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Dawson, Rackley to Be Honored

It seems fitting that Ron Rackley and Ben Dawson both receive this year's NAB Engineering Achievement Award.

Kilohertz Gurus Singled Out By NAB

It seems fitting that Ron Rackley and Ben Dawson both receive this year’s NAB Engineering Achievement Award. The two veteran consulting engineers have partnered on many international broadcast projects throughout their careers and share an admiration for each other’s work. Moreover, both love AM broadcast system design and optimization.

“Ron and Ben have worked passionately in their craft and are known throughout the broadcast industry as true experts in the field of broadcast antenna systems – especially directional AM systems,” said John Marino, NAB vice president of Science and Technology.

The NAB will honor the two during the NAB2006 convention in Las Vegas. The Radio Engineering Award is given to industry leaders for significant contributions that have advanced broadcast engineering.

“Hundreds of broadcast engineers have learned how to troubleshoot and maintain their antenna systems as a result of NAB’s directional AM seminars led by Ron and Ben. Their laid-back teaching style has been very well received over the years,” Marino said.

Ironically, Rackley is a self-professed introvert uncomfortable speaking in front of crowds.

“However, I’ll do it if I can help other engineers understand what AM is all about. Professionals are supposed to share information and to share knowledge,” he said.

A Clemson Tiger

Rackley, 53, is partner in the engineering firm du Treil, Lundin & Rackley, Inc., based in Sarasota, Fla. The Clemson University electrical engineering graduate is a former radio chief engineer and antenna designer for Kintronic Labs Inc. He co-founded the predecessor to his current firm, du Treil-Rackley Consulting Engineers, with Bob du Treil in 1983.

“I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t interested in radio,” Rackley said, who grew up in Greenville, N.C., and worked as a duty operator for several local AM stations while still in high school. “I had plenty of time to read various engineering reports and study contour maps while on duty. Radio always seemed like magic to me. It seemed less like magic after I took mathematics in college.”

Rackley said he found AM radio particularly fascinating, especially directional AM.

“I always had an interest in how it worked. I just thought it would be a good field to go into. I also realized with the development of computers that we would be able to limit the experimentation part of it,” Rackley said.

Rackley first met Dawson while working for Kintronic Labs more than 30 years ago. Rackley built a phasor for a radio station that Dawson worked for.

“Ben is one of my closest friends and someone I trust implicitly. We have a wonderful relationship,” Rackley said.

The pair formed a partnership in 1987, the dTR/H&D Joint Venture, to pursue overseas high-power medium wave antenna system and allocation engineering projects for the U.S. government. Most projects are in excess of 50 kW, Rackley said.

“At the time the overseas work would have overtaxed any one of our firms, so we formed our partnership. We soon realized there was quite the demand for high-power AM stations from foreign broadcasters, too,” Rackley said. “We are currently working on a project together in Sao Paulo, Brazil.”

Rackley is familiar with the HD Radio rollout in this country, having served as a consultant to USA Digital Radio during the early stages of IBOC testing in the United States. He has assisted numerous client stations through the evaluation process of converting their facilities to digital.

“AM broadcasters need to be concerned about the suitability of their technical facilities. They need to realize they may have performance in areas where they didn’t before. The signal contour coverage areas will not be as large with digital AM.

“Adjacent channel noise could be an issue and coverage areas will generally be smaller,” Rackley said.

Rackley isn’t sure why the FCC hasn’t yet authorized nighttime digital service on the AM band, although he expects it to happen sometime this year.

“Could be they are having second thoughts about the service at night, or maybe they have just been busy with other things,” Rackley said. “If they don’t authorize nighttime service, in essence you have created just a daytime service.”

Rackley, his wife Dorothy and their four children live in Bradenton, Fla.

Narrowband characteristics

Meanwhile, Dawson, managing partner of Seattle-based Hatfield & Dawson Consulting Engineers, believes the majority of AM antenna systems probably will be able to produce acceptable IBOC performance, despite the narrowband characteristics of AM.

“HD Radio is an interesting dilemma for AM broadcasters because so many antenna systems are inherently narrowband. There is inherent narrow-banding from the antenna pattern itself and the layout of the towers, along with other narrowband situations that result from the feed system design,” Dawson said.

