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Alabama FM Seeks Power Increase to Deal With Changes Due to Coronavirus

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 11:02
Sumter County Alabama Commissioner Marcus Campbell (left) and Blackbelt Broadcasting’s Damon Collins provide updates on the COVID-19 outbreak. Campbell is also the voice of local high school broadcasts.

A Foley, Ala., broadcaster has applied for an auxiliary waiver it says will ameliorate the negative effects it is experiencing from the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home order.

Blackbelt Broadcasting President Damon Collins is seeking an FM auxiliary authorization that would increase WLYB(FM)’s power from 3.4 kW to 8.0 kW. According to the waiver application, Collins seeks the change in reaction to changes in commuting and listening habits due to the pandemic — shifts that Collins and others anticipate will be long-term if not permanent.

“This upgrade will help reach our rural communities who depend on our station. With more listening now done at home, this increase will improve our coverage without creating interference issues to other stations,” Collins wrote in an email to Radio World.

WLYB has also been a proponent of a proposed new FM class called C4. But Collins emphasizes that here the station is seeking an FM auxiliary permit that is secondary and can be cancelled at any time. “This FM Auxiliary permit effort does not replace the FM Class C4 petition. That initiative is still ongoing,” he said.

Specifically, Blackbelt Broadcasting is concerned that “The loss of the commuting listener base disproportionately affects lower-powered broadcasters … who depend significantly upon outdoor reception in vehicles in order to retain audience share.” Additionally, Collins said that, due to financial and technical constraints, lower-powered stations like his are less able to shift to streaming in order to reach indoor listeners. 

Additionally, the application says “the present and anticipated lasting sudden and unpredictable listening pattern shift due to the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak precisely satisfies” the FCC’s criteria that “a waiver request must be due to special and unique circumstances.”

Although Blackbelt Broadcasting does not anticipate the change would cause interference, they say WLYB would revert to the original licensed parameters of its main authorization if there are six unresolved listener complaints.

However, WLYB is continuing to serve its community, which has been hard hit by the crisis.

“We have focused our efforts to provide community information to our listeners. We provide reports and interviews from our local and state leaders on the pandemic. Updates on testing, services available, and stories the impact our community. We are helping all businesses by letting our listeners know they are open by providing updates. Everyone is working together during this crisis,“ Collins said.

According to Collins, Sumter County, Ala., where WLYB is located,  “is one of the poorest counties in the state. The infection rate is high. The economy was fragile before the pandemic. Education and information on the crisis is important. Stations like WLYB(FM) provide a valuable service to many rural communities.”

WLYB signed on the air in 2013.  It runs an adult contemporary music format, but Collins emphasizes that the station’s mission is to be community oriented, focusing on Livingston, where its studios are downtown. It also broadcasts from Meridian, Ala., translator W263CF.

“Radio is a critical resource to many rural communities. We hope that the FCC will consider this waiver to help rural stations reach underserved listeners,” Collins concluded.

The post Alabama FM Seeks Power Increase to Deal With Changes Due to Coronavirus appeared first on Radio World.

Digigram Introduces Iqoya Guest Preview

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 05:52

To help broadcasters during the COVID-19 health crisis, Digigram has accelerated the release of Iqoya Guest Preview, a  “smart and equipment-free” solution for home broadcasting.

According to the company, the light remote web-based broadcasting solution does not require any equipment or software installation, and lets users manage remote interviews of guests from anywhere.

The system turns web browsers into a two-way codec, providing a connection link to journalists working remotely. Thus, the company says, staff can immediately connect via their PC or smartphone to their studio with quality audio.

Digigram points out that Iqoya Guest Preview requires no app installation, no download or specific settings.

The post Digigram Introduces Iqoya Guest Preview appeared first on Radio World.

When Brute Force Transmitters Ruled the Air

Sun, 04/26/2020 - 06:28

Admittedly, there’s really not much in the way of transmitter maintenance today, save for routine cleaning and occasionally sending an ill-performing module back to the manufacturer for repair or swapout. Vacuum tube-based units required more attention but could operate for fairly long stretches with little more than replacing failed tubes. 

There was a time though when operating a certain breed of transmitter meant changing out large carbon electrodes several times during an operating shift, switching to a standby rig to allow the main to cool long enough to remove a prodigious amount of soot from its interior, replacing an transmitter insulator that had begun to burn while on the air, and the regular topping off a reservoir with alcohol, kerosene or maybe even gasoline. 

This was what it took to keep the kilowatts on the air some 100 years ago. I’m referring to the Poulsen arc converter technology for generating a continuous carrier wave.

PUTTING A NUISANCE TO WORK The arc transmitter or “converter” in its simplest form. It’s nothing more than a DC arc with a series-tuned circuit connected across the arc electrodes.

Most readers will have witnessed what happens when a path is abruptly broken in an energized circuit (anything from opening a knife switch to using a screwdriver to discharge a large capacitor). There is a bright flash of light and (depending) on the amount of voltage and current involved, a sound anywhere from a small “smack” to that of a lesser thunderbolt. The phenomena involved is an electrical arc — a flow of relatively low-voltage, high-current across an open space. 

It was at one time (in pre-incandescent lamp days) used for artificial lighting, and even after the advent of the Edison lamp, served for several decades as a high-intensity light source in motion picture projection and some large spotlights. 

Today, the electrical arc comes in handy for welding, “electro-erosive” fabrication of metal parts, and melting metals in high-temperature furnaces. Otherwise it’s a sometimes dangerous and expensive nuisance that occurs when relay contacts open or screws aren’t snugged down tight in power panels. 

Early in radio’s history, however, the electrical arc was at the core of some of the most powerful transmitters ever put on the air. 

NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH “SPARK”! A small tabletop “arcphone” radio transmitter. The arc chamber and its associated hydrocarbon liquid reservoir are seen at the center right. The transmitter’s carbon microphone projecting above the top is firmly attached to the unit, as it became very hot in operation and could not be hand-held.

Now, I’m not referring to the big “rock crusher” spark transmitters championed by Marconi and others in radio’s caveman days. Those were rather diametrically opposed to arc technology, as their operation involved relatively low currents and very high voltages (tens of thousands), and generated a “damped” wave oscillation that produced a very wideband (spread spectrum) type of signal. 

Arc transmitters, or “converters” as they were known (they converted DC into radio-frequency AC), with the exception of the very large devices, typically operated with potentials of a few hundred volts and currents usually measured in the hundreds of amps.

The Marconi “rock crushers” were fine for communication via telegraphic code (well, not really, but they got the radio industry started). However, for Reginald Fessenden and other visionaries who desired to transmit speech and perhaps music, they were useless as the damped oscillation (think ringing a bell) produced was not suited as a carrier wave that could be modulated with an audio component. 

Fessenden solved the problem of generating a continuous wave by pressuring the General Electric folks to produce an alternator that spun fast enough and had enough poles to generate an output in the LF portion of the radio spectrum. That took time, and it was not cheap either.

A production model Federal Telegraph arc transmitter. Although the size is not stated in the photo data, it is likely in the 30 kW range.
Courtesy of History San José

Elsewhere, others explored the production of continuous radio waves — or, as they were called back then, “undampt” waves — and found that a certain property of the electrical arc made it a good candidate.

Arc transmitter technology stemmed from the discovery by English physicist William Duddell in the 1890s that if a series-resonant circuit were connected across an arc, an oscillation developed, with its frequency determined by the external inductance and capacitance. Following in Duddell’s footsteps, Danish inventor Valdemar Poulsen (also the inventor of magnetic recording) made improvements on Duddell’s “singing arc.” He secured a patent for his work in 1903 and began marketing the first arc transmitters. 

A 200 kW unit manufactured for the U.S. Navy. The plumbing (pipes and hoses) necessary for cooling the arc’s large electromagnet and its copper anode are clearly visible. The array of cylindrical devices at the bottom left appear to be replacements for the consumable carbon cathode.
Courtesy of History San José

The technology formally arrived in the United States in 1909, when Cyril Elwell, a recent Stanford University engineering graduate who had done work in the field of electrical arc furnaces, became interested in Poulsen’s technology and secured patent rights to manufacture the transmitter. This Palo Alto, Calif., venture was originally known as the Poulsen Wireless Telephone and Telegraph Co., but later changed its name to the Federal Telegraph Co., and manufactured arc converters in varying sizes until the arrival of the high-power vacuum tube transmitter in the early 1920s.

HOW DOES IT WORK? In this 1957 photo, Federal Telegraph’s Leonard Fuller (middle), and Cyril Elwell (right) admire an early electric light bulb owned by another early Federal employee, Douglas Perham. Perham was also a broadcast pioneer, establishing station WJAM (now WMT) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1922.
Courtesy of History San José

It’s useful to consider the physics of the arc converter (transmitter). While striking a DC arc is a simple and basic exercise — momentarily pushing energized electrodes together and then separating them to create the arc — putting it to use in making radio waves involves an understanding of the physical phenomena surrounding such an electrical discharge.

The most intriguing (and valuable) aspect of the arc is that it belongs in the category of devices possessing “negative resistance” characteristics. These include tunnel and Gunn diodes, vacuum tubes when operated under certain conditions (the dynatron oscillator), neon-filled tubes and lamps, and even ordinary fluorescent lamps. 

