FM translators would be allowed to originate some programming content for the first time, if two dozen radio companies get their way.
The group of licensees, under the joint name “Broadcasters for Limited Program Origination,” told the FCC in a filing that “to serve the public interest with increased program diversity,” both FM boosters and translators should be allowed to originate programming for up to 80 hours a week.
Translators and boosters currently rebroadcast only the primary station’s programming. Boosters, which operate on the frequency of their primary station, have been in the news because they are the subject of a separate proposal from GeoBroadcast Solutions. It wants the FCC to allow limited unique programming on synchronized boosters to allow a new geo-targeted or “zoned” capability. The FCC has been taking comments on that.
But the filing by the group of 24 licenses takes the idea much farther.
Allowing FM translators to originate any local programming at all would be a big change, particularly now that so many stations have them in the wake of the AM revitalization effort. AM stations with FM translators would be included under the proposal.
“The Broadcasters for Limited Program Origination seek a uniform FCC rule change for both FM boosters and FM translators to allow each to originate programming content provided that the primary station is retransmitted for no fewer than 40 hours in any calendar week,” they wrote.
“Further, rather than restrict new uses of FM booster stations to the GeoBroadcast Solutions content-specific programming, an FM booster or translator should be able to split off programming whenever such split programming content serves its listening audience, provided the primary station continues to be rebroadcast on the FM booster no fewer than 40 hours in any calendar week.”
The proposal was filed by attorney John Garziglia of Womble Bond Dickinson. The 24 licensees own 108 full-service stations and 85 FM translators.
The stations believe the FCC should not concern itself with restricting which kinds of content should be allowed.
“As with FM booster stations, the FCC should not restrict FM translator licensees in their programming content decisions,” they wrote. “Some radio stations may choose to broadcast different localized advertisements. Others may broadcast localized city council meetings for two or more communities in their coverage areas. The broadcast of multiple localized high school sports games may be what serves a particular station’s listeners. Another station may broadcast two different kinds of ethnic entertainment programming at certain times of the day.”
While this filing was made in response to the GBS proposal, it is a much different beast.
Indeed, the group of licensees said they “take no position as to whether the GeoBroadcast Solutions technical proposal … is wise as a radio listener reception matter. Such concurrent broadcasting of different content on the same frequency within the same service area may be an interference disaster.” Rather, they wrote, their goal is “to provide diverse programming over FM translator and booster radio facilities without the FCC’s heavy thumb restricting their choice of content.”
If the GBS concept of originating limited separate programming on same-channel booster stations is acceptable “as a regulatory matter,” then so should be the origination of limited separate programming on FM translators.
The companies also argue that, because the commission’s new translator interference rules “have redefined the coverage contours of FM stations,” the extended coverage contours out to the greater of the 45 dBμ contour or a 25-mile radius from the translator site should now apply to what is regarded as a fill-in station for the purposes of the FM translator rules.
And further marking this proposal as a potential big change, the group would like the commission to designate four-letter call signs with the suffix “-FX” for translators that originate limited programming content. “FM translators originating programming will be serving listening audiences just like any other broadcast station,” they wrote.
The broadcasters in the filing are Miller Communications/Kaskaskia Broadcasting; the Cromwell Group of Illinois and Hancock Communications; TBE LLC; SSR Communications; Port Broadcasting; the Fingerlakes Radio Group and Chadwick Bay Broadcasting; Blackbelt Broadcasting; Mazur LLC; The Original Company, Old Northwest Broadcasting and The Innovation Center; Virden Broadcasting; Lovcom Inc.; Genesee Media Corp.; Viper Communications; Mountain Top Media; Eastern Shore Radio; and MTN Broadcasting and Eldora Broadcasting.
Among familiar broadcaster names on the proposal are Randal Miller, Bud Walters, Terry Barber, Mark Lange, Matt Wesolowski and Cindy May Johnson.
