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Capital Projects Making a Comeback?

Mine include a new transmitter installation with a twist

So is it finally over?

I mean the radio recession that led to cutbacks in staff and capital projects at stations all over the United States. For many of us, the last 18 months have been marked by careful spending or none at all. Engineers tend to be affected disproportionately in a fiscally conservative environment. Much of what we do is guide investments in equipment and facilities. During lean times, the focus shifts to repairs and extending equipment life.

Personally, I like doing both; but there is no denying that a new studio is a more rewarding project than replacing the power supply in a 12-year-old console. Plus, it can be hard to shift gears.

A few years back I was installing new transmitters and remote controls on a regular basis, so I got pretty good at it. But if I don’t install a transmitter for a few years, it takes a while to remember the finer details and become familiar with the latest designs.

I am posing the question at the head of this column because I suddenly have found myself loaded up with capital projects enough to keep me and my assistant chief busy for the next year. And I am hearing from some of my other friends in the engineering business that their workloads are beginning to pick up, even soar.

I’m not complaining. How is it going in your stations?


As I write, I am just finishing up the details on the first item on our capital projects list: the installation of a Nautel NV15 FM transmitter. This replaces a 1975 tube model that was ready for the bone yard.

Don’t try this at home. Professional riggers move heavy gear into place via an access hatch. The day before, an HVAC contractor and a plumber had to move ductwork and building sprinklers out of the way. What made this project “interesting” was getting the old equipment out and getting the new equipment in. The transmitter site is on the 18th floor of a building. Unfortunately, the elevators only go to the 17th floor …

To make matters worse, there are virtually no windows or other exterior openings that might be used to pick equipment into place with a crane.

The sole method of moving heavy gear into this upper floor is an access hatch that was created as part of the original building design to move elevator motors into the mechanical penthouse on the 18th and 19th floors.

Just to make everything as difficult as possible, over the years the hatch opening had been covered up with air conditioning ductwork (three runs!) and a set of retrofit sprinkler pipes and heads. All of this had to be moved to open up access to the hatch before we could move anything. Ducts and sprinklers had to be reinstalled the day after the move was finished.

To do the actual moving, we hired steel riggers. They used a chain lift and an appropriately large piece of steel I-beam to drop the old equipment straight down and lift the new transmitter up through the hatch. To and from the hatch they used rollers because there was no way to get a pallet lifter or other moving device up to the 18th floor.

There were three pieces of gear to get out of the way: a voltage regulator, high-voltage power supply and the tube power amplifier. Each of these weighed around 1,000 pounds. The new transmitter (uncrated) was a mere 850 pounds.

The photo shows one of the equipment pulls through the hatch, the most dramatic moment in this phase of the project. But it was also impressive to watch the level of detail and care that was used by the riggers to lift and shift into place these heavy pieces safely. Each item had to be slowly jacked, and then the center of gravity was determined by shifting wedges until a balance point was found. Once in balance, these heavy loads can be rolled safely, minimizing the danger of tipping over and hurting someone or something.

This is a job that took both brains and muscle to do right.


To make this project work, I had to do a lot of it myself. The move and its associated costs ate up enough project money that we handled installation work, which in the past I used to contract out.

For example, the old transmitter had custom ductwork with a duct fan to exhaust heated air directly outdoors. Consistent with newer transmitter design, we took out all the ductwork and simply mounted a high-capacity (3,500 CFM) exhaust fan into the existing wall opening. Then we sealed and repaired the loose outdoor exhaust hood from 1975 to make it quiet and leak-free.

One project down, many more to go! While exploring my Grainger catalog for the exhaust fan, I found a nifty toy called a “Relay in a Box” (fans of Andy Sandberg and Justin Timberlake can, ahem, chime in their own chorus here) made by Functional Devices.

The relay can control up to 1/2 HP motors and mounts directly to an electrical junction box via a standard knock out, which saves a lot of mounting time and parts. I used this to interlock the exhaust fan to the transmitter remote control, turning the fan on whenever the transmitter is started. The room already had a high-capacity air intake fan and filter system to maintain positive pressure. Between the two fans, there is plenty of air flow.

To dress the room up a bit, we got out the paintbrushes and painted the walls with new white paint. I find that bright white makes everything easier to see, even if the lighting is somewhat limited.

I also had a stash of Dielectric 3-inch rigid interior transmission line in storage with a Dielectric RF switch and a few spare elbows and other parts. With a couple of large pipe cutters we were able to custom cut and mount all the interior transmission line runs to the switch. We also moved and remounted the existing Bird water-cooled dummy load so that we can test this transmitter off line when needed. We were able to keep the pressurized line segments that feed the antenna in position so there was no need to make changes to the exterior line, although we did replace the O-rings on the gas-blocking flange connector.

I even had a pair of spare Amco equipment racks in the basement that we hand-carried up the stairs and mounted into place next to the new transmitter for all the other site gear.

So with some a combination of new equipment and doing a lot of the systems work ourselves, we were able to carry off the entire project in a cost-effective way.

The second photo shows the completed site.

I hope that this is just the beginning of some new investments in our technical plant and a renewal of investment in radio in general. On to the next project: new automation servers!

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