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Alaskan War Stories with Rich Parker

Posted by Kirk Harnack [TWiRT] on Mar 18, 2015 3:00:00 PM

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TWiRT 250Helicopters, high-speed boat ferries, and bridges to nowhere; they’re all part of Rich Parker’s radio engineering travel routine at Coast Alaska. Headquartered in Juneau, Alaska, Rich maintains transmitters in Sitka, Wrangell, Petersburg, and Ketchikan, and after being there for one year he already has some war stories to tell.

 

 

 

 

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Kirk Harnack: "This Week in Radio Tech: Episode 250" is brought to you by Lawo and the new crystalCLEAR virtual radio console. CrystalCLEAR is the radio console with a multi-touch touchscreen interface, by the new Omnia.7 FM, HD, and Streaming audio processor with Undo technology. Omnia.7 is a mid-priced audio processor with the sound and features you love and by the new Axia Fusion AoIP Mixing Console, packed with features and capabilities refined from over a decade's worth of IP audio experience.

Hey, helicopters, high-speed boat ferries and bridges to nowhere, they're all part of Rich Parker's radio engineering travel routine at Coast Alaska. Headquartered in Juneau, Alaska, Rich maintains transmitters in Sitka, Wrangell, Petersburg, and Ketchikan. After being there for one year he already has some war stories to tell.

Welcome in to "This Week in Radio Tech." This is the show where we talk about radio technology, everything from one end of the earth to the other, from the microphone to the light bulb at the top of the tower and the end of the stream. I'm Kirk Harnack. Glad you're here.

This is a special episode, special to me. We have made it-and if you've been with us since the beginning, you have too, through 250 episodes. This is episode 250. Being an episode divisible by ten, it's also a war stories episode. We have got an engineering warrior as our guest today on the show. You're going to really like it. You've heard from him before. Keep a secret for just a minute.

As usual, our co-host on the show is here. He's in a fantastically interesting place. I've got to join you on that balcony just as soon as I can get back to New York. Chris Tobin is here, the best-dressed engineer in radio and today he is the warmest-dressed engineer around. Chris, how are you?

Chris: I'm well. It's a great day in New York. It's a little chilly. The sky is a crystal clear blue, if you will, or vibrant blue. It's great. There's a great sunset taking place on the west side if you happen to have the opportunity. Also, I have to say hello to a friend, William, at CUNY TV who happen to come across one of our early episodes when we were audio only and was like, "Wow, I totally forgot you guys were doing it for this long."

Kirk: Wow. That was a long time ago. We did 20 episodes that were audio only way back when. Oh my goodness. How about that?

Chris: Yeah.

Kirk: Hey, by the way, is my mic and video like way out of sync or are they okay?

Richard: To me they're out of sync like a lot.

Kirk: Yeah. Isn't that weird?

Chris: I can't trust what I see because I'm getting a return feed. So, I have to call the studio ops and say, "Can you see him in sync?"

Kirk: Hey, while we're in the show, I may switch cameras and see if that helps out at all. Hey, again, welcome in. It's Kirk. It's Chris and you and a war stories episode of "This Week in Radio Tech." Our guest is a gentleman who has moved from one end of the country to the other. We've had him on before. It's Richard Parker, now with Coast Alaska. Richard, where are you coming to us from?

Richard: I am sitting in the production studio of the Juneau studios of KTOO, KRNN and KXLL. We're on 360 Egan Drive, looking right out over the channel where the cruise ships come in. It's a beautiful 42 and rainy day. I've been here for a year and I said if I ever wrote a book about my first year in Juneau, it would have to be titled "42 and Raining." 42 and rainy, that's the weather report.

Kirk: I wonder if I could be a weather man in Juneau. Would that be a hard job?

Richard: You could. You could probably pre-tape it ahead for like weeks and go to Hawaii. Actually, we had a big snowstorm last night and then it started raining.

Kirk: Yeah. That's a little unusual because your weather is a bit like Seattle but a little colder, right?

Richard: Correct. My brother was telling me it was 65 and he goes, "Where's our snow?" And I said, "Well, we just got some last night," our second snow of the year or third.

Kirk: I wanted to tell our viewers and listeners-now, if you're a listener to the show, thanks for being here. The show is going to be a lot of visual this time. So, I hope you put up with that. If you are listening and you want to watch the pictures that Rich is going to be telling us about, then get the video version. If you're watching live, welcome in. You're going to see it all live.

