Clay’s Corner – Providing news and views from a broadcast engineers perspective since September 1986
30 years of doing this column – This must be some sort of record for this kind of thing?
I got to thinking about how I went about it back then – A couple of items were recalled from the musty depths of my mind –
I was typing it on an Apple 2E
Was using a program called PFS Write
Was sending it to John Forbes via a dial-up modem at the blazing speed of 300 baud
Later when I got my first PC (a 286) I continued to use PFS Write (they had a DOS Version also)
Beyond that point I don’t recall as it did not take place long enough ago for me to remember.
For those of you in my age group – You know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.
I suppose I should have added that I’ve been an SBE Member since Feb 2, 1968…Member # 714.
Yikes that means I’m coming up on 49 years!
One of the big news items this past month had to be the nation-wide EAS NTP. From what I am hearing it went pretty well. I did hear of one station that was ‘sleeping at the switch’ regarding upgrading their equipment and ETRS. I’m sure there will be more in that category. What remains to be seen is how the Commish will deal with what some are viewing as an automatic violation tip mechanism. I’m sure we will be hearing more about this issue. Regardless of how much effort is expended trying to get everyone totally EAS compliant….There will always be those.
As we await changes related to the upcoming elections…There have been some changes taking place on Greenwood Ave in Seattle. Stephen Lockwood is now president of Hatfield and Dawson consulting engineers. Going forward Erik is now the Managing Partner with Tom Eckels and David Pinion remaining. From what I understand, this change will enable Ben to spend more time on fun projects and less time with the admin load that comes with heading up any organization. Knowing that Ben is a bit older than I, I can relate. Congrats to these gentlemen.
While I’m talking about old things – How about this item? – The Radio Club of Tacoma is going to have a 100th birthday party on Oct 16th. The club, with the call of W7DK, was formed in 1916 and is reported to be the 2nd oldest Amateur Radio Club in the country. Oh yes, I joined the club in 1973.
Before I leave the topic of Amateur or ‘Ham’ Radio – if you are like me, you look forward to the delivery of the major magazine devoted to the hobby every month, QST. And, you are like me and are getting ‘up there’ one of the first places you check is the listing of fellow hams that managed to get out of this world before you get to see if they list anyone you knew. They call an amateur that has passed a ‘silent key’. In this month’s list was the name John Black, W7HIL. I first met John many years ago at the business he ran on Weller Street, just off Dearborn, called Radio Systems. Radio Systems was the RCA land-mobile dealer – back when there were 3 – Motorola, GE and RCA. Over the years I got to know several fellows who worked there for John. Names you might recognize: Jon Marcinko, W7FHZ and I became friends and were involved with various ham radio related projects. Jon passed a few years ago (he was a year older than me). Another fellow I had gotten to know prior to him working at Radio Systems was Arne Skoog, WA7WKT, who many of you know and some had the privilege of working with. The passing of John Black closes another chapter of this former Seattle firm.
The 2016 Marconi’s have been awarded and only one station from the PNW made the cut this year…KQMV’s morning team of Brooke and Jubal won the category of Large Market Personality of the year.
Does the name Tessera ring a bell? Didn’t for me either – They are in the news for their accquistion of DTS who only recently acquired Ibiquity, the developer of HD Radio. Wow, that was quick. Just when we were getting used to saying DTS. Reportedly the deal was worth $850 megabucks. Tessera must be doing OK.
It’s official – the ‘Friends of 88.5’ now own the station. Certainly a historic move…Listeners taking over the ownership of a station that had announced it was going to be sold to another party. Who would have predicted such an activity could take place…much less in our area? 24,000 donations from 18,000 donors certainly indicates the depth of support for this operation. Still hard to believe, after all these years that KPLU is no more….In this case the call letters are gone but the station survives. From what I understand they will continue to operate out of the Neeb Center in Parkland for about the next 3 years, at which time the station may be moving to new quarters in a location to be determined. Like a number of other legacy call letters it’s likely that the call – KPLU – will surface some place in the area.
