Category Archives: Best of Site

Longer articles featuring the best of SBE36.org. Biographies of local engineers, news event coverage, and “Making Waves” commentary.

KSDS Gets FCC OK to Raise Power

(Disclosure: The author is employed by Bay City Television, San Diego-based programming, advertising, and marketing arm of XETV Tijuana)

The FCC issued on October 31 a construction permit for KSDS (FM), 88.3 MHz, to increase power from their current 3 kW vertical to 22 kW ERP vertical, upgrading the facility from class A to class B1. The station, operated from the campus of City College downtown, but transmitting from a tower at Mesa College in Linda Vista, has been operating since 2002 with 3 kW ERP vertical polarization after a compromise worked out with Fox Television affiliate XETV, channel 6 in Tijuana.

The latest CP approval comes as a surprise to XETV, which has fought the increase in power since 1995 on grounds that it creates a substantial interference zone since the stations are only separated by a minimum of 200 kHz between allotments, or 550 kHz between carrier centers. The stations represent a unique situation in the U.S., where a border non-commercial FM had protected a channel 6 TV signal broadcasting in English-language from Mexico. The new construction permit appears to change the crossborder relationship by declaring previous protections null and void.

The new FCC ruling says that previous international broadcast treaties do not specifically deal with the TV-FM interference issue, so the XETV signal has no rights to protection from U.S. non-commerical FM stations after all. At the same time, the order gave recognition to XETV public service efforts and ordered that KSDS broadcast its increased power in vertical polarization only. KSDS must provide a shallow null to the southeast, and they must remediate any known interference and report unsolved cases to local FCC inspectors.

KSDS intends to have its facilities ready for increased power by spring 2007.

Making Waves: BPL Comes Home

What happens when you suddenly find your dipoles surrounded by BPL couplers? I’m about to find out.

The Broadband over Power Line (BPL) pilot project continues in San Diego. The test observation committee set-up by SDG&E power systems engineer Terry Snow, of which I am the token broadcasting representative, met last during the recent NAB Convention, but Terry was kind enough to forward a copy of the meeting minutes. 

{mosimage}So imagine my surprise when I looked at an enclosed map to see that the third vendor pilot would surround my University City home. The system power-up is scheduled for this week, and the amount of activity in the neighborhood has been very high. Truck crews have been installing wireless receive antennas and data couplers on poles and electricians have put data modems in a test  home…which happens to be a next-door neighbor.

I won’t comment much on the BPL pilots to date except to say we haven’t found any measurable interference to the broadcast bands that you care about. I’ve agreed with SDG&E to patiently await results of spectrum analysis tests before drawing any conclusions. There is something a bit childish about berating a scientist as he’s performing his experiments, whether you agree with the science or not.

It appears as though Terry and his co-workers are genuinely interested in getting feedback on interference caused by their BPL pilots, and they are studying similar pilots around the country for experiences with interference. In fact, they added a vendor to their pilot series that was known for reduced interference. There are at least three of us on the committee who are licensed ham radio operators. Whether the board at Sempra Energy takes their, or our, final recommendations to heart is another matter.

I have to believe that my neighborhood was chosen because it was one of the last with overhead electrical lines, and due to the lack of CC&R’s, it has has a higher incidence of ham radio operators than later built neighborhoods. If Terry chose specifically to surround my house, that’s very funny Terry. Very funny.

As a ham radio licensee for 35 years, I haven’t been very active for the past few years. I have enjoyed 6 meter E-skip operations from time to time, but that’s about it. I have a dual 10 meter/40 meter dipole and a decent collection of 40-year-old Drake equipment, so I’ll be firing that up to make sure there the HF interference characteristics haven’t changed. It’s been amazingly quiet here considering the urban nature of the neighborhood. I hope it remains that way, but the future’s not bright. 

One of the surprising findings on a previous pilot project site test was that the primary radiators in the fake home office was a plasma TV generating a big, raspy signal on the upper portion of the AM broadcast band. When we turned that off, we found another device radiating in the middle frequencies of AM–this was the power supply of the BPL modem, not the power lines themselves. We saw a heterodyne on channel 6, but turning off the BPL system made no difference. 

