Category Archives: Local

KFMB-DT to Move to Channel 7

Midwest Television announced this week to enthusiasts on the HDTV.forSanDiego.com forum that KFMB-DT will broadcast digital TV on channel 7 beginning in March. The station will give up channel 55, the spectrum it has used since 2001, to MediaFLO, a Qualcomm division that transmits mobile multichannel television and has purchased from the FCC the rights to use channel 55 nationwide.

In order to temporarily occupy channel 7 VHF, Qualcomm worked with KFMB, incumbent NTSC channel user KABC in Los Angeles, and the FCC. They were able to obtain an experimental license for a period that will expire February 17, 2009, when KFMB-DT will occupy only its elected channel 8 with an ATSC signal. The experimental license will require two renewals since they are granted on a 6-month basis.

According to Rick Bosscher, KFMB RF Supervisor, the complicated agreement between these parties includes some protection for KABC. The KFMB VHF 16-panel Delta Wing array antenna made by Dielectric beams in a cardioid pattern with a sharp null in the direction of KABC’s line-of-sight Mt. Wilson transmission antenna. KFMB-DT 7 will initially sign on with only 47 kW ERP from a new Harris CD Platinum VHF transmitter. After they retire the Comark channel 55 transmitter, they will install additional PA cabinets to bring the ERP to 140 kW maximum from the easterly lobe. When they move to channel 8 next year, the antenna will be rotated to place the null toward the ocean, and used only as a standby. They will use the older top-mounted omni-directional slot antenna as primary. At that time, power will settle at 14.9 kW ERP.

In order to support the VHF panels, the 1954 vintage tower had to be substantially reinforced, and new one-inch guy wires installed to the top. Travis Donahue of Wireless Infrastructure says their company may have “put up more steel than made up the original tower.”

As part of the deal, KFMB Stations Director of Engineering Rich Lochmann says they will provide space for MediaFLO channel 55 transmissions on a neighboring tower at their Mt. Soledad  site.

Additionally, Rich says, LG/Zenith will use the new VHF ATSC station to test their new set-top boxes in the San Diego County terrain.

When the February Nielsen ratings sweep is finished February 28, the station will publicize the transition for digital viewers, then, if all goes well, the switch will take place March 6.

The added transmitter required substantial electrical power planning and rework, and Bosscher says Juice Electric did a great job supplying the power while everything stayed on the air.

The experimental permit for the project raised some eyebrows among technical observers. It’s not publicly known whether the permit was coordinated with Mexico. Temporary, scheduled use of spectrum operating outside parameters of standard FCC rules traditionally involves a Special Temporary Authority permit issued by the FCC’s Media Bureau rather than an  Experimental Permit issued by the Office of Engineering and Technology (OET). Details of the permit were not published on the internet but were available by visiting the OET in person. MediaFLO has obtained numerous experimental permits to broadcast its mobile television in the San Diego area during its product development phase.

The author of this article, Gary Stigall, is Director of Engineering for Bay City Television, dba XETV FOX6, owned by Mexican broadcaster Televisa Corporation. He previously worked for KFMB Stations for 13 years.

FCC Posts New NCE FM Applicants

In its Daily Digest for Wednesday, November 14, the FCC published a list of non-commercial and educational (NCE) FM new station applicants that exceeded 700 pages in PDF format. The text only version exceeded a half megabyte. Those new applications represent the floodgate opened when the FCC recently issued a filing window for new NCE stations. It’s especially remarkable when you consider that each applicant was limited to 10 filings.

In San Diego County, applications were for facilities outside the city. The FCC summarily dismissed a Valley Center filing on 88.1 MHz for violating service contours of existing stations. An application by the European Cultural Association for a station in National City on 88.9 MHz seems to ignore the presence of adjacent channel XHITT 88.7 in Tijuana, a public station run by the  Instituto Tecnologico de Tijuana less than 10 miles away.  San Diego State University, licensees of KPBS and KQVO, applied for three stations in Borrego Springs and Calipatria (Imperial County).

An application for the Rincon on 89.5 MHz turns out not to be for Rincon, California as the FCC lists it, but for Rincon, New Mexico. Consultant Bob Gonsett took the time to look at the engineering data to discover the intended community of service.

Here’s a summary of San Diego County new NCE applications found. Note that Calipatria is in Imperial County.