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Dennis Wharton has been spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters longer than anyone in its history. But he’ll retire from that role come July.
Wharton, executive vice president of communications, has been with the association for 24 years. Ann Marie Cumming will become the association’s primary spokesperson, and Wharton will continue to serve as a senior advisor, according to President/CEO Gordon Smith.
In an email to the NAB Board of Directors, Wharton described his tenure at NAB as “the privilege of my professional life,” noting he had been “in the catbird seat for countless moments in broadcast history,” including the launch of HDTV, radio performance royalty fights, “wardrobe malfunctions, and media consolidation battles. According the NAB announcement, he’s is most proud of the unparalleled public service of local broadcast stations, on prominent display during the COVID-19 crisis.
Smith called Wharton “a fervent advocate for local broadcasting” and made special note of his enthusiasm and good humor. “We wish Dennis all the best and are fortunate to have him stay on as an adviser to NAB.”
In Wharton’s letter, he praised the NAB board, his co-workers, local broadcasters, state broadcast association executives and reporters who covered NAB through the years. He reserved special gratitude for colleagues on the NAB communications team, which he has overseen for more than two decades.
Wharton joined NAB in 1996 as vice president, Media Relations, and subsequently was promoted to senior vice president in 1997 and executive vice president in 2006. He has overseen NAB departments that include media relations, research and public service. Wharton joined NAB after a 16-year journalism career in Ohio and as Washington bureau chief for Variety, where he covered legislative and regulatory issues related to broadcasting, cable and Hollywood movie studios.
NAB also announced it will merge the association’s communications and marketing departments into a new Public Affairs department, led by NAB’s Michelle Lehman, executive vice president of marketing. In her new role, Lehman will be responsible for NAB’s media relations, public service and research divisions.
She also spearheads the “We Are Broadcasters” campaign and directs marketing campaigns to promote NAB events and activities, overseeing the association’s brand, messaging and digital strategy.
Lehman began her career in Washington, on Capitol Hill serving as press secretary for former Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and then for the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee, under the leadership of former Ranking Member Sen. Fred Thompson (Tenn). She also served as associate director of technology policy for a boutique public relations firm, as well as vice president of public affairs and chief spokesperson for the National Beer Wholesalers Association before joining NAB.
Lehman has tapped Ann Marie Cumming, senior vice president of communications, to serve as the primary spokesperson of the organization. In this role, she will be assisted by Zamir Ahmed, vice president of media relations, who has been with NAB since 2011. Cumming, who joined NAB in 1994, will oversee media relations and the research division led by Vice President of Research Dan McDonald.
The FCC has announced a partial waiver of an EEO rule to help facilitate the rehiring of people who lost jobs in the coronavirus crisis.
Its Media Bureau waived the “broad outreach” requirements of Equal Employment Opportunity recruitment rules in certain circumstances. The rules ordinarily require broadcast stations employing five or more full-time employees to engage in broad recruitment outreach for all full-time job vacancies.
“The Bureau finds good cause to waive this requirement to allow affected broadcast licensees … to return operations to full strength once circumstances permit the re-hiring of released employees,” it announced.
“Specifically, broadcast licensees and MVPDs may rehire full-time employees who were laid off due to circumstances related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic without first conducting broad recruitment outreach, if they rehire such employees within nine months after the date they were laid off.”
It emphasized that this partial waiver pertains only to employees who were released due to circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It cited the “challenging economic conditions directly resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, including significant layoffs and workforce reductions in the media industry.”
The FCC believes this waiver “will not have a material adverse impact on the commission’s goals of ensuring equal employment opportunity and nondiscrimination.”
The author is head of radio for the European Broadcasting Union.
GENEVA — As a medium, radio is perfectly adapted to cross national borders — indeed, it does so quite naturally.Graham Dixon. All photos courtesy of the EBU.
Likewise, using the power of radio to bring people together, sharing output and appreciating a shared experience, is a quality of radio, which has been recognized from the earliest days.