I asked Rich Parker to come on and give us a feel of what it's like to engineer in Alaska. Now, on the one hand, you're not up in Barrow, Alaska or Point Barrow or on the Northern Coast. You're in an area that's climactically a bit nicer than we usually think of Alaska, but still there are challenges.

We're going to get into the show here very shortly. Rich has a lot of pictures to share with us and a little story and description about a lot of these pictures. So, hang tight for that. We're going to show a lot of pictures on this episode. So, Rich, you're going to be really busy telling us about these and answering questions from me and Chris.

I want to jump right in though and tell you about our first sponsor of "This Week in Radio Tech." It's our friends at Lawo. They make audio consoles. One of the consoles that they make... Lawo typically makes these great big audio consoles for TV trucks and big installed sound venues and studio recording. Well, this is a smaller console.

They have a crystal line of consoles that are intended for radio stations. This is the crystalCLEAR console. It uses the same DSP mixing engine as the crystal console series. So, that goes in a rack and that's where your audio inputs go into your mics and your stereo line inputs and your AES inputs. Those are all going to this DSP unit in the rack.

But for control, instead of a physical control surface, what you get is a multi-touch, touchscreen monitor that you can move several faders all at the same time while you push buttons. More typically, you'd be probably pushing a couple of faders or pushing a couple of buttons at the same time or have your finger at the ready to push a button while you move a fader up or down. That's where the CLEAR part of the crystalCLEAR console comes into play.

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One of the cool things about being a touchscreen console is it's software-driven. That means that the buttons, the options buttons on the screen are completely contextual. If you have a microphone input and you push the options button, you don't get options there that don't apply to that. You only get the options that apply to what that fader is doing or capable of doing. That's one of the cool things about having a console whose interface exists in software.

Now, of course, the specs of the console are fantastic. The audio specs are terrific. You can expect no better audio anywhere than the state of the art audio mixing engine, the state of the art inputs and outputs. The console also does audio over IP. It adheres to the RAVENNA standard, which includes most of the AES 67 standard as well. So, it's AES 67-compatible and it's totally RAVENNA compliant. So, you can hook it up to an AoIP studio to other devices that are also audio over IP.

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Thanks to Lawo for sponsoring "This Week in Radio Tech."

All right. Without a lot of further ado, I think we ought to jump right into it. Let's get one part of the story straight. Rich, I mentioned that you travelled a long way to go take a job in Alaska. Can you give us a little elevator speech about what you did and how you got to Alaska?

Richard: Okay. Well, when I was very young, I took a magnet and I put a nail into a light socket and watched the sparks. That's kind of where I think it all started. Then years later, I ended up as the director of engineering at Vermont Public Radio. I was there for 17 years, based out of Colchester, which is near Burlington. We had a pretty big crop of stations there.

Through a long set of events, a friend called and said, "There's an opening for a director of engineering in Alaska. Why don't you apply for that?" And I said, "Oh, that's just crazy. Why would I want to do that?" But they kept calling me and they kept talking to me. I kept look at what they were doing.

To be perfectly honest, I told you this earlier, Kirk, I was a little nervous about even reaching out to it because there were people who, I felt like, were giants in the industry, Chuck Lakaytis and Matt Holmes and people that I really looked up to. But they said, "No, no, no, you'll be great. They need you here."

So, my wife said, "Why don't you just send them a resume? Why don't you just apply?" We were empty nesters again. Some of you know my son had leukemia for seven years and passed away in 2008. There weren't any grandkids or anything to hold us in any one place. I liked the job at VPR and I liked the people a lot. It was very interesting. But this just kept kind of coming back and coming back. So, we flew out for an interview. It was January. It was dark. It was 42 and raining, like it always is.

I was kind of flabbergasted because the question that they asked me in the interview, the first question was not about what I had done technically. Of course I had sent my CV and all that. But they just looked at me and they said, "Do you think you could live here?" So, that was sort of interesting. I thought, "Well, I think so. Yeah. Why? Is there vampires or what should we know here?"

Juneau is very isolated in a way. It's a town of about 45,000 people, maybe 40,000. It's on the Gastineau Channel. Behind it's a giant ice field at the north end of town is the Mendenhall Glacier and then further up is Herbert Glacier. At the south end of town there's a dead end. There are about 46 or 49 miles of road north and south and that's pretty much it. So, it's not unlike living on an island.

So, here I am. I packed up lock stock and barrel, sold the house in Vermont, got rid of many, many things but the cats and the carriers and here we are.

Kirk: Indeed. Can you drive to or from Juneau? Can you get anywhere else now?

