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Be an effective record keeper

Be an effective record keeper

Dec 1, 2002 12:00 PM, By Mark Krieger, CBT

The creation and maintenance of logs and technical recordsrepresents an inescapable responsibility for every broadcast engineer.Before the days of the now-ubiquitous computer, this was achievedthrough the use of reams of paper and manila file folders. Earlyattempts at radio station systems integration saw operating logs storedin a wide variety of data formats, while maintenance records wererelegated to notebooks. Ultimately, hard copies of all FCC-requiredrecords were deposited in a file to meet inspection accessibilityrequirements.

Unfortunately, this haphazard amalgam of data and paper representsthe current state of affairs at many radio stations, despite advancesin information technology, and seems to be particularly acute amongthose operations that employ contract engineers.

Deciding what to keep and what to discard can be a dauntingtask.

First, consider exactly what records should be kept. For the FCC,every station needs a technical operating log or record that providestransmission system operating parameters, (power output for FM, antennacurrent and phase and ratio for AM), EAS activity and tower obstructionlight operation. All of this information may be routinely gathered byan automated control system or human observation.

Depending on the nature of the operation, there may also berequirements for quarterly tower inspections, AM directional antennamonitor points and related data, along with annual AM emission checks(RF mask) and one-time measurements (harmonic and spurious emissions,antenna impedance) necessitated by additions or changes in thetransmission system.

Practically speaking

On the purely practical side, keep a transmitter site maintenancerecord that includes operating parameters of all equipment and physicalcondition observations, along with technical discrepancies and theirresolution. A similar record may be maintained for the studio facility.Don’t overlook regular audio performance checks of the air chain, andinclude data on generator maintenance and any other mission criticalequipment such as air conditioning.

Once you’ve decided what information you’re going to save, selectthe best way to do it. In most cases, this can be narrowed down to asingle word � spreadsheets. Programs such as Excel are, friendly,flexible, economical in terms of file size, and have the ability tocreate a wide variety of customized templates for various types of logsand records. The beauty of this approach is the ease with which theuser can create archive copies with multiple backups. For example, saveevery bit of desired data for each station in a single master file.Many years of records can be burned to CD-ROM and multiple copies keptby the user and the client. An addded benefit is not having to maintainbulky paper files, so your system can retain the desired records over along period without suffering a space crunch. It also makes indexing asnap.

The disadvantage of switching to electronic record keeping is thatit requires discipline and additional time and effort in terms ofinputting data. It’s still a lot easier to pick up a clipboard than itis to carry around a laptop, but by creating customized spreadsheettemplates for different applications, and using the unfilled printoutsas the forms, the post-inspection inputting is simple. Don’t overlookthe possibility of using some of those slow old PCs that are taking uprack space and performing routine transmitter and studio functions, asa convenient entry station for your records � it doesn’t takemuch processor speed or RAM to run a simple spreadsheet. If the user isnetworked, this becomes an even more attractive proposition.

What about automatically collected data from the transmitter controland EAS? Is there an easy way to merge this data?

Unfortunately, answers to this question depend completely on thesystems in use. Most transmitter remote and automated control systemsuse proprietary software to save the operating parameter files informats that may or may not be easily imported to a spreadsheet. If thePCs used by the system are networked, collecting and backing up thosefiles may be relatively simple, but the �sneakernet� is aviable alternative. EAS activity may also be dealt with by using someof the free software to spool EAS printer output to a text file. Onceagain, the type of EAS hardware used will determine how easy this is todo. Ironically, many stations still rely on the tiny thermal rollprinters provided in most EAS encoder and decoders as the sole sourceof their EAS records. As a consequence, they often lose days, or evenweeks, of records when the tapes run out or the printers fail. Savingthe data files simplifies things and increases reliability.

The station should maintain some hard copies. Two years worth ofprintouts of all FCC-mandated logs and technical records should be keptavailable by the station licensee in the same location as the station’spublic file logs (even though electronic records are legallyacceptable, if suitable a computer and printer for retrieval areavailable) for easy access in the event of an inspection. These recordsshould be printed weekly, along with a review affidavit form, which thedesignated chief operator signs when the batch is placed in file. Thisform attests that the data has been reviewed to ensure full compliancewith applicable regulations, and should include an area for notationsexplaining the reasons for any discrepancies that appear (such asmissed EAS tests, equipment malfunctions or logging errors), asrequired by FCC rules. By printing the copies, the station willestablish a routine that ensures proper reviews are made onschedule.

Record keeping is a chore, to be sure. By harnessing the power ofthe PC, you’ll manage it efficiently and effectively.

Krieger, Radio’s consultant on contract engineering, isbased in Cleveland and can be reached at[email protected].