Clay’s Corner for February 2014

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

There is no bigger news to report this month than the build up to the Superbowl in the Seattle area.   I recall the last time the Hawks played this game – That was nothing compared to this time!   Seeing Seattle bathed in blue and green lights with the number 12 everywhere you look is very impressive.  Also impressive was the playoff game with San Francisco with reportedly 85% of the TV sets in this market tuned to that game.   The Superbowl will likely surpass that percentage.   Guess it would be a bad time for an Amber Alert or other EAS event Huh?    Wonder if the stations carrying the game have engineers at the transmitter sites – just in case?  The Superbowl is likely viewed by local sellers of big-screen TV’s with a big grin.  Statistics show that the Superbowl is one of the major reasons for purchasing a new set.

 Another newzy event has been the winter weather the rest of the country has been having to deal with. I have to admit I did have some private thoughts about the mess in Atlanta with their 2.6 inches of snow. (When did the NWS start measuring snow depth down to the 10th?).   I thought Seattle was bad when it came to putting up with the white stuff!    This is another classic case where the politicians failed to heed the warnings they were provided.    Come to think of it, I can recall a certain Seattle Mayor that did something similar a while back….That experience was recalled by the voters when he ran for re-election.   Again Broadcasters came to the rescue covering not only the warnings before the event, but the effects of it….weather and politically.

 I have some interest in this story as it applies to here in the Seattle area.  I’ve been writing for a long time about the fact that one day we will have our ‘Big-One’ (major quake) and how I feel  broadcast stations are not prepared to deal with the aftermath.    Perhaps some of our local broadcast management types have something in common with the political leaders in Atlanta?    In their case, now that they have experienced what happens when they don’t pay close attention to those that issue warnings, they will be a bit smarter.   Our ‘Big One’ however is going to be substantially more devastating than the 2.6 inches in Atlanta with damage in the Billions and citizens cranking on their wind-up radios looking for answers from those facilities that also did not heed the warnings.  There was a negative aspect of this storm on broadcasting.   Just like the areas road departments are not geared up for snow and ice….

 Broadcast facilities often lack equipment that those of us where this kind of winter weather is common take for granted.    Antennas often do not have heaters or radomes and are not protected by ice-shields from falling chunks of white-matter.    The result, is stations being forced to lower power while their antennas were iced up or, in the case of falling ice, having to deal with the damage it can produce.

 Another disaster on the Left-Coast in the making is all about water.    California is in crisis mode with, in this case, the politicians in listening mode, taking action  due to their lack of rainfall in the low-lands and snowfall in the mountains.    This situation will impact all of us with higher food prices etc.  a UC Berkeley professor was quoted as saying the present dry spell may be the worst since the 1500’s

 This has impacted us here too as the same ‘blocking high’ off the coast has had negative impacts here too.  Our normal winter consisting of a series of rain storms dumping tons of snow in the mountains  has been missing.   I had lunch with Lowell Kiesow of KPLU the other day…He suggested that it was because I put my heavy-lugged snow tires on my truck we have not had any snow at West Tiger adding that perhaps I should put the summer tires back on to see if that helps.    The good Lord must have been listening as we are just now getting back to normal with skiing at Snoqualmie and maybe an inch or two at West Tiger.    A friend of mine works for a large publically owned utility in this area and he told me that they have been told to defer any maintenance that would reduce their water storage capability.   I still recall a few years ago when we had a similar situation and there was water rationing in Seattle.  Officially our snow-pack is at 50% and is being watched carefully.   Another serious aspect of this is the increase in fire danger this summer.

 On the Broadcast side –

 South Mountain now has its 3rd FM station on the air.  KANY is not up and running from the site West of Shelton playing Country Music on 93.7.   I have to admit I think their slogan is cute – They call themselves ‘Big-Foot’.   One of the owners of the station is former KOL Chief Engineer, Bill Wolfenbarger.  South Mountain is much like it’s neighbor to the South, Capital Peak (Home of 102.9 and 88.1)  in that there is no 3-Phase power.    At South Mt two of the stations there (KOMO/97.7 and KDDS/99.3) use rotary phase converters, KANY’s solution is to use a solid state device from Phase Perfect.    For my readers not familiar with these sites, both are offer considerable elevation  and AAT numbers putting all 5 of these stations into the category of being ‘high powered rim-shots’ in to the Seattle metro area.    For example – KDDS is operating with 64 Kw ERP at 742m AAT.

 In recent columns I have written about my concern over lack of STEM training in our schools.   A local weekly newspaper in our area recently ran a survey or readers’ poll.  The question was –

“ Do you believe in global-warming?”.   The response was equally revealing with 56% saying no.

It’s no wonder that we have a problem in our educational institutions getting them to recognize the need for proficiency in science, technology, engineering and math !!   Scientists all over the world are in agreement about climate change – and yet this newspaper reduces the work of scientists to the same category as the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus with their statements of ….’Do you believe in _____”.