Richard: No. I mean, we can get to the north end of Juneau where there's a nice sign that says "End of the road" and we go can south and there's another sign that says "End of the road." Basically, the closest you could come to driving to Juneau is to drive up through Canada through Yukon, come down across into a town called Skagway and you could put your vehicle on a ferry boat and a several hour ferry ride down to Juneau.

Basically, to get to any of our stations here, I'll just give you a quick geography lesson. I'll hold this up and I don't if anybody can see it. This is Southeast Alaska. I'm having a hard time because it's backwards. It's like a mirror.

So, anyway, from up here all the way down is where I cover from Juneau and north. There are some transmitters up north. And then it goes all the way down to the east or to the west to Sitka, which is on Baranof Island, which is out at the far west end of the chain. And then below that is Petersburg-Wrangell and then at the very bottom is Ketchikan. That's, I guess, about 350 or 400 miles.

So, every time I go to a station I have to fly or take a ferry. I haven't taken the ferry much. But in the summer, there's what they call a fast ferry which is about a four-hour trip to Sitka. That's normally about an eight or ten hour trip. But the fast ferry goes about 35 or 40 knots. So it makes it a nice quick trip. It's kind of fun. But normally it's flying jets, a lot of Air Alaska jets, 737s mostly but then a few, are the smaller Alaska sea plane companies here, some of those, the small twin prop airplanes, that I hop from place to place and island to island.

In fact, in two weeks I'll be hopping from Juneau to Sitka, turning around in Sitka, coming back through Kake, which is a small island where there's a translator and then hopping over to Petersburg, working on a Z4 there that needs some repairs, a couple of days there and then the Harris Air small two-engine plane that comes back and forth everyday lands in Petersburg at around 11:00 and then the next stop is Wrangell and I'll hop on it in a couple of days and go to Wrangell and work on their transmitter down there and work on their studios. Then I'll take an Air Alaska flight back which will go down through Ketchikan and then go back up to Juneau.

Kirk: Wow. So, just getting around the transmitter sites sounds pretty challenging.

Richard: It can be. I'm based in Juneau at the offices of KTOO radio and TV. I guess they're sort of the big-city station as far as it goes. It's not Anchorage. Anchorage is about 900 miles away and that's a big city. Well, I mean, I don't know, 200,000-300,000 people, I think.

Then as part of CoastAlaska, we provide support for all of the public radio stations in the Southeast Alaska area, well, most of them. Fortunately, three of our clients are here in Juneau. That's KTOO, which is the news and information station, KXLL, which is kind of a modern, progressive, kind of like KEXP and some of those and then there's KRNN, which is the arts and culture station.

KTOO, the transmission facility is located, I can see it outside the window. It's on top of the federal building nearby. And then KRNN and KXLL are on a site that's across the channel, which we can also see from our office. Those are easy to do. There are two translators in the area that I can drive to a point and then walk up a trail maybe a mile and a half or two miles.

Kirk: Walk. Hey, good intro. So, why don't we jump right into the pictures? I know that we have a lot to look at. Chris Tobin, you jump in here too looking at these. Andrew, if you're ready to show some pictures, I almost don't care where you start because we didn't really talk about this a whole lot. Pick one and let's go with it and we'll get Rich to tell us what we're looking. Now, there's a cluster of pictures. Let's get one on there.

Richard: Okay. So, that's in Petersburg. That's what they call Fish Radio, KFSK in Petersburg. Petersburg is a big fishing town, huge Norwegian kind of heritage. There's Sons of Norway Hall. You can see what they brought. That's their ID thing that's on the console.

Kirk: Legal ID. Oh wow.

Richard: This is a little bit out of order. But this is a pickup truck and what's in the back of that is the fan assembly from a Z4 transmitter that was shipped up by air from Wrangell. The fan failed on their Z4 here in Petersburg and I remembered that they had a spare Z4 down in Wrangell. So, I called the station manager and asked her what we could do.

Now, you have to understand. This is Alaska. Cindy Sweat is the manager at Wrangell's KSTK. She's about 5-foot-nothing. She hopped in her truck, four wheel drive pickup truck with a bunch of tools, went out to the edge of the field, walked across the frozen part of the field that the truck couldn't drive on, unbolted the seven-sixteenths bolts on the fan assembly on the Z4, dragged it out, got it into her truck, had somebody help her.

Actually, she put it on a sled, dragged it across the frozen ground, had somebody help her put it in her sled, put it in her truck and took it to the air freighter at Alaska airlines and we picked it up here and then put it in on the Z4 that's in Petersburg and got it back on the air. We were operating on a small backup transmitter at that point, about 150 Watt [inaudible 00:16:25].

