member – Be sure and attend the annual Membership Meeting in Las Vegas, certain a lot of celebrating will take place with SBE turning 50 this year. Perhaps I will see you there?

From the category of only the Navy would do it — They are replacing their Prowlers with Growlers !

One area where prices have come down is video cameras….Unless the camera you are talking about went to the moon.   It’s been recently reported that a camera used on a moon landing recently fetched over ¾ megabucks.     Wonder why they brought it back?

More statistics for our region…..This time a ranking of metropolitan areas in terms of economic confidence.   Washington DC and San Jose are at the top of this list with the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area coming in in 4th place.  Pretty cool huh?

Another recent survey looked at the best places to retire in the U.S.   Coming in at #3 was Bellingham.  On the down side they cited the fact that the cost of living is 9% above the national average.  In #4 was Boise,  Idaho.

Dwight Small at Entercom wants us all to know that the word Engineer comes from a Latin word meaning ‘cleverness’.    Having a little fun with this finding…How about the Society of Broadcast Cleverness.    SBE would thereby become SBC and IEEE would be IEEC etc.   Oh well enough of that.

Not exactly the Seattle market, however, our neighbor to the North, Vancouver is about to see new owners of a cluster of stations there with the CRTC approval of 3 stations there to Newcap Radio.  Newcap already owns 90 radio stations in Canada.

Will not impact the Seattle Market , however another merger has been announced – Lin and Media General will create the 2nd biggest TV group with 74 stations in 46 markets.

In the category of you learn something new every-day …The April issue of QST has a great article about how radio amateurs were relaying messages back the beginning of radio communications .  Yes, this was prior to radio and TV, we are talking 1916 and 1917.  I always knew the Vacuum Tubes were called Valves elsewhere in the world, however I had never heard the term ‘Thermionic Valve’.     This brings up the idea of using new, or different,  terms, especially when communicating with technophobes –  Stop using the term Vacuum Tube or Tube – And start calling the devices Thermionic Valves…and while you are at it …Stop using the work ‘Antenna’ and start using the world ‘Aerial’.   And, while I’m at it…Eliminate the word ‘equipment’ from your vocabulary when ‘Apparatus’  has a much nicer ring to it.

I have been writing about how I feel our educational system is in serious need of an overhaul, especially in the area of STEM instruction.     Here is something to ponder…A new study out of Stanford found that students that studied under strong language arts teachers scored higher in mathematics.  They did not have a great explanation for the findings other than to conclude that you must read and write to do math.    Hmmmm

Another big story this past month is that the folks that purchase the broadcast division from Harris will be dropping the Harris name and be bringing back the name Gates….well, sort of .    The new Name is GatesAir.    This brought a number of comments to the minds of many.    Most agreed it sounded much like an airline.   They have split the company into two groups the other being called Imagine Communications.    It will be interested to see how this looks at NAB this year.


You mention the words Pigeon Point to anyone in the radio biz in Seattle and they will immediately know what you are talking about…That tower in West Seattle that is presently being diplexed by 1050 and 1250 AM.     When I first encountered this site was back in the middle 60’s when I worked at KTW.  Pigeon Point was then the home of KTW AM and FM  as well as the 1590 Day-Site.    The big news is that the site is now owned by American Tower.   Perhaps making this the first AM site owned by ATC in this area?

Copper thieves struck a broadcast station in Longview where they saw the tower of KLOG, which sits just West of I-5 south to town as a source of the metal.   According to Doug Fisher, local broadcast engineer, the stations antenna is a folded unipole with its ground radials attached at the top of the tower pier. (Made they easier to see)   The thieves cut the strap away that was grounding the tower and some of the radials but then apparently touched something that was RF hot causing them to drop their tools and high-tail it away from the site.   Guess not too many drivers on the freeway are looking for copper thieves at 3 AM.    Fortunately, for them, the station is relatively low power (1kw) and not 50 Kw as the result could have been different.     As I keep preaching – It’s just a matter of time before copper thieves discover your radio or TV station.    I again ask what are you doing about security.  One technique that appears to be somewhat successful is to apply a liberal coating of asphaltic roofing product to every copper surface.  Not only will it hide the copper color they are looking for but will diminish the value should they elect to take the parts anyway.   One of on-line the discussions was joined by Kent Randles of Entercom in Portland.  In response to the suggestion that a fence with razor wire would be helpful, he responded that the bad guys simply cover the razor wire with a sleeping bag and climb over the fence…then use another sleeping bag around the tower feed (to keep from being zapped) and flex it until it breaks….(They likely understand that at some point the transmitter will shut down and then they are free to haul away their treasure).    Look at what is taking place with street light wiring being stolen – Meanwhile it keeps on….Even as copper prices have reach a four year low.

Hopefully this summer’s SBE Picnic will again be held at the KOMO AM Transmitter site on Vashon, I’ve not heard whether the sale of the station will have an impact on this annual event.   One thing has changed however, the name of the island is now better known as ‘Weed Island’ .  Apparently based on the amount of support voters there gave the initiative to change the Pot laws in our state.

Will Seattle get Googles 1-Gigabit internet fiber service?    Kansas City is one of the cities chosen for this new service.   Apparently for 70 bucks a month you get the super high-speed internet and for $120 you can get 161 TV Channels.     I can just see the battle for the consumer between Google and Comcast.   Meanwhile stories of TV viewers cutting the cord (quitting cable) are in the news frequently.   Interestingly the US is ranked 31st in terms of Internet speed in the world.   We are behind nations like Estonia, Hungary, Slovakia etc.  

I recently wrote about Aereo – Well the opposition of TV stations, networks and others have been successful in the courts with Aereo shutting down in Denver and Salt Lake.   This issue will likely be decided in the Supreme Court.

