October  2020 – Clay’s Corner

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

They say that bad things come in ‘3’s. In our case could the 3rd be smoke following COVID and Riots?

Not only was summer apparently going to continue, but this year our long run of warm/dry weather meant Fire. Labor day in our area started off with warm/clear skies and then….Wham! We were hit with a thick blanket of smoke, reportedly coming from fires east of the Cascades, as the winds starting blowing from the east. Later those winds became very strong (45 mph), knocking over tall trees into power lines resulting in some serious fires in Graham and then Sumner/Bonney Lake, thereby adding some local smoke to breathe. Normally a switch to on-shore winds would bring in some sweet-smelling ocean air. We got the ocean air OK, and lower temperatures, however, with it came all the smoke that had been blowing westward, some of it from fires in California and Oregon, coming back from a plume that was blow out to sea over 1,000 miles. This stuff was bad, and being labeled as hazardous. I can tell you that a few minutes outside made your throat and chest hurt.

We were pretty lucky by the 10th of the month, in that we had not experienced the devastation that was taking place in California and Oregon. Reportedly, over 1,000,000 acres in Oregon is burning, including a good portion of Clackamas County which lies SE of Portland, half of which has been under evacuation orders. There too, air quality dropped to very very bad. Words like record setting, historic and devastation are being used.

I borrowed the following picture from the Seattle Times because it shows the situation so well:

Looking at the AQI (Air Quality Index) Saturday evening on Sept 12th for Seattle:

A 202 is unhealthy, as we know if you ventured outside today.

But this is nothing compared to the air in Portland, measured about the same time – Over 500!!!

As stated, Hazardous: Health alert: everyone may experience more serious health effects.

One of the issues in dealing with this is the fact that the face masks that most of us wear are not effective in filtering out the particulates in the smoke, unless you happen to have a stash of N95s.

Hard to believe that, for a time, all of Washington and Oregon were covered in thick smoke with the entire area under bad air warnings. Normally the Cascades are a barrier…not this time.

Reports were that Portland had the the worst air quality – IN THE WORLD! (That’s quite a statement).

In California, the smoke plume from one of their big fires extended 55,000 feet upward. Think of it this way – this is about four times the height of Mt. Rainier! Higher than any airliner flies. In one of these fires, the National Weather Service issued their first ‘Fire Tornado’ warnings.

We were all looking at the weather forecasts for some chance it was going to rain soon and wash this stuff out of the air. Through the weekend of the 12th and 13th, we were told that things would change for the better on Monday (the 14th). The forecasts showed a ‘little’ rain. Hey, at this point we will take what we can get. On Monday, the forecasters were telling us the hoped-for rain was being delayed and to expect more of the same.

On Monday I received notice that WSU was closing down for the day because of Air Quality. This is on the far eastern edge of the State in Pullman. Wow. I later pulled up this map showing how wide-spread this issue is.

Let’s not overlook Vancouver, B.C. Unfortunately the smoke does not respect any borders. They can close the border to protect B.C. from COVID coming in from the U.S., but are helpless to keep the smoke out.

Taking another look at how bad this has been, consider the AQI Ranking of the most polluted air cities.

Looking at the big picture on the 16th – This shows where all the bad air is located, nation-wide.

Borrowing from David Letterman’s Top-10-List, here is a good look at the most polluted cities – IN THE WORLD – on Sept 14th. Did you ever dream our area would be ranked like this?

14 September 2020, 15:39



What has to be a case of bad timing, several restaurants whose businesses have been dramatically hurt by the COVID Pandemic recently received permission to offer outside dining on sidewalks etc., taking advantage of our extended summer weather. Then – WHAM – we got hit with this punishing smoke that drove what customers they had back inside.

Here’s a picture from the AccelNet camera on Cougar Mt. The tower on the left is the 94.1 & 96.5 Auxiliary.   The hill beyond is Summerset. Even at this elevation you don’t want to be breathing this stuff that we used to call ‘air’. The visibility was so bad that Alaska Airlines were cancelling flights at airports around the PNW.

This image, from NOAA, shows how the smoke from the wildfires in the west are making their way east. The advantage they have is that the smoke is not at the surface as it is here. The Red Dots are fires.

There is a lot of concern regarding the impact of all this wildfire smoke is having on our health (hence the reason for the warnings to stay inside etc.) The Seattle Times ran a piece stating that breathing this stuff is like smoking nine cigarettes a day. Talk about ‘Second-Hand-Smoke’. I recently asked my neighbor (a heavy smoker) how a smoker views all of this. She just stared at me! The impact from all of this may have serious, long term, impacts. One concern is how the poor air will interact with COVID. There is a lot of extremely nasty stuff in this smoke that is another element attacking the lungs of many. The problem is that these smoke particles are very small (2.5 microns) and are not broken down by our immune response systems, resulting in a long-lasting inflammation that can impact a number of our vital organs. If you have an underlying issue, like COPD or COVID – It’s a ‘double whammy’. There is plenty of evidence about the harmful reactions to smoking. The problem is, now we are all smokers! As this were not enough, there is a recent study that shows how wildland smoke is related to a three to five time increase in the amount of flu cases later in the year. (Triple whammy?)

