By Clay Freinwald SBE Seattle Chapter 16 Featuring News, Rumors and Views From Usually Reliable and Irrefutable Sources

Season’s Greetings to everyone! The elections have past, Christmas and a new year are on the way….

It’s that time of year that KING-5 lights up their tower on Queen Ann Hill- For years these lights have been put up by one of our local tower-guys, Joe Harrington.   Here, thanks to KING-TV, is a story about that annual job.

Since we last met, the East Coast endured horrific hurricane Sandy and this got me to thinking about the day that we here in the Puget Sound area will experience our major disaster.  For those of you reading this in other markets, especially those that are nowhere near shorelines, you don’t have to work about that factor, however, as many have come to learn, no one is immune from earthquakes, it’s just that those of us on the ‘left-coast’ statistically get more of them, and ‘historically’ we’ve had huge ones in the geologic past.

We won’t likely have a hurricane; however we can have some pretty good storms, ala, Oct 12, 1962. Our ‘Sandy’ will likely be in the form of a giant earthquake that will do just as much, if not more, damage as did that other coast event.  The big difference is hurricanes are preceded with a ton of warnings, to the point that I still wonder why more did not evacuate.   Quakes are a different animal in that there is no media hype, no forecasts, not time to prepare or evacuate ….It just happens.   Perhaps the good news is that it does not last as long…Even huge quakes are over within a couple of minutes with some aftershocks.

Just  like the area that Sandy struck… we have many that don’t believe it will happen…Perhaps because they have never seen it take place, and don’t prepare for the day it does.   Weather forecasters have for years been foretelling the day when a big storm hits the Big Apple, in fact there have been TV programs about it.   Out here Geologists have been telling us, for years, that a big-one will hit this area…..Adding, it’s just a matter of time.  Sadly, here too, few believe it.    Frankly, the primary goal of much of our industry is to make money, for those of that mindset, think about ‘business restoration’.

When we have the long forecasted ‘Big One’ the citizens of this area are going to be in a panic with proportions we have never experienced.   Think what will happen in your own house when you suddenly find your world is upside down- You have not lights, no heat, no Cable TV, no telephone, no computer and no Internet….and perhaps no cell service and that ends when your battery runs down…and the batteries for your radio have run down because you put it somewhere because you have that new tablet etc….and, of course, you don’t have a wind up radio…Perhaps no one in your house even things about radio anymore?

Just like Sandy, a major quake in this area will cause – Perhaps Tsunami’s, Power and other utility outages, severed roads and bridges and the failure of several of our major radio and TV stations….additionally we should expect that restoration could well be a long process.

Information will be in very short supply.   The role of broadcasting will be to provide information to the public.   Government officials will be, if possible, using the facilities of the EAS to reach as many stations with the ‘official word’ as possible and it will be up to ALL stations to rebroadcast that information.    Initially most stations may well be off the air…slowly more stations, most of them radio, will come back on and, hopefully, they will become the information lifelines for everyone augmenting the EAS with additional information.

Sandy again proved a couple of things –

One – The concept of point to multipoint distribution is still the best.   Broadcasting beats, hands-down, the newer modes of communication that rely on a specific connection between the source of the information and the recipient.

Two – AM and FM Radio continue to be the  best system for disasters for the simple reason we have a number of radio stations providing redundancy and a huge number of radios in the hands of citizens, many of which are battery powered or installed in vehicles.   Sandy proved this with some saying that nearly 24 million people were listening to radio during the height of that storm.   As ‘The Donald’ would say ….’That’s uge”

In a disaster, unless you have a lot of luck and your stations plant comes through the event with none or only minor damage, one of your greatest assets is redundancy. A major quake will certainly take its toll on TV as well as Radio station facilities… Just scratching the surface, here are some things you might wish to consider –


Power outages

Broadcasting takes power – without it, we have a collection of non-functioning equipment.

Ø      How many stations don’t have generators at their studios and transmitter facilities?   Those that don’t are, in a post-quake world, not likely to be able to get one off the shelf.

Ø      How many stations that do have generators are designed for long term use? They found out with Sandy, the power could be out for weeks.

Ø      What is the run time of your stations generator (without re-fueling)?   Are you ready for a 2 week outage?    Many facilities in Seattle have big generators and tiny tanks.

Ø      What guarantee do you have that you will be able to get your tank re-filled, perhaps multiple times?   That notion that you can send someone to the local gas station for fuel might be a bit short-sighted if their power is out and they can’t pump it for you.

