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Making the important decisions and executing the plan

This article is the second in a series about mitigating the impact of the spectrum repack, as told by iHeartMedia Los Angeles Vice President of Engineering Doug Irwin. Read the first installment here. 

BASIC GUIDELINES 

Not long after this news about the Deer Park construction go-ahead came out, our SVP of Engineering Tom Cox let me know the basic framework of the project — what we wanted to achieve, and how much the budget was. It was up to me to meet the goals within the budget framework.


This room seemed tailor-made for our needs. Note the already-in-place ATS. Outside was its associated generator set. We did decide to replace the old air conditioner.

One question that needed to be addressed was just how long we had to put all of this together. I did reach out to local TV engineers, as I mentioned earlier, but none really had finalized plans. The best I could get was “We’ll be doing that over the summertime.” 

So — since summer officially starts on June 21 — I decided that the end of May was a reasonable goal for the new site to be ready. Somewhat random, I will admit, but there was very little else to go on.

Early in the project we worked on deciding if we wanted to use two antennas fed from two separate 2-channel star combiners; or alternatively, a single antenna with a 4-channel combiner. Eventually we decided to go with the single antenna. The reasons are quite, simple really.

CBS TV used to maintain some satellite uplinks up at CBS lane, and they had a special room built in “the house” to accommodate the control gear. Sometime earlier all of it had been abandoned in place. In typical CBS fashion, it was all put together very nicely, and seemed nearly custom made for our needs. 

It already had an ATS and generator outside, as well. The contacts in the ATS are limited to 150A though; and considering the ERP and antenna gain we would have to work with (for the single 8-bay antenna) the amount of current needed by the transmitters was going to fit comfortably within that limit. 

If I had opted for lower antenna gain, I would have needed more transmitter power, which would have necessitated an upgrade to the electrical system. For this reason we decided to go with the 8-bay antenna.


The old channel 2 batwing, and KCBS-FM’s tertiary antenna.

THE TOWER ISN’T STRONG ENOUGH

Once we had the antenna picked (an 8-bay, half-wave spaced ERI Axiom) we went back to ATC and let them do the mechanical study. Unfortunately, the results were not good: The tower as-it stood was not strong enough to hold up our chosen antenna.

However, ATC has all the resources at hand to study the issue and to come up with the fixes needed. In addition, since we had picked ERI already, the two engineering teams worked together to come up with the pole needed to hold up this rather large antenna, and the more specifically, the modifications needed to the tower to make it work for the application. The pole, the tower modifications, and installation of both were on ATC’s dime. 

The only real question was whether or not that part would get done on time.

CHOOSING THE COMBINER AND TRANSMITTERS 

Dielectric, ERI, and Shively were all solicited for bids for the antenna and combiner. Naturally, I had to consider pricing, but with the upcoming re-pack work, I also had to consider how long the various companies would take to deliver the antenna and/or combiner. In the end I ended up choosing Shively for the combiner, and (as I already wrote) ERI for the antenna. Both had good combinations of pricing and delivery time.

The transmitter choice was pretty easy for me, since we already had two Nautel GV-series transmitters in place and on-air (for KOST and KYSR). 

Clearly, Nautel isn’t the only brand that can do what it does; however, it’s easier from an on-going maintenance perspective to have the same transmitters across our stations —from spares to software updates to staff knowledge. 

Working backwards (from the antenna down) and knowing the ERP we were looking for on each station, I chose two GV10s, a GV5, and a VS2.5 with the VS-HD. Yes—we were adding HD to all the stations as well. The footprints of these transmitters would also be easily accommodated with the space in the old CBS satellite room, along with three racks.

THE STL SYSTEM

Our stations on Mt Wilson each have three STLs to choose from (not including our VSAT system) and it was my intention to have all three of them also available at Deer Park.

Additionally, we have transmitter-site versions of our automation system — the idea being that they are ready to play-out audio in the event we have a system meltdown in Burbank— and I wanted that audio to be available at Deer Park as well. The reality is that I wanted to “copy” whatever I was doing up on Video Rd, and to “paste” it down at Deer Park.

At last year’s Radio Show, I was introduced to the newest member of GatesAir’s IP link family — the IP MPXp. By simply sampling the composite outputs of our current set of audio processors — with their custom settings are particular on-air qualities — we could literally do the “copy and paste” method I was after. 