So how do you protect yourself if you have to go outside? Unfortunately all those masks that we are told to wear for COVID won’t filter out the particles in the smoke. Apparently the N95s will. However, as you know, those were very hard to find.

There certainly is an impact on broadcasting.

Fires often occur in mountains where the fire races uphill to the top which, in many cases, are populated with communications facilities of all kinds…including Radio and TV Stations. One of the biggest in the country is the famous Mt. Wilson facility where many of the Los Angeles FM Radio and TV transmitters are located.

And the headline read:

Mt. Wilson Comm Towers in Danger from California Wildfire

(Image credit: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

I’m sure that all of this has impacted some broadcast operations, especially those mountaintop transmitter sites used by Radio and TV Stations. Over the next few weeks, stories about them will be coming in.

Towers don’t burn….but the cables connected to the antennas do, as do the buildings that house the related equipment.

These pictures are of a communications site in Eastern Washington:

Don’t think that this will never happen in the Puget Sound area. In my lifetime I’ve witnessed fires that could have severely damaged facilities on Capital Peak, South Mountain, West Tiger etc. As the climate continues to change, the threat from this kind of destruction in our back yard will certainly increase.

The good news arrived on Saturday morning, the 19th with, what seemed like forever to get a return here to good air quality. The AQIs were, for the most part, GREEN! The weather change came the day before, with rain showers and a few thunder boomers. Finally, on the 23rd we got what we had hoped for – A vigorous fall storm hit the area with several inches of rain. At last! – Our air was back to normal.

All the smoke created a high demand for Air Filters. The filter on the right was removed from the KING-FM transmitter at West Tiger. Compare it to a new one on the left.

Shifting gears now from wildfires to the other disaster that is still smoldering – COVID.

As we have heard, a number of people employed in broadcasting have lost their jobs, primarily due the impact on the economy caused by COVID. If you are Radio-Tech, and in that boat, know that there are jobs opening up here and there. Here’s an example of an owner who is specifically targeting those that have lost their job because of the virus:

Was your engineering or IT role a victim of COVID?  Mid-West Family in Rockford-DeKalb, IL is looking for our next Engineering Manager. 

If you love projects and want to be in charge of your own department (and destiny), this is the next career stop for you.  You’ll help us move an antenna, install a translator or two, work through any IT challenges, and become our go-to tech expert as we evolve into a media company for 2030. 

If you’re looking to make your mark as an audio and broadcast engineer for the future, this is your opportunity.  Knowledge of MediaTouch is helpful, but not required.  The position is open today and we’ll hire when we find the person with the right technical skills that fits our culture. 

To apply, send a resume to engineering@rmgmwf.com

If you are looking for a crystal ball, trying to figure out where the COVID-19 Pandemic is heading, you don’t have to go further than U-Dub in Seattle. Their IHME is often a quoted source. Here is what they were saying on Sept 4th:

The U.S. will top more than 410,000 Covid-19 deaths by the end of the year as the country heads into the fall and winter, according to a new forecast from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

 Covid-19 has already killed at least 186,800 people in the U.S., according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The model by IHME, whose models have previously been cited by the White House and state officials, forecasts that the death toll will more than double by Jan. 1 and could reach as high as 620,000 if states aggressively ease coronavirus restrictions and people disregard public health guidance.

 “The worst is yet to come. I don’t think perhaps that’s a surprise, although I think there’s a natural tendency as we’re a little bit in the Northern hemisphere summer, to think maybe the epidemic is going away,” Dr. Christopher Murray, director of IHME, told reporters on a conference call Friday.

In June, IHME predicted that the death toll in the U.S. would reach 200,000 by October, which appears to be on track. Some epidemiologists and mathematicians, however, have criticized IHME for making predictions too far into the future. 

IHME previously projected 317,697 deaths by Dec. 1. The model now predicts that the daily death toll could rise to nearly 3,000 per day in December, up from over 800 per day now, according to Hopkins data.

IHME released three new projections based on different assumptions: a worst-case scenario, a best-case scenario and a most likely scenario. The most likely scenario estimates that Covid-19 will kill 410,450 people in the U.S. by Jan. 1. The worst-case scenario, which assumes that restrictions and mask directives will ease, projects up to 620,028 people in the U.S. will die by then and the best-case scenario, which assumes universal masking, predicts that 288,380 people in the U.S. will die from Covid-19 in 2020.

