Clay’s Corner – Providing news and views from a broadcast engineer’s perspective since September 1986

The FCC’s new Electronic Test Reporting System, ETRS, has certainly got a lot of attention of late, and with good reason.  As you know I have been involved with EAS for many years, at many levels.  I find a wide range of attitudes about the system ranging from considerable interest and willingness to participate, all the way to those who detest the mention of those three letters.  Meanwhile the FCC, now with participation from FEMA, continues to stress the importance of the system and the responsibility of broadcasters to follow the rules.  The new ETRS is forcing stations to take a very close look at what’s involved, perhaps some for the first time.  I can confirm this as I have been receiving a steady stream of emails requesting information on Monitoring Assignments etc.  What will be interesting to watch will be what happens with those that continue to feel they can disregard the whole thing.  The ETRS will certainly provide the FCC with the tools necessary to find out who is naughty and who is not without having to send out inspectors to do random inspections.  One has to wonder if this was part of the thinking behind the closing down of FCC field offices? One thing for sure, EAS is a continuously evolving creation where the requirements for the equipment that every broadcast and cable system has, is periodically forced to upgrade in some fashion, for instance, the recent requirement that every EAS decoder can process the Location Code 000000 that will get the equipment ready for the big national test coming soon.  All of these changes are due to the lessons learned the last time we did a national test.  (Then called the EASNT). There are also some economic aspects of all of this that have impacted some facilities.  For example, those stations that chose to purchase add-on devices in order to save a buck.  Then there are the non-comms that are operating on a shoe string and are facing having to spend money they had not planned on. One longtime equipment manufacturer, Gorman-Redlich is asking the FCC for a partial waiver so that users of certain legacy equipment can continue to be used.  At this writing, no word on whether the Commish will agree.  Interestingly, Mr. Gorman submitted his request to both the FCC and FEMA.  At this writing, nothing has been heard.  Some are predicting that the FCC will sit on this with no action. From the ‘about time’ department….Finally the impact of spectrum noise is getting some attention.  Ask any Ham Radio operator about the noise floor on HF.  This has been a matter they have been complaining about for years.  Electronic gizmo’s of every description have been polluting their HF Spectrum to the point that some Hams are unable to operate their home stations.  The same issue has been steadily eroding the coverage of AM Radio stations.  With the recent concern about saving AM radio, it appears that the FCC might now be listening (assuming they can hear through the noise).  The impact of spectrum noise is to reduce the coverage area of AM Stations and this comes at a time when many of them are fighting for their lives.  The NAB has joined the call for the FCC to deal with the issue and the FCC is asking for input.   It’s interesting that many of the relatively new devices we use everyday, with good reason, have a dark side.  For example – Switching Power Supplies are smaller, cheaper, more efficient that their analog counterparts, but many of these devices are RF noise generators.  LED lighting is another.  No one can dispute the economic value if these over old incandescent lamps.  However, while saving power, many are polluting the spectrum. In June, the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology announced that its Technological Advisory Council be looking into the matter….All the while they cut the FCC’s field offices….However, I can just barely recall when someone from the FCC was trying to find the cause of something that raised the noise floor. Perhaps a bit of good news is that the wireless industry is speaking up about the problem, claiming the their networks are suffering from sources of interference like video displays, industrial lighting systems, LED lights. CFL ballasts etc.  AT&T Cellular added something to their complaint list that’s not a conventional source of RF noise – FM Broadcasters.  They cited a number of instances where FM stations are causing them problems.   Could it be that the FCC is too busy trying to generate revenue from new technologies that they are forgetting to protect those systems that have been around for a long time? If there is one thing that has kept Radio in business it’s the car-radio.  There have been a large number of advances in this area in the last few years that are providing drivers with more and more electronic ‘bling’.   My 2016 Pickup is a great example to the point that the term ‘car-radio’ does not begin to address what this creature can do.  Car makers are struggling trying to find the right balance between features that their customers want and features that increase distraction that could contribute to accidents, or worse.  Thankfully my new ride’s radio has HD Radio that works very well.  On that subject I am having a bathroom remodeled and the plumber that’s working at the house happened to mention that he had HD Radio in his truck.  WOW!  This is the first time I’ve run across someone that knows what it is and actually has it and uses it.  I was very pleased with the performance and number of formats available…Interestingly he named off a couple of them by name!  A number of surveys continue to show that people want their fancy electronic to do everything in their vehicle to still have a good working radio.  Taking the cue, Ford has announced their 2017 vehicles will have something they call ‘dual reception’ that sounds like an upgrade of the old diversity systems of years gone by.  This project has a Seattle connection – Ford reported that they have tested the system in cities like Chicago, Detroit, LA, NYC, Pittsburgh AND SEATTLE.  As anyone that has been in these markets – Propagation in Seattle is tough on good radio reception.  Kudo’s to Ford!  Not often a vehicle maker will talk about their radios. .