By using the MPXp, we would have access to our main and backup audio processors, each of which is driven by the output of a 4X1 AES selector, thus:

  • Giving us access to all three STLs down at Deer Park
  • And making sure the Deer Park transmitters sound identical to the Video Rd. transmitters
  • By adding RDS to the appropriate inputs on the audio processors, we have access to it as well at Deer Park

So as you can see, there was no need to buy additional audio processors or RDS generators. The MPXp units are configured to use a 132 KHz sample rate, thus giving them an audio bandwidth of 60 KHz — more than enough to include all the stereo information and RDS.

CONNECTING THE SITES

Since Deer Park is .6 miles west of the main sites at Video Rd., we clearly needed some way of making them communicate. I opted for a licensed radio solution; however, the time to implement such a system ended up being more than we had to work with. For that reason, we opted to install a parallel 5.8 GHz radio link between the buildings as well.

Three of our four stations are in the Post Office building on Video Rd.; however, KBIG is next door in the Poole building. We had no fast communications between the buildings (though they are on the same AT&T switched Ethernet circuit — thus providing 10 mbps of connectivity between the two). 

Since we had the IP MPXp to pass information from the Poole building to Deer Park, it was clear we needed to connect the Poole building to the Post Office before anything else. We ended up doing that with yet another unlicensed radio — this time at 60 GHz. It was an experiment that worked out well enough for us to keep it going. To be fair, this radio includes yet another 5.8 GHz radio, embedded, so that it can keep passing data even if the 60 GHz portion fades or fails.

Next time: we start putting it all together.

Go to Radio Magazine Online

A Congressional effort to revive the rules has passed in the Senate, but has yet to be taken up by the House

WASHINGTON — June 11 marked the end of the road for Title II regulations, more commonly known as “net neutrality,” as the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of the rules has now taken effect.

The FCC released a statement standing by its repeal and emphasizing that the “internet wasn’t broken” in 2015 when the rules were passed, framing the repeal as a return to the “light-touch approach” that was in place as the Internet first formed and grew, with some enhanced rules on disclosure requirements for service providers, according to rcrwireless.com . As just one example: If customers’ terms of service do change, it must be disclosed to them.

An effort in Congress to revive the rules — under which internet service providers were required to provide equal access to all content without throttling, blocking or offering paid priority based on the service or content — has passed in the Senate, but has yet to be taken up by the House. There are still state attorneys general fighting the repeal in the courts, and some states are attempting to put their own net neutrality rules in place.

As one example, on May 30, the California State Senate overwhelmingly passed strong net neutrality legislation despite “fierce opposition from big ISPs, including AT&T and Comcast,” according to lightreading.com . The California bill (SB 822) would amend state law by adding several online practices to the state’s Consumers’ Legal Remedies Act’s definition of “certain unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices” in the provision of goods and services in the state. “Under the bill, those unfair methods would now include blocking, throttling and paid prioritization of web content, as well as paid zero-rating plans.”

The FCC order eliminating the federal net neutrality rules pre-empts states from trying to impose the rules within their boundaries. “So a classic states’ rights court battle is brewing in Sacramento, especially if other states either follow California’s legislative lead or require providers to adhere to net neutrality rules when they sign government broadband deals,” according to the same article in Light Reading. 

Go to Radio Magazine Online

After the Incentive Auction

Doug Irwin explains what really happened to some radio stations affected by the spectrum repack

The author is vice president of engineering for iHeartMedia’s Los Angeles region and a regular contributor to Radio. This is the first in a series about how Doug and his colleagues are handling the repack.

Not long after the incentive auction came to a close last year it started to become obvious that we — iHeartMedia Los Angeles cluster — would be adversely affected by changes occurring in our immediate area on Video Rd (on Mt Wilson). 

We have three stations in the Post Office building, making use of three towers that surround the building. These include:

  • The KIIS-FM main, auxiliary and an aux used by our HD Radio transmitter
  • The KRRL main and its aux (also used for HD)
  • The KOST main antenna and its aux antenna

Additionally, immediately next door, to the west at the Poole building (now owned and operated by Insite), we have KBIG’s main and aux, and our auxiliary site for KYSR.

In the immediate neighborhood to our four stations on Mt Wilson are various FM stations, including Entercom’s 97.1 (Amp) and KRTH at 101.1. Cumulus’ KLOS (95.5) is also close by.