This diagram is from a “Boys Build Your Own Arc Radiophone” type of article appearing in a popular 1916 magazine (The Electrical Experimenter). As shown in the drawing, audio modulation is achieved by inductively coupling the output of a carbon mic (telephone transmitter) into the “tank” circuit of the arc. The transmitter could also be audio modulated by connecting the mic at points designated with the circled “x,” as well as by breaking the antenna lead and connecting the mic in series with it. (The upper left connection point is especially interesting — dangerous — as it places the mic across a choke connected to a DC source of as much as 500 volts.)

True to Ohm’s law, when the voltage flowing through an ordinary resistor increases, the current increases proportionally (I=E/R). The opposite occurs in negative resistance devices; an increasing voltage results in lowered current flow through the circuit.

A catalog drawing of the largest arc converter produced by Federal, a 1,000 kW model. The technology was scaled up for 2 and 5 megawatt units, but the technology became obsolete before these went into production.
Courtesy of History San José

And while this sounds like a violation of physics, a negative resistance, in a way, produces power, rather than consuming it, as would a carbon resistor. Without getting too technical, in an arc converter, the negative resistance characteristic of the arc counteracts the positive resistance associated with the series-resonant circuit connected across it, thus maintaining its oscillations, which would otherwise die out in short order. (The same principle as in conventional radio transmitters in which an amplifying device [tube or transistor] supplies energy to sustain tank circuit oscillations.) While not a perfect sine wave, the arc converter’s oscillations are pretty close, and can serve as a carrier wave.

This diagram is fairly representative of the arc converters produced by Federal Telegraph for the U.S. Navy. Note the apparent lack of a capacitor in the output circuit. In practice, the capacity between the antenna and ground formed this circuit element. This was done as a way of sidestepping Marconi transmitter patents.

Actually, it’s not quite that simple, as more enhancements (add-ons) are necessary to make a truly practical and workable arc-based transmitter. A powerful magnetic field and a continuous source of hydrogen are also necessary. The magnetic field is needed to “blow out” the arc during an RF cycle and the hydrogen is used to help residual ions from around the arc electrodes during this once-per-cycle downtown. 

As seen in the above diagram, the electrodes are connected in series with the windings of the electromagnet so that when the arc is struck, the magnet is energized and blows out the arc, which in turn extinguishes the discharge. Heat and a few residual ions ensure that the arc is immediately re-struck as soon as the magnetic field is dumped. Of course, all of this is happening at an RF rate, so the arc would appear to be continuous to an observer. (Refer to the “Physics” sidebar for additional details.)

Note that even though the arc is being extinguished and re-lit during an RF cycle, the converter could not be “keyed” for radiotelegraphy in the same manner as other sources of radio-frequency energy, as the time interval between the “dits” and “dahs” would be far too great and the arc would have to be manually reignited. 

This was solved, in what today would be a rather inelegant way, by connecting the telegraph key across a portion of the RF inductor used to set the transmitter’s frequency. During “key down,” turns would be shorted out, shifting the frequency higher. (With the really big converters and their accompanying very large RF currents, a relay with correspondingly heavy contacts was used. This is shown at the bottom right in the above diagram of a large U.S. Navy converter.

Of course, this frequency-shift keying used twice the amount of spectrum, but in the 1910s and 1920s, who cared?

(My own early mentor, who was born in 1904 and developed an interest in radio during the period when arc converters ruled the airwaves, recalled that the really good radiotelegraphy operators could copy this “back” or “compensating” wave as it was called, with equal dexterity, listening for the “holes,” rather than the carrier.) 

A “workaround” of sorts was eventually devised to conserve spectrum, but it was somewhat cumbersome and not employed everywhere. This involved dumping the converter’s RF into a dummy “antenna” (load) during “key up” conditions so that only the transmitting frequency reached the antenna.

TRANSMITTING SPEECH AND MUSIC An operator gets ready to place a Federal 1,000 kW transmitter on the air.

Early on, experimenters found that the continuous wave output of the converters could be modulated with speech. Elwell used this feature to advantage, establishing a two-way radiotelephone service between Sacramento and Stockton, Calif., in competition with Ma Bell. It was claimed that the wireless audio quality was better than that of the wired service.

Others, most notably Lee De Forest and Charles “Doc” Herrold, began broadcasting speech and music via arc or “arcphone” transmitters. However, as pointed out, the machine’s output, if close to a sine wave, was not exactly; and the center frequency, if close, did vary a little. Early adopters referred to this as “fuzz” or “hair” on the signal. Today, we would likely refer to it as phase noise. 

Charles “Doc” Herrold (center, in the doorway) powered his early-1900s San José, Calif. AM radio station with arc technology of his own design. This photo appears to show two of the converters built into the table at the left. A phonograph turntable is visible as is a microphone. Although Federal’s transmitters were designed to operate in the VLF portion of the spectrum, the size of Herrold’s air-core inductors above the arc chambers would seem to indicate that he operated considerably higher up into the RF spectrum. The station was licensed in 1915 as 6FX. After WWI, it moved to vacuum tube technology and was relicensed as KQW, later becoming San Francisco’s KCBS.
Courtesy of History San José

(Although not stated in his patent claims, Herrold may have burned his arc under water in an attempt to filter out some of the fuzz and possibly to supply the needed hydrogen through electrolysis.)

Audio modulation was achieved by simply connecting a carbon microphone (telephone “transmitter”) in the antenna or ground leg of the transmitter output. (Fessenden modulated his high-frequency alternator in the same fashion.) The varying resistance of the microphone element with sound produces a corresponding change in antenna current. Of course, with higher power converters, some means for dissipating the I2R losses in the carbon element had to be provided, with solutions ranging from a water-cooled mic, the use of multiple microphones connected together, and even a “lazy Susan” arrangement for rapidly switching a fresh mic into the circuit while the one previously in use cooled down.

GAS ON THE FIRE 

Early on, the upper frequency of the arc transmitter’s oscillations was limited by the curve describing the negative resistance; however, it was discovered, likely by accident, that introduction of a hydrocarbon-containing vapor or substance (it was actually the hydrogen component) greatly enhanced the performance of the arc and could move its frequency upward.

The patent drawing for Herrold’s arc transmitter. The arc burned under water and the electrodes are broken into several sections.

As the arc transmitter technology progressed, a number of hydrogen-containing substances were tried, including alcohol, kerosene, methane, acetylene, hydrogen gas and even steam. Interestingly, the converter’s operating frequency range could be shifted by substitution of these liquids, gases or vapors. (Of course, the operation of an intense source of heat in close proximity to flammable compounds was not without risk, as will be pointed out later.) 

Ethyl alcohol seemed to be the favored hydrocarbon, at least for the lower-powered arcs, and one can’t help but wonder if this might not have been an added incentive when looking for employees to pull an overnight shift at the transmitter site. The alcohol used was likely pure 200 proof ethanol, or close to it, as “denatured” alcohol didn’t come into widespread use until after the Volstead Act ushered in prohibition in 1920.

TRUTH IN ADVERTISING

It should be noted that while the arc converter was a simple way of transforming DC into radio waves, its operating efficiency was not that great, bordering at best around 50%, so with the larger units, a carefully engineered cooling system was essential. 

Also, Federal, likely bolstered by their ad agency, seemed to overlook this efficiency factor in their product catalog. For instance, their “one megawatt” converter actually delivered only about 500,000 watts of RF. The rest of the DC power had to be dispersed as heat, and just as in “modern” vacuum tube transmitters, the water-cooling system had to be electrically isolated from the converter’s copper anode. In the very high-power installations, this required two cooling loops with a heat exchanger and an outdoor “spray pond” in the secondary loop. 

OSHA, PLEASE LOOK THE OTHER WAY As the microphone used to modulate an arc transmitter in the simplest way carried large RF currents and became quite hot in normal operation, a means for removing heat was necessary. Several schemes were devised, including water cooling. Charles Herrold and E.A.B. Portal were issued a U.S. patent for the water-cooled mic used at his “arcphone” radio station.

Obviously, the high-voltage, high-current potentials (typically from 500 to 2,000 volts and upwards of 500 amps, depending on converter output power) employed in larger arc transmitters were dangerous to the point of lethality.

However, arc transmitters posed another very serious hazard to life and limb. This was their propensity to explode violently if operating instructions weren’t followed to the letter, due to the aforementioned requirement for the continuous introduction of hydrocarbon-containing compounds into the arc chamber.

Precautions against the electrocution threat included these words to the wise: “Great care must be taken by operators working about an arc in operation, and any part of the oscillatory circuit, starting from the copper, must be avoided. An operator at one high-power station on the Atlantic Coast once started to refill the alcohol feed cup from a large metal can while the arc was in operation — he never did it again.”

Equally lethal accidents, but not always causing immediate death, included opening the arc chamber while the converter was in operation, or even after it was shut down if a prescribed amount of “cooling down” time was not observed. Violation of this rule could result in the transmitter literally becoming a “flame thrower.”