The saga of KPLU 88.5 is all but over – The FCC has, in what felt like record time, approved the sale of the station and, at the end of August the station will be sporting new call letters, KNKX.  I have to admit that after 50 years of calling it KPLU, this will take some getting used to.  Apparently the new letters stand for Connects, or should I write Konnects?  The good news is that there are no other stations in this market with letters that would cause any contusion.  I recall that we did have a KNWX for a while.  Then there is the historic LA station, KNX.  We wish the new station the best.


iHeart Media continues to struggle with increasing losses.  It was recently reported the nation’s biggest radio outfit lost 279 megabucks in the 2nd quarter of 2016…That compares to a loss of just over 54 megabucks in the same quarter a year ago.  Obviously they are far from being out of the woods.  The question remains as to what will happen to the big operation.  Anyone got a few Billion laying around that they are not using?  With the projections for Radio not exactly looking attractive – iHeart is in a $21 Billion bind.

Bill Major

Remember Bill Major?  Bill was working for the iHeart cluster in Seattle and moved back closer to home in Arizona.  Understand that Bill is not the Market Engineering Manager for iHeart in Tucson.  The above is a picture with Bill standing next to something he loves – Flying. As you know I frequently drive to West Tiger Mt. (east of Seattle) as I work for a number of broadcast interests there.  Just to put things in perspective for those of you that are tied up in Seattle’s famous traffic jams – I too have to occasionally sit and wait to be able to get where I’m going.  Shot this the other day to demonstrate what I mean –

Trucks and Logs

I recently sent this picture to a friend out of state and they were having trouble getting their head around the fact that trees up here are considered a crop.  As we were all settling into the thought that CBS was going to spin off their radio division into a separate company comes word that they are still considering other options or alternatives.  One would suspect that someone flashed some money in their direction and now they are having some ‘discussions’….But this is only a guess.  CBS Radio has 117 stations.  The Society of Broadcast Engineers has announced the recipients of the 2016 SBE National Awards.  Michael Hendrickson, CPBE, CBNT, of Lakeville, MN won the Robert W. Flanders SBE Engineer of the Year award.  Hendrickson’s recognition comes from his success in furthering the mission of the SBE.  Hendrickson is a former SBE Chapter 17 chair and is currently a member of the National Board of Directors.  With a broadcast engineering career that’s spanned more than 35 years, his work has been responsible for the upgrade of Minnesota Public Radio stations, several stations in Florida and a creation of an early database in the 1980s containing entries of most of the 950 MHz aural studio/transmitter link assignments. Cheryl Lustenberger, CBNT, CTO, of Chapter 11 in Boston, has been honored as the James C. Wulliman SBE Educator of the Year.  Her award is for outstanding service and excellence in teaching other broadcast engineers.  She is the assistant manager at the Tufte Television Facilities at Emerson College, where she teaches broadcast engineering students.  In addition to providing personalized workshops for her students, she also teaches professional workshops on safety, rigging and technology. SBE’s newest honor, the Freedom Award, has gone to Norman Portillo, CBT, CTO, who is also the 2014 winner of the Educator of the Year award.  Portillo continues to educate the military community and has established a new chapter of SBE at Fort Bragg, NC.  Blackmagic Design has won the 2016 SBE Technology Award for its URSA Studio Viewfinder. Ever wonder just how many satellites there are in orbit around Earth?  According to what I recently read, that total would be about 1400…an increase of 40% in the last 5 years. I frequently write about cool things in the Seattle area….Time to honor our neighbor to the South.  Portland was recently selected by Sunset Magazine as the Best Food Town. What level of sales indicates an extremely successful product?  How about selling ONE-BILLION items?  Not many can claim that lofty level of success ….Apple can and has with their I-Phone, making that device one of the most important, world changing, products in history. The National Association of Broadcasters announced finalists for its NAB Marconi Radio Awards.  The awards honor radio stations and on-air personalities for excellence in broadcasting.  Winners will be announced at the 2016 Radio Show in Nashville in September. As usual – I went looking for finalists that have connections to where this column is read.  A couple fit that criteria this time around – NETWORK/SYNDICATED PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR – Delilah, Premiere Networks.  LARGE MARKET PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR – Brooke Fox & Jubal Flagg, KQMV-FM Seattle.  CHR STATION OF THE YEAR – KQMV-FM, Seattle. I recently reached in my desk drawer to grab a file folder label (Yes I still keep paper files for some things)….I could not help but smile at what was written on the end of this sheet of labels.  My guess is that I’ve had this for some period of time. J


