Category Archives: Engineering

NRSC Creates PI Codes for Every FM Translator

The National Radio Systems Committee (NRSC) has unveiled a new resource for broadcasters that utilize FM translators, providing a unique Radio Data System (RDS) Program Identification (PI) code for every FM translator in the United States.

FM translators have been a source of growth for the radio broadcast industry in recent years. Regulatory efforts such as AM revitalization, and the expanded use of HD Radio multicast channels as an audio source for translators, have introduced new uses for translators and have greatly increased their numbers.

Most FM translators broadcast the RDS digital subcarrier, which is used by FM stations to deliver “metadata” such as program format, station logo and/or web address, and song title and artist information to modern FM receiver displays (especially automotive receivers). The use of RDS on FM translators is encouraged, especially since so many vehicles now display RDS metadata when tuned to an FM radio station.

One of the most important types of metadata transmitted by RDS subcarrier is the PI code. The PI code is not displayed to consumers but it is used internally by the receiver to uniquely identify the audio program being broadcast by the FM station. In the United States, the PI code has historically been derived from a radio station’s call sign, however, when FM translators are involved there is a problem.

The NRSC defined the algorithm for calculating a station’s PI code back in the 1990s when the RDS standard was being introduced, and this algorithm is based on a four-character call sign, which is the standard call sign format for full-power FM stations (the exception being some legacy three-character call signs). Here’s the problem – FM translators are assigned a six-character call sign by the FCC, so the NRSC’s PI code algorithm does not work.

To resolve this problem, the NRSC’s RDS Usage Working Group (RUWG) developed a new algorithm just for FM translators, which can assign a unique PI code to each FM translator in the US. This algorithm has been implemented using a web-based tool and a list of PI codes for all FM translators in the United States is now available at http://picodes.nrscstandards.org/. FM translator operators are encouraged to visit this web page and obtain (and use!) the PI code which has been calculated for their translator (or translators).

In the vast majority of cases, these new FM translator PI codes should be used by translator operators, this is very important to help prevent PI code-related receiver issues (such as unintentional re-tuning) which can occur when stations use the wrong PI code. The principal reason why a translator would not use one of the PI codes from the NRSC’s FM translator PI code list is if that translator is being fed by the main channel audio signal of a full-power FM station and is simulcasting that signal (the “traditional” application for translators). In this exceptional case, the translator should use the PI code for the full-power station it is being fed by, calculated from that full-power station’s four-letter call sign.

Cross-service FM translators (that is, FM translators that are re-broadcasting an AM station’s signal) and FM translators being fed by an HD Radio multicast channel should most definitely make use of the PI codes provided on the NRSC FM Translator PI code web page. Here is a screen shot of the web page:

Some comments on the web page:

    • There are over 7,000 translators listed on this page, sorted by “Facility ID;”
    • Translator operators should use the “Filter” function, entering their translator call sign(s) in the appropriate box and clicking on “Filter,” this is the quickest way to find a particular PI code;
    • The algorithm used to generate PI codes utilizes the FCC’s Consolidated Database System (CDBS); once a day the CDBS information is downloaded from the FCC and checked to see if there are any new translators or whether a translator has moved in geographic location or frequency;
    • If a translator moves in either geographic location or frequency, then a new PI code may be calculated, so translator operators should visit the web page if their translator moves location or frequency to see if the PI code has changed.

Please contact David Layer at NAB if you have any questions or comments on the PI code web page.

Alpha Media’s Gordon in NABEF Webcast

Caleb Gordon

Caleb Gordon, Market Engineer for Alpha Media’s Saginaw cluster, recently co-hosted an NAB Education Foundation webcast for its Technology Apprenticeship Program.  Gordon participated in the six-month program designed to expose high-tech graduates and professionals to the broadcast industry.

The goal of the program is to provide participants with an opportunity to learn about latest trends in broadcast technology, receive hands-on training at a broadcast station and contribute a fresh perspective and innovative ideas to the industry.

The webcast focused on “Two Next Gen Platforms: ATSC 3.0 and the Digital Dash.”

You can watch a recording of the webcast here.  It’s free, but registration is required.

Gordon will also be speaking at the upcoming MAB Foundation Broadcasting Career Building Conference (BCBC), scheduled for November 10 in Lansing.

