Those of us in the Columbia Basin remember well Monday, December 17. Those peak gusts hit at about 5am, the usual time for my morning workout at our local gym. I had a feeling there would be some extra tasks for me that day when the wind nearly pulled me out of my car.
While homeowners fret about trees and shingles, a broadcast engineer thinks towers, antennas and computers. Sure enough, at about 5:10, the gym lost half its power. The lady two treadmills down from me had to stop her walk, but mine kept on going meaning that the jogging would have to continue, much to my dismay.
At that same time, our studio lost power, taking us off the air. This would not normally happen, but the backup system was bypassed as we were having reliability problems with it. Although it was Monday, and getting near time for me to be at my other job, I stopped by and restored backup power, getting Christian Family Radio back on the air.
I went to work at the regular time, only to receive a call from one of our operators that the station would go “from static to sound, then back again”. During my break, I went out to my car and listened for myself. Sure enough, the signal (and “stereo” light) would come and go. These symptoms were not what I would have expected, so he managed to trace the problem with my help over the phone to that “thing with all the lights”, which I knew to be our audio processor.
Now, an audio processor is not at all like a food processor. Its job is to take the sound from the studio and “prepare” it for broadcast by keeping the level loud but clean, and adding the extra things necessary to give you a nice stereo signal. (Hmm…maybe it is like a food processor…). Anyway, it was deciding to go on strike every 20 seconds or so, and pretty much prevented us from broadcasting anything that made sense. So, I instructed the operator to remove us from the air, and wait for me to get off work early to see if there was any way to repair it.
Stopping by around 4pm, I turned the processor back on and listened. We got about 20 minutes of signal before the off-on-off sequence started. I removed the processor, bypassing it with a much worse, but listenable signal on the air. About that time “Cow Bell Bob” Sutton (host of Rise and Shine) arrived to see if he could help, and I was glad to have the company.
Putting the processor on the bench, it became obvious that the power supply (this gives electricity to everything else in the box) was having a problem. A call to the manufacturer confirmed the issue, and he made a comment that if I tried another power supply that they had a “special” circuit on theirs to turn it on…
Now, most power supplies are pretty specialized and finding something in the Tri-Cities to replace this one at 4:30 on a Monday evening was a tall order. I whispered a prayer and took a closer look at the inside of the box with the cover off, and then looked a bit closer. Then the thought hit me…this was a computer! Not unlike the many PC’s I maintain. The connector from the power supply was the same that is inside a PC. I quickly ran down the hall and pulled one of our spare PC power supplies off the shelf to give it a try. I plugged the wires together and plugged it in the wall, turning on the switch on the back. Nothing…
Then I realized that this box was missing what just about every PC has…a power switch.! A quick Internet search turned up a wiring diagram for this ubiquitous device, and some experimentation proved that a simple jumper between two wires would take care of the problem. A bit of soldering and we now had all those “blinky lights” again! By now, my wife showed up with dinner, relieving Bob of his assistant status, and with chili and cornbread to make the evening a bit easier.
Securing the (huge) supply to the back of the unit, all was put back together and placed back on the air, and we returned to normal operation, thanking the Lord for the wisdom he had given us.
It’s huge but it works!
Fast forward to today, with a box of shiny new parts, including the replacement for the power supply, along with some other items that I or the manufacturer felt needed replacement. My estimate of one hour off the air turned into an extra 15 minutes when I realized that 4 little recommended parts known as capacitors would be difficult to replace, taking most of the time. But, I figured this was the “ounce of prevention” we needed to keep us from having another time where the processor decides to “go on strike”…
We like “Blinky” lights!
One Item Succumbs to the Wind
During the time I was occupied repairing the processor after the windstorm, I noticed that our computer communication with our main transmitter site on Beck Mountain in the Horse Heaven hills was not working. Getting a good night’s sleep, I arranged for Bob to cover my time on the air Tuesday morning. My middle son agreed to ride “shotgun” with me to the transmitter site, and I was sure to throw in the tower climbing safety gear in case the problem was found to be on the tower.
Sure enough, as we drove up to the site, I declared “well, I see the problem” as we viewed our dish that handles the computer signal pointing at the ground, rather than at the studio. After climbing up 40 feet with the right tools in my belt, the dish was straightened and computers were happily talking to each other again. The new down coat, winter cap and gloves sure came in handy with winds around 20 and the temperature near freezing.
“Well, I see the problem!”
It was amazing that this was the only damage at our site, which one TV station reported likely experienced winds over 100 miles per hour. (Note: the dish is supposed to be rated to 120!) I’m thankful for the sage advice we were given when we erected this tower in 1995, to “overbuild” it. I’ve since heard from others experienced in the business that it is indeed a very sturdy tower.
So, winter is here, and the famed Tri-Cities wind has taken its toll on all of us. Did I tell you that my biggest concern for our transmitter is not wind, but “hoar frost”? We’ll save that story for another time…