Kirk: Wow.

Richard: Then I had brought down in a flight case.

Kirk: That assembly, as you said, is not light. This is your female station manager at this station that did this.

Richard: Correct.

Kirk: Wow.

Richard: She's also the same one that over the phone sent me pictures and wielded the screwdriver, took apart the Wheatstone console because it had failed and was pulling out modules. I was talking her through it. I eventually had to go there. But she's great.

People down here are very, very smart, very, very capable, willing to jump in. If I can help them over the phone, giving them some support, saying, "Send me a picture. Do this. Do that. Be careful. Make sure you unplug this and do that." They're just great. So, it makes it a lot easier.

Ultimately, I had to get on the plane and go there, the same way with Petersburg. But we were able to do a lot of pre-work. One of the logistical challenges is you don't just get a part shipped overnight. There's no such thing as overnight. Two or three days maybe, you can manage it, if it's small. Bigger things have to come up on a barge.

So part of that process of working with her and doing everything I could remotely was to actually try to determine what it is we needed. It turned out we did need a part. But I didn't want to have just something sent without being pretty sure about it.

Kirk: Yeah. Wow. Sorry about my camera here. I'm trying to restart things and let it get better. There we go. It's a little bit better now. Let's move on with the pictures if we can. We've got a lot to move through.

Richard: This is the Z4 that was in the shop. I had to unhook everything and hook up the ground. There's a switch up there, what that does is that goes to an old Continental, or actually it's a Rockwell Collins older transmitter that has not been in service. You can just go through these fairly quickly.

Kirk: It looks like that transmitter is a shipping container.

Richard: It is a shipping container. These are just some shots in the studio. There's another shot of the control room. There's the old transmitter.

Kirk: Pretty confined space.

Richard: Yeah. There it is. That's a shipping container. It was purpose built, sent in, they put a roof on it, mounted it and that worked out really well, actually. It's got a fan and everything and it's a pretty nice building. We don't have the kind of extremes that, say, maybe somebody in Florida might have. It gets cold but it might get down to zero.

If you back up one, real quick I'll tell you something about this. That tower was built for the station new by the cell companies. They wanted to put a tower there. I'm sorry. I take that back. They wanted to put a swimming pool and recreation center. The school is actually right in front of it. You can't see it. What they found out was that where they wanted to put it was right over one of the guy anchors of the existing tower. So, everybody worked at a deal between the town and cell companies and all that and they built this really nice self-supporting tower that KFSK is on.

Kirk: Yeah, no guy wires so no problem there.

Richard: The one before it is just some masts that hold some STLs and some communications things. That's the building where the station is. And then the next picture, Matt Holmes was telling me that green box is the original transmitter building, but they sort of just kept it around.

Kirk: Ooh, what's this?

Richard: This is the Shively antenna that came up. It's horizontal and it's for the translator which is on top of Lindenberg Peak, which is outside of town and only a helicopter ride. So, that got damaged. Oh, I should have put up pictures. But there are some amazing pictures that came from Matt Holmes of the radome just completely smashed by ice. So, we had them relocate the mast up on the roof and then flew this up and put it in.

If you flip through a little bit, you might be able to... Yeah. So, there's the site. If you'll see that protrusion on top of it, that's the door, that brown protrusion. So, that's about 20-25 feet up. The reason is because that gets filled up with snow in the winter time.

Kirk: Are you approaching this thing in a helicopter?

Richard: If you back up I'll tell you something about this just real quick. So, that fills up with snow and then there's an axe and a pry bar and you have to chop ice and everything and make sure the door will open. Then you climb down about a 20-foot ladder to get into the transmitter shack in the winter time.

Kirk: You go in through a door on the roof because there's too much snow and you climb down into the building?

Richard: Yeah. Now, one thing about this shot. I took this shot. This is a helicopter flying us around. We got up there and then he flew in a circle around the top of the mountain. I said, "What are you doing?" Without a bit of irony, he said, "Oh, bear check."

Kirk: Bear check.

Richard: Yeah, bear check. There's the helicopter. Because he said, "You don't want to just land and then find out there are bears up there." That's the other helicopter. That's the smaller one. That's Downtown Petersburg.

Kirk: Wow.

Richard: Anyway, yeah, so it was a bear check. It lands on a platform. I think I maybe didn't include that picture. It lands on a platform that's about, I don't know, 10 by 12, 15 by 16. It's just out there hanging in space.