Here’s something you don’t run across very often – The FCC has announced that the Canadian Pacific Railway will pay over $1.2 Million due to the railroad’s operation of more than 100 wireless radio facilities in the U.S. without FCC approval. A friend of mine recently sent me this picture.  Interesting how the call letters you see are not the real call letters for the station.  Perhaps like knowing that KOMO-TV-4 is really on Channel 38.



If you are an Engineer or otherwise technical/scientific minded you likely already understand that there is an automatic rejection of ‘new fangled gadgets’ in the minds of many…We’ve all read about how some rejected the automobile, refrigeration, electric lights etc. etc.  A lot of this is rejection of new and improved ways of doing things or stalling our own progress.  I have family members that fought to hang on to their typewriters and not move to computers until they discovered they could no longer buy new ribbons for the mechanical creations.  Look what we are doing today with driverless or electric cars.  We humans have a habit of stalling our own progress according to Calestous Juma, a professor at Harvard in his new book, ‘Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies’.  He maintains that people are concerned that innovation means losing a piece of their identity or lifestyle.  A lot of times the rejection of something new is a gut reaction rather than a decision based on evidence.  There are new technologies that people flock to however…A great example is the smart phone and social media.  This is especially the case when the new gadget is adopted by their peers and they want to be part of the crowd. Dwight Small, Nick Winter, Arne Skoog’s widow Debra and I recently made a trip to Buck Mountain, near Quilcene, to retrieve Arne’s old UHF Repeater.  ‘Twas a beautiful day in the PNW.  Here’s a picture of Dwight, amongst the wild flowers look east over Hood Canal.


Between you and me ….All it takes is a few minutes looking at this scene to make me overlook about a month of rain and restore my feeling of how thankful I am to be able to live in this area.  For my readers that are not from around here….We are standing on a foot hill of the Olympic Mountains West of Seattle looking back over Puget Sound to the east.  When I turned around and looked the other way – This is the view:

View 2


For those of you that have responsibility for towers at your facility – You have heard that there are some new FAA Regulations coming down the pike – and this time, for shorter structures that, historically, were below the FAA’s level of concern, unless of course you were near an airport.  Here is something that you ought to check out – H.R. 636 – a/k/a the “FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016” This little 51 page item contains, buried inside, some new things that could potentially impact owners of small towers, especially those in rural areas.  Those days of assuming that if a tower is below 200 feet they don’t have to be marked and lit may be over.  Oh yes, future FAA Rules could affect some Ham Radio towers as well.  The ARRL is following this one closely too. Word to the wise – Be sure and follow this to see exactly what new rules come out of the FAA. Those of us with smart-phones that we use for telephone communications know to check for Wi-Fi for when we want to access our email or connect to the Internet.  As the demand for spectrum increases look for Wi-Fi/Cellular Hybrid devices to come along to augment 4G and other ‘G-Whiz’ enhancements. As anyone working in the Broadcast Engineering area knows…There are a lot of folks with gray, white or no hair in our field.  As you know, I have elected to continue to work beyond traditional retirement time.  In my case, I no longer work for a single employer…Giving that up over 6 years ago.  I now work half-time for WSU, augmenting this with contract work for several firms.  I have chosen to keep working for a couple of reasons – 1) The money is good, 2) I get to do what I like, 3) my schedule is reasonably flexible, 4) My health is good, 5) I have Zero politics and (the big one) 6) I know that I can quit anytime I want!  (When I want is the key).   It is perhaps comforting to know that I am not alone, with many choosing to work through their golden years.  In fact, approximately 20% of those in the labor force today are over 65. Recent studies have uncovered the reasons why people are working later in life –