If ever radio should have a patron saint, who realized its potential, it should be Oskar Czeija, intendant of Austrian Radio from 1924–38.
He travelled Europe, meeting the directors of other radio broadcasters, and established the sharing of cultural material, including the Salzburg Festival. It was his strong belief that sharing across national frontiers would bring the world together and develop mutual understanding.
One of the key factors of radio is bringing to its listeners a sense of time and place, connecting them to their own communities, but it can also provide a wide window on the outside world, bringing them in contact with ideas, cultures and events which they could not otherwise access. Czeija’s vision still holds good today for the European Broadcasting Union, allowing listeners to access unique material.The Coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953. It was the first event to be broadcast live internationally.
But content was not always king. When the EBU was founded after the Second World War — at a hotel in Torquay, England, in 1950 — the primary preoccupations were around technical and legal issues, establishing the framework for effective operation. In the first meeting, television was not mentioned, though it was soon to come on the scene.
Content, and therefore some sense of audience focus, soon followed, for with the second meeting of the EBU, it was proposed that some exchange of television programs take place. In words which would not sound out of place in today’s straitened times, the EBU President Sir Ian Jacob, responded, “Nobody should feel discouraged from taking any initiative which was thought in the interest of broadcasting provided that such activities did not lead to other tasks being neglected or to demands being made for extra staff or financial resources.”Technician Fritz Zvacek is pictured with headphones.
It was an early example of “more with less.” Consequently, there was an experimental link between England and France later in 1950, and then the television medium came into its own with the shared transmission of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
Two years ago, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of a regular EBU concert series, which has since blossomed into the EBU Music Exchange, the world’s largest concert hall, with around 5,000 hours of output being exchanged across all musical genres. This service, available to members and associates around the world, enhances the schedules of broadcasters with unique and attractive material, from the New Year’s Day Concert from Vienna, to the Metropolitan Opera, the Last Night of the Proms, and — in 2019 — rare archive material from Oasis and a live performance from Coldplay.
Across the summer, all the major European classical festivals are visited on a regular basis, and special topical events are regularly organized, such as a celebration of women in music and, for 2020, extensive Beethoven events.
The history of the growth of DAB radio remains to be written, but it is already clear that it has provided broadcasters in many countries with the freedom to develop new channels, often serving more hard-to-reach audiences of specific interest groups.
The radio industry has been able to move beyond the limitations of FM, and the EBU has played a major part in bringing about the standards, which now constitute DAB. Likewise, at the moment, close attention is being paid to supporting the ongoing presence of radio in cars, and issues around radio reception on new platforms, including voice-activated devices. The recent lobbying with the European Parliament has successfully led to digital radio receivers becoming obligatory in vehicles from the end of 2020.
In defining its strategy for the fast transforming media environment, the EBU has defined four key areas of activity. These are providing members with unique material, particularly for music, news and sport; promoting knowledge-sharing and networking; supporting members by functioning as a hub of expertise; and finally, establishing beneficial partnerships on behalf of members, for instance, with the U.S. tech giants.
The media world has developed in ways that the EBU’s founders would never have imagined, and their thinking — formed in a monopolistic world — would not have answered today’s challenges. What does not change is the sense that as broadcasters, working together solely to serve the public, we are stronger together. We are stronger together when dealing with third parties, but also stronger together when making the case for public media.
CONNECTIONThe first international television link between France and the United Kingdom took place in 1950.
As I write, the world is concerned with coronavirus, and social media is full of opinions. Under such circumstances, who can we trust to give us rational, reliable information, with expert opinion, debate and analysis?
And once we have consumed sufficient news, where can we find entertainment and music, compiled and curated with sensitivity toward how listeners are feeling in different communities? EBU Members are dedicated to responding to these demands for the benefit of the public.A document from Radio Vienna in 1931 with a photo of Oskar Czeija, intendant of Austrian Radio from 1924–38.