Ever played Whac-a-mole at Chuck E Cheese?

Making Waves Commentary: Gonsett Fights Satellite Receiver Makers

(Commentary) The popular industry email bulletin CGC Communicator published by Communications General Corporation consulting engineer Robert Gonsett ran a series of summary articles this year on the emissions of what he terms “mini-transmitters” used for getting audio from satellite receivers to automobile FM radios. At question was the power and frequencies chosen for the job.

Sometimes taking on entrenched forces of big business and big government becomes a hopeless morass of stonewalling and legal manuevering; the one with the most expensive den of attorneys wins. At other times, the system works. Follow along as we piece together the story of how one person can shed enough light on foul activity to make a difference.

This story began nearly two years ago, shortly after I took the job as Chief Engineer at the XETV Fox 6 studio in San Diego. Disclosure: XETV retains well-known consulting engineer Robert Gonsett specifically to deal with matters of interference, be they intentional or incidental. The actions taken by Bob were largely done by his own initiative, though I am left personally grateful and somewhat astonished from the lesson of power in process and persistence.

The Punching Bag of TV Spectrum

Pity the poor channel 6 over-the-air viewer in San Diego. First of all, the signal’s low band VHF, which means viewers must contend with urban electrical noise and the visual blight of a large antenna, if they bother at all. Then there’s the distance from the transmitter in Mexico to viewers north of Mission Valley. Add that the XETV’s power is split between horizontal and vertical polarization so that unless you have a special circular polarization receive antenna, you can’t receive the full signal. And then we deal with the adjacent band noncommercial FM broadcasters who want nothing worse than to improve coverage for their deserving listeners. The latest assault, however, comes from the proliferation of little FM modulators people use to transfer without wires the audio from their file players and various satellite receivers to a stock automobile FM stereo radio.

Those FM modulators are termed by the FCC “intentional radiators,” which means that their radiation is intended, in contrast to the unintended radiation from, say, your computer’s switching power supply. Under FCC regulation 15.209(a), such intentional radiators must have a fundamental signal within the FM band measured at no more than 150 uV/m at 3 meters distance, and they’re just plain not allowed on TV channels 5 and 6.

The  Journal

2005 – I begin receiving occasional calls from viewers who say that they are watching us when the colors  flash and they can hear music or voices unrelated to the video emanating from their TV speakers. Their interference comes and goes as do their neighbors. Obviously, this must be occurring with other channel 6 outlets around the country.

December 2005 – Gonsett’s newsletter, the CGC Communicator, relays a report from an LA radio chief engineer that a pirate broadcaster he picks up on his car radio is actually an XM satellite receiver FM modulator. “It amazed me how far I could hear the FM modulator….at least 250 feet if not further. This is the second time that this has happened to me while driving around…I strongly question whether these XM modulators are Part 15 compliant because they are able to radiate signals over 250 feet….”

March 11, 2006 – The Philadelphia Inquirer runs a story about the interference to non-commercial FM stations caused by satellite radio receivers. By this time, it is common knowledge that the default frequency on many of those receiver modulators is 88.1 MHz, much to the dismay of stations like KKJZ in Long Beach. Mike Starling, NPR Director of Engineering and Operations in Washington, promotes using 87.9 MHz as a default frequency—understandable in light of the fact that many, if not most, of these mini-transmitters come equipped to transmit only on non-commercial frequencies at the lower end of the FM band.

March 29, 2006 – Bob Gonsett writes a detailed letter to Sirius Radio Public Relations officers, with copies sent to various FCC contacts. In it, he asks that the satellite radio companies provide proof that they have received from the FCC a specific waiver that allows them to market satellite radios with FM modulators, “intentional radiators,” operating outside the FM broadcast band on 87.7 and 87.9 MHz.

March 30, 2006 – TV Technology magazine, in Doug Lung’s RF Report, highlights the FM modulator issue as a result of correspondence with Fred Lass, director of engineering at WRGB channel 6 in Schenectady, N.Y. Doug names the names of several modulator manufacturers that advertise illegal modulators and clarifies the FCC rules regarding continuous intentional radiation either misunderstood or ignored by those manufacturers. Doug reveals that Lass has notified the FCC Office of Technology about these transmitters. Lass tells Lung, “All that is required to find [illegal transmitters] is to do a Google search of ‘87.9 MHz’ to get a list of manufacturers and retailers selling these devices in the U.S.”

