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Don’t Let Your Test Gear Go to Waste

Even in 2023, your broadcast electronics plant needs inspection and service

I visited an engineering workshop at a broadcast facility recently and noticed something strange. It looked as though the tools had not been touched in a while. All the test equipment was turned off and kept under dust covers. 

I looked around and checked my watch to see if it was still the middle of the day during a work week.

I went to the engineer, who had worked there for a few months, and asked him where they fix and maintain their equipment. I was stunned by the answer. He said they don’t fix equipment anymore, just replace or send it to the manufacturer. Nor is there routine maintenance — because management apparently feels that this is when stuff breaks. 

Instead the engineer acts as a fireman. He resets power and swaps equipment out when there is a failure, but nobody vacuums the racks (which was visibly apparent). And he told me that there’s no one on staff anymore who has the skills or training to troubleshoot equipment.

I realize that my colleague’s situation is not unique. I am aware that today’s broadcast companies are very thin on engineering labor … that trained help is very hard to find … and that more and more of our facilities run on software, rather than products that can be cleaned or soldered. 

But to many of us in radio, this situation is nevertheless shocking. 

Engineers should be able to conduct a basic inspection of electronic devices to make sure they are clean and in working order. They should also be able to conduct simple repairs. 

Please, if this describes you, start by creating a schedule to conduct recurring inspections of your broadcast hardware. Then do the following with each critical device, even those that seem to be working properly:

  • First, see if the device powers up. Yes, check if the plug has AC with correct volage. Check if the power supply busses have the correct voltages.
  • Look to see whether anything seems burnt up; you may see burn marks or smell something.
  • Look to see if any of the electrolytic capacitors have popped. This is usually noticeable.
  • Look if any of the resistors are burnt.
  • Make sure the inside is not covered in dust. Remember that dust is conductive. A conductive substance easily can short circuit leads of components. Make sure to vacuum the boards. (I do not like using compressed air to blow the dust, the simple reason is that the dust has to eventually land and could create another issue, vacuuming removes it.)
  • Always make sure the fans are functioning properly. Proper air flow is essential to most equipment.
  • Make sure that all connectors on the back (and sometimes the front) are tight and restrained properly. Gravity can loosen connections!

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An engineer does not need to know everything but needs to know how to get the answer. So get help from a colleague. Or put today’s powerful search engines to use. 

Remember also that some equipment goes through many versions of design based on factors like component design, component supply, equipment revision, etc. 

After you’ve created the inspection schedule, next make sure that you have a record of the serial numbers of key devices. You could keep a notebook. And/or, buy a simple labeler and display the serial number, IP address and the date of installation of key components right on their front panels. In an emergency situation you’ll be grateful that this information is right there in front of you.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but such simple actions can help keep a facility functional. 

Yes, there are more skills needed. Many people working in technical roles today may not know how to work their test equipment or all the functions. 

There are some non-traditional tools and techniques that are very important as well.

  • Know how to use a network analyzer.
  • Trace packets with Wireshark or Charles.
  • Know how to do a Trace Route.
  • Be familiar with reading automated equipment logs.
  • Be familiar with local safety and building codes.
  • Learn your facility’s equipment history.

This subject could fill a textbook. We can’t write that book here, but if you work in broadcast technology and don’t feel confident with good basic practices for inspecting and repairing electronics, make it your mission to learn. And don’t forget to take advantage of the good industry resources that are all around you, including reading Radio World’s Workbench column as well as Tech Tips from other Radio World contributors.

But I will offer one more favorite bit of advice: Tighten screws by hand, not with an electric driver. This avoids stripping; and when you tighten by hand, you can loosen by hand later.

What other essential tips should we mention? What’s your favorite tip to share? Write me and I’ll list them in a future column. Email me at Radio World.

[Check Out More of Radio World’s Tech Tips]

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