When radio came into being and defined its public purposes, it was agreed that these centered around informing, educating and entertaining. All three still stand and provide a sense of direction for the EBU Members. However, I would add a fourth purpose, namely, connecting.
In a world where people can become isolated, where they need to feel a connection with others who share their interests and humanity, providing universal services, which bring people together is a vital societal contribution. The commitment to togetherness across the EBU to achieve these common aims has endured for 70 years.
Whatever devices enter the market in the coming decades, the human and societal imperatives will remain unchanged.
The post On Its 70th Anniversary, EBU Maintains Initial Vision appeared first on Radio World.
Equal Employment Opportunity Recruitment Requirements for Broadcast Licensees and Multi-Channel Video Programming Distributors
The Federal Communications Commission took a decisive step this week when it deleted the call signs of two California FM stations and ordered them to immediately cease operations.
The decision came down to a question of character and the ripple of consequences that come from breaking commission rules.
In the case of KAAX(FM) and KYAF(FM), the story started rather benignly when Avenal Education Services and Central Valley Educational Services requested to modify the authorization of their stations from noncommercial educational status (NCE) to commercial stations. A seemingly simple loophole stymied that request: Avenal and Central Valley were not incorporated prior to filing their station operations.
But it was the details revealed in a previous proceeding that contained the bite that lost owner William Zawila his modification requests.
The FCC looked closely at the findings from a hearing in which the permits and licenses of three other FM stations were revoked after Zawila and two other groups were accused of disingenuous stonewalling and various misrepresentations in their dealings with the commission.
In a proceeding that included six stations (including KAAX and KYAF) questions were raised about misrepresentation, failure to maintain a public file and various technical rule violations against both Avenal, Central Valley and Zawila. During that hearing the Enforcement Bureau found that Avenal and Central Valley were not legally formed nonprofit entities that were qualified for a construction permit for an NCE station. Although the two companies filed their applications in 1988 and 1989, they were not incorporated until 1999 and 2001.
But Avenal and Central Valley answered, no, they actually were in the right and were free to attempt to convert KAAX and KYAF — two stations that are located amongst vast agricultural fields in Central California — to commercial stations by merely by notifying the FCC that they were hoping to have that conversation take place. Zawila challenged the FCC chief administrative law judge’s findings in that earlier proceeding. But the commission ruled against him based on lack of evidence.
Now jumping ahead to May 2020, the FCC again found that Avenal’s and Central Valley’s initial applications for construction permits were flawed because neither applicant was incorporated at the time of filing. And neither can fix the situation by simply applying to convert from NCE to commercial status.
Keep in mind that the FCC is watching closely when it comes not only to character but to the willingness to follow FCC rules. In its findings, the commission found that these two entities cannot attempt to correct their initial errors by attempting a conversion to commercial status. Nor can the two hide the fact that the Avenal company that was incorporated in 1999 has since been dissolved, and that the versions of that corporation incorporated in 2003 and 2015 are currently suspended. Same with the Central Valley Educational Services: the company incorporated in 2001 and the version incorporated in 2015 are also suspended.
The final nail in the coffin for the two entities: as of the date of the FCC’s decision on May 1, 2020, Avenal and Central Valley are still not valid California corporations.
All this led the commission to dismiss the construction permit request and the request to modify from NCE to commercial status, to revoke the stations’ ability to broadcast going forward, and to delete the two station’s call signs.
In an-all-caps demand in its letter to the two entities, the FCC said both KAAX and KYAF must cease broadcast operations immediately. But Zawila and company cannot walk away entirely. Until their towers are dismantled, Zawila and the companies are on the hook for keeping the lights on.
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The National Association of Broadcasters is giving qualified support to the idea of allowing U.S. FM radio stations to “geo-target” programming using boosters.
It commented to the FCC about a proposal by GeoBroadcast Solutions, which wants the commission to allow FM booster stations to originate programming on a limited basis.