In a related matter – Bill Putney, Chief Engineer of KPTZ in Port Townsend, was filling out his ETRS information, as all stations are required to do. When he told the ‘system’ that one of the stations he was monitoring was KNKX it confused the system, so he had to enter the stations previous call, KPLU. Apparently the FCC’s ETRS system did not yet have the monitored call letter changed in that system.
Often a market is described by what’s called its ‘Market Rank’. Nielsen, the ratings outfit, has released a new listing of Local TV Market ranks – Seattle-Tacoma come in where they have been at Market #14. Interestingly, we are very close to the size of #12 (Phoenix) and #13 (Detroit). The way the Seattle area has been growing, I suspect that this rank may be shifting in the future. While I’m at it – Denver is #17 and Portland is #25.
Congratulations to Jerry Massey who has been elected to serve another term as SBE President. Also re-elected were the other board members – VP, Jim Leifer…Secretary, Tim Anderson…Treasurer, Andrea Cummis. You can find the all the details in the latest SBE Signal or on the Society Web Site.
Abbreviation time – HDR vs HD-R – HDR is a TV term meaning High Dynamic Range HD-R is a Radio term meaning H.D. Radio.
Several of us spent some serious time recently at West Tiger Mountain installing this big gray gizmo on KIRO-FM. It’s a four section band-pass-filter manufactured by American Amplifier Technologies. In combination with their recently replaced antenna, and year old transmitter, West Tiger’s first FM Station is considerably updated.
Perhaps sobering data regarding the fiscal position of the average household in the U.S. According to the Federal Reserve the total debt stood at just under $13 trillion. As if that is not bad enough, according to a Pew Study in 2015, only 20% of Americans carry no debt. To which I say…It’s nice being in the minority. I wonder how this compares with Canada?
For years we have been buying things made in China…Sending money from here to there. As they say…All that money has to go somewhere. Now that money is coming here….I don’t mean just the Seattle area, but the entire west coast. Some areas are reacting to this with something less than enthusiasm…In fact it’s being reported that Vancouver BC is imposing a tax on foreign national buyers. This has the impact of shifting the buying south of the border. Another report found the period March 2014 to 2015 buyers from China invested over $28 million into US residential real estate. With that kind of money flowing is it any wonder that there is pressure to increase the amount of foreign investment in broadcasting. Makes me wonder about big broadcast companies that are deeply in debt. When you are in debt, someone with a lot of money to invest has got to look attractive.
One of the reasons AM radio suffers compared to FM is ‘static’. The noise level in the
AM band naturally goes up in the spring with the increase in thunderstorms. This is the crashing sound you hear on the legacy band. Here in this area we don’t have much lightning (thankfully)…not like they do elsewhere. There is a considerable amount of money spent trying to keep damage caused by these ‘sky-bolts’ (An Arne Skoog term) at a minimum. So how big can a lightning bolt be? Reportedly, one was just under 200 miles long back in Oklahoma. The longest duration was over 7 seconds (That’s a lot of current flow). For more information about this topic – go here – http://www.usatoday.com/story/weather/2016/09/15/world-lightning-strike-records/90418046/
Could it be that the FCC is finally concluding that they can’t fix AM Radio? FCC Commissioner O’Rielly recently was quoted as saying that the future of AM Radio is in the hands of broadcasters, not regulators…Adding the ultimate future will be decided in the market by stations meeting the demands of listeners. This has been my position for a long time. There are some things that you can’t do – Nail Jello to the wall, push a rope up hill, herd cats, make the horse drink….etc. – AND – force people to listen to radio they don’t desire. I still feel that what’s happening to AM radio is very similar to what’s happened to other products and services…They lose favor and/or customers find something better. This is a natural consequence of our free market society. In a few years the things should balance out between the desire for AM Radio and the number of stations that provide it. As I have said in previous columns, perhaps we will see the AM Band look much like it did back in the 50’s…Some big signal Clear Channels with scattering of small stations serving their communities. Perhaps the FCC is thinking the same thing?
Every once in a while an older technology is ‘discovered’ and everyone is filled with Wow!
