SPRINGFIELD, MASS. — There actually are bathrooms at a few of my transmitter sites. Old ones. They don’t actually do anything; most of my sites don’t even have running water anymore. They are just testaments to a bygone era when a broadcast engineer essentially lived with the transmitter.
As much as we might miss it, the concept of a human being up at the tower site 24/7, taking regular meter readings and being ready for emergencies to hit seems charmingly anachronistic.
Remote control of our sites — and even studios to a large extent — is the name of the game now and for many of us, myself included, the biggest name in that game was “Burk” and its venerable ARC-16 remote control system. That white box with the green and red buttons and the big, black terminal strip panels has been almost ubiquitous at studios and tower sites during my engineering career.
All technology, though, must adapt to the inevitable changes in mission and infrastructure and the ARC-16 was no more immune to this than cassette decks and floppy disks. Burk has approached this brilliantly with its worthy successor: the ARC Plus Touch.
I started rolling out ARC Plus Touch systems as a replacement for my ARC-16 systems in 2014, starting with my stations in Springfield, Mass. Our ARC-16 system was always limited by the landscape (both technologically and geographically); modems over telco wires were increasingly unreliable (or unavailable) and a mountain cutting off line-of-sight to one of my tower sites made wireless telemetry a pipe dream — my predecessors believing that site would remain a standalone forever.
ARC Plus, and its ability to communicate over the existing IP networks I had, changed all that. For the first time in almost 20 years, one of my stations could real-time monitor its tower site from the studios without having to call in. If you can get a network connection there, you can get an ARC Plus system talking. The ease of connection gave me the opportunity to design flowcharts (using the Burk AutoPilot software) that can run on my PC or on the ARC Plus units themselves and can handle automatic response to emergency scenarios more effectively than ever before.
In the ever-growing number of sites I manage, I often felt hindered by the ARC-16’s limited number of connections it could handle. The ARC Plus, leveraging the IP network infrastructure, leaves those four-site, 16 I/O constraints in the dust. Now, I can connect as many sites as my IT director has tunnels for me to use.
Wiring is a breeze as well, with the ARC Plus system using streamlined Euroblock/Phoenix connectors rather than big, bulky terminal strips. This is a huge advantage in the cramped tower site racks. However, if you’re in a rush (or just like the old IP-8 panels), they offer the IP-8 Adapter device, which maps your existing RC wiring to the ARC Plus system. If you want to cut down on the number of wires, Burk offers an assortment of PlusConnect direct transmitter interfaces for an impressive stable of transmitter manufacturers, as well as an SNMP interface that allows the system to monitor almost anything in today’s Internet-of-Things. The ARC Plus itself features a touchscreen that holds up well in high-RF environments, with customizable colors and labels set up through the AutoLoad Plus software.
The only major trouble I ran into when installing the equipment was that the default communication port for the ARC Plus on the network conflicted with a port on many of my Cisco ASA devices, but the manual provided a variety of recommendations on other ports to use.
I have since continued installing ARC Plus systems in the three Massachusetts markets I handle, putting the final ARC-16 out to pasture in early 2017. But for one damaging lightning strike (don’t forget to use proper grounding, with grounding posts conveniently located on the rear of each device), my ARC Plus equipment has been humming along ever since, keeping me safe, informed and on the air.
For information, contact Matt Leland at Burk Technology in Massachusetts at (978) 486-0086 or visit www.burk.com.