On the plus side, NAB said, “Enabling radio broadcasters to use boosters to location target announcements and other programming would benefit listeners with more relevant, tailored content, including emergency news and announcements. Geo-targeting could also open important new revenue streams for FM broadcasters in the markets for targeted advertising and smaller, local commercial advertisers.”
NAB said zoned broadcasting may facilitate radio advertising by businesses that were previously priced out of advertising on radio or “found that buying spots that cover an entire radio market was not financially sensible.”
But the association also told the FCC that the GBS proposal “is not entirely free of potential concerns.”
It expressed a worry about potential interference that, even if confined to a station’s booster cluster, could cause listeners to change channels or reflect poorly on the FM service. GBS has said its field tests showed no “harmful interference” and that the technology can be managed to minimize disruption.
NAB continued, “We also observe potential concerns that GBS’ system currently works only with analog FM service, which could undermine the continued expansion of digital audio broadcasting (DAB, also called HD Radio). There may be potential disruption to DAB in the targeted zones. This issue is not addressed in the petition.”
NAB noted that GBS is working on implementing its system to be compatible with HD Radio and that GBS says it supports digital radio. “NAB strongly encourages GBS to continue pursuit of a remedy for this issue.” But it said that the existing policy permitting digital translator and booster stations “not be extended to include location targeted programming until there is sufficient experience to demonstrate, at a minimum, that harmful interference to other DAB stations is unlikely to occur.”
On balance, though, NAB said the FCC should go ahead with a rulemaking proceeding “to fully vet the technical issues” and provide input on costs and benefits of geo-targeting generally, and GBS’ specific proposal.
“If GBS’ request for a rule change is approved, NAB has no doubt that broadcasters will carefully weigh all the relevant factors in deciding whether to implement zoned broadcasting, and that market forces will ultimately determine the success of geo-targeting and GBS’ approach.”
Last week’s Radio Cares radiothon to help fight the hunger crisis brought in a half million dollars to benefit Feeding America, the largest hunger relief organization in the United States. Organizers hope to make it an annual event.
“The funds raised will provide five million meals for Americans living with hunger,” they announced in a press release Monday.
The initiative was led by Ron Stone, president/CEO of Adams Radio Group, and Brian Philips, EVP, Content & Audience, at Cumulus Media/Westwood One. Stone expressed gratitude to stations that participated. “Together we accomplished something that had never been done before in our 100+ years, a nationwide radio event to raise money to help those who truly need our help. It is my sincere hope that this is the first of many annual events to come.”
Donations were made through the official event website, www.radiocares.org and by texting “Feed” to 95819.
A $20,000 donation from Scott and Sandi Borchetta and Big Machine Label Group put the tally over the half million mark.
Companies that participated are listed at https://radiocares.org/thank-you. Major sponsors and organizers included Benztown, Vipology, Gen Media Partners, Marketron, McVay Media, LeadsRX and Dollinger Strategic Communication.
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AETA Audio Systems has announced recent upgrades and new features for its entire product line.
Enhancements include Remote Access Portal, a service that allows technicians to control all AETA products remotely from wherever they are. This tool gives users global visibility to their total pool of AETA codecs.
In addition, AETA’s new Bonding capability allows AETA clients to manage streams by splitting the audio signal on two different networks. It’s meant for users who want to transmit high-quality IP audio, even in crowded areas where networks are overloaded.
Finally, VoLTE [a voice over LTE solution] lets reporters benefit from a mobile operator’s high-definition voice service (like a standard phone call) without having to depend on a 3G network.
With this system, the audio quality may not be as crisp as an AoIP connection, explains AETA, but it does ensure staff makes the most of an operator’s “quality of service.” VoLTE safeguards the link, adds the firm, so it’s less exposed to the “hick ups” that are often associated with IP audio technology.
All AETA Audio systems codecs are compatible with AES67/Ravenna and Dante.