  • People enjoy what they are doing
  • They want to stay busy
  • The extra money is always nice
  • Some have not put away sufficient amounts to augment Social Security
  • The recession wiped out their savings
  • There are no pension benefits
  • People are living and are healthy longer
  • A lot of jobs today are not physically demanding
  • The choice to continue to have the income to support a chosen lifestyle

There are a couple of recommendations that I routinely make to those friends that are getting close to traditional retirement age –

  • Get a good financial advisor to help determine whether or not you have sufficient ‘socked away’ to last before you set your retirement date.
  • Don’t for a minute think that you are going to be able to shift from full time employment and rely exclusively on Social Security.
  • Be fully prepared to learn that you would be much better off to delay taking Social Security and to keep working longer than you would like.
  • Consider that you could well outlive your wealth.
  • If you are an Engineer, be thankful that your skills are still very much in demand.

On the personal side – I got my First Class Radio Telephone license (with Ship Radar Endorsement) on July 25, 1959.  Yikes that was 57 years ago.  I started working (full time while still in school) August 1, 1961 (55 years ago) and it was September of 1986 (30 years ago) that I started writing this column. And you think you are old? Now to the question of how do you cut-back in later years?  This is something that I have been seriously pondering.  Right now I work very much full time, ie, at least 5 days a week.  The problem with this kind of work is it does not lend itself to certain days of the week.  For example, what happened if I were to announce that I wanted to only work 4 days a week (3 day weekends every week have some appeal).  The problem is that something would happen that would demand my attention and my desired schedule would be trashed, at least for that week.  You see the problem with broadcast engineering is with the fact that broadcast stations expect you to be on call 24/7/365.  The other alternative is, if you work for more than one firm, you cut back on your client load by eliminating one of the firms you have been doing work for.  This would be an easy decision to make if you were not being treated fairly or were being paid poorly, if not – it’s tough…and that’s the boat I’m in. Thinking back to when I was first exposed to electronic products made in countries not in North America – The first ones were German.  Fancy pushbutton multi-band radios etc.  Then the next wave came from Japan with a huge impact.  Now it appears that the Japanese manufacturers are facing stiff competition from Korea with such names as Samsung and LG.  In Broadcast TV Japan, historically, has been a leader and early adopter.  Now that seems to be shifting to South Korea – An example of that is the news that South Korea has adopted ATSC 3.0 over options including Europe’s DVB-T2.     Now here is something that does not happen very often – Radio stations sharing a frequency.  Apparently that’s what is going to happen in San Francisco with a pair of LPFM’s.  Apparently the Commish has resolved a mutually exclusive dilemma by having these two applicants share the same 102.5 frequency with each station taking turns and operating six-hour shifts.  Not exactly the same I recall WBAP and WFAA in Dallas doing something funky many years ago where they would swap between two AM frequencies.  Sharing used to be S.O.P. in the early days of AM radio. A couple of other radio happenings in the Golden State…In these cases stations going silent.  KPSI and KWXY (two AM’s) are going off the air.  The owners have requested permission to go silent while they seek buyers.  KUSP in Santa Cruz recently went off when it could not find a buyer, ending 45 years of operation.  The station was reportedly some $700,000 in debt.  Small potatoes compared to the debt carried by iHeart Media….making us wonder if they are like the term used for certain firms during the recession – “Too big to fail”. One technique that’s been used by more than one radio broadcaster facing hard times has been to get permission to remain silent or to come up with something to justify not operating.  Well this is not sitting well with Peter Doyle, chief of the Audio Division of the FCC and he made his position quite clear recently stating, “Silence instead of licensed operation is a fundamental failure to serve a station’s community of license,” Doyle wrote, “because a silent station offers that community no public service programming such as news, public affairs, weather information and Emergency Alert System notifications.  Moreover, brief periods of station operation sandwiched between prolonged periods of silence are of little value because the local audience is not accustomed to tuning in to the station’s frequency.” He noted that in 2001, the FCC issued a decision cautioning that “a licensee will face a very heavy burden in demonstrating that it has served the public interest where it has remained silent for most or all of the prior license term.”  In his view, licensees have been on notice since then that the eventual resumption of operations after long periods of silence “does not necessarily resolve the renewal inquiry as to whether the licensee served the public interest during the preceding license term.” Eventually economic reality takes its toll and so will it be with the folks with some LPFM’s.  I feel it’s likely quite a few of them will go away as the newness wears off and the financial aspects are learned.  With no sources of income, the picture is not that rosy.  Look at AM Radio – The station totals are now down to 1980’s level.  I suspect that in a few years we will see the number of AM’s shrink back to levels similar to decades before.  All of this despite the FCC’s attempts.  In this society, money talks and the lack of it often speaks the loudest! I suppose you heard that Seattle City Light is going to replace the historic neon sign at 4th and Spokane with a new one with LED’s.  Guess this is another example of where solid state devices replaces tubes? I recently read that broadcast companies are looking toward diversification as a means to spur growth.  Wait a minute!!!  What happened to the idea that if something did not match your core business it should be sold off and the money used for something within that core?  Seems to me that this was the rationale for many stations to sell their towers.  In some case these towers represented considerable income.  Could it be that this thinking was, at least in some cases, wrong?  Could it be that broadcast companies are starting to think outside the box and would be receptive to doing something outside their core to benefit their bottom line?  Stranger things have happened. Over the years I’ve used several shipping containers for transmitter enclosures for radio stations, so I found it interesting that these ‘cans’ (as they call them in the shipping trade) are finding uses for all kinds of things…In some cases some pretty interesting homes.  I was surprised to see a couple of these put to use by Starbucks.

