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Patent System Is a Mess, and Other Letters

Readers comment on Part 15 and keepin’ the old girl happy

Patent System Is a Mess

Your coverage of the Mission Abstract Data lawsuit, in which that company seeks licensing fees for long-established automation technology, is extremely important. I strongly recommend that everyone in broadcasting watch this very carefully.

Maybe it will serve as a wakeup call. Our industry needs to improve its woefully inadequate and inaccurate coverage of the current patent mess in this country. Patents originally were established as a way for new and novel ideas to be protected for a limited time so that the developer could recover his/her costs. The idea was intended to spur innovation and development.

In recent years, the U.S. patent system has become so broken that it’s often a case of “whoever makes it to the patent office first” with something so obvious that it should never have been granted a patent in the first place. The fact that many (if not most) of these silly patents are eventually declared invalid doesn’t help those who spend thousands (or even millions) defending themselves against lawsuits.

So-called software “patents,” in particular, should be eliminated. The United States is one of the few nations to even recognize them. Many Americans are unaware of this. The European Union, just to name one, still refuses to recognize software patents, even after many years of vigorous lobbying by Microsoft and other large software vendors.

That patents are now granted so freely has given rise to businesses that produce no real product or service. They simply own a portfolio of these useless patents with which they then try to browbeat and extort fees from those who might have been using that technology for many, many years in perfectly good faith. Sadly, many will pay these fees just to avoid the cost of a court fight.

Stephen Poole
Market Chief Engineer
Crawford Broadcasting
Homewood, Ala.

The author also is a contributor to Radio World. He writes above as an individual.

Part 15 AM ‘Loophole’ Explored

Comments by Bill DeFelice in the Dec. 14 Reader’s Forum present his belief that the “ground lead” of an unlicensed system compliant with FCC Part 15.219(b) consists only of the lead itself, and not any conducting object or structure to which it connects.

This is an important issue, because 15.219(b) limits the length of the antenna system of an unlicensed AM station to 3 meters total, including the ground lead.

Any definition of the term “ground lead” requires that at least one end of that lead must connect to ground. An electrical ground will not radiate RF energy, but physics shows that any conductor along which RF current flows does radiate, when that conductor is above the surface of the earth.

Attaching a short lead from an elevated Part 15 AM transmitter to a longer conductor such as a grounded metal tower, flagpole, a wire needed as a “lightning ground,” a water tower or the steel frame of a building or billboard simply adds length to the ground lead — all of which length radiates. So the ground lead functionally becomes the total length of the conducting path from the transmitter RF ground terminal to the point where that path enters the earth.

The FCC has issued citations to some unlicensed AM system operators using such long, radiating “ground” conductors.

Richard Fry, CPBE
Quincy, Ill.

Keeping the Ol’ Girl Happy

I thoroughly enjoyed Mark Persons’ article “Rebuild That Relic of an AM Transmitter” in the Oct. 19 issue. It brought back memories.

During the 1970s I lived and worked in El Paso, Texas. One of the local AM daytimers had an RCA BTA-1M as its main (and only) transmitter. Other than its MV rectifiers, the old rig used only two tube types: 833s for the finals and modulators, and 807s for everything else. It even used 807s for the input audio stage.

The transmitter was sited directly across from one of the El Paso Water Authority pumping stations, and every time the pumps shut down, the rectifiers were prone to arc back, tripping the main breakers and taking the transmitter off the air until someone could drive from the other side of town and reset things. (The transmitter was not built for remote control and had been sort-of modified to permit unattended operation).

The transmitter also had suffered some sort of short in the control ladder that had done quite a bit of damage, although not enough to take it completely out of service.

Anyway, the station owner wanted all of this fixed, and I took the job on. Over a period of several weeks, I completely rewired the control harness, one conductor at a time. I also modified the power supply, replacing the 8008 HV rectifiers and the 866 LV rectifiers with solid-state equivalents (not overlooking the mandatory snubber networks). I also improved the RC system.

All in all, it was a fun project, made all the more challenging because the transmitter had to work every night when I knocked off. I’d usually start a half-hour or so after sunset and quit shortly after midnight. I’d fire up the transmitter to make sure everything came on OK and then shut back down and lock up.

I must have done a good job. That old girl stayed in regular service well into the 1990s and was then sold across the border into Mexico, where it’s probably still going strong.

Again, thanks for a most interesting article.

W. Louis Brown, P.E., CPBE
Director, Visual Integration Services
Innovative Technologies Inc.
Chantilly, Va.

WWJ on 920

The photo of the outside of the 1938 remote broadcast van on page 14 of the Dec. 1 issue of Radio World clearly shows 820 kc, not 960 as noted in the text, as the operating frequency for the WWJ AM station.

Bob Meister, WA1MIK
Hamden, Conn.

Author John Schneider replies:
Actually, the van signs read 920 kc. The way their 9 was drawn looks like an 8 from a distance.
WWJ was on 920 in 1938 and moved to 950 under the NARBA frequency reallocation of 1941. It remains on that frequency today. It was never on 960, so our text was incorrect.

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