102.7FM tower
Aaron Read RIPR

Beginning at 10:00am on Saturday March 28th there will be an extended outage of RIPR's 102.7FM signal.   It is expected to last several hours at least, possibly until sunset (around 6:30pm).

We may be able to continue operating at reduced power.  But it's likely that 102.7 will just be completely off the air.   Please note: whenever 102.7 is off, our WCVY 91.5FM signal in Coventry will be off as well.  (it gets its content via a radio receiver tuned to 102.7)

Optimod 8100A

UPDATE DEC.1, 2014: our demo unit of the BW Broadcast DSPXmini-FM SE audio processor arrived today.   It's been installed on 88.1FM and initial tweaking is complete.  The sound seems markedly improved.  I'll be fiddling with it further to adjust it across different programs.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE: About a week ago, your intrepid engineer made some changes to the airchain on our 88.1FM that should've, in theory, been wholly beneficial and with no potential for downside.  However, around that same time I started getting reports of an odd whistle...or just high-pitched static...that would come and go with no apparently rhyme or reason.

These reports aren't widespread, but there's been enough that I'm no longer inclined to think it's just an odd run of people happening to have poor reception.   The only commonality is that it seems to occur only when reception of 88.1 isn't very good to begin with.  Not necessarily "poor" reception at all, just not "super-solid".

Spectrum Analyzer
Aaron Read RIPR

Friday night and mid-day Saturday (Nov.14 & 15) ended up being a bit of a saga for what was supposed to be a routine upgrade for our 102.7FM signal in South County.   So first off, an apology to our RIPR listeners on 102.7FM, and to MVYradio's listeners to the 96.5FM signal in Newport.  There were several dropouts, periods when RIPR was on backup transmitter (and thus 96.5 was off entirely), or when both transmitters were down.

Exactly what happened could be described as an avalanche of minutiae, but I'll lay it out as best I can.

Aaron Read puzzles over the new NPR clocks
Dave Fallon RIPR

Starting on Monday Nov.17th, the clocks for Morning Edition, All Things Considered (both weekdays and weekends) and Weekend Edition  will be changing.  

Today's Engineer's Corner is co-authored with our Operations & Production Manager, James Baumgartner.  He and I are the ones directly responsible for organizing all the clock changes' impact on Rhode Island Public Radio, and we've put together this synopsis of what the changes mean for our listeners.

TheEC: New STL at 88.1FM

Jul 18, 2014
RIPR Chief "Engneah" poses with the STL antenna
David Schiano

UPDATE 7/22: After a weekend of solid operation, we've moved out of "beta" and into "gold", meaning when you listen to 88.1, you're hearing audio that's coming across the new microwave STL.


Good news everyone!

Longtime Engineer's Corner readers know that we've had, well, "issues" with the STL or "Studio/Transmitter Link" for our 88.1FM signal in Providence.   The STL is what carries the audio from our studios in downtown Providence to the transmitter/tower at the Wheeler Farm in Seekonk.

Now a couple weeks ago we revealed that half of a new wireless microwave STL was installed, and that the other half would be installed soon.  Today, we fired it up for the first time and the results were gratifyingly positive!

New Air Conditioner
Aaron Read RIPR

Regular readers of the ENGINEER'S CORNER might recall my story about air conditioning at our 102.7FM transmitter in Narragansett Pier.   Well now I'm pleased to report that we have air conditioning at 88.1FM WELH in Seekonk as well!

In many ways, this is an even bigger deal; 102.7 had a hefty vent fan system that could move a lot of air.  Sure, if the air outside was hot, it means the air inside was hot, too.  Usually you can't cool a room using outside air below about +10F degrees above outside air temps.   So if it's 90F outside, it's 100 to 105F inside...ugh!  

And at 88.1, we didn't really have even that.  The transmitter site is an 8x10ft shed with a single 12 inch desk fan blowing air out one of the wall vents, and no insulation whatsoever on the walls or ceiling.  Temps routinely broke 120F inside, even when it was only 70 to 80F outside.