LOCATION MHz APPLICANT FCC FILE NO. 
National City 88.9 European Cultural Association BNPED-20071018AQS
Romona 89.9 Activist San Diego BNPED-20071022AEZ
Descanso 89.1 Activist San Diego BNPED-20071022AFB
Pine Valley 89.1 Centro Cristano Cosecha Final BNPED-20071022ABP
Valley Center  88.1 Centro Cristano Vida Abundante BNPED-20071018ABK
Pala 91.3 Pala Band of Mission Indians BNPED-20071016AFG
Borrego Springs  91.3 Borrego Springs Christian Center BNPED-20071012ASL
Borrego Springs  91.3 San Diego State University BNPED-20071018AVI
Borrego Springs  88.1 San Diego State University BNPED-20071018AVJ
 Borrego Springs  88.1 Centro de Intercesion y Adoracion Internacional BNPED-20071022AIR
Calipatria 88.1 San Diego State University BNPED-20071018AVL

John Rigg, who provides contract engineering services for Finest City Broadcasting, operators of XETRA-FM on 91.1, said of the new applications, “These are going to be more fun than a box of snakes.”

Fires Disrupt San Diego Broadcasts

The record-breaking fires in San Diego County are serving to bring us both opportunity to prove itself worthy of its slice of the public spectrum, and the challenge to cover all the breaking news with limited resources and without any income whatsoever.

Fire safety officers warned late the previous week that it might be a tough weekend when extremely low humidity and desert “Santa Ana” winds combined to prepare the dry underbrush for burning.

Sunday, October 21

Fire breaks out at 9:00 AM in the relatively unpopulated area of Protrero and Harris Ranch Road along state highway 94 southeast of San Diego. Fire later starts east of Romona northeast of San Diego in the Witch Creek draw.

In the evening, as the fires head toward Romona with its 30,000 residents, stations begin going live wall-to-wall with neither commercials nor the usual primetime programming. Notably, all seven Clear Channel radio stations start simulcasting, mostly using KOGO radio news crews, with veteran newsman Cliff Albert anchoring. Independent KUSI goes full-time with an ENG crew in Romona, then NBC’s KNSD hit the air after their NFL broadcast. ABC affilate KGTV, Fox affiliate XETV, and CBS affiliate KFMB each go live.

Stations use their existing alliances to simulcast, with the BCA stations XEPRS (AM) 1090, XEBCE (FM) 105.7, and XEPE (AM) 1700 rebroadcasting KUSI’s audio.{mosimage}

Monday, October 22

Lincoln Financial Media’s KSOQ-FM 92.1 satellite station becomes the first casualty as the Witch Fire crossed Mt. Whitney, burns electrical power lines feeding the station. It goes silent.

The Harris Fire on Monday night burns over the top of Mt. San Miguel, home to San Diego UHF TV stations KNSD, KPBS, KSWB, and KUSI and radio station KPBS-FM. Low power Spanish TV station KSDX 29 is completely destroyed, with photos showing the heat seemingly coming from the inside, out. Live video from KNSD’s tower camera shows the fire approaching, then cracking the lens from excessive heat. San Diego Gas & Electric’s 230 kV line to the area fails as over 20 transmission poles burn, and telephone service goes out. Most TV & FM stations on top are able to continue broadcasting using generators. KPBS-FM and -TV go off the air for lack of generator power. Telephone line outages causes failures of remote ENG microwave antenna controllers there for KGTV, KFMB, and XETV.

While less publicized, enormous fires also break out in Baja California, Mexico. One such fire, a few miles south of the Harris Ranch Fire, burns the electrical transmission lines feeding broadcast facilities on Cerro Bola near Tecate. XEBCE (FM) is off the air until the line is prepared.

Tuesday, October 23

The Witch Fire far to the north in Valley Center causes phone outages at Palomar Mountain, where ENG relays no longer take remote commands for TV outlets.

After KPBS-FM goes off the air, Lincoln Financial Media’s KBZT (FM) (94.9, alternative rock) begins broadcasting fire information from the KPBS studios on a ISDN link, and continues to do so through Wednesday.

Tuesday night, KPBS crews bring a spare 1000 watt transmitter from their desert station in Calexico back to the San Diego State University studio site. Bext supplies a two-bay antenna from their shelf stock downtown, and KPBS staff mounts it overnight on their STL tower. By morning, KPBS-FM 89.5 is back on the air from Gateway Center at about 400-ft elevation AMSL.

Meanwhile, XETV FOX6 takes a portable ENG receiver to its transmitter site in Tijuana and begins relaying live news from the Harris Fire near Chula Vista, using a recent FCC ENG license endorsement that allows the station to beam over the border on 6.5 GHz.

Wednesday, October 24

SDG&E crews quickly installs new poles, restoring power at Mt. Whitney, and KSOQ (FM) resumes rebroadcasting KSON-FM.

The Witch fire climbs Palomar Mountain, threatening homes near the top, as well as radio sites and the famous telescope. News crews report that firefighters make a particularly risky stand at the South Grade Road and stop the fire before it gets to those homes.