Here’s what I mean – Qualcomm just announced what they are calling ‘Clear Site’ Dual Camera Technology. The basis of this is a smartphone camera to have two image sensors…One for color and the other for black and white. The stated advantage is that the black and white sensor can absorb more light. Put them together and you have a more sensitive camera. Gee folks – I seem to remember early TV Cameras that had 4 image pickup tubes for the same reason – 3 for R, G and B and one, in early models, and IO for black and white. Could it be the folks at Qualcomm did not know about this? Lets assume they did and just decided to dust-off an old idea.
There are changes being made in the world to tower lighting to help cut down on the death of birds. Reportedly there are 7 million birds colliding with towers every year. Investigations of this issue have turned up the fact that birds appear to be attracted to the steady burning side lights on towers more than to the flashing beacons.
So what to do? The FCC, working with the FAA is revising tower lighting requirements. The new standards will eliminate the steady burning lights on towers over 350 feet and transition from steady burning to flashing lights on towers from 150 to 350ft. On the taller towers, the change will reduce energy use, maintenance costs and, according to the experts, reduce bird strikes by 70%. To make these changes to towers, you have to run this by the FAA and get their permission. You can do this on-line by going to – https://oeaaa.faa.gov/oeaaa/external/portal.jsp.
Could it have something to do with the presidential election? A recent Gallup poll showed that just 32% of Americans trust the media, quite a drop from the 40-45% figures over the past eight years. These percentages were further skewed if the responding person was aligned with a particular party. A lot has changed since the days when there were only 3 TV networks and we got our news from Walter, John or Chet.
Repack – By now just about everyone in broadcasting has, at least, heard about it. It’s all a bit confusing with forward and reverse auctions, broadcasters deciding whether they want in or out, wireless carriers willing to pay big bucks for new spectrum, stations changing channels or sharing channels all with the FCC holding the gavel. At some point this process will end and the game will end and the race will be on to get it all done in the 39 months the process is supposed to take.
For many years Orban has been making audio processors for the radio industry – How old some of this equipment is may startle you a bit – The 9100B, used by many AM Stations was first released in 1982. Their model 8200 (still in service at many stations) is 26 years old. To put this into perspective, while we were replacing that big filter at KIRO-FM, they were operating their auxiliary transmitter at Cougar Mt. This rig is a historic Collins 831G2 that was made in the middle 70’s…..Yes, that’s a 40 year old transmitter that we trusted to keep KIRO-FM on the air for several days of construction at the main site. Not too many pieces of equipment that old around. Proving, once again, that a great product will last a very long time.
I don’t make any claim to be a photographer…However I do carry a camera with me on my travels, looking for something to share – Every once in a while you see something at night that is a ‘keeper’. In this case I was coming down the West Tiger Road and spotted moonrise in the east.
In the category of – We’ve been hearing it, now it’s official – The FCC has begun closing nearly a dozen Field Offices and moving to a new plan, whereby they will be consolidating operations into fewer offices and reliance on what they call a WDC based ‘Strike Force’ to deal with un-named enforcement actions. Going away are 11 offices, including the historic one in Seattle. The other office in the PNW, Portland, Oregon will remain in operation as will the office in Denver. Chairman Wheeler maintains that the remaining 14 locations will enable the Commission to respond to any location in the country within one-day. The FCC’s budget request for 2017 will feature an Enforcement Bureau with a 16% reduced budget, presumably due to the reduction in the number of field offices.
Meanwhile Pirate Radio continues to be a problem. Frankly, it’s hard to see how this problem is going to get better. The problem today is our communication systems that enable the pirate operators to share their techniques for staying one (or more) steps ahead of enforcement. Then there is the issue of equipment availability. If the FCC totes away your radio equipment, it can be easily replaced – and purchased on-line. Probably the most frustrating aspect is where a pirate operator is advised that they have to pay for their violation and then they don’t and slip back into the darkness to do it another day in another location.