Ø      Even if you find a place that has fuel, they might not be able to get their trucks to your tank…What then?   Do you have redundant suppliers?

Ø      With fuel (Gasoline or Diesel) in short supply, how are you going to be sure that you can get fuel and that it won’t end up going to someone else.

Ø      Does your station have an agreement with local governments to assure that your needed fuel won’t be diverted to emergency vehicles etc?

Ø      You might have a generator powered by natural gas.   In windstorms, they are great, in quakes – that’s another story as the location of the gas lines, underground, is subject to major failures.

As we get deeper into the post-quake period are we going to slowly see a reduction in the number of stations that are off the air?   My guess is the answer is yes.


Communication Outages

As we found out during the Nisqually Quake a few years ago, telephones were useless.   Dial-tone was extremely scarce and even if you heard it – no guarantee you could get a call through.    Cellular was just as useless.     The Internet may or may or may not be there. All of these systems may slowly go down as their generators run out of fuel etc.   Cable TV is not likely to be functioning etc.

Ø      How are you going reach staff members, or news sources if the phones don’t work?

Ø      The only thing that might work would be old-fashion 2-way or Ham Radio – Are you ready?



Typically studios are not built as rugged as transmitter sites due to their nature.   Many are in leased facilities that were not designed to survive a major disaster or quake.

Ø      One gas main rupture (typical event in a major quake) or structural failure will cause the authorities to wrap your studio facilities in caution tape resulting in evacuation and no entry…What then?    How do you broadcast without a studio?

Ø      Let’s suppose your studios survive, you may find that your staff is limited and they end up living at the place – How are you going to handle needs like food, water, sanitation, sleeping etc.?


Transmitter Site Fall Back

How many stations can get on the air from their transmitter site, or are now co-located?   In the good old days, this was common at many radio and some TV Stations.    However, these days, it’s rare.     Let’s assume your transmitter survived…

Ø      What – in place – procedure do you have that will enable you to broadcast from there?

Ø      What about sources of programming?

Ø      What about staff support issues?

Ø      Do your people even know how to get there, or get in and know what to do?



A huge quake will cause many staff members to have to make quick priority decisions…

Ø      Do they try and get home to take care of their family or stay and try and keep you on the air?



Ø      How many stations have taken the time to do a cost/benefit study to determine just what is needed to stay on the air during a disaster and made decisions based on that work?

Ø      How many stations have just rolled the dice and selected ‘gamble’ as their best answer?


Advance Planning

In general – Stations must – Work, plan, train and budget to stay on the air.

Ø      How many stations actually have a good, solid, emergency plan?

Ø      How many stations have written their own plan without having someone from the outside, schooled in these matters, to evaluate it?

Ø      How often are staff members trained in emergency procedures?   (it’s just like CPR, training must be on-going)

Ø      Does your stations emergency provide sufficient instructions that a semi-technical person could figure out how to keep you on the air if an Engineer is not on site to do the job?

Ø      How many stations will actually allocate funds to address those ‘weakest links’ to stay on the air?


Dependency on Engineers

Most radio and TV stations can operate today for some time without the need for engineering support, however…When disaster strikes – Engineers are going to be called upon to restore the operation of every device that everyone determines is important to their job.

Ø      In short, engineers will be overwhelmed, to say the least.

Ø      Who is going to run interference for them?

Ø      For radio, that uses contract engineers, i.e., no technical person on the premises when the need is the greatest –What are they to do?

Ø      Small and Large stations can be brought to their knees (be off the air) without instant access to Engineers that know how to make it well again.   I fear that a number of stations will not be able to get back on the air due to the lack of on-premise technical personnel.


News and Information Sources

During most disasters, stations who survive elect to provide news and information for the citizens within their coverage area.    Back when I started in this business (yes 50 years ago)

Most stations had a news department.  Today, very few do.    The mode today is for stations that do not to begin re-broadcasting those stations that do.    This brings up some questions –

Ø      Does your station have, in place, re-broadcasting agreements?

Ø      Does your station have the equipment necessary to allow this to take place?

In summary – I have a lot of apprehension about the survivability of broadcast stations in this area….Hopefully I’m wrong.    If I have stirred some thought processes and have, perhaps, caused some to think about these issues a bit more, I’m pleased.


Shifting gears to what’s new –

HD Radio continues to find greater acceptance.  Ibiquity, the outfit behind the system, recently announced that folks are buying more and more HD Radios, in fact, in the last two quarters saw that number go up 2 million.   They report there are now over 10 million HD Radios out there.