Government policies and compliance among the public will largely determine how many people die of Covid-19 this fall and winter, Murray said. He added on a call that he believes there is a seasonal element to the virus, as with other coronaviruses, and that it will spread more easily in the colder Northern climates later in the year. 

“We are facing the prospect of a deadly December, especially in Europe, Central Asia, and the United States,” Murray said in a statement. “But the science is clear and the evidence irrefutable: mask-wearing, social distancing, and limits to social gatherings are vital to helping prevent transmission of the virus.”

On a call, Murray added that widespread mask use likely won’t be enough to drive down spread of the virus in the fall and winter. He said the question, from a policy perspective, is what kind of social distancing restrictions will be most effective, and there’s not enough public data to answer that question, he said.

Daily new cases of Covid-19 in the U.S. have fallen since they peaked in late July at more than 70,000 new cases per day. However, daily new cases appear to have plateaued again at over 40,000 new cases per day, a level of pervasive spread that top health officials have said is worrying headed into the fall. Despite the drop in new cases, the number of deaths caused by Covid-19 everyday in the U.S. has remained high, at nearly 1,000 new deaths per day, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Murray said daily new cases, both globally and in the U.S., may continue to plateau or even drop through September, but they will likely rise come October.

The group projects the global death toll, which currently stands at 869,600, will rise to roughly 2.8 million by Jan. 1. The best-case scenario — where there’s widespread adoption of masks and other safety precautions — forecasts a worldwide death toll of more than 2 million. The worst case scenario predicts 4 million cumulative global deaths by the end of the year.

IHME’s latest forecast is based on the assumption that cooler weather in the Northern hemisphere will have people spending more time indoors where the coronavirus more easily spreads, keeping the death toll high.

“People in the Northern Hemisphere must be especially vigilant as winter approaches, since the coronavirus, like pneumonia, will be more prevalent in cold climates,” Murray said.

It should be noted that IHME is just one of several modeling groups used by the CDC as they try and forecast where this is all going. It’s just unique, that one of them is here in our area.

Then there is Dr. Fauci who states the US won’t get back to normal until LATE in 2021. This is despite a vaccine being available by the end of this year or early in 2021. As my Doctor recently told me, “It’s very likely we will still be wearing protective masks 6 months from now.”

As we neared the end of the month, our State was still adding about 500 new cases of COVID each day, except for the report on the 25th when that number bumped to 988. Not too surprising to the experts that noted that it occurred about two weeks after the Labor Day Holiday when there was an increase in the amount of ‘social mingling’.

  • The  total number of people diagnosed as positive approaching 85,000
  • The death-toll now 2100
  • There have been 7,000,000 cases in the U.S.
  •  200,000 have died
  • 40% of the cases are people between 20 and 39
  • 28% are between 40 and 59
  • About 90% of the deaths are people over 60

From Lowell Kiesow of KNKX, describing some of those that reject protecting themselves and others from this thing: “I saw a new term the other day: Covidiots”

Perhaps a good way to gauge when ‘normal’ might return is to look at those organizations that plan large conventions. I have to believe that the NAB has some pretty good ears to the ground and, in doing so, have announced that there – will not – be a spring show in Las Vegas and that it’s been re-scheduled for October 9-13, 2021. Yes, that’s over a year from now.

Here is what NAB’s Gordon Smith released in early September:

Dear NAB Show community,

I hope that you and your loved ones are well and staying safe. Although we truly miss seeing you in person, it has been fantastic to observe the industry come together in many ways to work through these challenging times, and it has been our pleasure to do our part to create connections via our new digital initiatives.

As we look ahead to 2021 and beyond, our top priority is to deliver a successful NAB Show. We recognize the vital role NAB Show plays as a driver of innovation and an economic engine for the global media and entertainment industry. With that in mind, it is critical we act on your behalf and in a way that will best serve the long-term interests of the industry. We have worked diligently over the last few weeks and months monitoring a range of variables, including health and safety concerns, economic indicators, industry developments and travel restrictions, to gain an understanding of overall trends and future conditions for holding a major event in 2021. We have also reached out extensively to the show community to collect feedback.

Through all of this we have witnessed growing concern and uncertainty over what the next six months will bring; enough that there appears to be a good deal of reluctance around participating in large events in the first half of next year. The pandemic remains a significant threat and the evidence suggests it will be well into next year before it could be under control in the U.S. We also have our own concerns around being able to deliver the type of event in April that will not only drive results, but one that can be produced safely for all involved and without significant limitations on the experience.

