Once again the broadcast industry was front and center as the bombing in Boston and the following man-hunt was carried live to the nation. Like many I watched countless replays on TV of the bombing…The final day, as they were hunting for suspect #2 I was driving to and from Bellingham and following the action on the radio. I’m sure there were millions doing the same thing via OTA broadcasting and Internet feeds. An amazing few days indeed! In the days following many were giving credit to the some 9,000 police that were looking for the bombers…and ‘some’ were giving credits where it was very much called for – The TV Camera. Boston, like a lot of major cities around the world, has thousands of cameras in operation. Apparently it was through this network of cameras that they were able to come up with the video of the bombers walking down the street that enabled the police to publish their pictures leading to their identification. The development of low cost and low power chip cameras made all the difference. The debate whether it’s a good idea to have ‘big-brother’ watching has some fresh input. Meanwhile, here in this area, the matter of surveillance cameras has been a hot topic. My guess is that those in Boston are very much in favor of them. The TV coverage of this event was intense and fascinating – Thanks in a big way to the little TV Camera.
During the Boston event – They experienced a familiar situation – The overloading of wireless, and likely wired, telephone communications. If you recall after the Nisqually Quake telephones of all kinds were rendered useless for a period of time by the volume of calls being offered to them. Apparently, this has caught the attention of the FCC. The following is from the NAB newsletter and Broadcasting and Cable –
Boston wireless problems must be determined, FCC chief says
Determining why wireless networks in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings became “so overwhelmed” as to be reported as shut down is an “institutional imperative” for the Federal Communications Commission, according to Chairman Julius Genachowski. The public must “be able to communicate in times of crisis, particularly to reach 911 and family,” he said
I’m not sure how the FCC proposes to change this. Telephone systems, of all kinds, plan their systems based on an algorithm that will enable everyone to make calls during – normal – circumstances. Certainly the situation in Boston was not normal. Those of us in broadcaster for a while certainly recall the days when a radio station would run a contest that would crash the phone system. We got work arounds for that with ‘choke systems’ …However I don’t think the Chairman understands that the cost of providing the infrastructure to handle all of these calls at once would be cost prohibitive. Likely they will find out.
We were all sitting down for lunch during our last Chapter Meeting at the Museum of Flight when the word spread around the room – Fisher has been sold to Sinclair for 373 Megabucks! Obviously there was a lot of speculation about what this might mean…and probably even more speculation among those Fisher employees that were there in the room! If you worked for Fisher for some time you were lucky in that you may not have much experience with broadcast station sales…Unlike the rest of us that have worked for multiple owners over the years…It can be a time of anticipation. The good news for Engineers is that they will likely enjoy the greatest job security. Shakeups with ownership changes usually start at the top.
My first thought was not Sinclair Broadcasting, but rather the oil company with the same name…This brought a chuckle or two when I mentioned it. –
Over the years we have seen locally owned broadcast stations becoming a very scarce commodity to the point that just a handful in this configuration remain. It’s not that we have not wondered about Fisher for some time as their Board has been pretty vocal regarding their frustration over lack of return on their investment. Not too long ago Fisher was, apparently, forced to sell their new building (Fisher Plaza). Interestingly, I openly wondered in this column 10 years ago if Fisher would be forced to sell.
Like all sales of this nature – The rumor mill has turned its attention to try and forecast what changes we might expect. Remember that Fisher is not just KOMO and KUNS in Seattle but KATU in Portland, all together 19 TV Stations In the next few weeks we will likely learn more about what kind of a TV operator Sinclair might be and how it would be different from Fisher. Sinclair will be a much bigger frog in the TV Broadcast pond with 134 Stations in 69 markets when this deal is done. Interestingly Sinclair recently purchased several TV Stations from Cox who owns KIRO-TV in Seattle.
Another area of rapid speculation is what will SBG do with their 3 radio stations in Seattle? Some say that Sinclair is not a radio operator….If this is the case, a spin-off would be interesting. Likely that their FM would be of greater interest than their two AM’s, what with AM Radio, in the minds of many, being on life-support. Sinclair will be a much larger owner
It was great to see John Forbes and David Christian at our recent Chapter Meeting…They were in attendance to help us celebrate the 30th anniversary of our Chapter Newsletter – The Waveguide. Kudos to our Chairman’s wife on the ‘construction’ of a bright yellow Waveguide Cake. For those of you that forgot, or never saw it, our newsletter was a printed piece with bright yellow covers. Several brought in early news letters from as far back as the mid 70’s. Back in those days it was simply called Chapter 16 Newsletter or, in some cases, it was simply a postcard advising us of the next meeting. At this meeting I agreed to write a segment for our on-line Waveguide called looking back where I will provide a quick look at some of these historic publications. One thing is a bit startling – Just how many of the former leaders of our chapter are no longer with us.