The author is chairman of Digital Radio Mondiale.
During these strange times of Coronavirus there are many old contradictions coming to light and new ones being formed daily.Ruxandra Obreja
According to UNICEF spokesman James Elder, simple as it sounds, it’s still difficult to get information out to people in the most remote areas or to people who are not online. But we are not only speaking of remote areas on the African continent or areas of the Pacific. According to an article published in the Guardian on April 23, fewer than three out of 15 families in New South Wales, a developed area of Australia, enjoy broadband, making digital classrooms unviable.
So, teachers have been hand-delivering lessons to Aboriginal students at home because families do not have reliable access to the internet, and many do not have computers for their children to work on. This doesn’t apply to most Australian students, but the worldwide statistics are staggering, nevertheless.
It’s estimated that globally there are roughly 1.5 billion students learning from home today. About half of these have no internet access. What’s more, there are 250 million fewer women online than men worldwide.
But even in these conditions, there is still one platform that “does the trick every time.” And that’s radio, asserts Elder. And this doesn’t refer to distance learning alone. In times of need radio rises to the plate and not just as a virtual teacher but as a valuable source of trusted information, company and fun, too.
One of the contradictions is that, while a lot of the industries have seen buyers and users fall to almost nil (tourism, entertainment etc.), media, and especially radio consumption, has increased significantly.
Some of the big commercial networks are doing very well. Even public broadcasting, under threat recently, has now been acknowledged and appreciated for its valuable public role and place.Reception of an extended DRM multiplex on a car radio with NXP chipset.
A recent survey conducted by organizations in the United States like Radio Advertising Bureau, Westwood One and Nielsen have confirmed what is evident: Listeners are tuning in massively. They want coronavirus updates but not in excess, while continuing to appreciate the voice of presenters who are introducing their favorite music.
STRUGGLING TO SURVIVE
In other parts of the world such as India, where most community stations are struggling financially, local radio remains one of the only sources of credible information and familiar entertainment.
It’s therefore no surprise that U.S. survey found radio to be even more appreciated for its link to local communities. The term “local stations” covers a multitude of stations, some of whom are small but commercial, others purely community stations, university radio stations etc.
And here comes another contradiction: While local and community stations have, in general, recently increased their number of listeners, their funds — often based on local advertising — have decreased considerably.
In the U.S., the National Association of Broadcasters is encouraging a campaign to help local broadcasters obtain government funds directly or via government advertising.
In the United Kingdom, the chairman of local broadcasting association CMA, foresees the possible failure of one-third of some 300 community stations if they don’t receive help from the state.
For now, the organization has short-term goals. These include convincing the government to treat local stations like local papers and pay for public health messages and acquiring a grant and then a fund to support the production of programs centered on public health content.
While many of these stations should receive the financial aid they need soon, what will they do when we get back to some kind of normalcy?
CHANGE IS NECESSARY
Beyond the Coronavirus pandemic, local stations must reassess their role, technology and content based on the changing habits of their audience. Some local broadcasters have already begun gathering data for their new strategic direction.
Digital plays an important role in achieving success for many of these stations. Money will always be tight so why not use the same analog frequency and have two or three digital DRM programs, maybe in different languages or dialects, while saving on energy?
Or why not use the same transmitter, same antenna and same combiner system to provide more than three channels. This is possible by using the spectrum situated to the left and right of the analog signal (600 kHz) and allows for up to 12–18 DRM channels.
More program choice from one broadcaster or more channels shared by different broadcasters, each paying only a share of the already reduced operational and energy costs, while remaining in control of their individual content.
This leaves more money for producing new, more local digital content or simply a better one with less repeats and with higher production values.
But there’s an ultimate contradiction. While local and community stations are “the radio that leaves no one behind,” they need to follow what the larger players are doing in order to survive.
These small stations, with much less spending power, also need to implement a strong strategy, advanced technological solutions and adapt to the new environment.