Again, here locally, money is actually being spent to upgrade facilities (CBS)  One of the folks I work for just launched a process that could well increase their HD power level from -20 to -14 dbc.  (In layman’s lingo, a pretty sizable increase)

I often write about the on-going problem of copper theft, often involving broadcast stations.   Some forward progress in Ohio where a couple of no-goods have been indicted by a federal grand jury growing out of charges they damaged a 4-tower directional AM station as part of a copper theft.    We need a lot more of this.

Back to the hurricane a moment – – Apparently the Feds are now thinking about using balloons and drones as platforms for emergency responder communications after hurricanes.  Look for the FCC to actually do something official along these lines in the spring.

Sad to report on the recent passing of legendary engineer Jules Cohen.    What I did not know was that Jules attended Garfield H.S. in Seattle.  Jules was in his 90’s when he passed.  His memorial was on November 23rd in Va.

Supposed you heard about the bit – ooops – aboard the Ferry Walla Walla?   Apparently someone working on the boat failed to lock out something resulting in a big pile of melted copper and a fried propulsion motor.    This critter is not exactly something you find at Grainger.   Understand they are going to remove it and ship it to the maker, GE, in L.A. where they will determine if it can be re-built, if not, the price really goes up to reportedly 1.7 million.   The poor Washington State Ferry System seems to be having nothing but bad luck.

After making a switch from progressive talk to sports in Portland, CBS is rumored to be doing the same thing with their 1090 AM In Seattle.   Helping fuel that rumor is a change of call letters to KFNQ.   Like a lot of sports formatted radio stations, I assume the FN in the call letters is somehow related to the new format, perhaps ‘The-Fan’?   Then again it might be called – K-Funk. – This will mean that Seattle will have 3 sport-talk stations on the AM Dial.

I still find it amazing that a progressive talk station can’t be successful in this market this is extremely blue in political composition….All the while we have two conservative talkers on the AM band.      Because I fail to understand it proves that I am in engineering.

From the – Now you Know Department – Repeatedly hitting something until you get it to work is actually called “PERCUSSIVE MAINTENANCE’

A recent issue of Radio Magazine featured Clear Channels facility in Seattle. In the most recent issue of same, on the back cover, an ad by Wheatstone showing a nice picture of our Downtown area.    Nice when a local broadcast operation is shown to others across the country and when Seattle is showed without it raining.

On the top of Rain – WHEW!    If you think it’s been wet, you are very right.  According to the Nov 25th Paper – our total precip. for 2012 is pushing 40 inches and that’s a full 9 inches over average and includes 6.71 inches in November.  For my readers in other areas, no….It does not rain all the time in Seattle, but it sure has rained a lot lately.

How about that new – huge – display for Safeco?  201.5 by 56.7 feet according piece in the Seattle Times.  The new 1080P display is going to be one of the biggest video scoreboards anywhere. ….And what’s really cool, is that having a Chapter Meeting at Safeco with a tour of the place is in the works.   Stay tumed.

From the department of things you find at transmitter sites –

In mid-November I pulled the cover off a power panel on Butler Hill near Burlington and out crawled some very sleepy yellow jackets.   They must have found their way in somehow and decided to ‘winter’ there.   I was very nice and gently replaced the panel cover, I assume they went back to sleep.

Meanwhile over on South Mountain, Doug Fisher was dispatched to find out why one of the transmitters, a Continental 816, went off the air.   He found that the rig had a blown plate-breaker, so he reset it and proceeded to start up the transmitter when he heard a very strange noise coming from inside….Then he smelled something terrible!.    Time to pull the covers and see what was causing the trouble.    What he found was a very dead rat lying across one of the high-voltage rectifier stacks.  How he got into the transmitter is a mystery.  You don’t expect these critters on mountain tops in the Olympics.

Tom McGinley sent me a story about how a TV station went off the air in Southern Colorado due to a skunk.   In this case, a skunk got into the transmitter on Cheyenne Mountain then made the mistake of spraying the transmitter causing a breaker to trip.   I assume that the skunk did not make it.

Rumors are flying that the new buyer or buyers for the Harris broadcast division will be announced very soon.   Perhaps by the time you read this?   I would assume that they would keep the Harris name…but then again Gates has an interesting ring to it.

With all the talk about what to do to reinvigorate AM radio came the news that at least one auto maker is going to have a new car out without an AM Radio…Obviously there are many that are hoping that this is not the start of a trend.    What to do about AM is a serious matter that is getting the attention of many, including those in WDC.    One idea that sounds interesting is to move those TV stations that stayed on VHF off of channels 5 and 6 thereby creating new spectrum to be used for a new all-digital radio system and move all existing AM stations there.