April 8, 2006 – Bob Gonsett “gets the ball rolling” by filing a complaint with the FCC in Washington against Sirius Satellite for incorporating 87.7 and 87.9 MHz into the intentional radiator mini-transmitters that are built into many Sirius consumer satellite receivers. He chooses to focus the filing on a single high profile case in order to simplify the process, shed light on the problem, and hope that the FCC would itself broaden the investigation.

April 27, 2006 – XM Radio files an 8-K form with the SEC in which it reveals to investors that it has received an inquiry received from the FCC OET on April 25 regarding the emissions of the Delphi SkyFi2 radio. The company states that it is making an internal review and anticipates “responding to the letter shortly and cooperating fully.”

May 8, 2006 – Bob Gonsett posts on his CGC Communicator an anonymous comment from a Los Angeles FM broadcast engineer favoring modulators operating below the FM band. “My feeling on any small transmitter for an XM, Sirius, HD or MP3 players is that they SHOULD use these out of band frequencies. Currently, FCC Rules do not allow this, but the situation deserves careful examination and consideration. Given the interference these devices cause to mobile on-channel reception of legitimate stations, we should give them out of band authorization (but not above 107.9 MHz). As a user, I cannot find a clean channel to use in Los Angeles for my XM receiver. As a licensee, I would not want them on my channel.” A sort of spectral NIMBY statement, but who wants mass transmitters on his frequency?

May 16, 2006 – Reuters reports that Audiovox Corp. suspends shipments of its Xpress Model XMCK10 XM satellite radio receiver after the FCC says the unit “did not comply with either operating bandwidth or related emission specifications.”

May 30, 2006 – XM Radio files another Form 8-K with the SEC in which it reveals to investors that it has suspended marketing of radios made by Delphi and Audiovox in order to comply with an inquiry received from the FCC on April 25. XM says it will modify the radios in question and submit them for Part 15 compliance testing. “We plan to have modified devices shipping to retailers in the near term.”

May 31, 2006 – Orbitcast.com quotes Sirius Radio EVP/CFO David Frear as saying that “all SIRIUS Satellite Radio receivers are in full FCC compliance. Some letters were sent regarding some Sirius devices that were out of spec. Frear stated that they then went to the receiver manufacturers and took care of the problem a while ago. All SIRIUS Radios are in full FCC compliance. Case closed.” Phewww.

Like the Whac-a-mole amusement at your local Chuck E Cheese, getting a couple of vendors to change their ways through FCC inquiries will inevitably result in another vendor producing a replacement product. After all, consumers demand a convenient way to transfer audio without wires. And none of this activity has yet dealt with the multitude of transmitters out there designed to transmit Apple iPod audio over FM. Some of those mini-transmitters are reported to put out suspiciously high signal levels. The work continues.

FCC Cites San Diego Radio Pirate…Again

FCC inspectors recently revisited the Golden Hill pirate station calling itself Free Radio San Diego at 96.9 MHz. An FCC Notice of Unlicensed Operation document signed by Bill Zears of the San Diego field office details an April 3 trip to the new 33rd Street transmitter site that found field strengths measuring over a thousand times Part 15 allowances. Station equipment, including the transmitter, was confiscated last summer in an FCC raid. Apparently this latest notice means that enforcement processes have started anew.

The website normally associated with the pirate station is down. The station normally plays a variety of free form music not heard on local commercial outlets, as well as community information and political talk.

We posted an interview with the station manager known only as Bob Ugly in July 2005.

John Buffaloe Checks In from New Orleans After Katrina

Reprinted with permission from the CGC Communicator, September 2, 2005, by Robert Gonsett.

As many of you know, John Buffaloe was the man in charge of Jefferson Pilot’s San Diego radio engineering operations for many years. He had a very successful career with JP, lived in San Diego County and followed his and his wife’s dream to move to New Orleans where he became Director of Engineering for a radio cluster in January of this year (CGC #670).