Reminder: AMC-8 Cutoff is June 30

Photo courtesy of Eric Send, WTCM-AM/FM (Traverse City)

Radio stations airing programming from any of the major network suppliers only have until June 30 to shift their satellite dishes from AMC-8 to the new AMC-18 satellite, at 105 degrees West Longitude.

AMC-8, at 139 degrees West Longitude has exceeded its design life and is not being replaced by an equivalent satellite at the 139 position.   This affects users of programming from Learfield, Premiere, Skyview Networks, Westwood and Orbital Media Networks/OMNi. (OMNi was known as Clear Channel Satellite Services until Satellite Holdings acquired it in January 2015.)

Stations are encouraged to shift their dishes as soon as possible to avoid signal interruptions in the event of unanticipated difficulties in pointing their dishes to the new satellite.  All content from the suppliers noted above is already available on the new AMC-18 bird.

There’s a list of satellite vendors, a list of frequencies and more at the AMC-8 Migration page here. Stations who need help to re-aim their dishes can search for it here.

Time is Running Out for AMC-8

Photo courtesy of Eric Send, WTCM-AM/FM (Traverse City)

Radio stations airing programming from any of the major network suppliers only have until June 30 to shift their satellite dishes from AMC-8 to the new AMC-18 satellite, at 105 degrees West latitude.

AMC-8, at 139 degrees West Longitude has exceeded its design life and is not being replaced by an equivalent satellite at the 139 position.   This affects users of programming from Learfield, Premiere, Skyview Networks, Westwood and Orbital Media Networks/OMNi. (OMNi was known as Clear Channel Satellite Services until Satellite Holdings acquired it in January 2015.)

Stations are encouraged to shift their dishes as soon as possible to avoid signal interruptions in the event of unanticipated difficulties in pointing their dishes to the new satellite.  All content from the the suppliers noted above is already available on the new AMC-18 bird.

There’s a list of satellite vendors, a list of frequencies and more at the AMC-8 Migration page here. Stations who need help to re-aim their dishes can search for it here.

A Day in May

Tim Moore

Editor’s Note: The views and opinions of this article do not necessarily reflect those of the MAB. Contact the MAB for information on the MAB’s official editorial policy.

By:  Tim Moore,
Managing Partner,
Audience Development Group

This month marks the sixth anniversary of the largest natural disaster visited on the American landscape in the new Century. At 5:34 p.m. on Sunday, May 22, 2011, an EF5 tornado’s 200 mile per hour winds cut a mile-wide swath through Joplin (Missouri’s fourth largest metro) killing 158 and injuring more than a thousand.

In its aftermath only Zimmer Radio’s in-house radar and engineering foresight linked the market with the outside world. Three TV stations and other radio companies were decommissioned by the tornado. The following is a verbatim e-mail between two members of Zimmer’s highly respected engineering team 48 hours after the storm:

From: David Obergoenner to Morgan Grammar Date: 24 May 2011 Subject: Joplin 11:39 PM

Thanks, Morgan. As of this afternoon we still had two staff members missing. Many of our people including the air staff lost their homes, cars, everything. But there they were, all day today, on the air, helping other hurting folks via radio. We have such a great staff!!! Much of our broadcast day was taking calls from people trying to find friends and family…and helping folks find food and shelter. Some of the calls tore my heart out. So many good people in that town…

We’ve brought in a couple of RV’s for staff members to use who don’t have homes anymore…or theirs’ are too badly damaged to safely return to. All of our stations were on simulcast wall to wall; with weather coverage from an hour before the storm hit Joplin. We knew it was going to be a bad one. 6 of our 7 signals stayed on the air without missing a beat through the storm. Zimmer stations are about the only thing left on radio or TV.

Our 5 kw AM took a direct lightening hit as the storm blew through and was off the air until about 4am when Mel got it fixed. The BE AM-6a was still fine. The generators at all the sites saved our butts again. The tornado just missed our 1,000 foot Joplin Super Tower (with 3 of our FM’s on it) and just missed our studio complex by a couple of blocks. The winds at our studios were so strong it tore out several trees near our parking lot. Several of our staff’s cars were parked there and it really tore them up too.