Kirk: What about when there's a lot of snow? Is this platform on the ground?

Richard: Yeah because it sticks out away from the building on piers. So, in other words, it's hard to explain. Yeah.

Kirk: Cool. What's next picture-wise?

Richard: Well, that's just Downtown Petersburg. Very Norwegian background. This is a jet boat. That particular trip I had to get from Wrangell-I had been doing some work in Wrangell-and to get up to Petersburg, the quickest way was to take this jet boat, which was actually, in a way, about as fast as flying or faster. It was raining. If you look straight ahead, way up in the distance, we're going to the point up there, Banana Point it's called in Petersburg. It's about 15 miles out of town. The station manager picked me up.

Interestingly enough, that trip, they dropped me off. It was raining. I had a bunch of tools, a couple of flight cases and there was no one there. He was going to come meet me. It was raining. I realized that, like much of Alaska, the same as Vermont, there was no cell service, and there was no one there.

Kirk: Ah, okay.

Richard: And I was by myself with two big flight cases, watching, waving at the boat that was leaving. I thought, "Well, that's interesting." But about ten minutes later, the manager showed up in his truck. He had just gotten delayed a little bit.

Kirk: I'm sorry, Rich. Go ahead.

Richard: No, I'm just thinking it was one of those moments.

Kirk: Andrew says we're done with that album. Andrew, I'm going to let you pick out the next album since it's hard to... Anyway, you pick out the next album. We'll be ready to go here.

Hey, for those of you tuning in, you're watching or listening to "This Week in Radio Tech," It's our 250th episode, war stories with Rich Parker. I'm Kirk Harnack along with Chris Tobin. Chris, are you still with us or did you fall off the building?

Chris: No, no, still here, checking out the pictures and enjoying it.

Kirk: Aren't these pictures amazing?

Chris: They are. Well, the last time Richard was on with us, the one takeaway I will say with the conversation, he reminds us today with these pictures is when you're isolated, you have to plan accordingly and be prepared for stuff that you and I take for granted being closer to urban centers. It's interesting. It's fascinating. I like it.

Richard: That's good. I will say one thing is that it's a lot easier to find parking.

Chris: I bet it is.

Kirk: But if you need a part, we're both at the same disadvantage. Rich has no nearby Radio Shack and now neither do we.

Richard: That's true. Yeah. So, anyway, the slide he has up, that's the sign that's in the airport at Ketchikan, a very famous, if anybody remembers Ted Stevens, a very famous senator from Alaska wanted to build a bridge. He was roundly criticized and everybody made jokes about it being a bridge to nowhere.

Well, the fact of the matter is that it's a bridge to the airport and a very big island that could have been developed very nicely, but the political pressure was so great that they never built that bridge. So now, when you land in Ketchikan, you actually have to take a ferry across the channel to Downtown Ketchikan from the airport.

Kirk: Yeah. It's a shame that these things get so politicized. I remember that, "Oh, yeah, we shouldn't waste our money on a bridge to nowhere." Well, you know what? It's nowhere, but it could be somewhere.

Richard: It could be somewhere and it was the airport.

Kirk: Yeah.

Richard: So, that other picture is just the front of the building. That's KRBD. They call it Rainbird Radio. Chuck Lakaytis had a lot to do with that station. He lived in that area for many, many years That's their new facility that was built a few years back and it's across the street from a very nice library and it's much higher up in town.

Kirk: Cool. What's next, Andrew?

Richard: I don't know what you have there.

Kirk: Andrew... What's next? He's looking.

Richard: The challenging thing up there in all of Southeast is that in Vermont I had to deal with a lot of ice and snow. In fact, I'll tell you, during an interview, the manager here, one of the people doing the interview asked me and said, "Well, how do you feel about remote sites and going up to remote sites and that kind of thing?"

I said, "Well, let me show you some pictures." And I showed him a picture of one of our translator sites on Roberts Mountain up in Bolton, Vermont. It's about 1,200 feet and it's about 1.2 miles trail. The day we had to go up there, it was complete and solid glare ice. So, we put on the spikes, the microspikes. We put the spectrum analyzer and an exciter in backpacks and hiked up. I showed him those and he goes, "Okay. Yeah. Good." There is one site here that's about the same distance.

Kirk: Yeah. What's this one? There's a BE transmitter in there. What else?

