A recent article in the New Yorker about radio in prison piqued my interest. Besides providing a window into a world that many of us know little or nothing about, it caught my eye that these Sony SRF-39FP ("FP" for "Federal Prison") radios are actually remarkably good receivers.
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.
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 might...be spying on you.
UPDATE (Jan.10): Verizon sent a trio of techs today to examine the Digital Lines. They found a splice point on a pole near the Wheeler Farm end of the circuit where water had gotten past the weatherproofing. The splice was re-done, with fresh (and better) weatherproofing sealant applied, and a weather box placed around it.
That's likely the culprit here: the problems started during the snowstorm, so probably water got in there and expanded/contracted repeatedly as the water froze and melted. That expansion wreaks havoc with (relatively) fragile copper telco wiring.
As of 3pm we are back on our main STL. We've noticed the volume levels seemed to have changed somewhat with this repair, too, so we're still tweaking things.
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!
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.
UPDATE 01/21: Multiple letters sent with no response, and the pirate's still broadcasting. A letter has been mailed to the FCC's Enforcement Bureau. If you are an RIPR listener to 102.7 and you have experienced interference due to this pirate, you can submit your own letter to the FCC as well.
UPDATE 12/19: The pirate has been found! Well, we're pretty sure we have found the pirate. Using a directional antenna and a signal meter, we triangulated the position to a house a few blocks from the Locust Grove Cemetery in South Providence.
A letter of notification of interference to RIPR was mailed to this address several weeks ago, but apparently this pirate doesn't care as there's still an illegal broadcast on 102.9 from this location.
UPDATE 11/5: Thanks to a fellow engineer who informed me there is a pirate broadcasting on 102.9FM and that is likely the source of the interference people have reported (see below). Quite possibly the atmospheric changes made it worse, but the bulk of the problem is likely the pirate.
As all RIPR fans know, we are an NPR member station. That means we get a lot of our programming from NPR, the BBC, and other providers, via our satellite dish. The dish is medium-sized as dishes go, but it’s pretty big in real terms: 3.7 meters (12ft) in diameter. There’s quite literally nowhere to fit a dish that large at our studios in 1 Union Station, so instead it was installed out at our 1290AM transmitter site in North Providence (we still own 1290, but we lease it to Latino Public R
Sharp-eared listeners may have noticed some announcements this morning on RIPR, having to do with our FCC broadcast licenses. In fact, listeners to every radio station in Rhode Island, and all of New England, will be hearing similar announcements today. It’s because every eight years, AM & FM broadcast licenses expire and must be renewed; these announcements are required by the FCC as part of that process.
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.