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The alphabet soup of broadcast engineering

The alphabet soup of broadcast engineering

May 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By John Battison, P.E., technical editor, RF

Most tower projects require complying with FAA regulations.

Nearly 100 years ago the early radio engineers had few governmental and quasi-governmental bodies that they had to satisfy to stay on the air. It seems as though a fearsome array of rules, regulations and requirements has been generated through the years by various new administrations. Today, our early pioneers would have to deal with a plethora of acronyms and initialisms such as the FCC, FAA, state aviation administrations, EPA, OSHA, state boards of engineering, donations to politicians, and probably a few odds and ends like unions and NIMBY.

When the early pioneers such as Alexanderson, Fessenden and Marconi commenced the production of non-ionizing radiation no one limited their RF levels, blamed their antenna towers for the deaths of migrant birds, or complained about ugly towers spoiling picturesque views. As broadcasting prospered and grew, the need for a proper regulatory administration became apparent and in 1927 the Federal Radio Commission was formed. This august body developed basic regulations for the control of radio broadcasting in the United States. As the new industry matured federal control was modified and revamped until, in 1932, the Federal Communications Commission was formed. It originally had seven commissioners; later five commissioners were found to be plenty.

Today the broadcast licensee has first and foremost to deal with the FCC and complete an application form showing compliance with regulations controlling levels of nonionizing RF radiation as well as all the specific engineering rules of the FCC.

Good practice

To digress for a moment, it’s interesting to recall that in the earlier days of FCC regulation many of the requirements were listed in a section of the rules with the title Rules of Good Engineering Practice. It was essential to include in the engineering report section of the application form (Form 301) a statement to the effect that the operation would conform to the Rules of Good Engineering Practice. However, somewhere around 1960 it was no longer required and applications were granted without this promise.

As the broadcasting industry developed and grew, other bureaucratic bodies became involved in the train of mandatory approvals. One of the first groups to impose its influence on the broadcaster was the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) who began to worry about the impact of random towers on aircraft. And it soon became necessary to include a copy of FAA Form 7460 in most transmitter applications so that FAA safety requirements in the vicinity of airfields could be met.

The EPA has a hand in many aspects of broadcast operations, such as restrictions on storing fuel for emergency generators.

Included in the FAA requirements are tower lighting specifications that have been incorporated into the FCC’s engineering requirements. As time passes additional FAA requirements are continually being added to include transmission characteristics, power levels and positioning of transmitters in the vicinity of airports.

In 1970 the Environmental Protection Agency rapidly became what is probably the most powerful of all the government agencies. There was a time when the IRS was said to be hard-nosed and difficult to deal with. Times have changed and the IRS is now far more humane in its dealings than the EPA, whose power now appears to be superior to those of the IRS.

Almost everything that a broadcaster does appears to involve the EPA in one way or another. Tower siting frequently becomes difficult because of rules involving horticultural and suburban conditions, historical and topographical requirements, non-ionizing radiation limits, tower lights, standby power supplies and fuel systems.

Two major items of many station’s inventories are power transformers and power supply capacitors. The oil in the power transformers and the dielectric in power capacitors are on the EPA’s no-no list for good reasons. They are strongly suspected of being cancer inducing. The EPA has specific methods for disposal of these items and drastic penalties for failure to observe their regulations.

Although it was originally created to control the disposal of waste products, EPA probers have now spread into almost every iota of life. Like the other administrations that have erupted over the years the EPA has a comprehensive website (all the agencies mentioned have their own complete websites, which can be accessed by searching their names) that is easy to explore for specific information.

Other agencies

OSHA has been the butt of many complaints and jokes, but since 1970, when it was established, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has filled an important part in our country’s growth. In the 37 years of its existence it has made great strides in improving the safety of our workers in almost all occupations. Fortunately, broadcast stations in general have fewer accidents than the majority of businesses. On the other hand, when a station does have an accident it is usually a bad affair, such as a tower coming down.

Although the National Electric Code (NEC) does not fall into the category of bureaus that have to be placated, it can be the cause of problems in new transmitter operations. Sometimes dealing with local or regional inspectors can be somewhat difficult. Broadcast engineers occasionally have grounding and wiring ideas and requirements that differ from the national electric code. That can become another item in the list of problems when dealing with the establishment.

Some broadcasters are inclined to feel that the NIMBY group is the hardest to combat. After all, the FCC, FAA, EPA, OSHA and the NEC all have clearly defined requirements, rules and regulations. Though they may lose a hearing, NIMBYs usually manage to find another ambivalent rule or law on which to hang another appeal and further delay grant of an application.

E-mail Battison at[email protected].