Richard: Yeah. So, let's see... Where is this? This is in Ketchikan. That's a BE. There was an MD1. It was a digital. Anyway, so that's the BE, a lot of BEs. That's a nice shot of the wiring job the predecessor did in the terminal blocks in the studio.

Kirk: Yeah.

Richard: You can flip through some of these. These are just some interesting areas, a Totem Pole Park, a lot of beautiful totem poles in Ketchikan.

Kirk: Oh, yeah. Okay.

Richard: There's a shot from the airport. You can see that car in front of me. We're waiting to get on the ferry that goes across that channel of water in the distance to get to Ketchikan.

Kirk: Okay.

Richard: So, that's kind of what's going on there.

Kirk: What's next?

Richard: I have a few shots in that album of the antenna and the site. But I don't know how much interest there is.

Kirk: Oh, new album. Okay.

Richard: We have some challenges there. We lost our generator. The generator tech said that he thought it maybe wasn't getting exercised often enough and it just built up moisture and ruined the stator in there. So, they're going to have to replace that. Okay. Now, this is in Sitka.

Kirk: Sitka. Okay. Behind the building, there's a bridge to somewhere.

Richard: There's a bridge to somewhere, and it's the same kind of bridge. It literally goes to the airport. I think the difference there politically is that one, on that other island there's an old Army base and Air Force staging area and there's a private school called Mt. Edgecumbe High School. It's a boarding high school.

So, that sign, you can't read it really, but that talks about the old cable landing that was coming from down south, from Seattle. This is the library. This is the inside of the station. The whole inside of the station is like a record and CD library. They still have a lot of turn tables, a lot of albums, a lot of volunteers, mostly volunteers. There's a shot of the harbor in Sitka.

Kirk: Beautiful.

Richard: There's the satellite dish. It's an unusual place under a bridge there.

Kirk: Why would it be under a bridge?

Richard: Well, many of these things, I tell people, like I said, if I was going to write a book it was going to be "42 and Raining" and the theme song that would play under it would be Bob Seger's "Against the Wind," "Working on mysteries without any clues."

Kirk: Yeah.

Richard: A lot of times there are just things that were documented well and a lot of times there aren't things that aren't documented well. There are people that have been there for a while and people that are new and probably a year more there than I have been. So, there are many things we don't know.

Chuck sent me a lot of memos, which was really nice, sort of, "Here's the history. Here's how this got built. Here's why that got built." information from people like Don Rinker, who worked on the transmitter here. There's a fair bit of like, "Wow, I wonder why that is like that?" Some of it was political, some of it was economic, some of it was opportunity, but it's there under the bridge.

I had to replace the LNB. The whole situation was really bad. The Eb/No was just really, really low. They were getting dropouts and lots of problems with their signal.

Kirk: Which satellite are you picking up there?

Richard: That's the NPR satellite. It's right off the top of my head. Galaxy 6 maybe...

Kirk: Okay.

Richard: Somebody will write in and say, "No, no, you fool. It's Galaxy 12."

Kirk: That outdoor F-connector was less than pretty, wasn't it?

Richard: It was really bad.

Kirk: Yeah.

Richard: There's a fiber box at the thing because it's quite a ways away from the studio. So, they have a fiber converter that does the L-band to fiber and then comes back into the station.

Kirk: Oh, yeah.

Richard: So, one of the problems there, that's a particularly nasty picture. So, I had to replace all that. One of the particularly interesting things was that the fiber was too hot. I called the manufacturer in Georgia and the guy was really nice. He goes, "Well, you just need to put an optical attenuator on there." I said, "Well, I'm in Sitka, Alaska. I'm not really sure when I can get one of those." I'm going to be three or more days.

He goes, "Oh, not a problem. You got any wood dowels around?"

"Yeah."

"Take a piece..."

You see that on the left there? Go back to the picture just a little bit if you can. There's a piece of three-eighths dowel on the left. He says, "Take the fiber and wrap it three, four, five, six times around three-eighths-inch dowel, tape it down and watch the meter. It will go from red to green. If you twist it more it will go back to red. So, find the sweet spot in the middle."

It turns out that twisting fiber like that around a known radius actually provides a really good optical attenuator. So, there it is.

Kirk: Wow.

Richard: So, that's a little war story. It was amazing because it actually worked and we got everything working and I didn't have to order anything. We could someday. That's just a signal strength meter that we were looking at, Galaxy 16, see? There it is. There's a shot after I had done some work last week. It's a typical splitter that NPR sends.

That's a shot from the dish out into the channel. One of the reasons was we were trying to figure out if tenders or boats or something were driving in front of it, was that increasing the problem or what? So, it's a lot of investigation of these issues.