“Another stunt to be avoided is the opening of the arc chamber door immediately after the arc has been extinguished, for the sudden contact of the internal heated hydrogen with the external atmosphere will cause an outburst of flame which may result in severe burns to anyone within range. With large arcs, a period of ten minutes should elapse before the door is opened.”

The “always read the instructions completely before plugging it in” type of disclaimer also included the following, hopefully circumventing a slightly different type of “flamethrower” event:

“At least one fatality and several serious injuries have come to the attention of the writer owing to the operator having ‘struck’ the arc when the carbon [electrode] had not been properly fastened in its receptacle. In these instances, [with] the hydrocarbon gas having reached a sufficiently great pressure, the loosened carbon was blown out of its holder followed by a stream of flame, proving disastrous to the operator, who invariably stands on that side of the arc when starting it.”

At least one big arc transmitter was reborn as a nuclear particle accelerator. This Federal 1,000 kW unit was transformed into what was then the world’s largest cyclotron. It’s shown with cyclotron inventor Ernest Lawrence, right. At left is Stanley Livingston, a graduate student who had worked with Lawrence in perfecting the cyclotron.
Courtesy of History San José

(Another precaution was offered for those working around the giant “converters” that would be of little worry in today’s world of quartz-movement clocks and watches. This was the avoidance of bringing one’s prized timepiece near an operating converter, as the intense magnetic field could permanently damage the steel mainspring-driven movement.)

There were a number of early arc converter martyrs, and doubtless the list would have kept growing if the technology had not been pushed out of the way by the perfection of the vacuum tube as an RF oscillator and power amplifier in the 1920s. Actually, as late as 1922 — at least according to a U.S. Bureau of Standards publication that year, the arc was still the “go-to” source for high-power long-distance communications, with an estimated “80 percent of all the energy actually radiated into space for radio purposes during a given time” emanating from arc transmitters. (This excluded amateur stations, which still largely utilized damped wave spark apparatus.)

LIFE AFTER OBSOLESCENCE

Once more modern and efficient ways of producing a continuous wave emerged, not all of the dangerous, and sometimes problematic, arc converters were reconciled to the metal recycler. At least one, and probably more, were tapped for nuclear research.

In the late 1920s, a race of sorts was underway on several shores to “split” the tiny atom in an effort to learn more about its internal workings. One of those heavily involved was the University of California’s Ernest O. Lawrence, future Nobel Laureate. He devised a tabletop model of a machine that could accelerate subatomic particles faster and faster until they had sufficient energy to pass through the electrostatic barrier of the atomic nucleus and send its constituents flying in all directions. 

Once Lawrence, aided by a grad student, succeeded in making the tabletop nuclear particle accelerator — or “cyclotron” as Lawrence dubbed the device — work, the challenge was on to build a bigger and better model. (The cyclotron’s operation is based around a large magnetic field, just as in the arc converter.)

It so happened that once the vacuum tube had sunset activities at Federal Telegraph, there were some unsold arc converters literally rusting away at the company’s Palo Alto, Calif., facility. Lawrence learned of this from Leonard Fuller, chairman of the university’s EE department, and it was not difficult to secure one of the last of this breed of transmitter and relocate it to the Berkeley radiation research lab for just the cost of the move. There, it was stripped of the arc chamber, and the magnetic core became the heart of the first big cyclotron, known as the “27-incher,” the diameter of the magnetic poles formed from the big electromagnetic. This machine produced energies of 5,000,000 electron volts, and was later upgraded to give an 8 MeV push to deuterons, and it could also eject alpha particles at energies of up to 16 MeV. 

The Physics of Arc Converter Operation

Aside from producing a continuous wave oscillation, an arc transmitter, or converter, is differentiated from a spark transmitter in a number of other ways. A spark machine can be powered from either an AC or DC source, while an arc device must have direct current. Spark transmitters utilize a fairly wide gap between the discharge electrode; those in an arc device are relatively close together. 

Typically, both electrodes in a spark transmitter were made of the same metal (in many cases, tungsten), and while erosion does occur, the electrodes had a fairly long useful life. In an arc converter, the anode was almost always copper with a concave end, and the cathode was always graphite with a pointed end. Due to the very high currents involved, the cathodes had to be changed on a regular basis; typically, every few hours. The copper anode lasted longer, but had to be water-cooled, something not practical with the graphite electrode, which was rotated by a small motor during operation to equalize wear. 

Another major difference between the spark and arc machines was the requirement for a strong magnetic field across the arc chamber and also a steady source of hydrogen during operation. As mentioned, this magnetic field was necessary for extinguishing or “blowing out” the arc during the RF oscillation cycle. 

Hydrogen, the lightest and most mobile element, was used during these RF cycle “down times” to help clear the space between electrodes of residual ions generated by the intense arc plasma. The phenomena of arc “blowout” may be familiar to those who have done DC arc welding on, or close to, a steel structure. The arc plasma constitutes a conductor, and the magnetic field induced into the ferrous material tends to push the arc aside, sometimes making it tricky to control the weld. 

Early in the evolution of the arc converter, the effect of the external magnetic field on arc performance was not well understood (leading to some major problems when it was desired to construct transmitters with increased power outputs). However, experimenters were aware that such a field greatly affected the performance and efficiency of the converter. One experimenter noted that without a magnetic field, the maximum RF current that could be delivered to the transmitting antenna was eight amps or so, but with the addition of the field, and everything else equal, an antenna current of 100 amps was easily obtainable.

Federal Telegraph’s Cyril Elwell, the American arc converter entrepreneur, was able for a while to build increasingly more powerful machines by simply scaling up the mechanical parameters (proportionally including the size of the arc electrodes, chamber, cooling system and electromagnetic field). 

But he hit a major stumbling block when trying to go beyond 30 kW. This difficulty was not resolved until a young man with a recently-minted electrical engineering degree and a strong interest in arc technology, Leonard Fuller, was hired by Federal about the time that Elwell made a decision to exit the business. Fuller devoted much time in developing a sound physical understanding of what was really going on within an arc converter. (He eventually took Master’s and Ph.D. degrees based on his arc technology research.)

It was Fuller who realized that the intensity of the magnetic field needed for arc blowout was not directly proportional to the size of the machine or the desired output. He developed the concept of “tuning” the magnetic field strength to maximize output at a given operating frequency. With longer wavelengths there is more time available to clear the residual ions from the arc gap than at shorter wavelengths, thus a stronger magnetic flux is needed for higher frequency operation. (In the larger arc transmitters, magnetic fields upwards of 16 kilogauss [1.6 Tesla] was required. Most modern medical nuclear magnetic resonance imaging machines operate with a field strength in this range.)

Once Fuller understood fully the action of the magnetic flux, it became possible to design and build arc converters without any upper limit in operating power. Federal delivered a number of one megawatt machines, and plans were drawn up for two and five megawatt models, but due to the rapid pace of high-power vacuum tube transmitter technology, and the increasing relocation of long-distance radio communications from long wave to HF spectrum, these very high-power converters never made it into production.

Even though Federal rated its products in terms of DC power consumption, their 1,000,000-watt model produced about a half-megawatt of RF — still a very impressive number with antenna currents measured in hundreds of amps! The downside was the requirement to get rid of the other half megawatt of heat, which was usually solved by outside spray cooling ponds.

An Early Federal Telegraph Employee Describes His Experiences in Working for the Company

This article on arc converter technology was inspired by a 1963 oral history in which a former Federal Telegraph employee, Archie M. Stevens, was interviewed by Erwin Rasmussen, who captured some of early radio’s history from those still alive who had been a part of it.

The recorded audio interview (actually a two-part session with another pioneer, Ken Laird, and available online) begins with Stevens’ remembrance of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake while he was a student at nearby Stanford University. After earning an engineering degree from that school in 1909, Stevens was approached by one of his former instructors about a job with a startup company. As he recalled in the interview: 

“Just about that time, I ran across Elwell, who had been my instructor in electrical engineering. He said ‘Why don’t you come with me? We’re starting a radio company down here called the Poulsen Wireless Telephone and Telegraph Company and we’ve got some very intelligent Danish engineers and machinists and a whole mix of stuff.’”

Stevens accepted the offer and rather quickly was assigned a position of responsibility in the fledgling enterprise.

“He made me chief draftsman and put me in charge of the machine shop,” said Stevens. “And then made me assistant engineer. That was a pretty big title, as I think we had 15 men all told.”

Stevens recalled that he was responsible for engineering drawings for both equipment manufactured and complete stations constructed with it. This included the massive towers used for the very low frequency antenna systems employed with Federal arc converters.

“I used to design the towers,” said Stevens. “In order to get the job done quickly, I would order the lumber and then take my drafting board out in the field and sit there and draw them [the towers], because we’d have to change the bolts and splices and that stuff [so much]. Elwood got the big contract for the 800-foot wooden towers in Rome. Mind you, people kept saying, ‘You can’t build wooden towers that are 600-feet high.’ [Well] we built them 800-feet high and they stood for 30 years. [We used] select first-quality pine from Oregon with 20 to 21 or 22 rings per inch. We made sure that it was kiln-dried lumber. That was the most important thing. Then we’d give them two or three coats of first-grade white lead paint… we put them together and we put in plenty of white lead.”

