Broadcast Engineering Tales

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Broadcast Engineering Tales

Post by Guest on Sat Oct 11, 2014 4:57 am

Greetings to the Forum:

I got a reply to my new member introduction from Willy3486 wherein, upon reading that I was a retired broadcast engineer, he requested that I tell a few stories from my 32 year career at KNXT (later KCBS and KCAL).

As I mentioned to Willy, most of the interesting and weird stuff happened to other engineers, rather than myself, but I do have a few tales. I will relate two of them below; if I get no flames, I may be persuaded to do it again.

First, a bit of background. I went to work for the CBS O&O (Owned and Operated) TV station in Los Angeles in August of 1981. Its call was KNXT at that time (later changed to KCBS). The fellow who hired me was named Doug Schneider. He ate, slept and breathed television broadcasting. For those of us who actually had a life other than work, we referred to his ideas as "Schneidervision" but there was no question that he implemented cutting edge ideas well ahead of most other station's technical Departments.

There are lots of mountains in Southern California and it was often necessary (in Doug's opinion) to get live shots out of places where there was no 2 GHz uWave path to any of our mountain top remote sites. Doug's idea was to build a "portable mountaintop"..... an aircraft that would contain a 2GHz video repeater and a 450 MHz repeater for the cueing and com channels that are a necessary adjunct to any live shot in the field. So, KNXT acquired a Piper Pawnee agricultural spray plane, removed the chemical hopper and replaced it with a bay full of the above mentioned gear. Now, whenever you are making serious modifications to an aircraft's weight and balance (which resulted from the radio and uWave gear) and to the aircraft's electrical system (necessitated by the load of all the gear) and the airframe (lots of holes punched for antennas)..... well you can't just do that without legal ramifications. So, KNXT became an FAA certified aircraft manufacturer. We built one example of one product, our "hop" plane. This was "Schneidervision" in full bloom. This work was completed shortly before I came on board in 1981, but every time I wanted to make some space in a file cabinet, I would come across another huge stack of FAA paperwork.

I mention this as a preliminary, because in those days, satellite links were so expensive and difficult that only major network events could be justified. If you wanted to spice up your local news, you had two choices: drive the tape in to the studio and put up with the delay, or do something innovative to establish a uWave path so you could do your live shot.

The first tale concerns the 1982 Academy Awards ceremony where Henry Fonda got an Oscar for "On Golden Pond". His daughter Jane Fonda accepted the award for him and drove it to his home to give it to him. Because of the various local color stories around Hollywood concerning the Academy Awards that day, including a news van parked right outside Henry Fonda's house hoping to do a brief interview with Jane when she arrived with his Oscar, there was a shortage of uWave receiving sites. In order to provide links to all the various ENG (Electronic News Gathering) trucks, we needed to set up additional temporary paths. Not a problem, we'll get the new guy (me) to set up some portable gear on the roof of Columbia Square (KNX radio and KNXT TV studios at that time, located on the corner of Sunset and Gower in Hollywood) and run the cables into the uWave "Penthouse" on the roof that housed the studio uWave receiver site as well as the STL (Studio to Transmitter Link) transmitters. This is all fine and dandy as long as it doesn't rain. It poured.

I had two folding leg tables set up with gear not intended for outdoor use and had to cover up stuff as well as I could with plastic sheeting. I had to pan in the dishes and establish the links, coordinate via 450 MHz radio and try to operate the gear without getting it wet. There was about 3 inches of standing water on the roof, enough to completely submerge the "quad boxes" that I was using to distribute 120 volts AC to all the gear. I sloshed through that whole night without getting so much as a tingle, although I presume that was by the grace of God.

When Jane Fonda arrived with Henry's Oscar, the on-scene reporter frantically indicated that he needed to go live right now, as she was obviously in a hurry, it was pouring rain, and any shot would be fleeting. The "booth" coordinating the whole live coverage evening had something else going on and kept telling the reporter "just a minute" over and over again. Jane disappeared into the house and a few seconds later, they switched to the reporter on scene, who of course, by that time, had no story. He did the best he could, saying something like: "Just moments ago, Jane Fonda arrived with her father's Oscar...." while the camera had a beautiful still-life shot of Henry Fonda's closed front door. Such is live television.