Starbucks Ships

Do you ever wish you could pick out a T-shirt that has a message on it that you’d like to show off?  In keeping with my comment in this month’s column about retirement, consider this gem –


I talk a lot about Radio, as this is where I found myself for the last many years.  I just want to make sure that you all understand that being a Television Broadcast Engineer can be an equally rewarding experience – As the following picture of Terry Spring certainly demonstrates.

Terrie Sweeps

Speaking of TV – could not help but notice that Pay-TV is losing a large number of subscribers.  The Satellite and Cable providers are being impacted by what are called ‘cord-cutters’.  Then there are those that are ‘cord-nevers’.  I suspect that the Cable firms know all about this and this is what’s behind them pushing the IP side of the business.  Having a bigger pipe down main street represents a lot of future value.  I did find it interesting that there has been some movement to be more flexible in the world of cable – In some cases you might be able to subscribe to Cable-TV and not be forced to pay for channels that you will never want or watch. Not often do you hear about the FCC hitting a Ham Radio operator with a huge fine…but that is exactly what they did to W6WBJ in California for broadcasting music and intentionally interfering with others.  He has been asked to contribute $25 Grand to the Treasury.  In the end he may end up also losing his license. Finally – In keeping with my tradition of occasionally providing you with something at the end to bring a smile or two – I present these items for your consideration – I find it ironic that the colors red, white, and blue stand for freedom, until they’re flashing behind you. I changed my password to “incorrect” so, whenever I forget it, the computer will say, “Your password is incorrect.” Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity. I’m great at multi-tasking — I can waste time, be unproductive, and procrastinate all at once. If you can smile when things go wrong, you have someone in mind to blame. Never tell your problems to anyone because 20% don’t care and the other 80% are glad you have them. Doesn’t expecting the unexpected mean that the unexpected is actually expected? I hate when people use big words just to make themselves sound perspicacious. Television may insult your intelligence, but nothing rubs it in like a computer. I bought a vacuum cleaner six months ago and so far all it’s been doing is gathering dust. Every time someone comes up with a foolproof solution, along comes a more-talented fool. Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes. If you keep your feet firmly planted on the ground, you’ll have trouble putting on your pants. A computer once beat me at chess, but it was no match for me at kick boxing. Ever stop to think and… forget to start again? My wife got 8 out of 10 on her driver’s test – the other two guys managed to jump out of her way. There may be no excuse for laziness, but I’m still looking. Give me ambiguity or give me something else. He who laughs last thinks slowest. Is it wrong that only one company makes the game Monopoly? Women sometimes make fools of men, but most guys are the do-it-yourself types. Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine. The grass may be greener on the other side, but at least you don’t have to mow it. I like long walks, especially when they’re taken by people who annoy me. I was going to wear my camouflage shirt today, but I couldn’t find it. If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you. If tomatoes are technically a fruit, is ketchup a smoothie?   Thanks for taking time to read my stuff – Hopefully we can do more of this next month.  Meanwhile – Remember that Christmas is not far away…..You can tell as retailers have already got on display items for Halloween Clay, K7CR, CPBE