Category Archives: Commentary

Chapter 36 Survey: What Your Friends Think About Us

A few developments about SBE tend to alarm those of us involved in the organization’s leadership:

  • Chapter 36 SBE member count has reduced from 57 two years ago to 39 this year—a 30% drop.
  • Last week’s Chapter 47 meeting in Los Angeles was canceled due to lack of reservations. Only four people from a chapter with 197 members bothered to RSVP for their dinner meeting.
  • Chapters in Philadelphia, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City and Honolulu no longer hold meetings at all.

So what’s going on?

Continue reading Chapter 36 Survey: What Your Friends Think About Us

KFMB-AM Restores 50 kW Nighttime Power

Making Waves – Commentary 

In case you missed it, the FCC last week dismissed KFMB-AM San Diego’s FCC application to decrease its nighttime power to 10 kW.

Say whaaaat?

KFMB-AM went from 5 kW to 50 kW nighttime power on 760 kHz in 1992 when state highway 52 was built between its towers and the station could leverage the Caltrans displacement funds to up its power. They tightened their peanut shaped antenna pattern with the third tower in order to continue to protect co-channel WJR Detroit. The lower daytime power is a rare case in the U.S. , but with KBRT Avalon short spaced at 740 kHz, KFMB wasn’t allowed to increase its daytime power past 5 kW. In most U.S. locations, stations either lower power at night or change to a directional pattern to protect the signals of stations that came before them.

Continue reading KFMB-AM Restores 50 kW Nighttime Power

Making Waves Editorial: To Chill or Not to Chill

In August 1980 I was in my second year of TV engineering at KTVZ Bend when my boss Jess Ortega and I were to be on a live, local call-in TV show at 7pm at the station, talking about TV reception. About 30 minutes before air time, the transmitter dumped. As in—we were off-the-air. We jumped into the truck dressed in our suits, drove to the transmitter site, and were able to immediately put it back on-the-air because it had cooled during our drive. The show was re-scheduled for the next evening. Continue reading Making Waves Editorial: To Chill or Not to Chill

Making Waves Commentary: One Engineer’s Return from the Edge of Insanity

This week I’m starting a new job, serving as Assistant Chief Engineer at KGTV, with Bob Vaillancourt at the helm.

When systems integrator TV Magic started winding down in 2012, leaving me at the curb, I knew getting a good-fitting job wasn’t going to be easy if my family was going to stay in San Diego. Jobs in broadcast management here don’t open up every day, and I probably wasn’t going to go back to staff engineer. “He’ll just leave when a management job opens up.” “He’ll want too much money.” Without a EE or CS degree from a renowned university, high tech companies like Qualcomm and ViaSat would not even acknowledge my submissions.

So I dug right in to start my own consulting business, taking Small Business Administration classes, creating a website, and following up on referrals. (By the way, a big thank you to friends who sent potential customers my way. I believe we held up our part of the deal by treating these new clients well.)

What a great ride it’s been. I started helping Bext on their repair bench, taking small A/V jobs and then helping LPTV station KSDY-LD at their new studios in Chula Vista. I picked up an assistant with a bright young college student, Julio Ramirez, who helped with makeovers at KSDY-LD and KPRI (FM). At KPRI, we’ve done everything from fine tuning the IT systems, replacing the automation with Wide Orbit for Radio, completely rewiring the air chain for AES/EBU, retiring the old San Marcos aux site, and bringing in some redundancies that were never put in place. There were fun little projects like a weekend carrier-grade microwave STL/TSL sales and installation in Tijuana with Jeff Latimer.

A couple of days ago I looked at the huge list of equipment manual PDFs on my laptop hard drive. Holy cow, did Julio and I learn a lot in the last three years!

A truly successful business must scale itself properly, big enough that you can comfortably delegate much of your daily labor, take vacations, and afford a draw for yourself that is at least comparable to a staff engineering position, and that’s where I fell short. We’ve enjoyed the challenges and certainly the appreciation expressed, but you realize from time to time that you are to at least some extent servicing your own obsession with perfection, and that can seem a little…eerie at times. My wife Cheryl at one point after a number of overnight visits to the transmitter site seriously questioned my sanity, and if you look objectively at costs and risks vs. benefits, she was making a reasonable, if painful, point.

I don’t even want to get into the whole insurance and taxes thing about running your own business, except to say that there are very few days that go by without one or the other coming back with its beak open to feed.

The folly of any technical services business is that it’s one person producing work for one customer at a time, unlike software or sales of popular devices, where your business to serve multiple clients simultaneously, greatly increasing your income potential. Broadcasters are simply never going to pay you rates that a physician can demand, especially not the smaller broadcasters who can’t even afford their own full-time staff.

So I’m closing the business. Julio will carry on at KPRI.

Bob V. is a talented teacher and an experienced technical manager, so it’s back to being part of a corporate team. There’s much to be done, and with realistic budgets, daytime hours, and benefits like vacation, I’m looking forward to a new period of sanity.

Don’t laugh, Bob.