Today nobody is immune to change and, with the help of DRM digital radio, local broadcasting can plot a tactic to help them guarantee survival.
In the mid-1990s, I was in the middle of a new 50 kW AM construction project in Denver. The 50-acre site was just north of what is now Denver International Airport.
The four towers had just been completed, the ground system was plowed in and the tower crew had departed, leaving just me and the folks helping me with the transmitter and antenna project.
One day, I and a couple of others on the crew were at one of the tower bases installing the antenna tuning unit when we heard the drone of a reciprocating engine overhead — close! We looked up, and there was a little yellow airplane just a couple of hundred feet above the ground about to fly right into the antenna field!
Just north and east of the site, about three miles away, was a little residential airport that had been there for decades. The folks who lived there had hangars adjacent to their houses and could fly in and out, a pretty sweet arrangement if you ask me.
Evidently, the pilot of the little yellow airplane was completely unaware that over the past couple of weeks, four 365-foot towers had gone up nearby, although they were clearly shown on the aeronautical charts.
There was a moment of panic as the plane got closer and closer to the towers. We started to run … but which way? If the plane hit a tower or a guy wire, a tower was sure to come down, and one falling tower would probably cause another to fall … and another, like dominos. And then there would be the wreckage of the plane; where would it go?
So after a few steps, we stopped and just watched, knowing in that moment that running was pointless.
At the last second, the pilot must have spotted the four big red-and-white striped steel structures and turned sharply away, and we all breathed a big sigh of relief. If that pilot’s heart was pounding as hard as mine was, he might have needed a few minutes to calm down before heading into the landing strip.EXPECTING THE UNEXPECTED
I was reminded of this episode recently as I was considering vulnerabilities and contingencies within our radio station facilities.
We do our best to plan for problems, failures and catastrophes, but it’s hard to know which way to run. Even putting aside, say, the occasional global pandemic, we can’t possibly anticipate every direction from which business threats will come, or how it will impact the operation.
We plan for power failures, and that’s a good place to start. Commercial power will fail on occasion — that’s as sure as death and taxes — and we are wise to plan for it with generators and UPSes to keep our equipment powered during the inevitable outages.
We plan for transmitter problems. The most reliable of transmitters do eventually fail, or they need to go down for maintenance, and in preparation for that, we install auxiliary transmitters and some means to switch between transmitters.
Often, we plan for antenna problems. If it’s not lightning blowing a hole in an antenna bay, it’s ice loading up the antenna and making it (temporarily) unusable. Or we must remove excitation from an antenna while workers are in the vicinity of the antenna during maintenance or repair work. In anticipation of that, many stations have auxiliary antennas fed with auxiliary transmission lines ready to go on a moment’s notice.
But once in a while, something comes out of left field that we did not anticipate, and we find ourselves ill-prepared to deal with it.
We’ve all heard stories and seen news accounts of towers coming down in ice storms or as a result of severe weather. Not many stations can afford a spare tower. Or even if a station does have an off-site auxiliary, what happens when there is an area-wide catastrophe, such a tornado outbreak or an earthquake, that impacts both main and auxiliary sites?
Occasionally we hear about a station that is put off the air because of a fire at the studio or transmitter site. That kind of catastrophe usually results in even backup equipment being damaged, by water or fire retardant if not fire and smoke, leaving the station with no way to get back on the air. How do you plan for that?
Radio station transmitter sites are often a target for thieves. One of my sites was recently burglarized. The alarm alerted the chief engineer and the police, and police were on site before the CE arrived. The thief got away with nothing of significance, but oh … what could have happened! We have on occasion had thieves hack their way through walls at some of our facilities. There is only so much you can do to harden a site against theft. How do you plan for the damage and loss of a break-in?WHAT’S THAT DRIPPING SOUND?