The Boeing 787 is quite a revolution in airplane construction (Perhaps they should have sold it like other things with ‘Batteries Not Included”) with its use of composites replacing traditional aluminum. If you look carefully, you will see composites making their way into the construction of many items we use. A great example is my pickup truck – It has a composite bed that is very durable and does not end up with scratch induced rust like those made of steel. Another great application for composite fiber construction is towers. The wireless industry is just starting to embrace this new material for the construction of the zillions of monopoles you see everywhere. There are a number of huge advantages (in addition to not rusting). They are up to 90% lighter (10% the weight of and twice the strength of steel).. require smaller foundations, less cost to erect etc. You will start seeing these new structures with heights up to 100ft. The use of this material for broadcast systems can’t be far behind. Google Carbon Fiber Towers and see what I mean.
In a recent column I wrote about the need for auxiliary power generators at broadcast installations. An article in the March 24th Seattle Times had some sobering information about the state of our power grid. Here are a couple of items that got my attention- – – Everyday 500,000 Americans loose power for an hour or more (and we thought this only happened in 3rd world countries?). Across the country some utilities don’t know if a customer has lost power unless the person calls to complain (Gee, I thought that this was normal). This all underscores what I have been writing about. With that being said – You know when most firms make investments in auxiliary power generation? ….Yup, right after a long power outage when they have a crash course in what engineering has been trying to tell them for years. Nothing underscores the need to buy new tires like a blowout.
Another item I wrote about in a previous column was the big-smokey-ooops that took place on the Ferry Walla Walla last November. As suspected it was human error that caused the big electrical melt-down aboard the super ferry. When it happened the folks that run our ferry’s thought it might cost $300,000. Well they were right about the number 3 …but not the number of zero’s – A report just out states that the cost will more likely be $3,000,000. Apparently repairs were not possible so the whole propulsion motor had to be replaced. Then there is the story about the pontoons for the new 520 Bridge where design errors have led to the firing of a high-ranking state engineer…No idea of what that will cost us. Meanwhile they are considering an increase in our gas tax….Uh Huh !
On April 19th SPX, the parent company of Dielectric, sent out a mass email telling the world “After careful consideration, SPX has decided to discontinue the broadcast television and radio and wireless antenna operations of its Dielectric Communications business unit worldwide, due to extremely difficult global economic conditions in the broadcast marketplace” They went on to say they would have more to say following the week of April 29. Adding “Our primary focus will be on completing outstanding orders while also conducting the necessary steps to close the business”. Working primarily in the radio end of this business I know there are very few Dielectric antennas in this area. On the TV side, there are several in operation. Across the country there is a lot of installed Dielectric hardware the owners of which are now all asking a lot of questions. We did find out that this will NOT involve the division that makes dehydrators, Radiodetection. Reminds me a lot of what happened with RCA went that-a-way many years ago. Interestingly, Dielectric made a lot of Antennas for RCA and had a booth at NAB this year. For those of you that have been to Raymond Maine you will remember their facility. Just up the road in Bridgeton is Shively who, hopefully, will continue. One has to wonder who will be next.
Understand that just over 92,000 attended the annual big NAB show in the desert this year.
I did not make it. I was invited to sit on an EAS Panel; however, it’s hard to justify flying to Vegas for just that. Would be nice to be able to shake hands with the many friends I have made over the years…Perhaps next year…One more time? One of our chapter members that did attend was Jim Dalke who gave a presentation on a project he has been working on for some time involving the use of fiber-optics in AM array monitoring. To add some frosting on this cake – Jim’s device gathered one of the top 20 best new products from Radio Magazine.
Congrats Jim !! Interesting note – The size of the Convention Center has grown since last year by 75,000 sq. ft. to a very impressive 840,000 sq. ft. Even at that, there are hotel casinos in sin-city that are larger.
During the show in Vegas there was a lot of talk about what to do with the place where broadcasting began is now getting attention by the Feds and others who are trying to figure out how to ‘save AM Radio’. At this stage of the game, It appears there are a number of folks are trying to fix it with a variety of band aids.
The decline in the popularity of AM, in my opinion, is due to a number of factors –
Ø The Commish gave into pressure for more AM stations many years ago leading to a band that crammed full of signals that, in many cases, clobber each other
Ø Then they gave into those that thought that HD Radio would be their salvation and make AM work and sound like FM. (We all know how well that’s working)
Ø No one has done anything to combat the ever increasing noise floor from devices that are demodulated right along with the output of AM Stations. In short, there are no noise police.