(Stevens recalled that at one station an airplane crashed into one of his towers and the tower withstood the impact, trapping the aircraft and saving its pilot from possible death if the plane had fallen all the way to the ground.)

In reflecting on the ever-present danger associated with using hydrogen and hydrogen-bearing compounds, Stevens recalled an episode when he was testing a new station installation, communicating with the operator of another arc station, and almost destroyed it the new facility.

“Sometimes we used pure hydrogen,” he said. “Well, I started out with pure hydrogen, but I didn’t blow enough air and set off a tremendous explosion which broke about a two-quart container of wood alcohol. I was alone at night and I went back and said I’m on fire; hold up a minute until I can get the fire out. I was scared that time.”

He also provided some insight on audio modulating the “fire-breathing” arc machines.

“The difficulty in modulating the arc was that you had this tremendous magnetic field with reluctance so big you couldn’t change it exactly as the voice of the speaker. So, the only way to do it was with what we called a closed oscillatory circuit with the arc and loosely coupled to an antenna — sometimes 10 or 15 feet away — with an inductance … you could modulate the current in the antenna, but you couldn’t modulate the arc itself. That’s how we used to telephone. We used to talk to Stockton and San Jose … but we had to stop the telephone [service] because there was no money in it.”

Interestingly, Stevens sheds some additional light on the large WWI-era communications facility planned for Monroe, N.C. and mentioned in my own April 19, 2017 Radio World Engineering Extra story about insulator manufacturer Arthur Austin. 

According to Stevens, the station was to have been located much further north, possibly Maine, but Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, a North Carolinian, insisted that the facility be constructed in his home state. Federal produced, but never delivered, the giant arc converters ordered, as the war ended before station construction could get under way. Stevens noted that one of these “war surplus” transmitters was given to Ernest Lawrence to be used as the foundation for the first large cyclotron.

The complete interview with Stevens and Laird is available online. Even though the audio quality is less than perfect, provides much insight into what it was like to work for Federal Telegraph and the pre-vacuum tube era of radio in general. 

FURTHER READING

Adams, Mike and Greb, Gordon B., “Charles Herrold, Inventor of Radio Broadcasting,” McFarland, Jefferson, N.C., 2003.

Aitken, Hugh G. J., “The Continuous Wave: Technology and American Radio, 1900-1932,” 1985, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J.

Boucheron, Pierre H., “Arc Undampt Transmission,” Radio Amateur News, Oct. 1919 

Byron, William J., “The Arc Method of Producing Continuous Waves,” The AWA Review, Vol. 7, 1992, The Antique Wireless Association, Bloomfield, N.Y.

Davis, Nuel Pharr, “Lawrence & Oppenheimer,” 1968, Simon and Schuster, New York

Fuller, L. F., “The Design of Poulsen Arc Converters for Radio Telegraphy,” Proceedings of the IRE, Vol. 7, No. 1

Secor, H. Winfield, “Construction of a Collin’s Radiophone Arc,” The Electrical Experimenter, Feb. 1916

Stone, Ellery W., Lieutenant USNRF, “The Poulsen Arc,” United States Naval Proceedings, Vol. 46, No. 2, July 1920; U.S. Navy Institute, Annapolis, Md.

The post When Brute Force Transmitters Ruled the Air appeared first on Radio World.

FCC Reiterates: Protect Your EAS Gear

Sat, 04/25/2020 - 19:44

When radio engineers get together and talk about cybersecurity, many shake their heads that there are still stations out there that haven’t taken basic steps to protect their key systems including emergency alerting.

A new reminder email has gone out to EAS participants in broadcasting and beyond, once again emphasizing the point. The email came from Lisa Fowlkes, chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau.

“We are aware of various reported instances of EAS equipment connected to the internet with weak or otherwise inadequate network security and/or unsecure device setting configurations that potentially leave them vulnerable to IP-based attacks,” she wrote.

“We remind EAS participants that if EAS equipment lacks basic security maintenance, it can be vulnerable to disabling or exploitive attacks.”

The email recommends that stations change default passwords, update their equipment with current security patches and secure EAS equipment is behind properly configured firewalls and other defensive measures.

[Related: Is Your EAS Equipment Secure?]

“The commission’s Communications Security, Reliability, and Interoperability Council IV (CSRIC IV) has developed several security best practices for EAS Participants, and we encourage all EAS participants to review them and implement those that apply to their situation.”

The best practices are discussed in a 2015 EAS report here, and are listed in detail in prior report here.

“If there are any questions regarding the security of EAS equipment, we encourage EAS Participants to contact their EAS equipment manufacturers,” she added. “We appreciate your efforts to make the EAS a vital, beneficial and secure national platform for the distribution of alerts that save lives and property.”

 

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Community Broadcaster: Does Music Die?

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 20:22

The author is membership program director of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. NFCB commentaries are featured regularly at www.radioworld.com.

Some of the great legends at my old community radio station were of the late-night in-studio musical performances. Some nights, local and touring artists who were fresh off a gig and a few drinks would shamble over to the studios near downtown, plop down in one of our sundry donated chairs, and weave stories about the road and what inspired all those songs. On more than a few of those nights, or early mornings, those musicians would take out their guitars and play a bit.

It was never polished or rehearsed. To crib the old Kanye West line, they were talking like it was just you and me.

[Read: Community Broadcaster: Now What?]

And then there were times when the whole band and crew would roll up after last call, do a quick and dirty gear set up, and just jam live on the air with anyone who showed up.

Such moments are part of community radio’s spontaneity and history. Whether you are WFMU or KEXP or somewhere in between those coasts, live music on the air has been part of who we are. It is our repudiation of the spit-shined corporate sound of so much of commercial radio, which rarely includes local performers or organic sounds. Where it feels like big radio sold the soul of music, with nary an errant chord or impromptu laugh or weird song, for advertising dollars, community radio has embraced in-studio performances, with all their hiccups and informality. Community radio’s championing in-studio concerts has gone on literally for generations.

Will a post-coronavirus world mute the music?

Already, many U.S. states have postponed live concerts. Live Nation and Ticketmaster are scrambling to avoid a financial cliff amid canceled and delayed shows. And the live-performance outlook isn’t looking great in the future. Epidemiologist George Rutherford voiced a common sentiment among health experts when he said, “I realize tons of people make their living doing this stuff, but I see [concerts] as pretty far down the list [in terms of opening events back up].”

For community radio stations, how we move ahead with business as states reopen and caution is encouraged is still a serious matter. College and community radio have typically had a very open attitude about students, community members and the public having access to their facilities. It is likely few have done an audit of their volunteer and staff to determine who could be at risk for contracting COVID-19. And then there is the issue of the public: who enters the building, when and under what safety protocols?

Then there is the situation with guests, including musicians — some of whom have been in areas hard hit by COVID-19.

In the short term, community and college radio seeking to reopen for the still quarantined may take inspiration from the many livestreamed concerts available to the public. Such shows, shared on platforms like Facebook Live, could give your station some techniques for hosting a socially distanced performance.

A few stations have organized lineups of artists playing live or recorded from their homes as a virtual festival. Hot technology like Zoom can allow you to make a given artist a gathering host. Musical communities are doing something similar with the viral collaborations we’re all hearing about; stations could also bring people together in this fashion.

Reopening for in-studio performances will require a careful review of a station’s cleaning policies, building access and setting clear expectations of volunteers and guests. While getting back to creating memories is a laudable goal, it cannot come at the expense of the health of everyone.

 

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Inovonics Updates Sofia Line

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 18:51

Inovonics has released new firmware for its Sofia line of SiteStreamer+ remote monitoring receivers. Models 565, 567 and 568 are the recipients of the free upgrade.

[Check Out More Products at Radio World’s Products Section]

Leading the new items is a restricted login setting for casual users. Inovonics describes this as a “Look but don’t touch” setting allowing users to see readings and operate the units but not make any setting changes.

UDP streaming has been added as well, joining analog, AES3, AoIP (AES67) and Dante streaming options. Instructions for firmware updating are here.

Info: www.inovonicsbroadcast.com

 

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New Gear and SBE Volunteers Boost NCRS

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 13:08

Since 1983, the North Carolina Reading Service has been bridging the reading gap for blind and print-impaired listeners, by providing live/recorded spoken-word news, weather, grocery store listings, obituaries and magazine articles to their homes and workplaces. 

NCRS (formerly called the Triangle Radio Reading Service) can be heard 24/7 over the web, live and podcasts and on Alexa-enabled devices; on cable FM and TV channels in Raleigh; and on SCA receivers tuned to a subcarrier of WUNC(FM) 91.5 FM, North Carolina Public Radio. 

For listeners beyond the immediate Raleigh/Durham area, MicroSpace Communications provides NCRS satellite coverage to reach all of North Carolina. The reading/audio production is done by approximately 150 volunteers at NCRS’ three-studio complex in an office park in midtown Raleigh.

Until recently, NCRS’ audio production equipment was as old as the complex itself, and in dire need of replacement. Not only was its mix of analog mixers, reel-to-reel and cassette recorders dated — along with its ancient version of AudioVault automation software — but the entire infrastructure was worn out; so much so, that the complex simply failed during December 2017. 

Legacy equipment now on display.

