Clay’s Corner for October 2013

Don’t you love it knowing that Mother Nature follows the calendar?  We had a fabulous summer with lots of warm days, and nights etc.    As soon as the calendar read – The beginning of fall ….In came the Wet.     For those that still need to do some tower work – It’s going to be slim-pickings.

For those readers not familiar with this area, we rarely have thunderstorms…That is until this year.  A very unusual weather pattern had T-Storms moving from South to North giving this area thousands of lightning strikes.   I have not heard of any major broadcast station damage, however, who would have thought that a Seahawks game would have to be delayed because of lightning !

At this writing, all eyes are on Washington DC trying to determine what they are doing for our benefit and whether or not we will have another government shutdown.   I was on the phone with some FCC staffers on the 26th of Sept and they were telling me they had just had a hastily called meeting where it was explain what they would be doing should a shutdown occur at midnight on the 30th.    Frustrating for all not knowing.

On the subject of the FCC….Larry Walke and I are co-chairing a CSRIC Working Group dealing with a number of issues involving EAS, specifically – EAS Plans, Cyber Security and Operational Issues including the EAS National Test.     The FCC released an interesting Public Notice on Sept 23rd dealing with the EASNT asking a lot of questions about that process and whether there should be changes to the rules and procedures.  There is a pretty short time frame with comments due by Oct 23 and Replies Nov 7.  This is all leading up to an NPRM that will follow.    Let’s put it this way…EAS changes are continuing to come out and FCC licensed facilities are obligated to follow them.

On the local EAS front – The SECC (our EAS steering committee) is working toward the release of an updated Washington State EAS Plan.   These are the pages and precede the Tabs in your EAS Binder.  Hopefully we will have this out to everyone before the next SECC meeting in November.   Work continues to get all the Tabs and related information installed on a Washington State Emergency Management Server.   You will be informed as to what this new address is ASAP.  It will replace the hosting duties that have been performed by the WSAB since EAS was started.  

The interest and activity regarding what to do about the AM band continues with a lot of parties weighing in.    If you recall, in a past column, I recommended that the existing band be phased out with a new radio-band created just below the existing FM band (88 MHz).    Obviously not every agrees with that idea, especially those that own existing AM stations that would see the value of their property  potentially decline.     It seems that the solution that everyone comes up with is to let AM stations have FM translators.   There are some serious problems with this – 1) There is not enough spectrum to accommodate all the translators. 2) In many cases the coverage of the FM Translator would be a whole lot less than the AM station that’s being translated.  3) This might end up helping certain selected broadcasters at the exclusion of others.  4) It would not repair the AM band.

In the September 11th issue of Radio World Magazine, John Schneider (yes, the same one that used to live here and who visits periodically) wrote a great article about Apex Stations.  Allow me to quote from it – “ As early as 1932, the public was becoming dissatisfied with the sound quality of AM Broadcasting.  They complained about low fidelity, heterodynes and squeals, AC hum on some stations and the ever present static.”   One of the solutions of the time was to build broadcast transmission systems at higher frequencies in the 30-41 MHz area.  These stations also used Amplitude Modulation (AM).  Major Armstrong came along and performed tests using FM and all that observed reported that it was clearly superior to AM.    Now, granted, a lot of things have changed –  FM became the modulation mode of choice and the FM band was moved to higher frequencies resolving the sky-wave problem.

My point is – Way back in the early 30’s  the limitations of the existing AM band were well known – As was the solution!.  My question is – why in the world are we so intent on hanging on to a chunk of spectrum where noise has always been a problem and has only been made worse due to lack of efforts to deal with man-made sources of it and locked ourselves into a modulation mode that severely limits what can be done about it?.   Giving certain selected AM Stations FM translators does not resolve the problem it’s only a form of rationing band aids.   To me those that are advocating FM Translators are admitting that they don’t have another solution.    Some are advocating a blanket power increase, seems to me that will only help those that are near an AM Transmitter improve their Signal to Noise issues, but at the expense of reducing their own coverage and  creating a mess further out with an increase in co-channel and adjacent channel interference.