The TV stations directly affected by the incentive auction results are:

  • KDOC, which is moving down the road to Deer Park, to the new DTV site on the tall tower
  • KOCE, which is going off-air
  • KJLA, which is going off-air
  • KXLA, which is staying
  • KCBS-TV, which is moving from RF channel 43 to channel 31, and thus changing antennas
  • KTLA, which is going from RF channel 31 to channel 35, and likely changing antennas (full plan not known at this time, at least by me)

As time went by late last year, we asked the TV engineers for more details on their plans, but for the most part, they were not forthcoming. The reality is that not all of the plans were in place, so they couldn’t tell us what they were. We knew something was going to happen, we just didn’t know exactly what or when.

WOULD THE TYPICAL POWER REDUCTION BE ENOUGH TO SEE US THROUGH?

The group of stations that I’ve discussed has been very cooperative, among the ad-hoc group, with power reductions when the need arises. Many times one of the stations needed scheduled maintenance, which was usually preceded by an announcement one or two weeks in advance. Everyone prepared for it ahead of time. Occasionally, some sort of failure would necessitate an immediate repair, again accommodated well by the group, with everyone in the neighborhood going down in power by 50%. (Radio stations insisted that power reductions not occur prior to 10 a.m., and if at all possible, end by 3 p.m.)

Our corporate engineering asked about the possibility of power reductions, or worse, in the near future, to satisfy the needs of TV stations making substantial changes. I responded that the 50% power reduction had, up to that point, been good enough, and “likely” would continue to be. After all, everyone had an ox to be gored — so everyone was incentivized not to change the way we’ve been doing things. But clearly, I couldn’t guarantee the same process would always work.

Eventually, in the fall of last year (and especially after the infamous article about the repack that specifically mentioned KIIS-FM and KOST) the corporation decided that we needed to take a far more proactive approach and to build an entirely different site, in order to minimize the impact of the upcoming work. 

I was tasked with finding the site.

THE DISCOVERY TRIP

Every year (almost without fail) the Southern California Frequency Coordinating Committee puts on the Christmas party at Mt Wilson, during July. Yes, a bit early, but it’s a real tradition. 

Naturally, the weather is great (as opposed to Christmas time), and in 2017, representatives from American Tower Corp were on site to update the Mt Wilson crowd on what was coming up with respect to the repack. 

At the same time, a couple of their guys were going to show us two sites, either of which they thought would work for our repack site: Mt Harvard, and Deer Park. Having not been to either, I very much looked forward to the opportunity.


MT HARVARD

This site is about two miles southeast of Mt Wilson at about 5,000 feet of elevation, so it covers the greater Los Angeles and Orange county area similarly. It’s not a popular site for FM, though. The major tenant is KUSC radio.

In my “discovery trip” email, I wrote the following: “This tower and antenna [shown at right] belong to KUSC radio, even though KUSC’s transmitter is up in the ATC building. It’s a curious arrangement. The building directly below this tower (which we believe belongs to ION media) has the space I mentioned above. As you can see, there’s an old transmission line running up the tower; some station removed a TV antenna evidently.” It’s a great looking tower, and there is physical space directly below that of KUSC; however, being that low to the ground could present a problem with NIER levels.

Another tower at Mt Harvard looked good but had little-to-no available space (left):

At that time I wrote: “This is the tower currently with the ION antenna. Below that you can see a 4-bay dielectric, the KLOS aux. Below that, a channel 6 basket; and below that, the old FLO antenna, which could be removed. Unfortunately this space isn’t that large or high AGL. The tower is triangular, and the most favorable leg is the one that the FLO antenna is on. So, for us, the best aperture is unfortunately adjacent to the ION antenna.” The tower looks great but there’s no space on it.

There’s also a very large candelabra-type tower on Mt Harvard (right):

I wrote: “This picture shows the structure for all the various TV antennas. Some of these are going, but it’s pretty clear that using any available space on this tower would subject us to repack work at this site.”

So, while Mt Harvard had some potential, the reality is that antenna space was at a premium (at the time) and, just like our situation on Video Rd., the TV stations didn’t have their plans in place.

DEER PARK

The ATC guys were very interested in showing us what ATC had available at Deer Park, which is a site they bought out from CBS TV.

Formerly known as “123 CBS Lane,” Deer Park at that time was really only hosting its main tenant: KCBS-FM. It’s about .6 miles west of the main grouping of antennas on Mt Wilson; there’s an 800-ft tower there, along with a shorter one, which at one point was used by KCBS-TV for their aux antenna on channel 2, and was still in place.

