When you’re a broadcast engineer, you get used to receiving calls at odd hours proclaiming things that tend to fall outside the bounds of “normal.” It’s just the nature of the job. But even your intrepid engineer can be surprised sometimes. Friday morning, August 23rd, was one of those times.
That morning I got a call informing me that WCVY, our 91.5FM signal for much of Kent County, was off the air.
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!
Most people have heard of the "Three Mile Island" nuclear power plant accident of 1979. But it's famous among engineers for being a "normal accident", in that there wasn't any one thing that nearly caused a meltdown of catastrophic proportions...it was a series of little things inside a highly complex system that all happened as part of "normal" operations. None of which, by themselves, was terribly problematic. But they all happened at once, and that was a problem.
BOO! This time on the Engineer’s Corner, we’ll talk about PHANTOM POWER. Usually not as ghoulish as one might expect, phantom power has to do with microphones. Specifically, some microphones have active circuitry inside them. That means they need power to operate, but it’s unwieldy to run a separate power cord and audio microphone cable. So a phantom circuit is used to provide DC power on the same three wires (positive/hot, negative/cold, and ground) out to the microphone that the audio from the mic also uses.
A phantom circuit is one of those nifty things in electronics that looks, to the layman, like it can’t possibly work...but it does anyway.
“This is not a test, the dead are rising from the grave.”
Not quite what was spoken, nor quite a real alert, this weekend nonetheless saw KRTV-TV in Great Falls issue a LAE (Local Area Emergency) alert for several counties in Montana, and spread as far as WLW in Chicago. The LAE was, yes, a zombie alert, with an audio component that said: “the bodies of the dead are rising from their graves and attacking the living. Do not attempt to apprehend or approach these bodies as they are considered extremely dangerous.”
Actually, this winter we haven’t seen too much snow. Nevertheless, snow is something of a chore for us at RIPR, because it builds up on our SATELLITE DISH, which blocks the satellite signal. Specifically, our NPR and BBC signal, and that means when it snows = dead air on RIPR!
It’s a Star in the East! It’s shiny Christmas lights! It’s a slightly-silly, holiday-themed ENGINEERS CORNER on LIGHTBULBS!
Here at RIPR, our offices and studios in 1 Union Station were designed in 1999, and designed to look like our original owner’s studios, WBUR. Their studios were designed and built in the salad days of the dot-com era: 1995. So to say that incandescent track lighting is a big part of our lighting scheme, is an understatement.
Providence, RI – This week on the Engineer's Corner we talk about power. Not so much "fight the" as "emergency backup"! In fact, this week we're installing a new power generator for our 88.1FM (WELH) transmitter facility. You might've noticed we had issues with a lack of reliable power for almost three days during Hurricane Sandy; we had a generator but it just didn't have the features and capacity we needed.
So in advance of winter storms, falling trees, rime ice and downed power lines, we're putting in a Kohler RES14a propane generator with three 100lb tanks. Yes, the same company that makes excellent faucets for your kitchen, also makes excellent generators, believe it or not.