Ibiquity has chimed in, as you would expect them to do – and have advocated the use of more digital modulation and less AM.     That would certainly resolve some of the issues, but not all of them for sure.

Even if the band were 100% HD Radio – Signal to Noise issues would be improved, fidelity would be better but we would still be stuck with huge antenna systems and the sky wave issue.

In my view, the first step is to admit that the technology limitations that prevailed at the time that made it impossible for the standard broadcast band be in a different place in the spectrum no longer exists.   Face it, in 1920 technology was a bit more limited than it is today.    It seems that we are going through this exercise in an effort to make a great discovery that will protect those that are invested in old technology (or spectrum).   I ‘m sure that the fellow that owned a buggy business was not exactly thrilled about automobiles either.      The choice before us is whether to try and fix the old clunker or admit that it has served us well for many years and move on to something new that works much better?   Channels 5 and 6 represent a huge opportunity for the radio industry to look further forward than they are presently looking backward.  The question is, do we have the guts to make the required admissions and move forward?    How do we get those that are trying to ‘Fix-AM’ to look at the lessons that were learned back in the 1930’s ?  Now we wait to see what the FCC will do.   They have announced that an NPRM is in the works.   The FCC did have some comments that are worth quoting –

“Anyone who thinks AM is a forgotten backwater, think again.”  Pai said it’s likely to be a two-pronged effort with short term fixes, such as making it easier for stations to find tower sites and using FM translators.  But he also thinks there should be a focus on the longer-term viability of the AM band.  Some ideas are likely to split large companies and small broadcasters, and Pai warned a notoriously fractious industry to avoid “infighting” that could doom his efforts.  “What all AM broadcasters need,” Pai said, “is a package of reforms that will work for everyone.”

A recent LA Time story caught my attention – The headlines read “Humans sniff out 10 types of odors, researchers say” – Huh?   Reading the piece they explain that they have come up with 10 different categories of odors.     Anyone in this business for a while has learned that their nose can detect the odor produced by a piece of electrical or electronic equipment quite easily.   You learn that resistors and transformers or motors have a smell of their own….All of which are a clear signal that your task-list has just been altered.   The most frustrating is smelling something wrong and not being able to quickly find it.  Often an HVAC system will spread the odor around making for a frustrating situation.    Dealing with broadcast transmitters is a unique situation.  In the old days, you had an operator there all the time- His nose was there to sniff-out problems as soon as they occur.  Today transmitters are remote controlled and that telltale odor that could have save you a lot of time and enabled a manned facility to switch to back up equipment is gone.   In today’s world we have to wait until the smelly component totally fails before we get an alarm or….The station goes off the air.     Yes there are smoke detectors, but sadly they are not deployed at all sites, then again the human nose is often more sensitive than those detectors…I just chalk it all up to progress.

A giant passed this month with the death of billionaire Ray Dolby at 80.  His name is likely familiar to just about everyone in this business.  He was involved with Audio, where he is most remembered for his noise reduction system, as well as music, file, movies and television. In his long career, Ray won two Oscars, several Emmys and a Grammy.  He was a tremendous inventor with some 50 patents.    Ray had a PNW connection, he was a native of Portland, Oregon.   He’s the second sound inventor to pass this year, earlier we lost Amar Bose.

Another call letter change in our area…After many years Entercom’s KMTT, The Mountain, has flipped format and become KHTP.  Rumor has it that the HT in the call means ‘High-Temperature”

Of all of the schools in our State that have courses dealing with our industry, perhaps the most famous is the Murrow College of Communications at Washington State University in Pullman.   There are a lot of Cougar Grads working in this biz whose names you would recognize.    Recently Kathi Goertzen who was employed for many years by KOMO here in Seattle was honored with the naming of a building after her.     Kathi passed after a long battle with brain tumors

One of the more frustrating things about today’s computer based equipment is the keeping track of passwords, especially if you are trying to keep unwanted visitors out.   Long gone are the days when you could use a simple word or short-phase.   Now a lot of systems and software will reject your password if you don’t use a combination of upper and lower cases characters, for example – !3nP+?~=Q]@7w.   This may be approved by the password police but how in the world are you going to remember it except for clicking on the box [Forgot Password].   Several options are out there – 1) Fingerprint recognition –  I had an old laptop that had that, but it was so fussy that I bagged it. 2) Iris recognition – Probably out of reach for most but high security applications.  Now Google and some other partners are working together as an organization called FIDO (Fast Identity On-line) trying to come up with a standardized biometric standard.  Apple and Microsoft are working to improve finger print sensor technology.   Another idea is to use a Token, or small USB device, perhaps like the one you use for your wireless mouse, that you store your passwords on.    Of course you can lose it, or someone can steal it giving them access to your secrets.   We can look forward to a lot of development in this area.