 I Received a nice email from Russ Hill RF Manager at the Tribunes TV stations here (KCPQ and KSJO) –

Quoting him –

 Read your piece about finding good transmitter engineers.  I have been tasked to train my eventual replacement and have found it is difficult to find someone with the proper interest in “how things work” and more important “why things fail”.  Natural maintenance guys are attracted to problems and I find I am not satisfied by finding the problem but understanding why.  I have disassembled circuit breakers to find out what caused the failure.

I have been through a couple of guys and have not found one that I would feel would be safe opening up a 35KV  compartment like is used on IOT transmitters. 

Anyway great article as always, keep up the writing.  I guess I will have contract work after I retire in a couple of years.

 Thanks Russ – You are welcome to join me in the ranks of those that should have retired a few years ago but continue to be in demand.    So where are the new people that are supposed to take our places?    One of these days I will retire (or expire) …guess I won’t have to worry about it then.    

 This reminds me of my volunteer work chairing the Washington State EAS Committee.   I keep telling the SECC that it’s time to find a replacement so I can get them trained.    Recently I got something beyond a blank stare when I brought it up.    I was told that when I died they would deal with my replacement.

Perhaps this is the same thinking that others use….Let the disaster happen and then we will deal with it?

 Have you been following the saga of Aereo?    This is going to get really interesting as Chet Kanojia takes on just about every level of provider in the TV industry.   The concept behind Aereo is pretty simple ..and could, if the courts allow, turn upside-down industries like Cable TV.    What’s going on here is that Cable provides their customers with a zillion channels.   If you are like me – you probably confine your viewing to a dozen or so.   Those that have proposed an ala-cart system where the cable subscriber can choose which channels they want and only pay for those has never gotten off the ground.    The fact that the Internet has become a vehicle to get video programming into homes, in competition with OTA , Cable and Satellite has not gone un-noticed.    Aereo proposes to let the viewer choose what they want to watch with the Internet taking the place of an antenna or a cable connection.  To do all of these, seems to me, Aereo is going to need to establish a POP in each market with OTA receive antennas and a big internet pipe. (Let me know if you hear something about this)   Seems to me that this is just a matter of connecting the ‘technical dots’.   However those broadcasters that get money from those systems that distribute their programs and those cable outfits that charge you for things you don’t want and obviously concerned that their business model could be severely altered.   Therefore the message is  – We will see you in court.   This will be really interesting. TV is just now starting to feel what radio has been dealing with for some time.   In radio, everyone streams their programming and that’s just the way it is.   Looking back a few years…..Who would have thunk?

 Tim Schall, long time a fixture at the KCTS-TV RF generation facility on Capitol Hill has yielded to the tug to get back into Radio.  (Been there, done that).   Starting Feb 3, Tim will be heading up the engineering department for Townsquare Media in Yakima and Tri-Cities.   Tim’s new email adr is –   The best of luck Tim in your new adventure.   And thanks for your willingness to take an active role in EAS in that area.

 Are you ready for LPFM ?   There is a huge amount of interest being generated regarding this new category of broadcasting with a large amount of applications being submitted to the FCC.   There are a number of facets to this story ….

Ø      Of the almost 3,000 applications filed, only a small percentage will actually be built for a number of reasons – Some just are not technically possible, some are what’s called MX’d, meaning that there are multiple applications for the same frequency/location etc.  It’s been suggested that perhaps only 10% of the applications will actually be granted.

Ø      It appears that some groups, once they have filed, are telling everyone that they are going to be on the air soon etc.   A number of these applicants are not familiar with how the process works and are on a steep learning curve…..Assuming they are learning!

Ø      Many are learning about their EAS Requirements, hopefully all will come to understand that they too must have EAS Equipment like the other guys on the block.

Ø      Major, established, broadcast stations are going to have to watch this process very carefully in order to protect themselves.

Ø      Many FM stations have enjoyed what I term ‘bonus coverage’ or listeners beyond their FCC protected coverage contours for a very long time.  The addition of the LPFM’s and perhaps FM’s associated with existing AM stations is going to have, in some cases, a negative impact.   This is going to require many engineers to have to explain to their managers what’s going on when the listener complaints start coming in.

Bottom line – Fasten your seat-belt ….Again !

 Mike Gilbert checked in and reported the FCC has approved two new LPFM’s for the Bellingham area.  This will make it 3 new FM signals in that city as WSU just received a CP for another translator there to be located on Sehome Hill.   Mike is working with a number of these new facilities.

 A lot of activity, and related media press coverage, regarding what to do about AM Radio including filings by major organizations like NAB and our own local, world famous consulting firm – Hatfield and Dawson.     One position taken that I have to agree with…The role of AM radio during emergencies.   Granted there are all news operations on FM in major markets, but obtaining local and applicable news during and after a disaster generally comes from AM stations.   In general, older citizens are accustomed to getting their information from an AM Station.  Therein is a good reason for keeping AM around.   Not to mention the Zillions of radios that are out there.   The BWWG recently filed some comments on this matter – Read more at –