And then there is the stuff nobody thinks about. Here in my office, the building maintenance people were testing the fire standpipe that goes from ground level to the roof. In the process, they pushed several hundred gallons of water through the pipe and dumped it on the roof all at once, where it should have drained away through a network of roof drains and piping connected to the city storm sewer system.
During the test, however, the volume of water draining through that network was so great that it completely filled the horizontal run of the cast iron drain pipe … and it found a large crack in the top of the pipe, flooding my office! Thankfully my office is at the opposite end of the building from the studio and engineering spaces, but what if …
Or what if a fire sprinkler head failed, spraying water all over servers, switches, computers and other critical equipment? Who thinks about that? Which way do we run?
There is no way we can plan for every possible failure or catastrophe. We might as well accept that. But that doesn’t mean that we should be resigned to being off the air should the worst happen.
At my company, I periodically ask our chief engineers and engineering managers to take a hard look at every part of their facilities searching for vulnerabilities. Is there a piece of equipment that would, should it fail, take one or more stations off the air? What can be done to plug that hole?
Disaster recovery is big business in this day and age, and a lot of folks have gotten on that bandwagon. Our company has contracted with a nationwide provider that will respond quickly with whatever we need — temporary office/studio space, computers, servers, internet/telephone service, generators, fuel. It’s comforting to have that in our hip pocket.
Within the broadcast equipment and digital media realms, we are seeing a lot of disaster recovery pitches being made, most using some form of “cloud” hosting to provide backup or even primary service. This removes the “all eggs in one basket” scenario, spreading out the risk across multiple platforms and facilities. At the same time, it unavoidably adds some vulnerabilities, and that has to be considered as part of the risk/reward equation.
The point of all this is that we, as broadcast engineers, have a responsibility to be prepared for just about anything. It requires critical thought, careful analysis and clear communication to those who make the financial decisions.
Often, it may mean repurposing or repositioning of certain pieces of equipment. For example, in one market, I had a spare but working transmitter that I chose to reposition to a site some 50 miles away, leaving it disconnected but ready, so that should a wide-area catastrophe occur, I would have a working transmitter on which I could lay my hands and use to get one station back on the air.
It’s all about contingency plans, looking for vulnerabilities, considering the possibilities of what could happen, prioritizing based on what is most likely to happen, and coming up with short-term solutions that can be implemented quickly.
So … which way will you run? How ready are you for the unimaginable?AND HOW DO WE KNOW WHAT THE “WORST” EVEN IS?
When I wrote the above column, the world was still right-side up. The Coronavirus was overseas news, and while of some concern, it was certainly not affecting the everyday lives of Americans. “The worst” was a tower falling over. A lot has changed since then; “the worst” has a whole new meaning.
Need drives development of technology, which is another way of stating the old adage, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” We have, in the past weeks, run headlong into a high wall of necessity. Thankfully, many broadcast facilities were, to some degree at least, prepared.
Internet connectivity, VNC and other remote operating applications, and studio/transmitter infrastructures that permit remote operation and facility management are at the core of such facilities. Imagine how we might have gotten through a similar lockout crisis just a few years ago before such technology and infrastructure were in place.
Tune through the frequencies in most markets and it sounds like business as usual. The hits keep on playing, familiar voices keep us company and paid programs keep airing. Look behind the curtain, however, and you will likely find that nobody is present at the studios in a lot of cases.
It is during crises that we learn. I think back to 9/11, to Katrina, Irene and countless other regional disasters and remember how broadcasters got the job done. COVID-19 is no hurricane. It is an entirely different kind of storm. But it is teaching us a lot of things, and broadcast engineers are earning their pay as never before.
As we emerge from this crisis – and we will – things are going to be different in a lot of ways. We’ll address that in future editions and in an upcoming ebook. For now, keep giving it your best, and above all else, stay well!
Cris Alexander, CPBE, AMD, DRB, is director of engineering of Crawford Broadcasting Co. and technical editor of RW Engineering Extra. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.