Once again WTOP – Radio- in WDC is the top billing radio station in the country with $63.5 million, KISS in L.A came in second with 61.6 and WHTZ in NTC was 3rd with 51 Megabucks.   Bet there are many TV stations that would be happy with these figures.

Congratulations to Gray Haertig and Bud Aiello on receiving the Association of Public Radio Engineers award for 2014.   They will receive their awards at the APRE/PREC awards ceremony which precedes the NAB Convention in Las Vegas.   I recall working with Bud during the early days of the West Tiger project where he was the DOE of the firm that then owned KMPS/94.1.   Gray is a legendary engineer making his home in Portland.   That home being the alternating location of the PDX engineers summer gathering.   Gray too has had a hand in things at West Tiger.

From the ‘It must be a broadcast station….but wait dept.’ comes this item –

Actually KAMG is a management company who has an office on 100th street in Lakewood, not far from the KVTI studios on the campus of Clover Park Technical College.     Looking, on-line, for KAMG I found that it is also a radio station (KAMG-LP) a low-power FM in Enid Oklahoma in addition to a number of other things.   

 On the topic of  LPFM….The FCC is kicking out authorizations for them in our area.  Here are some of them – (with thanks to Gord Lansdell)

Ø      Centralia – 106.7 MHz – 100 watts @ 19.6m

Ø      Bremerton – 95.3 – 8 watts @ 107m

Ø      Vashon (Weed)  Island – 101.9 – 6.6 watts @112.3m

Ø      Tulalip (Marysville) – 96.9 – 5.4 watts @125.7m

Ø      Brinnon – 101.1 – 21 watts @46.5m

 KLMY in Long Beach has been granted a power increase from 15 to 25 kW.  The station operates on 99.7 or first adjacent to KISW in Seattle.

 The FCC has once again underscored their authority in the area of EAS with a record setting $1.9 Mega-buck fine for using EAS Tones in an ad for the movie ‘Olympus Has Fallen’.    As the old expression goes…Perhaps that will get their attention.   Apparently not all are paying attention as a spot for a barbecue charcoal was released shortly afterward with….Yup, EAS Tones.   Think this one got pulled rather quickly.   

Unfortunately there are a lot of people that still have not grasp the fact that the FCC really wants their EAS rules followed.  Check out what the FCC has been issuing fines for and you will quickly learn that the Public File and EAS are the two ‘lightning rods’ for FCC Fines.    I recently heard from a station (no names or call letters will be used) that had not been receiving a weekly test from another station they are assigned to monitor.   There are a couple of lessons to impart here –  (Caution – I am not a representative of the FCC nor am I an attorney.  The advice given here should be verified)


Ø      Everyone is assigned two stations to Monitor by the SECC

Ø      You are to monitor those stations (you can monitor more if you wish).

Ø      You cannot change those two sources on your own, this requires SECC Approval

Ø      Yes, the FCC gives the SECC that authority.

Ø      Your log is to show the reception of an RWT from both of those sources each week (Unless that week also contains an RMT or an actual use of the EAS as was the case with the Oso slide)

Ø      If you fail to receive two RWT’s you are to log that fact and are also to log WHY you did not receive the test.

Ø      Generally the procedure would be to contact others that are monitoring the same source to find out if they are receiving the tests (This information is contained in the Washington State EAS Plan Tab 10 for your Operation Area)

Ø      If you find that others are not receiving these tests as well, it’s time to contact that source to see if they are indeed sending them.   Sending an email to that source and not receiving a response is not going to get you off the hook…You have to actually make the effort to find out why they are not sending RWT’s….Even if this means making a phone call.

Ø      In the end, you need to log the results of your research that will provide the reasons WHY you are not receiving the RWT’s.


Ø      Your station MUST transmit an RWT each week (at random times in accordance with FCC Rules)

Ø      Again ‘real’ use of the EAS can be substituted here

Ø      If you find that your station has not been transmitting these tests, you need to find out why and log the results of that investigation.


Ø      All stations should be checking the operation of their EAS Equipment, at least weekly, to avoid having a problem be repeated.   Personally, I check these units I am responsible for, no later than each Tuesday.

Ø      If your station sends the RWT’s Manually, and you find that you have an operator or personnel problem causing you to have an FCC EAS Rule compliance issue….Seriously consider having your

EAS Encoder perform this task for you.   You will likely annoy someone on your staff, however, it sure beats having the FCC issue an NOV or perhaps an NAL.

Ø      If you have any questions about EAS and what’s legal and what’s not –

1-      Check the FCC’s EAS Rules (Part 11) They are pretty easy to understand

2-      Get an opinion from your stations legal department or FCC Attorney

3-      Post your questions on the Washington State EAS Remailer.

 Finally – What is the world is all this babble about Hash-Tag?     Suddenly I am hearing and seeing references to Hash-Tag all over the place.    I had to look it up and found that they are referencing the # or upper-case 3 symbol.    This is also used for the lower right corner button on telephone DTMF Encoders (Key pads for some).   Many call this the ‘pound sign’ or perhaps the ‘tic-tac-toe’ gizmo.

As one of the charter members of the Octothorpe  Society I wish to officially object !   This is yet another example of degradation in our society that has given us a generation of people that can’t spell or write and whose thumbs are suffering from repetitive motion damage due to texting and are prone to inventing their own names for things.   Further,  I would like to voice my public condemnation of Microsoft for their refusal to accept the spelling of Octothorpe to the point of not even offering an alternative spelling in their famous Word document preparation software.

What is the world coming to?  Ma Bell, rest her soul, must be turning over in her grave.

 Well that’s it for this month –  Think Summer !!!! ….Well it might help.

 Clay Freinwald, K7CR, CPBE