Ø AM stations have their frequency response limited due to channel separation issues and the FCC requirement to roll-off high frequency audio they used to be able to broadcast
Ø The AM band does not have sufficient channel bandwidth to permit anything but Low-Fi audio transmission – In mono!
2) Receiver manufacturers
Ø Makers of receivers, for years, have made matters worse by limiting bandwidth effectively running AM audio through a low-pass-filter
Ø Antennas in today’s AM receivers are almost a joke. Only C Crane appears to care about making receivers with sensitivity and decent antennas.
Ø AM is subject to interference from acts of nature (Lightning and other static crashes)–.
Ø Amplitude modulation just can’t compete with FM (The point Armstrong was trying to make years ago) and it certainly can’t compete with today’s digital modulation schemes that were not even though of when AM was developed.
Ø AM does not propagate into tunnels and under bridges
…..And this is my short list based on a quick head-dump.
So how bad is AM doing? In the years I’ve been writing this column I’ve seen a steady drop in the ratings of AM Stations here in the Seattle area. One time powerhouse AM’s (up until recently they called them Blowtorches) are becoming also-rans. Apparently power and dial position, once key ingredients for successful AM’s no longer are factors. Here are some examples pulled from the latest 12+ numbers for Seattle-Tacoma (Market #13)
Ø The highest rated AM Station is Historic 50,000 Watt KOMO at #16.
Ø Legendary 50,000 Watt KIRO is now #21
Ø Famous 50,000 Watt KJR is now #23.
Ø KVI that sports 5,000 watts, full time, non-directional is at #25
Ø 50KW KIXI comes in at #26.
And here’s the clincher – KVI and KIXI are being beat-out in the ratings by KNHC (FM) that’s run by bunch of high-school students !! Bottom line – This is a very sad situation, some would likely call it a crisis. It’s no wonder that the FCC is concerned…. they should be.
So what should be done? Do we just let the AM band expire and dwindle down to just a few that are supported by their co-owned FM’s (Talk about a complete reversal) leaving the others to die, go dark, and join the famous ‘dust-heap of history”?? Or – do we do something that will pump new life into these operations?
I’m going to step out (with flack suit on) and lay out my recommendations =
1 – Open up the spectrum immediately below the existing FM band (TV channels 5 and 6 have been suggested) for aural broadcasting. (Now is the time to act before someone comes up with a use for the spectrum for more broadband).
2 – Enact an all channel radio rule that would require all receivers manufactured be capable of receiving the existing 88-108 as well as the new expanded band like we did with the expanded band AM Radios or the All-Channel TV rule.
3 – Create an allocation scheme that would insure that all existing AM stations would have priority and a level playing field being treated equally in the new-band
4- Set a date-certain for the process to start.
5 – Accept applications for the new band for 1 year.
6 – Grant construction permits with a required 2 year period to construct.
7- Require simulcast operation for a period of 10 years.
8 – Sunset the existing AM band at the end of the 13th year.
9 – Perhaps require that all new-band stations operate Hybrid mode until year 13 when Analog FM could be turned off leaving a digital only band.
In the meantime –
1- Do not grant more FM Translators to AM’s as all this does is clutter up the existing FM band. There is not enough spectrum for every AM to have a translators anyway, especially after the FCC opened the band to LPFM’s!
2 – Admit that AM HD and AM Stereo are failures and eliminate any further use of HD on the existing AM Band.
So what’s your idea for saving the legacy band?….Got a better idea? I’d love to hear it.
Oh Yes – What to do with the existing AM Band after this is all concluded? Here are some, off the top ideas –
1- Let Amateurs (Hams) have it, think of it as an expansion of the 160 Meter band
2- Create a series of true – clear channels – to be used for emergency message distribution
Ice was thought to be the cause of a tower failure near the Minnesota-Iowa border. Two FM’s that shared the tower were silenced in the process.
Well, it’s happened again. More rankings for Seattle…This time Seattle is ranked #3 in the country for being ‘nerdy’. Not sure that this is a good or bad thing. In this case, Seattle was out-ranked by Portland who came in at #2. What’s interesting is some of the criteria used to make this determination > Number of comic book, video game or sci-fi conventions > the ratio of population to comic book, video game, computer store > Number of people per science museum etc. In the event you are thinking that this must be a PNW thing…Fear not, also ranked high were Boston and Denver.
Many thought those that were promoting 4K TV were nuts…may have to reconsider their position as now NHK shown off an 8K system…I guess I’m at the point where that much resolution does not mean as much – In a movie theatre with the screens are huge…maybe.
