Engineer's Corner

Credit Credit: Ryan T Conaty

The Engineer's Corner is an occasional series penned by RIPR's IT & Engineering Director, Aaron Read.  

Any time he thinks there's something useful, important, amusing, or otherwise interesting enough to write about?  This is where you'll find it.  The highest compliment he gets, and frequently, is from readers who assure him that even though they have no idea what he's writing about, they love that he's writing it.

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.

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.

cox fiber splice tool
Aaron Read

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.

WCVY no ceiling tiles
Aaron Read

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.

Why was it off the air?

The roof collapsed and rain got in.  

Say what?
 

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!

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.

TheEC: Phantom Power

Jul 12, 2013

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.  

TheEC: Time Delay

Jun 11, 2013
102.7FM transmits in HD Radio
Aaron Read

This time on the ENGINEER’S CORNER we go back in time – none of Doc Brown’s famous DeLoreans needed!  Actually, it’s about TIME DELAY, specifically, the time delay on 102.7FM in Narragansett.

TheEC: Zombies and EAS

Feb 12, 2013

“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.”

RIPR Satellite Dish Heater
Aaron Read

  Oh the weather outside is frightful…

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!

TheEC: Lightbulbs!

Jan 1, 2013
Track lights
Aaron Read

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.

An Omnia 6 FM processor, also used on WRNI 102.7FM

Providence, RI – Audio purists refer to it as the scourge of music, but AUDIO PROCESSING is a critical part of any radio station's transmitter. An audio processor typically accomplishes several goals:

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