After building computers for critical broadcast applications for more than 15 years, Jeff Allen, engineering and IT manager with seven stations in Idaho including KMHI(AM) in Mountain Home, has seen few failures when the computers have been maintained properly – like any other broadcast equipment!
Hard drives can and do fail without notice. But if you scan and defrag often, you will notice most failures before they arrive, if you know what to look for.
Among the biggest culprits are the hard-drive bearings. They should be quiet. Another item to check is the CPU fan. As with the little fan on your FM exciter, if it dies, the equipment operation will be compromised.
Sometimes these fans will begin to whine. Just as you use your ears to troubleshoot "normal" sounds in the transmitter building, use sound to help diagnose computer ills.
Once a month, Jeff takes down the systems of one of his stations to scan and defrag the drives. He vacuums out the PC case and checks the fan on the CPU and power supply.
In almost every case, this procedure permitted him to spot problems early and replace hard drives before they had a chance to fail on the air.
Keep replacement fans and a replacement power supply on the shelf. The supply will run about $25; it is good insurance.
Also consider a spare hard drive. At $250, it’s not cheap, but vital to keep the system running should a failure occur.
Jeff’s maintenance regimen is backed up by performance. Since October 1999, he’s had only one hard-drive failure out of 42 computers!
Jeff adds that he doesn’t ever remember being that lucky with cart machines.
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(click thumbnail)Fig. 1: An inspection would have detected the ‘hidden’ anchor disguised as a tree.Now that we’re well within the snow and ice season for many engineers, how are your guy anchors?
Regular and thorough inspection of guy anchors is important. The additional stresses caused by the elements can make the point.
A corroded guy anchor rod can slip out of the ground and bring the tower down. The potential for this problem increases in agricultural areas where aggressive soil, great for crops, is death to buried metal.
You can spot guy anchor failure due to corrosion if you inspect all the anchors periodically. An inspection would have detected the "hidden" anchor disguised as a tree in Fig. 1.
(click thumbnail)Fig. 2: How to Camouflage a Radio Station.
We’ve all seen sites where bushes, trees or junk are piled around the anchors. One contract engineer told me he inspects twice a year, with the station owner or manager accompanying him. The inspection is done in the daylight, on a sunny day.
As you inspect, also look for proper drainage. An engineer told me of a cell site that had to operate from a cherry picker after losing its guyed tower. One set of the guy wires ended at the bottom of a bluff, next to a drainage ditch.
Water pooled at this location, and the anchor eventually failed. Speculation was that the water and the aggressive soil caused the failure.
The magnesium slug sacrificial anode installed to mitigate cathodic corrosion had disappeared completely, as well as the copper ground rod, and most of the wire. With unusually high winds, the anchor breaks, and the tower falls.
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While we’re looking at fun pictures, I think the caption for Fig. 2 should read something like, "How to camouflage a radio station!"
Those of you engineers working in the south understand when I mention the word kudzu. Although there’s no FCC violation here, the life of the roof is certainly shortened, and one wonders how efficient the air conditioner is working.
Pity the poor meter reader who has to dodge the bees in the summertime just to read the meter!
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Andrew Struiksma is with Heritage 1550, KCCF(AM) in Cave Creek, Ariz. He queried Dave Biondi’s firstname.lastname@example.org for a suggestion about a good PC time program.
Andrew uses an ISDN dial-up connection that is used not only for his station’s Internet service but also to keep the PC clock synched to Boulder. The PC is used to control a satellite receiver and to run a proxy server.
Jim Turvaville, director of engineering and expansion for WAY(FM) Media Group in Nashville, responded with a wonderful timeserver program. Jim is using "AboutTime" from www.arachnoid.com/abouttime/index.html.
He’s never had a problem with it. The program runs on his main server to query the U.S. Naval Observatory timeserver and send that info to all his workstations, on a schedule that Jim has set. It then resets the internal clock on each workstation in the background.
Jim writes, "No muss, no fuss!"
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(click thumbnail)Fig. 3: The lock was locked, Mr. FCC inspector! Too bad the fence gate rotted around the hasp.
The FCC is levying heavy fines for safety violations like the one in Fig. 3. If your site has wooden fences, make sure the slats are not missing and that gates are locked and in working order.
If chain link is used, be sure it is properly attached and stretched, with no gaps. Replace those rusted locks!
One inspector, speaking at a state convention, asked me where I get these photos.
"Mum’s the word," I told him. Kind of like "Where’s Waldo?"
He’s going to have to find the sites himself. Problem is, he may visit yours while in pursuit. So save your manager and owner the embarrassment of a fine. Check your sites thoroughly and document the results of your inspection in writing.
Be sure to keep a copy of your written report. It’s amazing how some managers and owners get a severe case of amnesia when the FCC shows up.
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