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Digital Cameras Offer Protection

We've shared thousands of tips in this column through the years. Perhaps the best, though, involves a recent technological development: the digital camera.

We’ve shared thousands of tips in this column through the years. Perhaps the best, though, involves a recent technological development: the digital camera.

Almost anybody can afford one. On a recent credit card envelope I saw a camera offered for under $40. Many models cost in the low hundreds.

Last issue, we shared useful ways you can use a digital camera to diagnose transmitter problems – poking the lens in places your head won’t or shouldn’t go; documenting a component on which the circuit identification number has worn off.

In this day of litigation, several contract engineers I know document transmitter sites through a series of digital pictures, snapped when they take responsibility for a station. Why? Missing equipment, missing tools – the list goes on.

What the owner or manager believes is at the transmitter site may differ from reality; and you could be caught in the middle.

We’ve all heard of the engineer that takes his final “paycheck” in the form of a spare tube or audio processor. The digital camera will protect you from blame.

Make it your rule: “Before I take over engineering of a station, I do a thorough walk-through, documented with pictures, and preferably in the company of the manager or owner.”

This can be a revenue generator. Use the session to prepare an inventory of equipment, for insurance or in-house purposes. Pictures also help you point out problem areas requiring attention.

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Most important, for our discussion, your photo essay can protect you and your reputation. Later complaints about missing equipment, poor wiring or unsafe engineering practices cannot be blamed on you.

I once was called in to arbitrate a billing dispute. In an attempt to reduce a contractor’s bill, the owner blamed the mess of wiring in Fig. 1 on the contract engineer, citing poor practices.

Any engineer looking at this will tell you that the mess evolved over time; it wasn’t from eight hours of contract work. By having a record of the transmitter site as you found it, you can keep this kind of threat from escalating.

Full-time engineers can benefit from this practice too. I remember a similar picture being used in an attempt to railroad an engineer’s career.

In this case he was better off not working for the company anyway; but his reputation was called into question when pictures of an unkempt transmitter site were blamed on his lack of maintenance. The mess in the photos had been created by previous engineers but was blamed on him. How much easier would his defense have been if he could have pulled out a few earlier, dated site pictures?

Fortunately, this kind of situation is rare; but it never hurts to beprepared. If nothing else, “before” pictures make for a neat photo résumé, coupled with “after” pictures.

Our editor Paul McLane points out another benefit to having a digital camera. You can use it to document your Workbench ideas, or to tell Radio World about your latest station improvement project, transmitter installation or unusual remote setup.

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Figs. 2 and 3 further demonstrate that a picture is worth a thousand words. Again, for contract engineers, such documentation can prevent you from a negligence claim.

Yes, that’s the tower base rusting in Fig. 2. The weep holes were clogged. The result is compromised integrity of all three tapered base section leg members due to advanced internal rusting, seen in a close-up in Fig. 3.

This kind of damage is common at AM towers. At such sites, the manager often thinks, “If it’s on the air, it’s OK!”

It’s just one more thing to check and to photograph.

Savvy corporate engineers tell me they keep a photo file of equipment for each station in the group. This aids the local engineer in describing problems and gives the DOE a quick reference to each site.

(click thumbnail)Fig. 4: The Fluke 62 Mini tracks heated components.
. . .

Fluke has expanded its line of pistol-grip IR thermometers to include the Fluke 62 Mini. Rather than spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars for an infrared thermometer, you might consider this device, with a list price of less than $100. The device is rugged enough for commercial applications and small enough for a toolbox.

The Fluke 62 Mini will measure from -20 to 932 degrees F, with a distance-to-spot ratio of 10:1. A single-dot laser sighting system indicates the center of the measurement spot.

IR thermometers are great for finding loose lugs in electrical boxes, helping you avoid a fire. They can be used to locate hot spots in rigid transmission line or hot spots on AM ATU or DA phasor components. For more information, e-mail fluke-[email protected].

Submissions for this column are encouraged, and qualify for SBE recertification credit.