All of this makes the following even more appropriate –


 Low Power- Community FM stations are in the news now as the FCC gets ready to try and sort out what could be a considerable volume of applications.    Many likely feel there is an un-limited number of frequencies out there that the Feds have been hoarding and now their time to bask in the glory of radio station ownership has dawned and Oct 15 is their day!     Reading the press releases about these things is interesting … Organizational meetings are taking place where plans are being made as to what to program, where to put the transmitter etc. etc.  Around here, location like Bainbridge Island and Ballard are being talked about, likely just the tip of the iceberg.     I can’t wait until the reality of all of this sinks in.  What will they do when they find out they are MX’d with a dozen others?   If they do get a license, how long will it be before they run low on volunteers to operate it?   And…What will be the impact of all the AM’s that want translators?

There was a recent discussion thread on the SBE-16 Remailer in Seattle that grew out of a question from one party that mentioned that he was looking for some references for radio studio cabinet makers and wanted to have provisions for a turn-table.   What, a turn-table….As in Tone-Arm, needles, vinyl etc.?

Tom McGinley commented that KZOK still uses Cartridge Tape machines and minidiscs on the air every day in addition to having a turntable and reel-to-reel tape deck in one of their studios…Albeit for one of their legacy announcers.    Even Nels Harvey jumped in from Milwaukee as did long retired Dick Harris proving once again that old guys like to talk about old things.

Here’s one for you – Today everyone uses or has heard of Blue-Tooth – Where in the world did that term come from?  There are several explanations – First of all we need to understand that a couple of Engineers working at Erricson were working on a system that would wirelessly connect mobile telephone devices back in the 90’s.     These fellows, looking for a cool-name for their creation got the name from a Danish king, Harald, who ruled Demark in the 10th century.  Apparently Harald was quite successful in getting parties together. In this case, things together.   Now for the blue part – Rumor has it that the king liked blue berries and was known as blue-tooth.  Today the technology they developed is used worldwide.    Like a lot of things we use today – We don’t give any thought to how the name came into being.

In the past writing this column I would pass over the activities of a broadcast group called Sinclair…Not any more.   Sinclair is now very much a part of our area with their purchase of Fisher.   Apparently having some rather deep pockets, they continue to purchase OTA TV properties.   In the most recent action, they purchased 7 more full power TV stations and one low power for some 90 megabucks.   These stations are in Pennsylvania and Florida.   With all the talk of the demise of OTA TV – It’s interesting to see these purchases.

From my camera-card this month comes the following – If you were to look up these call letters you would see that it belongs to an FM Station (93.3) in Big Bear California.    Looking closely at the door (sorry about the reflection) you see this one is on 57 AM.    I’m sure that many of you have seen this as its not far from Seattle.


You may have not noticed…but Washington State L&I have changed the way our auxiliary generators are tested.   Just last year a fellow from the generator company would come up, with his load-bank and service your auxiliary power unit by him-self.   Not anymore!   Now that job takes THREE people –

1)      The diesel mechanic (assuming you are running diesel) 2)  An electrician to connect the load-bank and 3) A State electrical inspector to make sure that the electrician did it correctly.  

Sounding very much like past battles around here ….KTWS in Bend, Oregon has finally won their battle to change frequency and increase their power to 50Kw. ( The FM stations transmitter is located, along with a number of other Radio, TV, and communications users on Awbrey Butte, NNW of Bend)  I recall visiting there many years ago when there was not much on top of that hill, other than towers and antennas. Over the years it has become prime real estate with expensive homes enjoying expansive views, much like Cougar Mt here.  With that came a homeowners association and concerns over RF levels near the tower as well as blanketing issues.   The FCC noted that the tower is fenced, has warning signs and RF levels would not exceed regulated limits.  The Commish did remind the station that they were obligated to resolve interference complaints during its first year of higher power operation.  