I have no idea how our STL tower survived that…I guess that ERI tower I insisted on is pretty tough. We still haven’t been able to get to our old location which also has a 400 foot tower. Mel says he saw the tower but not sure if the building is still standing. Our TV tenant has been off the air since the storm hit, as has most of the TV here. That’s about where we are this evening. Joplin will not be back to normal for a VERY long time.

Zimmer had previously installed actual radar when they launched their News -Talk KZRG. Operations Manager Chad Elliot had fortuitously worked out a text warning system with some Kansas Sheriff’s departments to the west. Elliot came immediately to his facility on learning a massive multiple-vortex storm was making up over Kansas and headed for Joplin. He alerted local emergency departments and a large local high school with commencement ceremonies that afternoon! The damage was beyond description, including the 10-story St. Johns Medical Complex, actually deformed over a foot on its foundation; only part of the $2.8 billion in damages.

In the weeks that followed, Zimmer radio was appropriately hailed as a savior for so many who, thanks to the advanced warning, were able to take shelter. The company was visited by countless agencies including the NAB and many broadcasters who simply wanted to know “how they accomplished it.”

The answer was of course foresight and an investment in “overbuilt” facilities including their in-house radar. As for Zimmer’s human assets, it’s fair to say they were priceless.

 

 

Protect Your Station from WannaCry


Contributing to this article:  Jason Walther, former Chief Engineer, Townsquare Media (Lansing) and Ron Kramer, Michigan Network Consultants (Lansing).

One of the largest cyberattacks ever is currently eating the web, hitting PCs in countries and businesses around the world. WannaCry can invade your computers without any action on your part and encrypt your files and hold them ransom until a payment (usually $300) is made to the perpetrators behind this attack.

WannaCry exploits a hole in unpatched Windows computers in order to infect them.  While Microsoft provided an update months ago that will prevent this exploit, computers that have not been receiving and installing automatic updates are at risk.

Some advice from our experts:

1-Make sure your Windows machine is updated so the file sharing SMB client is newer than SMBv1.  Simply updating your machine for both Windows and Linux users fixes this.

2- Make sure you do NOT have your machine connected directly to the Internet without some kind of firewall appliance (in your router or otherwise).  Make sure you have not opened any port forwarding or triggers for port 449, or anything else for that matter, unless you’re sure you know what apps use which ports on the network. Most cable modems include a firewall so you are probably good if you’re on a consumer grade data service.

3- If you do not need to share files, turn OFF file sharing – do a Google search to learn how. If you are really ambitious, create users and set passwords and then turn on password protected sharing (there are plenty of good examples of how this is done on Google).

Again, this malware spreads via exposure to the internet and does not utilize any provocation on your part to execute. To setup house, it does need an unprotected Windows computer and it can encrypt files on any share.

Tethering using a coffee shop, public WiFi or hotspot on your cell phone is a vulnerability, especially with Windows 7 and before. Starting with Windows 8, firewalls automatically turn on, but before that, they did not.

The Key here is making sure you have Windows up to Date!

Please be aware that unless your computer does NOT have a cord plugged in, it needs to be updated.

Help Sink Pirate Broadcasters!

While the MAB has not had any reports of any significant pirate radio activity in our state in a number of years, legal broadcasters are asked to report known pirate radio operations via the FCC Unlicensed Broadcast Station “Pirate” Reporting form.

Reporting pirates helps keep legal operations free from interference.  Additionally, unlicensed broadcast pirates don’t pay licensing and regulatory fees as well as music licensing expenses as legal broadcast stations do.

The pirate reporting form is here.  In addition, stations are encouraged to also file a complaint about any unlicensed broadcsters with the FCC’s Consumer Complaint Center here.

Thank you in advance for your help.  Feel free to share any reports of pirate stations with us at mab@michmab.com.  We’d like to be aware of any activity around our state.

Are you a Contract Engineer?

Transmitter_300The MAB is putting together a new member resource:  a list of available contract engineers working in the state, available for stations in the event they need assistance.

The list will appear on the MAB website.

To be included, please send your name, company name (if applicable), location and contact information to Dan Kelley dkelley@michmab.com.

Feel free to pass this information along to contract engineers you may know.

We hope to debut this new service, which will benefit both our member stations, and you, soon.