That's my wife.

Kirk: That dish right there, is that pointing essentially south or southeast?

Richard: It is.

Kirk: What direction are we looking at there?

Richard: I'm trying to remember the NPR. Is it 96?

Kirk: Okay, so it must be southeast. It's pointing to the south east over there.

Richard: Yeah, southeast and towards the water kind of because we're up pretty high. We're about 56, 58 latitude. Another shot of the harbor - that's from the transmitter site. And then this is a translator that's in town. Just because of the terrain, there are shadows in town, so there's a little translator downtown on top of that.

That's what it looks like upstairs. There are a lot of people. There's a Seventh-day Adventist station broadcaster up there. There are some other little kind of small translators up there. It's the top of an apartment building right in downtown Sitka. So, that's the roof. That's the CL for the Seventh-day Adventist station. They do an off-air pickup. Ours does an off-air pickup of the signal down to the channel and then broadcasts. So, a little bit of the background.

There's a shot just up the bridge, just looking back at the station on the bottom-right corner. This is the Mt. Edgecumbe High School. This is the old, I don't know if it was Army, Air Force, somebody probably knows better than me, but this was where they did a lot of flights in and out around Alaska, before Alaska was a state. But there was quite a military presence here in World War II because of the concern about Japanese invasion.

So, the tower is on top of the control tower, the transmitter is actually on the very, very bottom of that and it's in a long, narrow room. It was actually the doors for a hanger, which slide into that hole. So, it was very interesting. So, it's a four-bay and then there's a single bay that was used for HD.

Unfortunately, HD is not getting a lot of traction here. It costs a lot more money to run it, the efficiency. A lot of the stations were finding, and it could change, but a lot of the stations were finding that the people who had HD radios and were listening to HD all worked at the station. So, there was a little bit of a problem.

So, this is kind of an awkward shot, but there's my wife. She helps me take readings. She rode over on the ferry with me that time. So, that was really nice. She's helping me take readings on the BE. This is a really, really amazing thing. There are lots of different devices like this. They have some like this around here which I've never seen but I'm familiar with a bunch of them. But this is an IP-based net booter.

Kirk: Yeah.

Richard: So, if I get locked up, I can log in and reboot them remotely. Again, connectivity is becoming a huge issue. It wasn't something that Chuck or Matt or some of those guys had as much access to even five years ago. Now it's really getting great.

There's another shot of the control tower. It's a high school. There's the Fairweather, it's the fast ferry. My wife and I got on that. That's how we got to Sitka from Juneau. So, it goes up the channel and around.

Now, flying back, we came on a small plane. So, there's the plane that we came back on. I think some of these shots are us going home, but then there are some other shots in a minute of - it's really weird, isn't it? This is the new dam where they're putting a new hydroelectric plant and raising the dam up and increasing the capacity.

Kirk: Wow.

Richard: We fly through this slot. This is going towards the dam. This is a slot where I thought it's like "Lost Horizon" or something. You feel like you can just reach down and touch the ice. They just fly right through this slot. Right there at the end of that slot, you can see how it drops off. That just drops off like a couple thousand feet and the lake is down below.

Kirk: Wow.

Richard: There are the little planes that we fly in. This is going to Kake. So, Kake is where one of their translators is, which is a small island that's sort of on the opposite side of the island that's across from Petersburg. So, it's a largely native village, although it's a mixed population there. They have a high school. I just saw on the news that the high school is doing very well in the basketball tournament.

So, there's an old defunct dish that may get resurrected again. It's for the TV service out of Anchorage in Fairbanks. Our antenna. So, that's the site. And there's the inside, just a little part of a building that just, I don't know, like a little cooler storage building. There's the antenna. So, you'll see that that antenna, if you'll look it's tuned pretty nicely back there on the left at about 90.1, I think. Well, the station is broadcasting at 107.1. So, that explains a bit more on why the transmitters have some trouble.

Kirk: It's reflected power, doesn't it?

Richard: I think it was like ten watts out or eight watts back or something crazy like that. This is the high school, to give you an idea, beautiful high school, a lot of native art in the high school, native Alaskan art, just very, very beautiful. These are salmonberry bushes. There are these huge, big things that look like giant raspberries sort of and they're quite good. They grow all around. Here's just another shot inside the equipment. A dish, like I say, it's an old TV dish that probably could be refurbished, and there we are leaving.