This past week I heard news stories about $100 dollar bills turning up in items in a store in Portland, at that time no one knew the source of the loot.   Now the truth has come out – It’s a promotion of a PDX Radio station.  Certainly got everyone’s attention…and I guess that was the idea.

Interesting piece in the Seattle Times a while back – ‘The most common question from young women engineers, what to wear.  Hmmm-  First of all, there are (regrettably) not many women in broadcast engineering.  To my women readers – Has this been an issue? – if so, tell me about it.

Before I leave the Times – If you still have it – Dig out a copy of the August 25th copy of Northwest Traveler.  The front page has a great picture of a couple visiting the observation tower on Mt Constitution on Orcas Island  – right I in the middle of the shot a – beautiful tower (of course).  No mention of that item in the text. 

HD Radio appears to be winning the FM battle with more and more stations turning on the system (at least in this area) and news of car-makers installing the system as standard equipment frequently in the news – However, on the AM band – we can scratch off the only AM (that I know of) in Seattle as KKDZ has pulled the plug on the system.  Apparently, according to their Engineer, Jim Dalke, this was a corporate decision.   That leaves the AM Duo in Everett and KHHO in Tacoma as the only HD Operations here.   

The proposed FCC changes to the TV spectrum are rattling a lot of cages from coast to coast.   The impact of these proposed actions are creating a significant degree of un-certainty.   Broadcasters are working through members of Congress attempting to gain some understanding.     I can vividly recall the days when broadcasters had a complete lock on its spectrum – Now those locks have been smashed and discarded and the raiding parties are in full swing.   Even the 2 Gig ENG band, already shuffled to accommodate more wireless spectrum is under attack again.  The wireless industry has become the giant on the block and the defenses of broadcast spectrum find themselves with their backs against the wall.    Who would have thought?     I’m not going to write about the details as I would be up all night doing so – There is plenty written already.   

A new study is just out about the impact of climate change and what causing it – As Pogo would say – We have discovered the enemy……………….   The report is talking about a 3 foot rise in Sea-Level, hotter summers etc. etc.   With this has come a new term – carbon sequestration.     Now if scientists can find a way to do it, they can save the world.   Meanwhile – Recent reports that they have found more evidence of water on Mars, apparently much more than first thought –

West Tiger has another FM Station on the air.   In this case the 95.3 facility is a satellite feed .003 KW is operated by Calvary Temple out of Twin Falls, Idaho.    A bit confusing is the fact that this station is licensed to Fall City …Yet, according to the FCC’s On-Line info, it’s 60 dbu falls way short of covering its City of License.   I must be missing something here.    Interesting to compare the coverage of this ‘flea-powered’ facility compared to the 68 KW FM’s that share this location.


Talk about a hoot – Bill Gates reportedly admitted recently that Ctrl-Alt-Del was a mistake.  Speaking at a Harvard fundraising recently, he stated this in front of an live audience- resulting in some big laughs.

He went on to explain that IBM did not want to give them a single key on their keyboard design for the function.     I’m still not sure what to do with the Windows Key on my keyboard now – Thankfully it does not do the same thing as the 3-keys we all are familiar with.    On that note, I was surprised a number of years ago to learn that these three same keys work with the Linux machine I was using.

Well, the Marconi award winners were announced.  This award, started in 1989, is named after the inventor Marconi and presented to radio stations and outstanding on air talent in radio.   We don’t have any one to congratulate this year as no station or person won.   It was not just the PNW that lost out…There were no winners on the left-coast.  Hmmm

What happens when it comes time for license renewal and you discover that you are missing six year’s worth of the required quarterly issues and programs lists?  You get hit with the $12,000 fine and a short renewal.   Being a Non-Com and reconstruction of the missing material did not help KGLP in Gallup N.M.