Taking all of this into account and in the interest of supporting the business, health and safety concerns of our show community we have decided to move the 2021 NAB Show, previously scheduled for April 11–14, to October 9–13, 2021 in Las Vegas.

With any difficult decision, there are trade-offs. Moving NAB Show to October means we are considering alternative 2021 dates for NAB Show New York, held annually in October. On the plus side, the 2021 Radio Show will co-locate with NAB Show in Las Vegas as will NAB’s Sales and Management Television Exchange; and there is opportunity to add additional partner events. Beyond this, we have done our best to avoid direct conflicts with other domestic and international events, and have reached out to allied organizations and partners to both share our thinking in advance and to offer to work collaboratively toward turning this into an opportunity for all.

With a new date set for the 2021 NAB Show we are looking at the entirety of the calendar next year with fresh eyes. We plan to continue bringing the industry together in a number of ways. In the short-term, we are excited about the online events planned for next month – the Radio Show (October 5–9) and NAB’s Sales and Management Television Exchange (October 14–15). These signature events, combined with our virtual NAB Show New York (October 19–29), offer dynamic content and engagement opportunities all month long to bring the industry together to restart, reengage and refocus.

We are also committed to creating new and meaningful experiences to engage and connect with you throughout the year on NAB Amplify. This dynamic, year-round digital platform will extend the impact of NAB Show throughout the year by providing opportunities for networking, discovery and education.

Since the early stages of the current global crisis, we have done our best to balance our decision-making with the long-term interest of NAB members and the wider media and entertainment industry. We have not made this decision lightly and have relied on a great deal of feedback from the NAB Show community. We are grateful to our stakeholders and partners for engaging with us and supporting our decision. Amidst all of this, we have been reminded of what a great industry we serve. As always, we look forward to working with you to provide vital events and services to support these efforts, and to invigorate and propel the industry forward.


As we all know, the magic dividing line between K and W call letters is the Mississippi River.

There are a number of exceptions. For instance in Texas – (Most of which is west of the Mississippi) Waco has WACO, San Antonio has WOAI and Dallas WBAP. An interesting thing took place recently in the La Crosse, WI market. A station sale there saw a station that had a K-Call become a station with a W-Call. KQEG became WKBH. The City of License for the station is La Crescent, MN – right along the Mississippi River….however, on the WEST SIDE.

While we deal with Smoke – The Gulf Coast was dealing with a Hurricane that did significant damage to a number of broadcast stations in and around Lake Charles LA.  FCC figures showed ten Radio Stations were forced off the air. Sure would like to have some of their wind and rain about now.

Another kind of storm, this one biological and economical, has forced closure to 400 stations off the air across the U.S.

Once again, Seattle has ranked near the top of the ‘worst cities to drive in’ list. According to WalletHub, Seattle is the 10th worst city for drivers and has the 3rd highest vehicle maintenance costs. One would think that with COVID forcing many to work from home, rather than Downtown, that this statistic would improve.

So just how many of those office towers are empty today? According to a piece in the Seattle Times, ‘Roughly 90% of the 47,000,000 Square Feet of office space is currently vacant. This does not mean that those that occupied this space are not still paying for their space. However, you have to know that the pressure on building owners and operators to re-negotiate these leases is intense. Another statistic from the same article stated that 71% of managers and employees want to continue to work from home after the Pandemic. Betcha it will be a while before we see a bunch of tower-cranes putting up new office towers in Seattle.

All this change in where people are located is having a dramatic impact on those businesses that operate at street level. For example, we are likely not going to need to have a Starbucks everywhere you look for some time to come.

Seattle has other issues ranging from how they handled the riots, Capital Hill mess and their goal to have a ‘’Jump Start tax’. These actions have not gone unnoticed across the Lake. The announcement that Amazon is going to grow by 25,000 employees in Bellevue must have sent some shock waves through some offices in Seattle. Now with leases for two million square feet of office space and announcement of construction of two new, 43-story office towers, one does not have to have an advanced degree to see what’s happening. Seattle has competition!

Matthew Gardner, Chief Economist at Windermere Real Estate, concluded that this is a sign that Amazon is ‘Fed up with Seattle politics’ adding, “It’s another sign that the company is looking to other pastures”.

NAB’s CEO has stated what we all knew was happening. Facebook, Google, YouTube etc. are hurting broadcasters’ ability to make a profit with their own local news operations. NAB has joined Newspapers who have long been saying that they are dying at the hands of these operations. Consumers today are all walking around with Smartphones that enable them to instantly connect to these sources of information, and do so at a time that fits their schedule.

Meanwhile, Washington State University released this item on Sept 14th explaining how political candidates are shifting their focus too:

PULLMAN, Wash. – More political candidates may be shifting primarily to social media to advertise rather than TV, according to a study of advertising trends from the 2018 campaign season. The study, published recently in American Political Science Review, also found that Facebook political ads were more partisan, less negative and less issue-focused than those on TV.