“It was three or four days before Christmas,” said NCRS Executive Director May Tran. “The whole system just decided to take a break.”

NCRS’ adept engineers managed to patch the system back together after this breakdown, but more than Band-Aids were needed to keep this vital service running. 

Volunteer members of the Society of Broadcast Engineers Chapter 93 stepped in to give NCRS a much-needed technical makeover.

REPRIEVE

Retired electronics executive and long-time amateur radio operator Darrell Gordon (W4CX since 1968) had helped relaunch Chapter 93 in Raleigh, which had lapsed for a number of years. Elected as chapter chairperson, Gordon was looking for a public service project that would energize the engineers who had joined the group. 

Gordon was a volunteer at NCRS, and it didn’t take long for him to suggest a “studio refresh.”

“I didn’t really know what I was doing, but it just made sense to me to come up with a common project that we would all get behind,” said Gordon. “So I brought up the notion of updating one of NCRS’ three studios, with our members providing the expertise and labor at no charge; and they all got on board.”

May Tran thanks the engineers who did the installation, from left: Darrell Gordon, Dan Lane, Allen Sherrill and, far right, Keith Harrison.

To make this project happen, several Chapter 93 members and others formed a committee to handle the project. Pitching in were Allen Sherrill, Keith Harrison, Dan Lane, Ric Goldstein, Bob Schule and Richard Pascal.

Over a 10-month period, the committee came up with an engineering plan to bring NCRS into the 21st century. Its equipment list included audio over IP eight-channel mixing boards as well as computer-based automation and networking.

“Originally, we had only planned to do one studio,” said Gordon. “But when we were about 75 percent done, our members decided that we should do all three, since we now had real momentum. So we did.” 

Chapter 93’s members completely rewired the NCRS complex, and added advanced monitoring, studio switching and UPS power backups. The final product was really NCRS 2.0, because the complex is vastly superior to its pre-2018 version.

WHAT THEY INSTALLED

Chapter 93 member Ric Goldstein, based in Apex, N.C., is also an account manager with SCMS Inc, a long-established supplier of broadcast equipment. Working with Gordon and his committee’s recommendations, and supported by a company that Goldstein says believes in public service, he was able to provide NCRS’ new production equipment at significantly reduced prices.

“Keith and Allen installed PR&E DMX Digital Consoles with engines in all studios,” said Goldstein. 

Each of these boards comes with eight faders and is networked to NCRS’s brand-new AudioVault Flex Recording/Playout System. They also installed Wheatstone four-channel DSP-based Blade-3 voice processors, dbx/Orban audio processors and AoIP codecs made by Barix and Comrex. Also added were Tascam CD-200BT CD players for music; Samson Servo 120 power amplifiers; Cisco switches, routers and patch bays; and surge protectors and UPSes made by Tripplite.

As for NCRS’ legacy production equipment? One set of it was installed in the complex’s lobby, to remind people how things used to be done (without putting them through the pain of actually doing it this way). The rest was mercifully taken away.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

Moving to the AoIP production infrastructure has made a big difference to NCRS. “We can do things much quicker, do more things like podcasts that we could never do before, without dealing with failures,” said Tran. “Things go much smoother now, thanks to SBE Chapter 93 and their rebuild.”

May Tran of the North Carolina Reading Service and Darrel Gordon, project director and SBE 93 chapter
chairman, hold the new control surface.

Moving from analog tape to digital production brought its challenges. “Our readers are all volunteers and they know nothing about broadcast equipment,” said Gordon. “So we had to train them to get them comfortable with the new system, which they now are.”

The generosity of SBE Chapter 93’s members has made a real difference to the 150-plus volunteers who keep NCRS running around the clock. In recognition of their efforts, the chapter was honored in the fall at the NCRS Gala dinner, meeting under the theme “Black and White and Read Across North Carolina.”

“Thank you, thank you, and thank you to SBE Chapter 93 for your time, dedication and expertise,” said May Tran to the gala’s assembled guests. “Everything is possible at NCRS because of our wonderful SBE volunteers.”

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AES Kicks Off $500,000 Fundraising Initiative

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 12:36

The Audio Engineering Society is seeking to raise $500,000 by June 1 in order to ensure its continued operation during the COVID-19 crisis

According to an announcement this week, AES has traditionally been kept afloat by events, which have been disrupted or cancelled due to the pandemic. Therefore, AES is reaching out to members and other industry stakeholders to participate in a fundraising campaign.

Thus far, according to AES President Agnieszka Roginska, the society has received about $23,000 in donations, and others have renewed or extended their AES memberships by paying their dues ahead of schedule. AES also suggests purchasing gift memberships as a way to support the society and its membership.

AES says it can accept contributions via the AES website or PayPal (use paypal@aes.org). 

The campaign also has taken notes from public broadcasting’s playbook, introducing a special “sustaining member” status for those who contribute at the $400 or $500 levels; the status would last through July or December, depending on the amount.

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NAB Campaign Targets Coronavirus Aid, Federal Ads for Local Stations

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 11:21

The National Association of Broadcasters is supporting a grassroots campaign encouraging Congress to aid local broadcasters who have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic via funding and paid advertisements. 

The association is targeting the next round of funding in the Paycheck Protection Program, seeking to expand the PPP to cover broadcasters with more than 500 total employees. (Both chambers of Congress passed another stimulus package Thursday earmarking $500 billion in COVID-related spending, according to the AP.)  

Additionally, they are asking the federal government to pay for local radio, television and newspaper advertising. Here is specific language created by NAB with ideas for the proposed ad content: “information on medical resources, status of testing sites, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mental health awareness, access to small business loans and other critical governmental information.” 

NAB suggests that Congress allocate “an additional $5 to $10 billion for direct funding for local media advertising” as well as redirect “current U.S. government advertising campaigns (such as those promoting the Census) to local news and media outlets.”

Here’s a link to the “ask” form NAB created to help communicate with Congress about this issue. NAB shared it with local radio and TV stations, who were in turn asked to distribute it among their staff. Listeners and viewers are also encouraged to reach out to their senators and representatives.

As of Thursday evening, NAB says the effort had prompted more than 2,000 emails sent to Congress on the subject.

Thus far, NAB reports that there is bipartisan support for its requests, citing multiple letters and individual statements from members of Congress in both parties and from the Senate and the House of Representatives seeking to assist local media organizations.

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Oregon Firm Plans to Introduce “Parking Lot Radio”

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 07:02
Jim Hendershot

This is one in a series of interviews about legal, unlicensed low-power broadcasting and how these systems are being used during the coronavirus crisis in the United States. 

Radio Design Group in Oregon is planning to introduce a low-power AM transmitter to support current interest in specialized, very local radio broadcasting. It calls the project Parking Lot Radio.

Jim Hendershot is president.

“After the lockdown order for Oregon, I got a call from an old friend who is a retired missionary,” he said. “The congregation where he attends was looking for a solution to holding services while maintaining social distancing. Many churches have gone to online broadcasting, but many of the folks at this church are older with limited or no internet capability. The thought of a drive-in church appealed to the congregation, and so they were looking for a transmitter solution to send audio to car radios.”

[Related: Look for FCC Certification When Buying a Part 15 FM Transmitter]

Hendershot said he wasn’t satisfied with the legal range of available low-power FM transmitters, “and the church was unwilling to buy one of the higher-power illegal units.”

“The AM Part 15 rules allow for a stronger signal than the FM rules. Since super hi-fi stereo isn’t really necessary, and AM can be made to sound really good if done right, I decided to go with AM.” The unit will come with a basic wire antenna but could be attached to a whip up to 3 meters per FCC regulations. “We’re still investigating the range, but we figure it will be enough to cover the average parking lot,” he said. “If more area needs to be covered, more units can be used, and we are designing the system to work well in that environment.”

Units will be sold direct at first. Hendershot projects a price of under $250, though that is not set yet.

The company is documenting the project on a website. The design of the Parking Lot Radio includes a balanced audio input, which Hendershot says is compatible with professional sound boards, rather than a 1/8 inch stereo plug that hooks up to a computer or MP3 player. “We did this knowing that the average user would more likely have a ‘real’ sound system rather than a cheesy karaoke machine or some other such piece.” The system will be manufactured in the U.S.

[Read more: Low-Power Radio in the Parking Lot: What You Need to Know]

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Jim Houser Named EMF Chief Content Officer

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 15:05
Jim Houser

Educational Media Foundation has hired Jim Houser as chief content officer, a newly created role. He will report to EMF CEO Bill Reeves beginning next month, when he will begin to split his time between Rocklin, Calif., and Franklin, Tenn.

Houser will work on streaming and marketing strategies, oversee its podcast platform and the integration of its digital and programming initiatives. He will also supervise the future vice president of radio and vice president of marketing, the K-LOVE and Air1 program directors, as well as other directors and senior managers.

According to the announcement, Houser has three decades of experience working in Christian-formatted radio and music, beginning with college radio and then joining Colorado-based Focus on the Family, where he edited the organization’s daily broadcast and then created a weekly syndicated Christian music program. He then was hired to Capitol Christian (formerly known as Sparrow Records) and later became a managing partner at Creative Trust.

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User Report: Leighton Gives Wheatstone X5 the Ol’ College Try 

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 14:55

The author is director of engineering for Leighton Broadcasting.