The second tale concerns the coverage of the magnitude 6.2 earthquake in Coalinga, California on May 2, 1983. True to the standard form of "Schneidervision", we dropped everything and rushed resources up to Coalinga. Coalinga is maybe 150 miles North of Los Angeles and inland (off the I5 a ways) and of course, there is no uWave path, not even with the "hop" plane. In such cases, I was assigned to drive Unit 41 to a mountain top that had a telephone company uWave site on it and was also line-of-sight to the story. Unit 41 was a retired ENG van that had been assigned to the transmitter crew ("Schneidervision") and contained a 2 Ghz uWave receiver, some video and audio monitoring gear, and some coaxial cable. The idea was that we would lease spectrum on the phone company's TD-2 uWave and thereby obtain a path back to the studio. The telco people would come to the hill and I would hand them a coaxial cable and an audio pair and they would route it to the studio in Hollywood. I, of course, would receive the signal from an ENG unit at the story. Usually, this involved dragging a Farinon FV-2P microwave receiver, tripod and dish up to the roof deck of the van by way of the little ladder mounted on the door. The FV-2P was portable if you were young and healthy (which at that time I was... I wouldn't even attempt such a feat now, nor would Cal OSHA allow me to try). The four-foot dish wasn't too heavy, but it was awkward, especially if it was windy. The tripod was heavy with lots of protrusions to catch your shins, but I digress.

For this story, we had some brand new portable 7 GHz uWave gear made by Terracom that Doug wanted to try out. He thought there might be a direct path from a hill near Coalinga to the CBS affiliate in Bakersfield (KBAK channel 29, I believe). This would save us the expense of renting video space from the Telco. He was overly optimistic; there was no path. I delivered Unit 41 to the Telco uWave site and Doug decided that he wanted to do the link into what was left of Coalinga using the Teracom 7GHz. gear. Fine and dandy, but the receiver (which I needed at the Telco site) was still in Bakersfield after the failed attempt to link directly to Coalinga. So, four of us jumped into Doug's company car (a dilapidated Ford LTD) and drove to Bakersfield. No one had given any thought as to how we were going to fit a tripod, uWave receiver, four-foot dish and four people in an LTD. Doug thought we could squeeze all the gear in the trunk, and the four of us could hold the dish on the roof with our hands out the windows. In order to make everything fit however, we were going to have to discard all of the cardboard packing cartons that the new gear had been shipped in. Remember, it was brand new and we wanted to preserve it to the best of our ability. However, Doug said toss all of the cartons and just stuff the gear into the trunk bare and lets get going. I was helping to lower the stuff off the KBAK studio roof by rope. When we came to the 7 GHz feed for the four-foot dish, I was concerned for its safety. It was just a piece of rectangular waveguide with a slotted radiator on the end of it.... easily dented or bent, and thus ruined. I called down to another engineer that I was leaving the feed in its box... the box took up hardly any more space than the feed itself and I was sure we could squeeze it in.

Apparently the word didn't get to Doug, because he was busy throwing away all of the shipping cartons... including the one with the feed. When we got to the top of the mountain with the Telco site later that day, I started to set up the Terracom receiver. When I got to putting together the dish, of course I couldn't find the feed. Some back and forth and we figured out what had happened to it. Doug called KBAK on the phone and requested that they rescue the feed and he would be down to get it. Apparently, KBAK was scheduled for a trash pickup and time was of the essence if we wanted our feed back. The KBAK general manager tasked himself with rescuing the feed from the dumpster. To this day, I wish I had a photograph of a station general manager in a three-piece suit rooting around in a dumpster.

Yes, we got the live shots out..... Ah, the good old days..... ;^)

Regards,
Jim T.
KB6GM


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Re: Broadcast Engineering Tales

Post by 75X11 on Sat Oct 11, 2014 3:42 pm

On the first one, God was probably feeling sorry for you that you didn't get electrocuted! Thanks for sharing!
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Re: Broadcast Engineering Tales

Post by Dr. Radio on Sat Oct 11, 2014 8:44 pm

Wow. It's entertaining now, but I can imagine your stress levels and blood pressure during those tasks!

Thanks for sharing!
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Re: Broadcast Engineering Tales

Post by Ragwire on Sun Oct 12, 2014 9:56 pm

Everything like that is funny in hindsight, isn't it? Geez...what a day!
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Re: Broadcast Engineering Tales

Post by Conelrad on Mon Oct 13, 2014 2:07 am

Howzabout me doing a video about rescuing a beast of a transmitter, complete with dangerous happenings...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuoXhfMTAJA

Dennis

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Re: Broadcast Engineering Tales

Post by mr_ed01 on Mon Oct 13, 2014 1:13 pm

Looks just like the 5 Kw driver of the 407A1 we used to have. Was in service as alternate main till 1982.

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Re: Broadcast Engineering Tales

Post by 75X11 on Mon Oct 13, 2014 4:33 pm

As if it wasn't enough wrestling with an immense piece of equipment, the snakes had to make their appearance.. It always seems there are either the danger of poisonous snakes, or the stench of departed rodents filling such old buildings. It had always been my experience of having to contend with the former, working with problem child repeater stations. Ones one has to spend a lot of quality time with...
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