This problem, in several major cities has grown from being a ‘whack a mole’ or cat and mouse game to the point that the Feds are trying to find other ways of attacking the problem. One technique has the Feds going after the owners of the buildings where the stations or transmitters are located. What I find amazing is that in a country with buildings full of rules and regulations, operators of small radio stations can continue to get away with it. I can recall the day that there was significant fear of doing wrong and violating FCC rules…Guess I’m too old to understand. What I find surprising is that you don’t hear of a commercial station receiving interference from one of these jokers and the commercial operator tackling the problem outside of the FCC. Perhaps some of the problem is being solved by LPFM. Generally, pirates look for a quiet frequency to set up their operation. With all the translators and LPFM’s on the band these days, those days of a quiet frequency are, in most larger markets becoming a thing of the past.
I love statistics and study results as they give us a picture of how things are in our town as well as others. For example – A new study determined the salary you must earn to buy a home in 27 different markets. Now, granted house prices are all over the map in any area. For the basis of this study I am assuming they are using the average sale price. Looking at the markets where this column is read –
In Portland, Oregon you will need to make $73,613 per year to afford that $356,700 house.
In Denver you’d need to make $72.847 and in Seattle $82,670. You get the picture – Seattle is expensive and prices are likely rising faster than most salaries. Sounds bad huh? Not compared to San Francisco where you’d have to be hauling in over $162,000 to afford the average house and that’s if you put 20% down. If you only paid 10% down you’d have to make about $200,000 per year to afford the house payments. Any wonder why people are living far away from town and commuting?
The FCC has shocked many by lowering fees for small stations. Perhaps they are getting the message that their fees are part of the problem? The Commish collects almost $390 million from all the communications services it regulates. Radio pays just over 8% of that total.
The business of determining the ratings of broadcast stations has had some interesting twists and turns recently. Nielsen taking over Arbitron. The introduction of the Voltair by the Telos Alliance that claims to improve the watermark technology used by Nielsen. Then there were changes made by Nielsen to ‘improve’ their system. More recently we have seen a couple of locations where broadcasters have elected to jump ship and use some other method for determining who is using their product. One of the issues are the multitude of new ways that consumers are using to receive audio and video sources for what used to be strictly over-the-air. There is a degree of secrecy going on out there. Stations that are using the Voltaire or other gizmos are very tight lipped. We’ve come a long way from just wondering who was filling out a diary.
Spoze you heard – Funai Electric, the last maker of a VCR, has stopped making them. No more new VCR’s anyway. I guess we will continue to see these electro-mechanical tape based devices around for a while longer. Another death nail in the world of tape-recorders. If you are an old timer, like me, you witnessed the birth, and death. of tape at the consumer and professional level for audio and video. Guess we no longer have to wonder if it’s live or Memorex. Just for grins – One more look at one of the biggest and most complicated tape machines ever built. The RCA TCR-100.
Exploding batteries continue to be an issue. Apparently Boeing and Tesla have resolved the problem. However recent news indicates that Samsung may have not, by suspending sales of one of their new products that were exploding while being charged. We’ve come a long way, very quickly, with batteries…perhaps in some cases, too fast.
I frequently look at the FCC’s Daily Releases and found it interesting that an FM Translator was being moved from Astoria, Oregon to Seattle. What is perhaps more interesting, is that the FCC calls this a ‘minor change’. You can look up the call letters for more info – K278BH. The proposed location is Cougar Mt. to be used to translate Salem’s KGNW 820 AM. This is all part of the move to grant FM translators to AM stations. This activity has significantly increased the prices that people are paying for FM Translators – In one case, it was reported that $700,000 changed hands for a translator. In the case of the new one for the Seattle area for KGNW, the price paid was reportedly over $30,000 and the new FM operation will be operating with very low power and a directional antenna. I guess I have a hard time understanding how they figure that it will pencil out. In Albuquerque, New Mexico the owner of legacy station KOB (Now called KKOB) is paying $425,000 for a translator for the big AM just to get their programming on FM. What makes this move interesting is that KKOB is owned by Cumulus who is ‘considerably’ in debt.
At the end of August it was announced that an AM station in Salisbury, North Carolina would be going dark. Perhaps what makes this interesting is the fact that the station had been on the air since 1939 and had been broadcasting a Sunday morning church service, from the same church, for over 75 years. The station operates on 1490 which is a frequency that receives a lot of night time interference and is unable to make any technical improvements. Chalk up another AM. There will be more stories like this to come. Speaking of which – According to recent ratings of radio stations in the Seattle area…You have to go down to #17 to find the highest rated AM, KOMO. KIRO-AM comes in at #19.