Just before leaving San Diego, however, he had to deal with the collapse of the KSON(AM) tower structure, and he is now dealing with a far more difficult situation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Following is John’s report, dated today. He’s one of us, and we could well be in his shoes.

Greetings all,

Annette and I are fine and in Memphis with friends. She was already here when Katrina hit, and I arrived last night after several harrowing experiences. We escaped with both of our cars, my two favorite guitars and a Crate V-15 amp, various electronic devices (gotta have that laptop), five days worth of clothes, some tools and Annette’s portfolio negatives.

We don’t know the condition of our house, although we do know it’s not under water nor did it ever flood. It has probably been looted by now, or will be soon. I was fired from my job on Wednesday, but I won’t get into that for obvious reasons.

The power has been out at my 85 year old Dad’s house in Jackson, MS since Monday and will probably be out for another two to three weeks. He has excellent round the clock assistance which allows me to be in Memphis with my wife for a little while.

Annette and I had dreamed of leaving southern California for years and moving to New Orleans to spend the rest of our lives. We were fortunate that I landed a job there in January and we moved into a beautiful renovated house in Algiers Point and were getting on quite well with our new life. I stumbled into an association with a gospel vocal group called the Zion Harmonizers, and was honored to be the first Caucasian to be associated with them in their 56 year history. We did two shows at the House of Blues Gospel Brunch two weeks ago, and I was featured as lead bass singer on a song called “Crossing Over.” My brother-in-law was there and is the only family member that ever got to see me with the Zions. We were to do a short tour in Spain in December and I was looking forward to performing with them at Jazz Fest in the spring. I don’t know any of the members whereabouts or condition at this time. They are true gentlemen and devoted Christians and they accepted me like I was a family member.

This is intended only to inform, not to engender sympathy. Annette and I are fine and will be fine in the future. All we have lost is stuff. We have our lives and each other, and we’ll eventually put it all back together and get back on our feet. We aren’t broke by any means, and our insurance will cover most of our financial losses. Employment for me will become an issue but I am confident I’ll find something at the appropriate time. In the meantime, we have a small apartment next door to friends, and a large support group of other friends here in Memphis. Considering what’s happening in New Orleans right now, and that either or both of us could still be there, I find myself extremely lucky to be in the current circumstances.

Many ask the simple question, “What will you do next” which calls for a million responses. I will actually do my laundry next as I have been on the road and used up all of my clothing for the past five days. Then Annette and I will begin to focus on what needs to be addressed, get centered, and start knocking things down. It will be somewhere between three and six months before we can return to assess our house damage and recover whatever possessions may be left intact.

Sometimes life does funny things to you. While I am certainly saddened by our misfortune, I very much count myself and Annette as two of the lucky ones with options to recover. It will take a couple of years, but we both have our talents and intelligence and will come out fine.

Thank you all for the encouraging emails and the reaching out of love and support. It really does help.

The city of New Orleans as we knew it will never exist again. A new New Orleans will eventually rise, but the “bowl” will be uninhabitable for years to come. There are thousands of homes that will have no option but to be demolished, and the land on which they sit will be contaminated from the chemicals in the flood waters. What will remain of the old New Orleans will likely be a small strip of town running between the river and St. Charles Ave. which will include the French Quarter if they can get a handle on the levee breaches.

If you can make a donation to the recovery effort, I urge you to do so. There are two million displaced people, many without resources and most will never be able to return to their homes. To say that this is catastrophic is a clichéd understatement. I was actually on the ground in New Orleans on Wednesday afternoon, and what I saw was way beyond what you can imagine from the video on TV. I was fortunate to be flown in and back out in a helicopter rented by my former company. I felt sick as I watched others looking up at us as we departed, knowing I would be free to move forward with my life while they would soon find themselves in a desperate struggle to survive.

Annette and I are indeed fortunate. Our experience is a lesson in counting your blessings.

I can be reached via email at johnbuffaloe@yahoo.com. Please feel free to forward this to whomever you feel may be interested.

—John Buffaloe