As for eventual nighttime authorization for AM digital broadcasts, Dawson said of potential interference concerns, “It’s necessary to understand that from an administrative standpoint, frequency allocation matters are not fundamentally engineering problems, but rather political problems. The job of regulators is to balance interference concerns with providing adequate service to certain communities.”

Dawson said AM broadcasters have faced many challenges throughout his 30 years as a consulting engineer, digital just the latest of them.

“I came in at a time just after the AM freeze was lifted and at a time when many broadcasters had been neglecting their facilities. I have always been interested in AM antenna performance and design and followed it very closely,” Dawson said.

Dawson, 65, even taught himself calculus in high school to better understand antennas and can recall the first transmitter he fixed.

“When I was 15, I began working an air shift during the summers for a radio station in Salem, Ore., but when the transmitter broke – an old RCA 250L – I was the only one who could fix it. Then my parents moved to Portland, Ore., and I started work for KUIK(AM), which was half-owned by Harold Singleton, who was a consulting engineer. Once Harold realized I could fix things I became his gofer,” Dawson said.

After stops as chief for several West Coast radio stations, Dawson formed Hatfield & Dawson in 1973 along with Jim Hatfield Jr., and Maury Hatfield. The practice today is diverse, Dawson said, ranging from about 50 percent broadcast-oriented work to mobile and government clients.

“This is the perfect job for me. It’s one of the few jobs I know that allows a person to do serious intellectual work, work with your hands, write and solve complicated practical problems,” Dawson said.

Consolidation within the broadcast industry has significantly impacted the role of consulting broadcast engineers, Dawson said.

“As a result of ownership consolidation, many groups now employ engineering departments more capable of doing highly technical projects. So I think more work is being done in-house. However, consolidation has resulted in broadcasters having the money to upgrade their AM facilities after years of neglect. That has resulted in more work for us.”

Dawson said he is honored to receive NAB’s top broadcast engineering award with Rackley. “We have had so much fun designing AM projects together and trading ideas for over 30 years. It’s nice to be considered in the same stratosphere with someone so talented,” he said.

Dawson lives with his wife, Mary Lou, in Seattle. The couple has four grown children.

Past winners of the NAB Engineering Achievement Award include Geoff Mendenhall of Harris Broadcast, Glynn Walden, formerly with Infinity and now CBS Radio and 2005 winner Milford Smith of Greater Media.

Honor Roll

Past winners of the NAB Engineering Achievement Award. Beginning in 1991, radio and TV winners were named; radio winners are listed.

1959 John T. Wilner.

1960 T.A.M. Craven

1961 Raymond F. Guy

1962 Ralph N. Harmon

1963 Dr. George R. Town

1964 John H. DeWitt Jr

1965 Edward W. Allen Jr.

1966 Carl J. Meyers

1967 Robert M. Morris

1968 Howard A. Chinn

1969 Jarrett L. Hathaway

1970 Philip Whitney

1971 Benjamin Wolfe

1972 John M. Sherman

1973 A. James Ebel.

1974 Joseph B. Epperson

1975 John D. Silva

1976 Dr. Frank G. Kear

1977 Daniel H. Smith

1978 John A. Moseley

1979 Robert W. Flanders

1980 James D. Parker

1981 Wallace E. Johnson

1982 Julius Barnathan

1983 Joseph Flaherty

1984 Otis S. Freeman

1985 Carl E. Smith

1986 Dr. George Brown

1987 Renville H. McMann

1988 Jules Cohen

1989 William Connolly

1990 April 3 Hilmer Swanson

1991 George Marti

1992 Edward Edison & Robert L. Hammett

1993 Robert M. Silliman

1994 Charles T. Morgan

1995 Robert Orban

1996 Ogden Prestholdt

1997 George Jacobs

1998 John Battison

1999 Geoffrey Mendenhall

2000 Michael Dorrough

2001 Arno Meyer

2002 Paul Schafer

2003 John W. Reiser

2004 E. Glynn Walden

2005 Milford Smith