Such a move would create some nice open spaces on Vashon, and a land-rush on Tiger Mt. Obviously this would take a number of years as there are no radios available for the proposed band and it would take a long time to get receivers into the hands of those that new have AM Radios.   Likely such a plan could play out over 20-30 years before the legacy band operations were turned off.

We don’t have to worry about TV for a while, at least for the Superbowl.   Reportedly the event is already just about sold out with the average spot going for 3.8 megabucks!   On average, Americans spend 34 hours per week in front of the ‘tube’.   Think this medium will be around for a while.   It is worth nothing that a number of TV viewers are also on-line with their computers at the same time the TV is on.


Here’s an item meant to give to your son or daughter to take to school for the science teacher –

If a mirror reverses right and left, why doesn’t it reverse up and down?


The US Census 2010 figures are interesting – here are some numbers to ponder (Those in brackets are 2011 estimates)

Ø      State Total – 6.724,540 (6,830.038)

Ø      King Co – 1.931.249 (1,969,722)

Ø      Seattle – 608, 660 (620.778)

Ø      Bellevue – 122,359 (124,798)

Ø      Kent – 118,564 (120,916)

Ø      Pierce Co – 795.225 (807,904

Ø      Tacoma – 198.397 (200,678)

Ø      Snohomish Co – 712,335 (722,400)

Ø      Everett – 103,019 (104,295)

Ø      Spokane Co – 471.221 (473,761)

Ø      Spokane (City) – 208,916 (210.103)

Ø      Pacific and Garfield Counties lost population

The Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area is still ranked Market #15 with a 2010 Population of 3.439,809 and a 2011 estimate of 3.500,026. The growth rate is 1.75%.    It’s a big jump to market #14, Phoenix with a population of about 4.2 Million.

The following are PNW Cities, market rank, Approx. population, and in brackets, their growth rate –

Portland, #23 , 2.4 million (1.64%)

Boise, #85, 627,000 (1.8%)

Spokane, #108, 473,000 (.54%)

Salem, #131, 394,000 (1.06%)

Eugene, #144, 353,000 (.48%)

Tri-Cities, #176, 264,000 (4.26%)

Olympia #180, 256,000 (1.72%)

Yakima #187,  247,000 (1.61%)

Bellingham, #208, 203,000 (1.25%)

Note the growth rate in Tri-Cities, 4.26%, remarkable considering the average population growth of other areas of our region.  Eugene and Spokane are among the ‘slower-growers’

Normally I don’t talk about the retirement of on-air-types…But it is worth noting that Bryan Johnson has retired from KOMO.   What makes this noteworthy is that he spent 50 years at KOMO.   That, for this business, is some kind of a record.  I’ve been in this business for over 50 years, but I have a number of call letters under my belt.     Congrats Bryan – Well done.

Will it be HD-Radio or DRM for Brazil?   Both systems have been undergoing tests and the results are expected soon.   HD-R is migrating south a bit with Mexico adopting the system, but they share a big border with the U.S.   A lot of folks are watching this one.    Across the pond it appears that HD Radio is not likely to catch on or be adopted.

For years I have used a couple of call letters when giving talks about EAS – KRUD and KRAP.  I chose those for a couple of reasons – 1) No one was using the calls, and 2) They usually brought smiles.    Well whadduknow..KRAP was actually being used, except not legally.  KRAP was, up until recently, a pirate radio station operating on 107.9 with 15 watts in Longview (Just north of Portland) a visit by Binh Nguyen of the FCC Portland Office signaled the end of KRAP.

Sirius XM continues to grow with some 23 + million subscribers now on the books – Where are those that said that Satellite Radio would never fly?


Time to wrap this thing up for this month – So let me leave you with some interesting definitions to ponder and grin about.

Smile – A curve that can set a lot of things straight.

Dictionary – The only place where divorce comes before marriage.

College – A place where some pursue learning and others learn pursuing.

Office – A place where you can relax after your strenuous home-life.

Committee – Individuals who can do nothing individually and sit to decide that nothing can be done together.

Marriage – It’s an agreement in which a man loses his bachelor degree and woman gains her master degree.

Experience – The name men give to their mistakes.

Philosopher – A fool who torments himself during life, to be spoken of when dead.

That’s in for this month – I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Clay, K7CR, CPBE