 “The 2018 race showed that social media can be helpful to candidates who may not have a lot of resources, including challengers and those who are not already well known,” said Travis Ridout, Washington state University political science professor and a corresponding author on the study. “It allows them to get their messages out.”

Facebook ads are more practical for many down-ballot candidates who cannot afford the high price of TV advertising, Ridout added. A much broader range of candidates also used Facebook ads than TV.

 Ridout along with co-authors from Bowdoin College, and Emory, Stanford and Wesleyan universities, analyzed Facebook and TV advertising data for nearly 7,300 candidates in the 2018 federal and state level races. They found that the vast majority, about 6,000, only advertised on the social media platform. A little more than 1,000 candidates used both Facebook and TV advertising. Only 242 relied on TV ads alone. The study focused on advertising by candidates’ campaigns as opposed to advertising by political action committees, also known as PACs, and other outside groups.

 While Facebook’s affordability was an equalizing factor, the researchers also noted that the platform’s ability to target ads often limits the audience—which may explain why Facebook political ads tended to be more partisan and contained less information about actual issues. The candidates appeared to be using Facebook to speak to their supporters. They used TV to reach undecided voters.

 “TV political advertising is almost always about persuasion. It’s ‘vote for me’ or ‘don’t vote for the other candidate’,” said Ridout. “There’s some of that persuasion on Facebook too, but there are more fundraising ads and acquisition ads that urge voters to ‘take this survey’ or ‘provide your email address’. The other purpose is for mobilization: encouraging supporters to register to vote, attend a campaign rally or find their polling place.”

 The Facebook ads also tended to avoid the double-edged sword of negative advertising. According to Ridout, negative ads can make people who might have supported an opponent decide to stay home on election day, but they can also make some of those same voters angry, encouraging them to go to the polls. These types of ads still appeared more often on TV than social media in 2018.

Given the “emotional gut punch” TV is able to deliver more effectively than Facebook, and the many older avid voters who still watch television, Ridout doesn’t expect TV political ads to go away any time soon. Still, during the 2020 campaign and in the future, the political scientist expects to see campaigns put more money put into social media, and that comes with its own set of problems.

 “As more of us are getting messages from politicians online, as opposed to through television, it portrays a world for us in which things are more partisan,” Ridout said. “Misinformation policies on social media also don’t seem to be equally enforced. Sometimes they are enforced for small fry, but for rich candidates, they will just rewrite the rules. We may be handing a lot of power to Google and to Facebook in particular, to make really big decisions about how Americans are informed prior to election day.”

 Responding to the present state of the economic situation in radio broadcasting, Entercom has announced a shuffle in the way they do Radio with a couple of their formats. Out are live and local midday and evening shows. In are programs originated in other markets. This is not conventional voice tracking where a DJ comes in and records all their ‘patter’ in a few minutes, letting the station’s computers assemble the pieces so that it sounds like the DJ is live and local.

In this case, they will be airing live shows from elsewhere, generally within the same time zone, during these time segments. Entercom is already doing this with some of their programming on KISW, by airing it in other markets.

For example, in Seattle, Entercom’s ‘The Wolf’ will be going up against Hubbard’s ‘The Bull’. (Both Country Music formatted) Presumably, one station will be running live/local DJ’s while the other will be airing DJ’s from out of state during those time segments. This is yet another example of having less people working in that downtown office building.  

One of our local companies apparently had a change of heart as a result of the recent COVID situation. REI (Recreation Equipment Inc.) had planned on moving into a brand new, $367 Million Dollar, headquarters facility in Bellevue that was just completed. The COVID situation meant everyone was suddenly working from home. Apparently their success with this new mode of operation was enough for them to decided they didn’t need that fancy new building after all, opting to have their staff spread out rather than be concentrated. So, they put the place up for sale. Shortly afterward, it was announced that Facebook would be the new owner. Made sense for Facebook, as they already occupy adjacent buildings and this move will give them an additional 400,000 sq.ft of space to grown into. One does not think of Facebook as a Seattle area company, however, with some 3,000,000 square feet of occupied space, they certainly will have a big footprint.

An entrance to the REI flagship store is shown Friday, March 2, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Obviously, Bellevue is pleased, as this is all happening about the same time as Amazon’s big announcement about expansion in the city.

 I can’t help but wonder when Tacoma will abandon its backward image and start promoting itself as a reasonable alternative for those that either want out of Seattle or are looking at expanding their presence in this area? To start with, Tacoma has a lot of economic advantages. Granted, Seattle and Bellevue are better linked in a number of ways.