CLOUD, Minn. — St. Cloud is ranked as market number 187 by Nielsen. But for those of us at Leighton, it might as well be market #1. This is home to our six stations and the headquarters for Leighton Broadcasting, which owns stations in six other markets in Minnesota and North Dakota. 

As a college town, the population of around 70,000 skews mostly on the younger side. There are around 75 stations that can be picked up on the dial here, and competition for listenership can be fierce, especially for our top 40 station KCLD(FM) 104.7. 

INSTALLATION

A few years ago, we installed the Wheatstone X3 FM audio processor on KCLD and have been pleased with the performance. KCLD is known to draw a large audience, billed as the most listened-to station in central Minnesota. We regarded the X3 as the best processor on the market at the time, until Wheatstone came out with the X5. 

We had heard about some of the new X5 advancements — better highs, in particular — and in July 2019, we decided to take it out for a test drive. 

PROCESSING

The unit arrived on a quiet weekday. We know our way around Wheatstone processors, having owned X1s, AM-55s, FM-55s and, of course, the X3. But we immediately saw that the X5 was different. It is probably the company’s most complex processor yet, although the UI is surprisingly easy to navigate. Within a half hour, we had the X5 up and running and our settings dialed in for the most part.

Then we started listening. We had heard about the X5’s new LimitLESS clipper, that it was an innovative approach to clipping and HF pre-emphasis that lets you turn up the highs while controlling peaks. But we were in no way prepared for the actual difference it can make on-air. Suddenly, the high-end was very transparent, much more transparent than anything in the market. We were listening to a much wider, fuller sound and most incredible, we couldn’t detect any additional IM byproducts as a result of processing. 

We drove around and listened to it in our homes, cars and everywhere, including the overheads at the gas station. 

This thing really kicks it up a notch or two on the dial. Also impressive is the processor’s automatic logger feature, which logs every change to the unit, from remote log-ins to audio failover to preset changes. That feature will come in handy for troubleshooting and for dayparted presets, for example. 

The X5 exceeded our expectations. The official stamp of approval came when we not only purchased the X5 for our top 40 station in St. Cloud, but also additional X5s for several other stations in this and other markets. 

For information, contact Jay Tyler at Wheatstone in North Carolina at 1-252-638-7000 or visit www.wheatstone.com.

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Crawford Names Kernen as Detroit Market CE

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 13:52
Mike Kerken

Crawford Broadcasting’s Detroit cluster has a new market chief engineer. Mike Kernen took on the role earlier this week. 

Crawford Detroit consists of WCHB(AM), WMUZ(AM/FM) and WRDT(AM).

Prior to this appointment, Kernen served as director of engineering for Beasley Detroit (formerly Greater Media, which Beasley acquired in 2016) for three decades. 

Before joining Greater Media, Kernen served as an assistant engineer for Ron Rose Productions of Southfield, Mich., after training to be a radio/television broadcast technician at the Specs Howard School of Media Arts, according to Kernen’s LinkedIn profile.

“Crawford is excited to have this very capable and experienced engineer leading our technical operation in Detroit,” Crawford Director of Engineering Cris Alexander wrote in an email announcing Kernen’s designation. 

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How Fox News Radio Is Working From Home

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 07:40

Fox News Radio is one of many U.S. broadcast organizations now “working from home.” It was not a sudden decision.

“We had been monitoring the spread of the coronavirus and continued to enforce cautious and prudent measures across our entire business,” said Vice President John Sylvester. “We began to take additional steps to ensure programming continuity throughout our platforms late February into early March. Our planning was always for the worst-case scenario and unfortunately, we needed to implement a large portion of remote actions for each platform. Right now we have close to 80% of our staff working remotely daily.”

Depending on their job, each staff member has been given remote access to Adobe Audition, Amazon Workspace, Slack, Zoom, iNews for writing and editorial newsgathering, and VPN access to the broadcaster’s ENCO automated audio systems, plus various other tools and software applications. All audio feeds are sent to and managed by the company’s network operations center in New York and backed up in Washington, using a cloud-based platform that gives everyone access to the content in real-time.

“Our network radio reporters and anchors are spread out through the country in LA, Chicago, Miami, Washington, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and London from home locations, with a large portion designated with Comrex Access units along with headset microphones,” Sylvester said. “Also, we supplied our teams with additional Blue yeti microphones for stories to be filed and uploaded.”

Roy helps out with Guy Benson’s remote work.

Host Guy Benson is one of many employees creating remote content for the Fox News Radio Affiliate News Network, Fox News Headlines 24/7, Fox News Podcasts, Fox News Talk and associated online platforms during the pandemic. They are doing so using laptops, internet access, and BRIC-Link, Comrex Access and Tieline IP audio codecs.

“We moved to broadcasting from my house the third week of March,” Benson told Radio World. “We are mostly live, with some segments and guests pre-taped. The White House Coronavirus task force briefings often start during our final hour, so we’ve been monitoring those and sometimes taking portions of it live.”

“I’m just feeding my voice to New York, where our technical producer mixes all the elements,” said Benson. He’s doing his show using “a simple Tieline machine, a sportscaster-style headset mic, and my laptop.”

Fox News Radio’s “working from home” solution is an evolving “work in progress” for this broadcaster. “We look at best practices and procedures so we can continue producing the most reliable news products and services for our affiliated stations, listeners and partners across the country,” said Sylvester. “As we all experience this pandemic globally, we will continue giving the latest news, information, and entertainment to our audience, while providing some comfort as our country and world move forward.”

Meanwhile, broadcasting at his house is working for Guy Benson, even if his only colleague is his dog Roy.

“Doing the show from my own home is convenient and comfortable in several ways, but I miss being at Fox with my colleagues,” said Benson. “The shift isn’t impacting the quality of the content, but it certainly feels more isolating. I’m talking to myself in a room for three hours every day, which has required me to adjust in order to keep my energy and focus high.”

The post How Fox News Radio Is Working From Home appeared first on Radio World.

Disinfecting Studios in the Age of COVID-19

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 06:34

The COVID-19 crisis has forced many broadcasters to send their employees home, minimizing infection risk to vital employees while keeping programming, engineering, sales and back office functions in service.

This approach is a responsible ad hoc response to COVID-19, but it doesn’t address a long-term issue: How can broadcasters ensure that their facilities remain virus-free or at least as minimally contaminated as possible?

The answer to this question is disinfection: Using cleaning techniques developed for schools and other institutional settings, broadcasters can kill COVID-19 and other threats that may be on their premises and equipment today or be brought in by employees and clients tomorrow.

The information in the following article explains how to achieve this goal. It is drawn from various sources, including a detailed and helpful webpage hosted on CloroxPro.com. 

CLEANING IS ONLY THE FIRST STEP

The road to disinfection starts with cleaning, namely removing obvious surface dirt and grime from surfaces, equipment and floors. It ensures that germs are not hidden in dirt or organic matter from the disinfectant when it is applied. 

As a result, broadcasters need to proceed with their existing cleaning regimes, but they must do more, including keeping food and drinks out of control, production, office and engineering spaces as much as is humanly possible. Since on-air talent often needs to refresh their parched throats, liquids should be allowed in reusable water bottles. But the days of eating lunch over the console have to end.

Warning: Once something has been cleaned, it has to be rinsed to remove the cleaning solution so that it does not interact with the disinfectant. Otherwise, toxic gases can occur. For instance, when an ammonia-based cleaner interacts with bleach, it can produce deadly chloramine gas. Similarly, mixing vinegar and bleach can create toxic chlorine gas.

DISINFECT AFTER CLEANING

After surfaces have been properly cleaned, it is time to disinfect. This means using the right cleaning fluids to do the job, such as CloroxPro and similar bleach-based professional products, Lemon Quat (Quaternary ammonia) and Virox 5 liquid/wipes (accelerated hydrogen peroxide).

The secret of using these products is time: Liquid disinfectants have to be left on surfaces for a certain length of time and then wiped away for the germs to be killed. A case in point: The free downloadable disinfection chart offered for CloroxPro and Clorox concentrated bleach products specifies a wait time of five minutes before rinsing. 

Once the disinfectant has been applied, it will have to be rubbed into the surfaces to ensure proper distribution. To minimize wear and tear on cleaning staff, try handheld surface scrubbers.

Remember: The staff who apply disinfectant will require gloves, eye shields and breathing protection. In some cases, protective clothing may also be needed; check the manufacturers’ labels for information before usage.

WIPE, DON’T SPRAY

Disinfectants need to be applied using reusable, washable microfiber cloths or disposable paper towels/wipes, not sprayed. Spraying disinfectant can dislodge germs from surfaces and put them into air. This can lead to these germs contaminating already-disinfected areas and being inhaled by cleaning staff and others in the immediate vicinity.

The only exception to this rule is when the entire area can be safely disinfected at once. When this is the case, a spraying option like the Clorox Total 360 System with electrostatic spray gun can be used, without the need for rinsing afterwards. Electrostatically charging the bleach droplets (and firing them using compressed air) ensures that the spray will cling to all surfaces consistently for maximum disinfection power. 

WHAT ABOUT COMPUTERS?