At the time, I wrote: “The short tower [right] is ASR 1229046…It’s 245 feet to the very top. The last section of the tower is a pylon which is currently holding an old channel 2 batwing, obviously abandoned. What we’re thinking is that the batwing would come down, and we’d re-use the space for at least one of our antennas. Now, notice the 2-bay Jampro; that belongs to KCBS-FM.

“There’s a virtually empty building near the base of this tower — so space is abundant. The building doesn’t look great but evidently isn’t suffering too much for leaks. The roof actually looks new. There’s a generator available as well, but it appears to be only a 50 KVA set.

“If I had to pick between Deer Park and Mt Harvard, I would definitely pick Deer Park. Coverage considerations aside (since I can’t study them), I would say it would be easier, cheaper and faster to make use of this (relatively) small tower. I would also gauge that the ATC guys would prefer this solution as well, for what that’s worth.”

Next time: How I designed our new site.

Go to Radio Magazine Online

It would prohibit paid prioritization, zero rating plans, apply rules to interconnections in California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A Democratic state legislator in California is proposing revising consumer protection laws as a way to reinstate tough new network neutrality rules being rolled back by the FCC.

Sen. Scott Weiner Tuesday (March 13) introduced a tough new version of a net neutrality bill  that would add various online practices to the Consumers Legal Remedies Act’s definition of “certain unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices” in the provision of goods and services in the state.

Those unfair methods would now include blocking, throttling, paid prioritization, and specifically paid zero rating plans, among other things (see below).

ISPs can zero rate in application-agnostic ways, but can’t do so in exchange for being paid by a third party. Zero rating plans are ones in which third parties subsidize an ISP’s exclusion of accessing their site — say streaming a bandwidth-heavy video — from a users’ bandwidth allowance. It is both a way for the edge provider to drive traffic to their site and for the ISP to differentiate service.

The bill would also tie access to the state’s Universal Service Fund broadband subsidies to adhering to the new net neutrality rules and apply net neutrality to interconnections, which the FCC did in the 2015 Open Internet order and the current FCC reversed.

Go to Radio Magazine Online

Last summer, California capital fast-tracked Verizon’s request for access to city utility poles for small cells and city conduit for fiber backhaul

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Sacramento residents will be Verizon’s potential 5G customers this year when the company launches residential broadband service based on its own version of 5G. Verizon will offer 5G customer premise equipment that it says will deliver wireless internet and video at speeds comparable to fiber speeds, according to rcrwireless.com .

California’s capital last summer fast-tracked Verizon’s request for access to city utility poles for small cells and city conduit for fiber backhaul—they got access to 101 utility poles and several miles of conduit. In return, Verizon is placing Wi-Fi hotspots in 27 Sacramento parks.

XO Communications previously owned the millimeter-wave spectrum licenses in Sacramento now owned by Verizon. The company picked a handful of the cities formerly served by XO to be 5G trial cities, but Sacramento is the only city named so far, according to the same article.

City officials gave up potential lease payments for pole space in exchange for the high-speed wireless service Verizon is offering, and the city’s CIO believes the deal with Verizon will bring more technology startups to Sacramento. The city retained the right to lease space on its utility poles to other carriers in the future.

At some point in the future Sacramento and other Verizon 5G trial cities will need to upgrade in order to use the same 5G equipment used elsewhere in the company’s network. The gear deployed in Sacramento will use 5G radio heads and CPEs made by Samsung, using Verizon’s proprietary 5G standard. Verizon said it expects the transition to standards-compliant 5G will only require a software or firmware upgrade to the radios and the customer premise equipment.

Go to Radio Magazine Online

The Golden State joins 17 other states with similar legislation in the works

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — New legislation supporting the “right to repair” has been introduced in the California State Assembly this week by Assemblymember Dr. Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), according to her website .

The California Right to Repair Act “would require manufacturers of electronics to make diagnostic and repair information, as well as equipment or service parts, available to product owners and to independent repair shops,” according to the press release.

California joins Washington, Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Virginia, which have already introduced similar legislation.

“The bill is critical to protect independent repair shops and a competitive market for repair, which means better service and lower prices. It also helps preserve the right of individual device owners to understand and fix their own property. We should encourage people to take things apart and learn from them. After all, that’s how many of today’s most successful innovators got started,” Electronic Frontier Foundation Senior Staff Attorney Kit Walsh said in the announcement.

Go to Radio Magazine Online

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