In last months column I wrote about the founder of KRAB, Lorenzo Milam passing. Some related emails addressed KBOO in Portland and his connection there. This is explained here:


Kent Randles, now retired from Entercom in Portland noted, “They don’t talk about the first transmitter site being the garage of what is now Gray Haertig’s house.”

For some time there have been complaints about the fact that the Nielsen Portable People Meter (PPM) is not able to track those that listen to radio via headphones. Now, apparently, they have resolved the issue based on surveys to determine the number of people that use this mode for listening.

We constantly hear about the demise of AM Radio. Then something comes along that changes it, at least in certain markets. iHeart Media has recently purchased AM stations in the Washington DC and New York City markets. What’s driving this? I get the feeling it’s because IHeart believed it should invest in their new BIN format, The Black Information Network, locally heard on KHHO/850.

A former IHeart station, licensed to Eatonville, WA (Southeast of Tacoma), KTDD on 104.9, has been sold to Worship 24/7.
More Seattle area statistics from Wallet Hub, this time, not good ones. The City had poor scores in the U.S. for:

  • Rate of car thefts
  • Auto-repair shops per capita
  • Gas prices
  • Parking rates

In California, they routinely, shut off power to keep the power lines from causing more fires. (Not to sure that its working) Anyway, demonstrating how dependent people are on having their electrical devices, many called 911 to report they could not get their garage door open. Apparently never giving any thought to the fact that there is a mechanical release for those doors. Reminds me of stories of people whose battery has died in their key fob and will call for help to get into their vehicle who later learn that the key they have will unlock the door.   The fact that people will call 911 requesting help like this, in times like these, is not helpful.

There are a lot of ‘newbies’ that wonder how we got along without all their high tech contraptions. Meanwhile there are a lot of ‘oldies’ that can recall how to get things done without it. Sometimes – Old Tech – is best.

On that topic, a question was recently asked by a ‘newbie’, “What’s a Tone Arm? 😊

Seems to me, the more people become hooked or reliant on technology, the less they are able to deal with the day when they don’t have it. Power failures are a great example, as just about everything today requires power.

One of my favorite examples is the smart phone.

  • No one remembers phone numbers any more. They store them on their phone.
  • Fewer have a land-line. Why pay for two phones anyway? Besides…What’s a Phone Book?


What they don’t realize is they are about 24 hours away from having that device become a useless door stop when they can’t recharge it.
Another example is Broadcast Radio:


Few have a radio in their home, much less one that does not require having the power on to run it. (Yes, I do have a wind-up.)

All too many have come to depend on getting their news and information from their TV, computer or (there it is again) their Smart Phone.

Here in the PNW, we are waiting for the ‘big-one’ that will create an epic communications vacuum, leaving many to have to fend for themselves. It’s not going to be a pretty sight.
Over the years, you’ve seen me write about towers. That’s because what I do for a living is usually related to a nearby tower. Radio and TV Broadcasting would not be possible without them. At one time, broadcasters all owned their towers, but that all changed a few years ago with several large firms purchasing many of them and leasing them back to their former owners.

If you ever wondered who owns all these tower….Here’s a list you can browse through:


A couple of years ago, a TV tower in Missouri collapsed while it was being modified as part of the TV Re-Pack process, taking the life of Steve Lemay who lived here in Western Washington.

OSHA has investigated the matter and has released a couple of key findings:

1) TCI’s suggested diagonal replacement procedure was flawed in that it compromised the effectiveness of the integrated surrounding braces and the load bearing capacity of the tower legs; and 2) the cause of the communication tower collapse was the weakening of the compressive strength of the tower legs by removing the bolts at the connection of the diagonals to the horizontal redundant. 

As a result, the family of Steve Lemay has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the owners of the tower and Tower Consultants Inc. (TCI). The report cites certain details that may by used by the defendants.

I worked with Steve at West Tiger Mountain not long before the accident, replacing the KIRO-FM Antenna.

Every Radio, TV station and Cable system in the U.S. is required to monitor what’s known as FEMA/IPAWS with their EAS equipment. This, internet based, system is used by all levels of government to distribute Public Warning Messages. For some time, the National Weather Service (NWS) maintained they were working on their own system called Haz Collect. Here in Seattle, we implemented our own system that would enable EAS Messages to be broadcast over NOAA Weather Radio (NWR). Now, things have changed at NWS that will permit civil messages to be distributed via NWR. The following is their news release:


TIP #30: Non-Weather
Emergency Messages

During 2021, National Weather Service (NWS) offices will implement a new capability allowing Non-Weather Emergency Messages (NWEMs) to be channeled from IPAWS to NWS for broadcast over NOAA Weather Radio (NWR). This capability is a replacement to the discontinued HazCollect program.