Electronics including computers don’t take kindly to having cleaning solutions dumped into their circuits. 

In many cases, products like Clorox Disinfecting Wipes and Lysol Disinfectant Wipes can be used for disinfection wipe downs — but only after broadcasters have verified this assumption with equipment manufacturers (who may have their own products and procedures to suggest). As well, the equipment needs to be powered off first.

In a pinch, rubbing alcohol on microfiber cloths can be used to computer keyboards, mice and touchscreens, but only after this assumption has been checked with equipment manufacturers. Again, turn off the device first and use liquids sparingly.

FINAL POINTERS

Disinfection is just the beginning. Wherever possible, broadcasters need to do whatever they can to minimize the risk of COVID-19 infection.

 A case in point: At iHeartMedia, before staff was dispatched to work at home, “we gave staff their own removable foam microphone covers, for use in the studio,” said Charles Wooten, director of engineering and IT in Panama City, Fla.. “We also kept gallons of hand sanitizer everywhere and encouraged everyone to maintain social distancing at all times.” Whenever radio returns to “normal,” it seems likely such practices will be a standard part of everyone’s operating procedure.

As well, you can hire outside cleaning companies with the expertise and equipment to disinfect broadcast facilities and equipment properly, using electrostatic spraying and steam cleaning machines.

“Once the full disinfection has been down, stations can do maintenance themselves to keep germs down,” said Reuven Noyman, owner of NYC Steam Cleaning in New York City. (One of his disinfectant products, Noroxycdiff, is used by hospitals to kill the C.Diff virus in just two minutes. It also works on COVID-19.) 

“We recommend keeping a sign-in logbook in each room, by the way, so that management can see who’s been using the space in case an outbreak occurs.”

Comment on this or any story to radioworld@futurenet.com.

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FCC Rule Suspensions Could Help Broadcasters Now

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 06:29

Attorney Richard Hayes sent a letter last week to the FCC’s Enforcement Division asking that the FCC suspend EEO Public File Reports and Responses to Audit Requests. He also has called for the commission to suspend collection of regulatory feesRadio World asked him to comment on his latest request.

We have no choice but to embrace the idea of thinking outside of the box because they took the box away. It’s not business as usual, and it won’t be for a while. We need to reinvent what we are and what we do, especially during the next six months.

Many businesses are closed and some may never re-open, unless this economy reopens, soon. It’s purely Darwinian; the strong survive while the weak perish. None of this is our fault, yet we are forced to live with the consequences. Small businesses, the lifeline of the American economy and the American radio station, will not re-emerge as quickly as larger enterprises.

So we have a choice: Do we wait for the economy to return or do we invest our time and considerable creative energies in building our businesses for the future? I suggest that we all look toward the investment opportunity which stares us right in the face. I’ll dive deeper into this idea in a moment.

We have no choice but to embrace the idea of thinking outside of the box because they took the box away.

Broadcast attorneys are in no better shape than the broadcasters they represent. If radio station owners don’t make money, they are not very entrepreneurial and are less likely to make improvements to their facilities. Ergo, the lawyers don’t make any money, either. This is trickle-down pain which everyone in the economy is experiencing.

Station owners are not focused on FCC compliance when the threats to their businesses are existential. Consequently, I have some time on my hands. Instead of sitting on my hands and treating this crisis as an excuse to work in the garden, I thought my time would be better spent finding ways to help eliminate some regulatory expenses and compliance issues that broadcasters don’t need, right now.

I’ve been in the radio business since I was 14. This is my industry. This industry is worth protecting. I want to use this time to help make life a little bit easier (and affordable) for the people who keep this industry going, every day. 

I had a good meeting with the staff of Indiana Congressman Jim Banks (R-Indiana 03), on Friday, who has promised to help us find a way to try to eliminate the 2020 Mass Media Regulatory fees in September. I also wrote to Sen. Susan Collins’ office to elicit the support of my own Senator.

The only way to eliminate the 2020 regulatory fees is to temporarily amend the Communications Act. Jim Banks’ office is looking into this and will meet with member of the Energy and Commerce Committee to discuss the proposal. It is hoped that such an amendment to the Communications Act could be added to upcoming stimulus legislation.

ANOTHER IDEA FOR THE FCC TO CONSIDER

Last week, I also wrote a letter to Lewis Pulley, the chief of the equal employment opportunity division at the Federal Communications Commission. I suggested that it would be appropriate to suspend all EEO Public Inspection File Reports, suspend all responses to EEO audit letters and suspend all requirements to recruit or keep records.

Aside from the fact that the EEO program is a complete waste of time in a booming economy, it is a totally pointless exercise when there is no economy. Is this really a good time to host a social-distancing compliant job fair? We can’t keep all the employees we need on payroll, so does it make any sense to widely recruit for jobs which don’t exist? Is this really a great time to entice applicants to work in the radio business?

The FCC needs to suspend this program for the rest of 2020 and, perhaps, beyond. It is a pointless, time-consuming, bureaucratic, make-work program which cannot demonstrate that any of its policies have had any measurable effect on preventing discrimination. Besides, whom at the station will have the time to fill-out all of that meaningless paperwork? When our business is on a respirator it probably isn’t the best time to ask us to jump through hoops.

In the weeks ahead, I’ll be looking at other areas where rule suspension makes sense during this crisis. If you have any ideas, I would like to hear them.  

Now, about that box which was taken away and the investment opportunity it presents. I will sum it up, this way: If you can’t make money…make friends.

My client in Hawaii will auction rolls of toilet paper on the air. The highest bidder will walk away with 1,000 sheets, one whole roll, of brand new toilet paper! All auction proceeds will go to first responders. It will sound fun on the air, it will make some money for the first responders and it makes friends.

Another station airs the Pledge of Allegiance several times each day and this is sponsored by a local power company. A station down south airs the National Anthem twice a day and sells tasteful adjacencies.

These efforts bring people together. Most stations are offering bonus spots (just don’t call them bonus spots or it could mess up your political lowest unit rate), and this helps struggling businesses. There are a lot of examples, and you have probably done a few creative things, yourself. Here are a few more ideas.

CREATIVITY FOR A CAUSE

It’s entirely likely that your salespeople are bored. It’s time to mobilize them in a slightly different direction. First, make a list of the top ten charities and non-profits in your community. These big charities are run by the business leaders in your community. They donate time to these causes and charities are under the gun now, too. Have your salespeople contact the heads of these charities and have them work up promotions to showcase the charity on the air. Do remotes where appropriate. Be visible with each charity.

Coming this spring are a number of opportunities: 

  • Mother’s Day. Interview new moms and dads and have them tell you all about the great experience they had at the hospital during the birth of their new baby. Interview hospital staff and members of the hospital board. Father’s day is another opportunity to do something similar. 
  • Cancer Survivors Day. Record interviews for later playback about the work the local cancer center has been doing and how survival rates have improved over the years. Interview the board members and cancer survivors. 
  • Breast Cancer Awareness. Get behind this but make sure you speak with the organizers and the the board members. Put these people on the air.
  • Memorial Day. Memorial Day celebrations and remembrances are organized. They don’t just happen. Local business leaders organize these events. Put these business leaders on the air to talk about their efforts, made especially difficult during these crazy times.

Oh, but it won’t work with my format! Your format, right now, has about as much integrity as your rate card.

Remember, the board members who run these charities own car dealerships, food stores, department stores, fast-food chains, hospitals, banks and distributorships. You help their charities, by putting their feel-good stories on your air, and the board members will listen to your station. Other listeners will tell these board members that they heard a lot of good things about the charitable organization on your stations.

What should you expect from doing this other than a warm, fuzzy feeling? You will get buys. You will get buys you have never had. Your salespeople will have developed relationships with the movers and shakers in your communities, through their charities. These community leaders and business people will be much more inclined to hear your sales proposals when the crisis is over because you were there for them when they needed you. They know your station gets results because they experienced those results with your charitable assistance efforts! Win-win. 

For now, conserve your cash, apply for the government loans and please contact the office of Congressman Jim Banks and ask him to please do everything in his power to suspend the 2020 Mass Media Regulatory Fees. Also, send an email to Lewis Pulley at the FCC Lewis.Pulley@fcc.gov and ask him to suspend the EEO rules for the reminder of 2020. 

Good luck, and remember, it’s a great life. (If you don’t weaken).

The post FCC Rule Suspensions Could Help Broadcasters Now appeared first on Radio World.

Broadcast Digital Radio Endures With DAB+

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 03:00

The author is WorldDAB project director.

LONDON The Covid-19 pandemic has caused radio listening to peak, but at the same time we’re hearing alarming reports from broadcasters about the huge loss in revenue being faced by many.

Bernie O’Neill addresses the audience at the WorldDAB General Assembly.

The presence of DAB+ has nonetheless remained constant, with its place as the core future platform for radio reflected in the many ongoing developments in major European markets.

Highlights include Germany’s plans to launch a second national commercial DAB+ multiplex, France’s ongoing preparations to launch national DAB+ services, and in the UK the announcement of a major program for licensing small-scale DAB.

We’re seeing some interesting developments in several newer markets too, including Sweden, Austria, Czech Republic and Poland.