The effort to move an AM Stations transmitter to Pt. Roberts continues to heat up.  Now some residents of Tsawwassen are coming out against the proposal.   This is interesting in that Pt. Roberts is in Washington State and Tswawwassen is in B.C , Canada.   Apparently some 350 Signatures from residents of the Canadian town have filed a petition calling on the FCC to reject what they are calling the ‘Pirate Border Blaster’ who feel there has not been consideration of the impact of this on residents on the other site of the border.   The term Border Blaster used to be used to describe high powered stations operating just south of the US border in Mexico many years ago.  The complaints reference standard issues of blanketing interference and interference to other AM Stations.   Interesting that one of the concerned is a Ham Radio operator who said he got RF Burns will trying to cut an antenna.  I find it interesting that one of the stations consultants is a person that knows a lot about the subject, Andy Skotdal  of KRKO in Everett.   The FCC has granted the station a construction permit, this is all part of the battle for a conditional use permit from Whatcom County.   A public hearing will supposedly take place sometime in October – That will be fun.

If you think that OTA TV is experiencing a spectrum squeeze – Consider the issue of  wireless microphones.   Wireless microphone advocates are now banding together to push for protection…and this includes working through congressional representatives.     The spectrum squeeze is impacting all users of these devices –Broadcasting, production, theaters, churches, sports facilities, theme parks, museums etc.   Even the NFL is involved with this one.   Unfortunately most band-planning discussions have ignored the spectrum needs of these devices who are now actively seeking what’s called safe-haven spectrum.

Larry Wilson, who is not afraid to tell it as he sees it – got a lot of press recently when he said that Voice Tracking is dead.    Voice tracking is the technique where radio broadcast DJ’s record all their remarks, in advance, into a computer system over a short period of time letting the automation system put the pieces together giving the impression that the person is actually there live.    In many cases, live DJ’s have been replaced with Voice Tracking as a means of reducing staff size and thereby increasing profits. Larry’s position is that the station that is live and local will win.   A classic case of where computers and automation have replaced people.   I guess time will tell who is right.


Last month I showed some pictures of damaged parts at transmitter sites – Here is another – The first one shows a what’s called an Element Stem – Where you see the broken piece of copper pipe is where an FM broadcast Antenna used to be.


Entercom’s Dwight Small sent me this item – Manson Whitlock recently passed away at 96 after 80 years doing the same job….Repairing typewriters.   They figure he fixed over 300,000 of the machines during his career in New Haven, CT.  In 2010 he was asked about computers and responded that he had heard of them, but did not own one.  At one time he had 6 employees, in the end, it was just him repairing what was considered at one time to be a mechanical marvel.    This got me to thinking – I wonder how many folks are out there repairing devices that many feel are obsolete?   A quick look on line and you will find a number of places in Seattle that can repair your 8-track, reel to reel tape recorder or cassette deck…or your vacuum tube stereo or guitar amplifier….and yes, there are listed a couple of names for  typewriter repair.      In our industry we are lucky in that TV stations have trashed their old transmitters due to the HDTV conversion – However, Radio has not been that lucky – Many stations are still running vacuum tube equipment with high voltages inside and (horrors) analog technology.   For a guy in his 70’s, this is just fine with me – But where are the new guys going to come from to repair this stuff?  I can just see the day when the GM is informed that the station needs to buy a new transmitter because there is no-one alive around here that knows how to keep the old girl running.  <grin>

Another passing this month of note – Wayne Green, W2NSD, at 91.    Wayne was probably one of the most outspoken figures in Amateur Radio.   He was famous for constantly tweaking the ARRL (The major Amateur Radio organization) and, of course, as publisher of 73 Magazine.   While he was being a famous critic – he was also a promoter of new technologies like Single Sideband, FM Repeaters and the marriage of computers and Ham Radio.   Art Bell, also a ham, had Wayne on his Coast to Coast program a number of times.   All hams come up with their favorite phonetics – Wayne used ‘Never Say Die’ for his NSD.    He left a very big mark.

Well folks – I guess that’s about it for this edition – Thanks for taking the time to read this stuff – Lord willing, I’ll be around next Month with more –

Thanks !

Clay Freinwald, CPBE, K7CR etc.