NWS plans to conduct live testing of the new capability with select IPAWS COGs in October and November of 2020. Operational rollout is expected during the first half of 2021. The final step of operational rollout requires local configuration of systems at each local NWS Weather Forecast Office (WFO) so exact dates for operations will be determined by each WFO.

During the scheduled live testing, COGs will send Demo/Practice (DMO) and Administrative Message (ADR) messages to IPAWS, where they will be validated and sent to NWS. NWS will process the messages and broadcast them over NWR. Select broadcasters will also monitor NWR and validate receipt of the associated Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) that would normally be used for EAS activation.

During this live testing period, any Alerting Authority with NWEM permissions may see an alert go out over NWR. However, this capability is not expected to be operational 24/7 during the test period, so please continue to utilize other alerting channels to ensure delivery of NWEMs.

If you want to prevent an alert from being sent over the IPAWS NWEM channel to the NWS and NWR you may apply “BLOCKCHANNEL = NWEM” in your alerting software. Please contact your alerting software provider for details on how to do this.

Once testing is complete, we will provide more information about when National Weather Service offices will enable 24/7 operation and alerting authorities can expect their valid NWEM to be delivered over NWR.

Please contact Mike.Gerber@noaa.gov for additional information about NWEM broadcast over NWR.

I guess it’s official. For some time we have been experiencing very little, if any, solar activity as defined by the number of sun-spots.  On the 15th of September an international bunch of experts announced that Solar Cycle 25 is here. In the event you have not noticed, these oscillations between a quiet and active sun take place in, roughly, 11 year intervals. In the following, you can see on the left a quiet sun (as it has been for some time) and, on the right, when it’s active.

To those of us who are Hams, this means that the higher frequency HF bands will see enhanced propagation. Of late, there has been little or no long distance propagation on 15 and 10 Meters. Sensing that there is fun ahead, I shipped off my HF Transceiver for a bunch of up-grades.

Wheatstone, a manufacturer of professional audio equipment, recently ran a story about KING-FM’s new studio facilities. Having been there, I can tell you that it is very, very nice. One of the things that impressed me, was how meticulously the wiring was accomplished. Believe me, there are a lot of ‘rats-nests’ to be found out there. Mike Brooks and the integration team did a marvelous job. Not often is a broadcast station willing to show off the workmanship in their wiring. The following is a picture of inside one of their equipment racks:


 During this pandemic, a number of churches have turned to ‘parking lot services’, where worshipers assemble in their vehicles in the church parking lot, while the services are transmitted via a low-power FM transmitter. Some have requested the FCC waive its rules to permit greater coverage. (Read that operate with more power.) The FCC has officially said no. Chairman Pai suggests instead that churches could use broadband. The fact is, many are doing just that.

Churches are not the only ones wanting more power. So are Low Power FM Stations (LPFM). Perhaps it was only a matter of time before this would come to pass. Most broadcast stations desire to have greater coverage and to do that means either higher power, or in the case of FM, higher transmitter locations.

The FCC has rejected proposals to increase power from 100 to 250 watts. The NAB and others have made it clear that the FM band has become very full with all the new translators etc. Just as was the case with the old AM Class-4’s many years ago, the desire for more power tends to override concerns regarding the interference that is caused.

By permitting these 2000+ stations to increase power from 100 to 250 may make them feel better, however, listeners would be faced with increased interference, thereby defeating the purpose of the increase. We are already experiencing what happens when we have people who try and argue with science and physics.

There are a couple of passing’s that I should note:

Not often do I write about the passing of someone that was not involved with Broadcasting. This month, an exception. The father of one of our more well known residents, Bill Gates Sr. recently passed. He was 94. What is often not mentioned was the fact that he was a guiding force behind the formation of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, that has gone on to do so much good for so many.

In this case, the passing of Bob Robertson at 91, was the loss of a legend in our business.

Just about everyone has a story or memory of Bob. I recall the first time I saw him was in a radio studio where he was re-creating a Tacoma baseball game. That was an amazing process. There was no budget to send a sportscaster to away games, not to mention, in those days well before the Internet, the cost of the broadcast circuit was huge. Bob had a couple of reel-to-reel tape recorders, one with a loop of crowd noise, the other with a loop of cheers of something exciting happening on the field. A block of wood to create the sound of a bat and he was all set to call the game. Each half inning he would be handed a piece of paper that came from a stringer at the game with the events of the game. That’s all he needed. Listening on the air, you had little clue that he was not in the press box at the game. Many years later, Bob was still doing it on KLAY in Tacoma. I would bet that few if any of today’s play-by-play announcers could pull off what Bob did?