 HD Radio in Canada ?   On the 14th of January CJSA-FM in Toronto launched a multicast broadcast apparently the 3rd HD station in Canada   The service is called ‘experimental’.     Appears that our neighbors CRTC are a bit timid about telling Canadian broadcasters that it’s OK to install HD Radio equipment as happened here in the U.S.     I find it interesting that they want to ‘experiment’ first…especially in light of the fact that one of the major suppliers of HD Radio equipment is a Canadian firm (Nautel).    If they had any questions about how the FM version of HD works, all they would have to do is go to Halifax and meet with the engineers at Nautel….or, perhaps easier yet, tune in any of the number of US FM stations that are running HD whose signals are very receivable there.    Another factor here is the fact that car makers are turning out vehicles that come- stock- with HD Radio receivers.    Pretty hard to stop that train.    Then again some up there may be still smarting from their previous experiences with digital radio that turned out to be a bust.  Comments are due in at the CRTC by the end of January …Perhaps we will find out soon what’s going to happen with HD in our neighbor to the north.

Our FCC does some very strange things in the world of FM Translators – For example – they recently granted an application for a translator to be located southeast of the little town of Yelm.   The applicant proposes to have this be a  95.1 translator for,  KXLE-FM in Ellensburg….Excuse me, I have a couple of questions –

Ø      How can you call this ‘Tacoma’ – Tacoma is a long way from Yelm, further the new facility will have zero coverage of Tacoma

Ø      What does Yelm have to do with Ellensburg?


K236CA                      Tacoma                        WA     FX                              BNPFT-20130830APU             236    FT                      N 46° 52′ 26.3″   W 122° 33′ 28.9″ C.P.   212    32          0.0                    83
Granted App for CP for new FM Translator; Translator for KXLE-FM, Ellensburg, WA; Release Item within 100.0 kilometers of Flag Point; Licensee: Cameron Cravey; CP New Station.; Applicant: Cameron Cravey

One of the biggest fines to come down in a long time – 200 Grand – is the ‘tab’ for Turner Broadcasting’s use of EAS Tones.    I wonder if the old saying – Ignorance of the law is no excuse- will apply in this case.  Perhaps now the number of parties that deny any knowledge of the rule about mis-use of EAS tones will get the word that this is a no-no.    Congrats to the FCC for finally making this abundantly clear.   Now the next ‘Test’ will be to see if Turners lawyers can get them off the hook?

Another study is out about TV viewing – It found that about half of Americans are watching other devices while they watch TV.   Certainly a finding that is not going to make those that spend zillions on TV advertising wanted to hear.  67 percent report that it makes their TV viewing “somewhat more enjoyable.”  This is the case in my house where my wife seems to have to have her lap-top in her lap with the TV on.   Betcha this state will be skewed during the Superbowl however.

Sirius/XM continues to grow they reported recently adding over 1.6 million new subscribers in 2013 ending up with just over 25 million paying the fee for their radio.   I recall when these two, now merged systems started, many said that it was destined to fail.

News of local interest to Ham’s – Icom has moved from their long-time Bellevue location.   The move will consolidate their warehouse and offices and give the firm room to grow.   The new location is 12421 Willows Road in Kirkland.  For those of you that did not know, Icom is one of the major suppliers of Amateur Radio and other electronic communications equipment.   They have been based in Bellevue for years.

 The site at the new World Trade Center in NYC is officially open for business.   The business they want consists of broadcasters, Radio and TV, that are now operating from the Empire State Building.   The new building, and the space provided for future tenants  is certainly impressive.  The building is 104 Stories with a giant spire sticking out of the top that is designed to handle an array of antennas.

 Just for grins, let’s compare this, Big Apple, site to Seattle.    This is a fair comparison as both cities are at sea-level.

Top of the new WTC in NYC – 1776 Feet –

Top of towers on Cougar Mt – 1725 Feet, Top of towers on West Tiger – 3148 feet.

Granted the terrain around Seattle is much more challenging than in NYC.

If Boeing Field was not where it is, perhaps there would be taller.  Our tallest building is limited, as are the towers on Queen Ann and Capital Hills to 1049 ft.   Early on there were plans for locating broadcasters on the roof of our tall building, however the FAA did not budge.

A scary event for a news crew in San Francisco last month.   Two suspects pepper-sprayed a KDTV news crew and stole their camera.    Wonder how many stations have added training on how to deal with these events ?

Tis the season to be thinking about Amateur Radio events –

March 8th is the 33 annual Electronics show and Flea Market at the Puyallup Fair Grounds.    A number of us are meeting for breakfast in Auburn that morning before the event, if you’d like to join us – let me know.

June 6-8 is the Northwest largest Ham convention at Seaside on the Oregon Coast.   I’ve already made my hotel reservations.  

This month I will finish up with sharing some pictures from my Camera Card –

 The first one is of the FM Master Antenna at West Tiger – Caught this the other day with the sun lighting up the supporting hardware for the antenna’s   ‘baskets’ .   Yes, that is natural blue sky.


I love this one – This fellow, obviously an Engineer (Look at the plates) could not just have a Mazda 3…he had to have a Pi-Car

That’s it for this month – Lord willing, will do this all over again next month in most of these same locations.

Thanks for the read ….

Clay Freinwald, K7CR, CPBE