Congratulations to KIRO-FM in Seattle for winning a Crystal Award. The station was the only winner in the PNW. The only other stations winning the award west of the Rockies were in California and Utah.
Checking recent area FCC actions I noted the following –
Ø NOV – One of the boats used to access the State Prison on McNeil Island had a stuck-on transmitter running an un-modulated carrier on 156,700.
Ø NOV – Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood. As case of bad timing. They had recently painted their tower (once used by KCPQ-TV and still used by KVTI) but had not yet installed the required ASR signs on the structure.
NOV – A tower in Oak Harbor – In this case – I am reprinting the FCC inspectors finding
"..., the Antenna Structure Registration Number must be displayed in a conspicuous place
so that it is readily visible near the base of the antenna structure.
Materials used to display the Antenna Structure Registration Number must be weather resistant
and of sufficient size to be easily seen at the base of the antenna structure."
On March 21, 2013, the agent determined that the displayed sign for antenna structure #1053960 was severely faded.
The lesson here – check those ASR signs and make sure they are clean and sharp looking.
Ø NOV – A translator in Delphi was monitored for an hour without hearing any station identification.
Ø NOV – Pirate operation by a Sergey Kibitskiy. What makes this one interesting is the operation was on the AM band, on 1700 kHz. Not many play pirate on the AM Band.
I found the article in the March 24th issue of the Seattle Times called ‘Finding the right light’ interesting …Especially the part about how ‘Retro-bulbs’ are making a comeback. The writer points out a 30 W Radio-Style small Tungsten Filament Bulb. Sort of reminds me to all the effort to move from LP’s to CD’s and now we have a resurgence of interest in vinyl. With all the effort to stamp-out the use of those terrible wasteful light bulbs is born an industry that supports those that buy them because they look cool…or warm as the article calls them. Gee I have a box of #47’s…Anyone interested?
We have all been hearing a lot about On-Line advertising or so called Digital. The growth of this competitor to OTA broadcasting is significant. According to published reports, in 2012 Internet advertising exceeded 32 megabucks with a growth rate last year of 15%. Guess there is money in pop-up ads?. Actually broadcaster’s presence, on-line, is increasing and most of that carries advertising. Might as well with an ever increasing percentage of people getting their news, watching TV and listening to the Radio on-line. What I find interesting is all this is taking place at the same time we are, supposedly, running out of spectrum due to the demand for wireless gizmos.
Jack Ondracek who does technical work for a number of South Sound stations passed on this picture the other day of what appears to be a very nice condition Western Electric Console at KGY in Olympia. In the background, on the left, is their RCA 1 KW Transmitter, the rack to the right contains an interesting collection of old monitors for modulation and frequency. Most of this is now gone. Their new transmitter is located a short distance away feeding a new tower.
Wonder how many board-operators today would be able to figure out how to use a patch cord, much less the jacks they plug into?
One of the magazines I receive is called AGL, for Above Ground Level. An article called “Tower Construction is Central to the Wireless Industry” was interesting, not so much for the content but because of who wrote it. This person has been CEO and President of the CTIA since 2003. The CTIA is a trade association for the wireless communications industry, before that he was a congressman from Oklahoma….and before that – He was a local hero in his role as wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks – Yep – Steve Largent.
And finally…Thanks to Dwight Small – a really cool picture of Seattle and Bellevue at night –
Here you can clearly see the Seattle/Puget Sound shoreline – and the outline of Lake Washington. Downtown Seattle is, obviously, very lit up. Note Harbor Island is too, as is the area to the west that used to be the transmitter site for KJR.
And finally – Some gems from retired broadcast engineer – Gary Engard
– Borrow money from pessimists — they don’t expect it back.
– Half the people you know are below average.
– 99% of lawyers give the rest a bad name.
– 82.7% of all statistics are made up on the spot.
– A conscience is what hurts when all your other parts feel so good.
– A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.
– If you want the rainbow, you got to put up with the rain.
– The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.
– If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something.
– Depression is merely anger without enthusiasm.
– When everything is coming your way, you’re in the wrong lane.
– Ambition is a poor excuse for not having enough sense to be lazy.
– Hard work pays off in the future; laziness pays off now.
– If at first you don’t succeed, destroy all evidence that you tried.
– A conclusion is the place where you got tired of thinking.
– Experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it.
– To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal from many is research.
– The sooner you fall behind, the more time you’ll have to catch up.
Well my friends – That’s it for this month – Thanks for the read!
Clay, K7CR, CPBE