When I worked for Channel 13, then owned by Clover Park, we would do football games at Franklin Pierce Stadium. Bob was there to handle the play-by-play.

In reading about Bob for this piece, I learned that he and I both worked at KMO in Tacoma, at slightly different times. He started there in 1950, me, 16 years later in 1966.

Bob was most famous for being the voice of WSU/Cougar football starting in 1964 and ending some 52 years later in October 2018 when he announced he was retiring.

Bob was the Washington Sportscaster of the year 15 times in his career. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004 and the WSU Hall of Fame in 2002.

Bob Robertson’s voice carried across the airwaves for his four children, his wife Joanne, his friends, his fellow broadcasters, and sports fans across the Pacific Northwest to enjoy for nearly seven decades until his retirement in 2018.

A radio, television and play-by-play broadcaster in the region since 1949, Robertson was beloved as the voice of the Washington State Cougars for 52 seasons, the voice of minor league baseball in the state, primarily in Tacoma in Spokane, and renowned for his wide-ranging knowledge of the statewide sports landscape.

In the following picture, you can see Bob waving to his fans at a Tacoma baseball game in 2018:

As you can see, the broadcast booth at Cheney Stadium is named for Bob. So is a radio booth at Avista Stadium in Spokane and at Martin Stadium on the WSU Campus in Pullman.

As you can tell, Bob called not only football and baseball games, but basketball as well….spending more than 20 years calling WSU basketball games.

Bob is survived by his four children, Hugh, Janna, John and Rebecca, along with his seven grandchildren.

Hopefully he will also be remembered with his famous sign-off:

“Always be a good sport. Be a good sport all ways.”

For those of you that are not familiar with Kitsap County. The Western side of the county has ‘two-humps’   Clearly visible from Seattle. The South Hump is Gold Mountain (home of a KCPQ-TV/13 as well as KTBW (Virtual Channel 20, UHF Channel 21). The North Hump is Green Mountain.

Recently the Kitsap Sun ran a story about these two mountains where I learned they are called the ‘Blue Hills’. All these years, I’ve never heard that. In the following video, look at the segment talking about the Weather Radar that was damaged by falling ice. You will see a shorter tower, with the radar dome on top, and to the right a portion of the 700 foot Channel 13 tower. Yes, it does load up with ice during the winter and when it ‘defrosts’…there is a lot of ice falling.


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Here’s an item that grabbed my antenna:

Miller Lite Creates ‘Cantenna’ Reception Device

Limited edition product designed to help cord-cutters get NFL games


(Image credit: Miller Lite)

The official text reads:

CHICAGO—On the list of strange things to happen in 2020, add Miller Lite coming out with a TV antenna as the latest entry. The beer company has announced what it calls the “Cantenna,” a reception device—and beer—that is designed specifically for cord-cutters or cord-nevers to receive broadcasts of NFL football games as an alternative to illegal streaming.

For those of us that have been around Amateur Radio for the last half a century, we all knew that the term ‘Cantenna’ meant a famous product sold by Heath kit. In that case it was a resistor, mounted in a paint-can filled with oil that worked as a ‘dummy-antenna’ or ‘dummy-load’.

My guess is the folks creating this ‘beer’ Cantenna had no idea that the name was being recycled, perhaps because they never heard of it, or it came out (1961) before they were born. Then there is the fact that the Heath Cantenna was used to test transmitters when you did not wish to broadcast a signal, whereas the new Cantenna is designed to receive signals.


For additional information on the – famous – Cantenna, look here –








Perhaps the biggest news of the month for local TV was the announcement that the owners of KWPX-TV (Channel 33) ION Media has been sold to E.W. Scripps $2.65 Billion. Interestingly Berkshire Hathaway is contributing $600 Million to the deal. In the end, Scripps will be reaching 100 Million homes in 62 markets where it has stations, in addition to some 124 affiliates. I understand that Scripps will have to divest 23 Ion stations. No word where and who at this point.
We knew it was coming as John Poray had announced his retirement as Executive Director of SBE some time back. At the most recent fall meeting of the Society it was announced that James Ragsdale will be taking his place.

Ragsdale will start in January. The SBE Board noted that they had 28 candidates to choose from which is, in itself, quite a statement about SBE.

I’ve been a member of SBE since 1968 (52 years) and for almost 30 of those years, John was in Indy, keeping the work of the Society flowing.  Having served 10 years on the National Board of Directors, I spent a great deal of time with John. He certainly will be missed. Welcome aboard James!

My thanks to an un-named reader for this submission:



That’s about it for this month, my friends –  Lord willing, I will be back, next month to most of the usual locations.
Until then – Stay safe as you carefully venture out with your facial coverings!
Clay, K7CR, CPBE

SBE Member #714 since February 5th, 1968