By late afternoon, the Santa Ana winds subside, temperatures cool somewhat, and humidity begins to increase, slowing the spread of flames, but bringing the very real possibility of easterly spread on the north on south fingers of the fires.

Thursday, October 25

A motorcade of fuel trucks and broadcast engineers drives up Mt. San Miguel, refueling the generator storage tanks. Utility representatives forecast having all the replacement poles serving the mountaintop in place within two weeks.

Late in the afternoon, AT&T restores phone service to Palomar Mountain, once again allowing for the control of microwave relays there, but the fire rages on the southwest slopes of the long ridge.

Friday, October 26

KPBS puts a temporary generator in place, by late afternoon powering its FM and DT transmitters to the legal limit, and its analog transmitter at half power.

Epilogue

To date, the Harris Fire burned 90,750 acres. There were 34 injuries to firefighters, 21 civilians burned and 5 civilian fatalities.

The Witch Fire burned 197,990 acres. There were 38 injuries to firefighters, and two civilian fatalities.

The Rice Fire burned 9,472 acres. Full containment was obtained on October 28th. There have been five injuries to firefighters.

The Poomacha Fire burned 49,150 acres. There were 20 injuries to firefighters.

In total, 346,890 acres burned, 1,588 residences destroyed, 320 residences damaged, 2 commercial properties destroyed. 640,000 citizens were evacuated. Suppression costs so far are estimated at $93-million.

Rockley Curless, KPBS transmitter engineer, took a series of photographs of the site and posted them on Flickr.

KOGO Begins Nighttime IBOC AM

KOGO (AM) 600 kHz began nighttime digital broadcasts on the first legal night, September 14, 2007, confirms Clear Channel San Diego Market Director of Engineering John Rigg. They haven’t experienced any problems or heard any complaints to date. John said tuning around the dial, he was surprised to receive a steady HD-radio signal from KFBK at 1530 kHz. He was also able to clearly receive from El Cajon the analog-only KTAR Phoenix at 620 kHz, alternate channel from the KOGO carrier.

Other digital outlets picked up locally include KNX Los Angeles at 1070 and KSL Salt Lake at 1160. No other local AM stations have yet installed IBOC equipment.

FAA Tower Light Outage Reporting System Unreliable

A new report claims that the FAA’s tower light outage procedure has not only changed to a privatized system, but the new phone system used is dangerously unreliable. In June, Lockheed Martin took over the FAA communications for Southern California, making it necessary to contact their call center in Arizona to report outages. The following text is from Bob Gonsett’s CGC Communicator.

New Procedure for Reporting Tower Outages

(From CGC Communicator #809) According to the FAA, the operations of the Flight Service
Stations have been privatized to Lockheed Martin.  The new
procedure for reporting tower light outages is as follows:

  1. Dial (1) 877-487-6867.
  2. When prompted by the phone tree, say the state where the light outage is occurring.  (If you say “California,” the tree will then ask if you mean northern California or southern California.  Southern California, we are told, means the bottom third of the state including Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.)
  3. You should then hear a recording that says, “Please wait while I connect you with a flight briefer.”  You should then be connected with a briefer in Prescott, AZ, where the workers are Lockheed Martin employees and are on duty 24/7. Give the briefer the outage information and they will issue a NOTAM (Notice to All Airmen) advising pilots of the tower light failure.

It would be appreciated if the FCC issued a Public Notice to alert tower owners of the fundamental changes listed above.

Beware: The New FAA Lockheed Martin Phone Tree is Unreliable

The FAA Lockheed Martin phone tree described above has reportedly been in place for about two weeks and is erratic and unreliable.  Callers have trouble getting through.

To test the system, CGC called the 877 number a dozen times on September 17 & 18, 2007.  We always worked our way through the phone tree and were always told to wait for a flight briefer. In five of the test calls, we were connected to a briefer within seconds, and when we immediately called the 877 number again, we got through again.  In the other seven calls, the phone tree put us on hold for about a minute and then disconnected the call. When we called again seconds later, the same thing (disconnect) happened again.  So, sometimes the system works, sometimes it fails.

An FCC employee independently tested the 877 number and agrees that the system is unreliable and in urgent need of repair.  In three FCC attempts to reach a briefer, two failed. However, the mode of the phone tree failure was different from CGC’s experience.  After the “please wait” announcement, the FCC agent waited over 15 minutes, never got disconnected, did get music on hold and announcements, but never got through to a live person.

The 877-487-6867 phone tree is indeed in urgent need of repair because it handles safety-of-life information.  Hopefully the current round of problems will be resolved soon, but Murphy lives and the FAA should consider putting a plain old telephone (POT) on the wall of each of the Lockheed Martin call centers so we have an alternate means of contact.  Just common sense.