DAB+ developments are not just limited to Europe though, with broadcasters in Africa and Asia also launching new DAB services, reflecting the increasing interest in DAB+ on a global scale. This long read provides an overview of the more significant developments we’ve seen across Europe and beyond over recent months.

GERMANY — 18 NEW NATIONAL DAB+ CHANNELS

The planned second commercial DAB+ multiplex will reach 83% of the population with up to 16 new national radio stations. The EECC directive has been successfully transposed into national legislation, covering also consumer receivers capable of displaying a station’s name. 54% of new cars sold in Germany in 2019 were equipped with digital radio — a 34% increase compared to 2018.

FRANCE — NATIONAL DAB+ MUX ON THE WAY

France is in the process of rolling out national DAB+ services and the country’s current legislation on digital radio is being amended to align with the EECC directive. The new regulation will require new cars sold across the country – as well as a number of consumers receivers – to include broadcast digital radio.

SWEDEN — RENEWED INTEREST in DAB+

In February, Bauer Sweden announced they plan to launch 10 DAB+ digital radio services reaching 40% of the population, saying they see DAB+ as the natural step to future-proofing and developing radio for listeners. In November 2019 the public broadcaster — Swedish Radio — submitted an application for a national DAB+ license for the period 2020-2025 for 10 channels.  Back in June 2019 the commercial group NENT had already announced the expansion of their existing national DAB+ network and their plans to launch more new channels.

U.K. — NEW NATIONAL AND LOCAL DAB LAUNCHES

The UK has seen a significant increase in the number of listeners on DAB / DAB+, where three national multiplexes host over 50 commercial stations, of which 20 are now on DAB+. The UK government is conducting a digital radio and audio review to examine future trends and consider how radio should adapt to changing listening habits. This month has seen the launch of a new national DAB station with Global’s Smooth Chill, while the regulator Ofcom set out licensing plans for small-scale DAB.

ELSEWHERE IN EUROPE

In Switzerland, DAB+ listening figures have now surpassed listening on FM, as the country prepares to switch off FM services no later than the end of 2024. All stakeholders are working together toward the planned DSO and planning is underway for a comprehensive DSO communications plan.

In Norway, radio listening has returned to similar levels as before FM switch off. By February 2020, DAB’s weekly reach was 86-88%, and 75% of people have at least one DAB+ radio in their home, while 58 % have a DAB radio, line-fit or adapter in their car.

Italy was the first country to introduce regulation mandating all new receivers (consumer and automotive) to include DAB+ from January 2020. New vehicles produced before January 2020, which are not factory-fitted with a DAB+ receiver can only be sold up to 21 December 2020. Italy has three national and over 20 local DAB+ multiplexes on air, covering over 83% of the population.

In Belgium, following the launch of regular DAB+ services in Flanders in 2018, French-speaking Belgium launched regular services in November 2019. The official marketing launch at the end of 2019 had a significant impact on listener awareness, receiver sales, radio listening reach and share. Consumers’ increasing interest in DAB+ radio – particularly among 25-44 year olds – means it is now the only growing radio listening platform in the region.

In The Netherlands, discussions are taking place regarding the potential launch of a new national multiplex in 2021, while DAB+ receiver sales continue to grow. The country is also working on transposing the EECC directive into national regulation.

Austria launched national DAB+ services in May 2019 and major broadcasters and industry bodies have joined forces to petition for the introduction of regulation to bring Austria in line with the EECC directive.

In Spain, some regional governments — including Asturias, Navarra and Valencia — have urged government to implement legislation on the deployment of DAB+, while in Portugal, some commercial broadcasters have shown interest in launching DAB+, with key stakeholders closely monitoring the development of DAB+ digital radio taking place elsewhere in Europe.

DAB+ developments continue in Eastern Europe. In Czech Republic, a national DAB+ multiplex reaches 80% of the population. Poland is also stepping up the expansion of its DAB+ network, with new multiplexes planned for Warsaw, Gdansk, Krakow, and Poznan. DAB+ services have recently launched in Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia.

BEYOND EUROPE

In Australia, all major cities are already serviced by DAB+ digital radio. There are approximately 400 DAB+ stations on air in the country, and over 73% of new cars now come equipped with DAB+, with commercial radio stakeholders across the country now calling on Federal Government to increase spending in order to further accelerate the rollout of DAB+.

Thailand and Vietnam have ongoing significant DAB+ trials, in Bangkok, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh respectively.  In Tunisia DAB+ was launched in 2019, now reaching 51% of the population, while in Algeria, a DAB+ trial launched in 2018 reaches two thirds of the capital city Algiers’ population.

The post Broadcast Digital Radio Endures With DAB+ appeared first on Radio World.

Inside the April 22 Issue of RW Engineering Extra

Wed, 04/22/2020 - 13:29

Read about emergency planning and due diligence. See the next in our series about building with Single Board Computers. And celebrate radio technology history as we approach the 100th anniversary of the commercial radio industry.

Read it online here.

Prefer to do your reading offline? No problem! Simply click on the Issuu link, go to the left corner and choose the download button to get a PDF version.

TECH MANAGEMENT
Checklist for a Good Due Diligence

Due diligence is a crucial part of buying and selling stations. And for engineers, the term has a particular set of meanings.

BAKING WITH PI
Isolation Is the Key to Reliable Pi Usage

Stephen Poole offers steps to help you protect the inputs and outputs of your Arduino or Pi.

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE:

The post Inside the April 22 Issue of RW Engineering Extra appeared first on Radio World.

Radio Marti Begins Shortwave DRM Transmissions

Wed, 04/22/2020 - 12:00

Radio Marti began Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) shortwave transmissions on Feb. 4. Part of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), Radio Marti broadcasts news and other programs to Cuba. The DRM shortwave transmissions are from USAGM’s Greenville, North Carolina, site.

Gary Koster, USAGM’s broadcast radio technician, Gerhard Straub, USAGM director of broadcast technologies division, and Macon Dail, USAGM chief engineer at Greenville stand in front of the transmitter and other equipment being used for the DRM transmissions.

USAGM has transmitted in DRM before. There were some transmissions from Briech, Morocco, in the early 2000s. Greenville tested DRM in 2009 in partnership with what was then known as HCJB Global Technology. So why are they back now after an absence of over a decade?

“We want to experiment a bit with different modes and services available on DRM. We also want to help push the development of low-cost receivers and the best way to do that is to put some transmissions on the air, explains Gerhard Straub, director of USAGM’s Broadcast Technologies Division.

An RFMondiale reference receiver is shown with a Transradio DM0D3 DRM exciter and a RFMondiale LiveWire audio router. The large screen is the user interface for a 1RU content server situated behind the screen.

Greenville is using a Continental 617-A transmitter, along with a Transradio DMOD3 DRM modulator and RF Mondiale RFMondial content server. The antenna is a rhombic aimed at 174 degrees. The average power on DRM is 5,000 W. The schedule is daily from 1700–0200 UTC on 7345 kHz.

The Radio Marti broadcasts are in xHE-ACC, the latest and standard DRM codec. “We need the lower bitrates because we are running pretty low power and we are trying to keep the signal robust,” explains Straub.

Although these are regular transmissions, USAGM is making adjustments along the way. The first few days tests consisted of two audio streams, with Voice of America in English in addition to Radio Marti. Now Radio Marti is the sole audio service. The transmissions are using the text box and there are plans to transmit images (MOT Slideshow) and Journaline, an RSS type feed.

For the time being, Greenville will be the only USAGM site broadcasting in DRM.

As for Greenville, “There is no definitive time period for the transmissions. We will continue the transmissions until we need to devote resources to other projects or feel we have achieved what we needed,” said Straub.

Hans Johnson has worked in the shortwave broadcasting industry for over 20 years in consulting, frequency management and sales.

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FEMA Effort Provides Masks to Broadcasters

Wed, 04/22/2020 - 11:27
Getty/Kirill Rudenko

An effort is underway to distribute washable cotton masks to essential employees of U.S. broadcasters, those responsible for maintaining operational continuity of operations, during the coronavirus pandemic.

In Georgia, members of the Georgia Association of Broadcasters received an email this week that stated, “FEMA is providing every broadcast facility in Georgia the opportunity for free cotton masks to protect their employees as they perform their broadcast responsibilities during COVID-19. Please click the link below to fill out the form to request masks for your station.” It added that masks would be sent in packages of 10.

In New Jersey, Paul Rotella, president/CEO of the New Jersey Broadcasters Association, told Radio World that FEMA plans to ship him a supply for broadcasters, and he has been communicating with member stations about how to distribute these once they arrive. He said NJBA will make them available to non-member stations as well.

Rotella said the National Association of Broadcasters has been helpful in coordinating this effort between the federal government and state broadcasters.

NAB spokeswoman Ann Marie Cumming told RW Tuesday, “We appreciate the effort by the Department of Homeland Security in support of broadcasters and other communications providers keeping people informed and safe during the COVID-19 crisis. The timing and logistics of distributing the masks is still being worked out, but the intention is for the masks to be distributed to essential employees of broadcasters — those responsible for maintaining the operational continuity of stations — in each state through the state broadcasters associations.”

RW reached out to FEMA for more info and will share any reply.

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