Yet another indication of how the Seattle area is growing is the growth at Sea-Tac Airport. The old Bow-Lake airport is reportedly the fastest growing large airport in the country for the last 2 years. Passenger growth was up 13 percent in 2015 and is on track to come close to that this year. The problem is they need more gates, etc. A $550 million expansion of the North Satellite was announced recently that will increase the size by another 180,000 square feet. Likely the continued expansion of our local airline – Alaska – is fueling a lot of this. From what I have seen, it appears that the North Satellite will be all Alaska. Guess this is more appropriate than having Alaska at the South Satellite? To put these size numbers into perspective…the average Costco store is just over 144,000 Square feet!
The Oregon Office of Emergency Management is moving forward with a system that will enable Broadcasters to be part of what they call their ‘first informer’ access program. This is very good news for those broadcasters that are responsible for keeping stations up and running during times of emergency. My fingers are crossed that this will come to Washington State as well. Let me give you an example – Around the 8th of September there was, once again, a nasty wreck on highway 18 between the Issaquah Hobart Road and I-90. (Unfortunately this happens too often). The Washington State Patrol deals with issues like this by closing that section of roadway. Unfortunately this cuts off access to the Tiger Pass area which is where the only access road to the broadcast sites on West Tiger Mountain starts. Some years ago I was headed to the mountain to do some work and encountered this situation. A very nice, but firm, State Trooper told me after I explained that I did not want to go near the scene of the wreck, but rather would be turning off before there to go up Tiger Mountain. His response was something to the effect of – I don’t care what you are god of…You are not going up there!! If I had just some sort of identification that would be recognized by law enforcement, that would have been a great help. In times of emergency, when roads are closed by police…A broadcast station could well be out of operation and unable to provide the public with vital information. This has been a long standing issue. Hopefully the WSAB and others can come together to provide broadcasters with something like this in this State. The NAB estimates that about a dozen states now have something similar. Whether this program would provide us access to Tiger Mountain for when there is a wreck causing the closure of Highway 18 remains to be seen.
As I mentioned earlier, I love great photography. Here’s one that was recently taken by Dwight Small who has, obviously, time, now that he has retired. A beautiful sunny day on Puget Sound.
Climbing towers is, from what I have read, one of the most dangerous jobs there are. (Falling is never good). A friend of mine in Montana sent me this item. What would you do if you were 120 feet up a tower and encountered a bunch of snakes? Apparently this is what happened…go here to read more – http://www.cnet.com/news/snakes-on-a-cell-tower-t-mobile-photo-full-of-nope/
Looks like more translator shuffles in the wind – I see where K238CA in Twisp is being sold to Saga Broadcasting who operates a cluster of stations in Bellingham….Just a guess you understand. Sometimes my dot-connecting is accurate – but not always.
As we all recently remembered 9/11, it was announced that TV antennas are about to be installed on the new World Trade Center in NYC. We all recall the pictures of the roof top antennas falling to the ground and the loss of life of several broadcast engineers.
Thanks to Mike Brooks at KING-FM for this excellent example of creative writing –
From the category – Things I have always wondered…..
Why is the third hand on the watch called the second hand?
If a word is misspelled in the dictionary, how would we ever know?
If Webster wrote the first dictionary, where did he find the words?
Why do we say something is out of whack? What is a whack?
Why does “slow down” and “slow up” mean the same thing?
Why does “fat chance” and “slim chance” mean the same thing?
Why is it called “after dark” when it really is “after light”?
Doesn’t “expecting the unexpected” make the unexpected expected?
Why are a “wise man” and a “wise guy” opposites?
Why do you press harder on the buttons of a remote control when you know the batteries are dead?
How come abbreviated is such a long word?
Why do they call it a TV set when you only have one?
Enough news and nonsense for this month – Remember that Christmas is not far away….In case I forget – Happy New Year.
Till next time –
Clay, K7CR, CPBE.