FCC Post-Incentive Auction Transition Workshop Video Available on Demand

FCCvideo_300On March 13, the FCC’s Incentive Auction Task Force and the Media Bureau held a public workshop on post-auction transition procedures and the following agenda topics:

  • Overview and incentive auction status update;
  • Step-by-step review of the procedures for broadcast stations filing applications for construction permits during the 39-month transition period;
  • Review of procedures for submitting bank account information to ensure payment of reverse auction winnings and reimbursement of eligible expenses; and
  • Question & Answer session with panel of FCC staff.

A recording of this event is now available on-demand for viewing here.

GLBC Day One Engineering Sessions Preview

2015SBElogo_300This year’s Great Lakes Broadcasting Conference (GLBC) kicks off on Tuesday, March 7 with a full-day of engineering sessions presented by the Society of Broadcast Engineers (SBE).

The all-day program, known as the Ennes Engineering Workshop, will feature multiple topics and speakers that provide television and radio engineers with the latest information in broadcast and media technology.

Sessions Include:

9:00 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.
Using Category 5e, 6, 6a for Audio and Video Applications
Presented by Steve Lampen, Belden
Can you use Category 5e, 6 or 6a “augmented 6” to carry analog and digital audio? Or analog and digital video? How about S-video, RGB or VGA? Or HDMI? Or broadband/CATV? Of course, you can! For some applications, baluns are required. Sections on Ethernet AVB and HDbase have recently been added. Included is a tutorial on balanced lines and how they reject noise and crosstalk.

11:15 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.
Introduction to ATSC 3.0
Presented by Fred Baumgartner, CPBE, CBNT, Nautel
Fred Baumgartner will discuss the ATSC 3.0 standard, addressing the changes this new technology brings and what broadcast engineers will experience during the transition to this new standard. ATSC 3.0 provides multimedia gains that can compensate for the spectrum loss of the TV repack.

(Lunch on your own 11:45 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.)

1:00 p.m. – 2:15 p.m.
The SNMP Protocol in Broadcast Facility Control
Presented by Tony Peterle, Worldcast Systems
In this presentation, we will introduce the Simple Network Management Protocol. Long familiar in the IT and networking world, SNMP is increasingly a part of the toolkit of broadcast engineers. This lightweight protocol can be used to monitor and control equipment, and coordinate actions between different sites, at any distance. Our goal is to present a basic Primer on SNMP, along with illustrations of practical applications of the protocol in current day broadcast operations. Further, the attendee will receive information on how to explore the possible useful applications of the SNMP protocol in their own facility.

2:30 p.m. – 3:15 p.m.
Grounding and Lighting Protection
Presented by Jeff Welton, Nautel
This presentation will discuss various aspects of facility grounding with respect to reducing potential lightning damage as much as possible. As computers firmly establish their presence in the broadcast domain, utilizing good standards of grounding and lightning protection in studio and transmitter site becomes more critical than ever before – it’s a very rare site that doesn’t have at least one microprocessor controlled doohickey somewhere! We’ll look at how routing of grounding conductors can improve (or decrease) a device’s chance of surviving a transient event, how to lay out a new site or studio to minimize chances of lightning related damage and discuss some thoughts on how to improve existing facilities without breaking the budget.

3:15 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Planning for TV Spectrum Repacking and the Transition to ATSC 3.0
Presented by Jay Adrick, GatesAir
With the television spectrum repacking about to begin and an industry transition to the next generation of digital television not far behind, owners, group engineering managers and station engineers should be planning for the long term future of their stations. Many of the decisions that must be made for repack could also impact a stations transmission planning when transitioning to ATSC 3.0. Making the right choices now could save substantial dollars and time when transitioning to ATSC 3.0.

The presentation will review the planning process for repack, look at the challenges to providing uninterrupted service while transitioning to a new channel and provide an overview of where the repack and transition planning overlap and should be coordinated. Examples will be presented that show why stations should make the right choices during repack even if it means investing additional capital so that they can avoid much greater future costs when converting to 3.0.

4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Exhibit Hall Preview Reception

6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
“Beer and Bull” Welcome Reception, Waterfront Bar, Lansing City Market

Click here to see a list of day 2 engineering sessions

Not registered yet for GLBC? Online registration is closed, but on-site registration will be available Tuesday and Wednesday, March 7-8. www.GLBConference.com