Vegas Chiefs Face Unique Critters

If stepping in deer doo at your remote transmitter site constitutes the greatest occupational hazard of your job, consider yourself lucky.
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Scorpions and Equipment Suppliers Are Part of Life for Sin City Engineers

If stepping in deer doo at your remote transmitter site constitutes the greatest occupational hazard of your job, consider yourself lucky.

(click thumbnail)Chief Engineer Warren Brown stands in the Technical Operations Center of Nevada Public Radio.
Tracy Teagarden was attacked by an irritated roadrunner.

Joe Sands was sauntering to the back of his pickup to collect tools when a Ringtail cat, the smallest member of the raccoon family, jumped from the bed.

Bill Croghan battles black widow spiders at his AM sites and has been bitten by a scorpion on the job.

These engineers all have one thing in common. Aside from having from bad luck with wild creatures, they are all radio employees in the desert southwest of Las Vegas.

"Desert survival techniques are a must - plenty of water, good shade, etc.," said Croghan, chief engineer of Lotus Broadcasting stations KOMP(FM), KXPT(FM), KENO(AM) and KBAD(AM). He also teaches desert survival with the local Civil Air Patrol, the civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force, on the side.

"Our FMs are on Mt. Potosi, a four-hour round trip with the 4x4 if the road is good," said Croghan. "It'll take eight hours if I have to take the Snowcat in."

From heat to flash floods

A Snowcat is an enclosed-cab, truck sized, vehicle with Caterpillar tracks designed to move on snow.

Teagarden, chief engineer of CBS stations KLUC(FM), KMXB(FM), KKJJ(FM), KSFN(AM), KXNT(AM) and KXTE(FM), points to weather as his biggest challenge. KXNT(AM) and KXTE(FM) are HD Radio stations, and KXTE is multicasting.

"Mt. Potosi at about 10,000 feet AMSL (above mean sea level) can get snow to the point of impassibility from October through April, and you can't seem to carry along enough spare parts for a Snowcat," he said. "Wind, dust storms and flash floods from thunderstorms can all catch you off guard."

Joe Sands, president of Desert Sands Broadcasting Inc., a contract engineering firm with numerous clients in the market, said his biggest challenge is keeping transmitters cool in 117-degree temperatures.

"The biggest potential failure in transmitter sites is not the transmitter itself, but rather the air conditioning to keep the transmitter cool," he said

The engineering community in Vegas considers itself tight-knit.

"We are all very close," said Sands. "We are all competitors, but realize that anyone can have their signal disrupted and have to rely on others for help. We loan each other equipment as needed, help out during outages and keep an eye out for potential problems when visiting the various transmitter sites."

Warren Brown, director of engineering at Nevada Public Radio, which has six FMs in Nevada and Utah, also serves as a contract engineer for an additional half-dozen stations. He calls Vegas the best engineering community he's worked in.

"Engineers are friendly with one another and willing to help out whenever they can," said Brown, who's been in the market since 1990.

Sands agrees. "I consider the Las Vegas radio engineers the best, most cooperative and friendly group that I have ever had the privilege of working with," he said.

'Willing to help'

(click thumbnail)Bill Croghan is chief engineer for Lotus Broadcasting in Las Vegas.
Croghan said it's common for one engineer to save the others a trip to the mountaintop FM sites if possible.

Time constraints keep these engineers from talking to each other in person much of the time.

"We probably see each other 10 percent of the time in-person, the other 90 percent we connect via e-mail and telephone," said Croghan.

Brown cites the occasional lunch or bull session, while Teagarden said, "It's hard to go up Black Mountain and not run into a colleague."

The area's SBE chapter features sporadic activity, according to Sands. Croghan, who serves as the certification chair, said that the group rarely meets.

"A mail-in ballot was sent out some time back for the offices, and there was only one write-in vote for president, me," said Croghan, who turned down the job because of time constraints.

So what's it like having the NAB convention in their collective backyard every year?

"We frequently get to put the best new technology on the air ahead of the rest of the country because of the trade shows," said Teagarden. "It was the experience of a lifetime to be lighting up the first DAB stations in 1999."

Croghan calls having the show in town a bonus as well.

"We are often asked to help as a source of demonstrating over-the-air, in-studio and remote gear."

Sands called the whole experience a mixed blessing.

"Many equipment manufacturers rely on the local engineers to host their demonstrations for show," he said. "What they don't understand is that we can't take them up and down the mountains three or four times for nothing. Many of us pay for our own gas and tires."

Sands said he only averages one to three hours of floor time per year at the NAB convention. "The rest of the time it's working on show demos or doing the day-to-day stuff that doesn't stop for NAB."

Overall, radio engineering in Vegas is exciting, at least for Croghan.

Demos and other firsts

(click thumbnail)Tracy Teagarden remembers an encounter with a particularly unhappy roadrunner.
"We have more happening, more opportunity and more fun than anywhere," said the broadcast veteran who has spent the 27 of his 42 years in radio and TV as an engineer. "We are seriously competitive so I get the best of equipment. We've helped do broadcasts to Germany, Denmark, Italy, Canada and a few dozen states as well as originating many network programs from our studios.

"We've had most of the greats in sports broadcasting, talk show hosts and great bands broadcasting out of our place. You never know whom you'll bump into in the hall. I gave directions to the rest room to Rita Rudner this morning."

Asked for juicy market gossip or traditions, two of these gentlemen offered eerily similar stories regarding a pair of local nameless engineers with an interesting ritual when trekking to some of the more remote transmitter sites.

Apparently the practice involves stopping the vehicle to climb out and make explicit gestures at the rough, rocky road. On one occasion, the driver accidentally locked the doors of the truck (with the engine running) during the ritual road hollering. Fortunately, the vehicle's wing windows were cracked open and allowed for a small pine tree branch to be maneuvered in to unlock the doors. (They are, after all, engineers).

The ritual reportedly continues to this day.

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