UPDATED 5/8/2014.

The morning of April 30th saw several odd "dropouts" in the audio on 88.1FM, usually lasting 5 to 8 seconds each, happening as often as 2 or 3 times a minute, but more commonly once every 10 to 15 minutes.

There was also an odd "repeating audio" effect some people noticed, when the audio came back.

Read on for the explanation of both!

The big news in computing this week is Heartbleed, a serious security problem with secure websites.   Specifically, it's a two-year-old bug in the near-ubitiquous OpenSSL (Secure Socket Layer) protocol...most commonly recognized when there's a "https" (instead of "http") at the beginning of a website address.

It's a big problem, and I'll explain why in a second, but first I wanted to let everyone know that the RIPR donations website is secure and never was vulnerable to Heartbleed.   They use a hardware-based implementation of SSL, not OpenSSL.

So if you have donated or plan to donate to RIPR, you have nothing to worry about in regards to Heartbleed and that donation.  Whew!

FullChannel Jamie Griffin

Our good friends at FullChannel cable, available to residents of Barrington, Warren and Bristol, are not only nice enough to put RIPR's audio on channel 799.   But also their engineer, Jamie Griffin, has started his own "Engineer's Corner" email newsletter for cable TV folks.

Aaron Read

In light of ongoing issues with the Studio/Transmitter Link (STL) for WELH 88.1, we have implemented a new STL  schema.   If you heard a lot of odd audio dropouts on 88.1 today, that was the reason.

The good news is that we should have a pretty good temporary solution in place, and a solid path for a permanent solution is on the horizon (tentatively scheduled for mid-March).   Best of all, I was able to put in a new(er) Orban Optimod 8100A audio processor to replace the less-capable Inovonics DAVID-III.  There's a little sibilance still, so I need to tweak the settings.  But overall the sound should be much louder, fuller, and more consistent.

Read on for more details...

Browser Extension Adware Malware and Spyware

Taking a break from broadcast engineering this time on TheEC, and instead we'll look at the other side of my job: computers.   In particular, here's a heads-up to a recent story that's lit-up the geekier realms of the internet, but may not have percolated to your inbox just yet.  It has to do with BROWSER EXTENSIONS and how they might or might not...probably spying on you.

Longwire antenna in Norway
Arild Skalmeraas

We've talked in the past about skywave propagation, but it's cool when you heard about real-world examples of it.   Recently I've gotten several emails from "DX'ers" (Distant Reception enthusiasts) in Europe saying they've been able to hear Latino Public Radio on 1290AM all the way across the Atlantic!   

WCVY temporary transmitter
Aaron Read

As of Tuesday November 12th, WCVY is back on the air in limited fashion.   As you know, WCVY suffered catastrophic damage to its equipment and facility from a roof leak during a thunderstorm in August.   The entire space had to be gutted to the concrete walls, and new electrical wiring and drywall installed.  Much of the transmitter gear either took direct water damage (e.g. electricity shorting out) or took indirect water damage (e.g. rust and other corrosion), and eventually a lot of it failed completely.

We have put a temporary setup in place with a donated 30 watt transmitter on loan (with the antenna array's gain factor of 2.1, it's really more like 63 watts of Effective Radiated Power), and a special radio that's tuned to 102.7FM (there's a high-gain FM antenna on the rooftop tower) and puts out the composite signal directly into the new transmitter.   This effectively makes 91.5 into a "repeater" of 102.7FM.

Air conditioner
Aaron Read

Air conditioning.  Cool heaven for those who have it, blazing hell for those who don't.  It didn't used to be terribly common in broadcast engineering, but it's become moreso in the last ten years.  The reason is that, more and more, audio processors, RDS encoders, audio encoders/decoders, studio/transmitter links, remote control systems, and even the transmitters themselves, have all become increasingly "computer-like" with IC's, hard disk drives, power supplies, electrolytic capacitors and the like.   All things that fail quickly when operated in temperatures above 80 or so, and the warmer it gets, the faster they fail!