Kirk: If you just tuned in, you're listening to and watching Rich Parker. He, a year ago, or so, moved to Alaska, to Juneau working with CoastAlaska. Sorry, Rich?

Richard: March 28th. My first day was March 28th.

Kirk: Okay. Hey, you wouldn't know it, but Chris Tobin is here too. Hey, Chris, are you still with us?

Chris: I'm still here. I'm enjoying the pictures. It's great.

Kirk: I know. It's amazing.

Chris: I'm just sitting back and watching.

Kirk: It needs few questions and little comment. Rich is a great commentator on what's going on. Tells us, as engineers, just what we want to know. Hey, our show, this is episode number 250. It's war stories with Rich Parker. Rich, you're going to run out of pictures within the next 30 minutes. We're going to want to hear some exciting tale of engineering derring do where you probably saved the day, more than usual.

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All right. It's episode 250. Chris Tobin is here, still on his balcony. Don't jump, Chris. It's going to be alright.

Chris: That's all right. No need. It's not that far. I'd probably just sprain an ankle.

Kirk: Talking to Rich, isn't this great, hearing these stories?

Chris: It's great. You don't get to hear enough of these stories.

Kirk: It's so different. We need to figure out a way to talk to Rich for two or three hours over dinner and an after dinner aperitif and dessert and keep on talking over coffee.

Richard: Come on up.

Kirk: Come on up. Yeah. So, Rich, are you going to be at NAB or the Public Radio Engineering Conference?

Richard: Not this year. I'm taking a break this year. There's a lot going on, a lot of travel. I talked to my boss and I said, "You know, there are a lot of things that need to get done and I'd love to go, but, I think, this year I'm going to take a pass on it." She said, "Fine. You can go next year."

Kirk: Well, your buddy, Shane Toven asked me to participate on a panel with some other IP codec manufacturers. So, we're going to be participating in Public Radio Engineering Conference that way.

Richard: Very good. I'll have to watch the video capture.

Kirk: Speaking of NAB, Chris Tobin, are you going to be at NAB this year?

Chris: I'm trying. I've got a schedule conflict that so far, I've got a deadline to meet. If I can make it happen, I will. I'm not sure yet.

Kirk: Yeah. Well, I hope you are. If you are, I sure hope you can join us for "This Week in Radio Tech," hopefully from the show floor as we did last year. That would be cool to have you there.

Chris: Definitely.

Kirk: Speaking of IP codecs, I'm sorry, I missed this at the beginning of the show. There's somebody on the show whose job it is, whose business it is to go help stations with their IP codec issues, with discovering the right solution, helping stations to get great audio, and even video, from here to there and saving money over older traditional methods. That guy is Chris Tobin. Chris, tell us where people can reach you for your IP codec consulting services?

Chris: Support@IPCodecs.com. I was just helping some folks in L.A. this week with an issue. It was nice.

Kirk: Support@IPCodecs.com. That's plural. I'll you what, Chris is the guy. He knows all about IP codecs, how they work and how to make them work reliably. Being in New York City with a lot of pressure and L.A., I'm sure there's pressure there too for a broadcast to come off correctly, to be reliable, to sound and look good, Chris has really got it down. He will not steer you wrong.

All right. Rich Parker, shall we continue? What's our next bit of pictures that we might have available here? I should check my messages.

Richard: If you start on the Juneau sites, there are some interesting ones. That's just a picture of me, I don't know, on the beach.

Kirk: On the beach, getting ready to swim with the sea lions.

Richard: Yeah. You know, you were asking me about saving the day kind of stories. Well, actually this is a translator site. I came to this site and those hoods were not on. There's a picture before the hoods as the generator. But if you flip through, I think you might find or if you look for it, there's a picture with. There. That's the one. That's what it looked like when I got there. I was like, "Okay then." The building was full of dust and white things. So, that's me measuring. Somewhere in there-I'm sorry they're not in good order, I had these fans' hoods fabricated. So, that's exhaust. So, there's not a filter.

Kirk: Okay. So, these are hoods for air intake and blowing out.

Richard: Right. Exactly. So, that was one of the things I wanted to get done. I got approval to do that. Now there's no more yellow dust all over the place when the pine trees release their pollen.

Kirk: Oh, that's pollen. Okay.

Richard: So, talking about WKFSQ and their Z4, what happened is the IP1d failed, which is the older pre-corrector device in the HD transmitters. That particular model of transmitter, when it goes to a fault, the fan just goes on full blast. It sounds like a screaming banshee. It basically will burn out the motor.

So, that was where I had to go back and get that motor replaced and all of that. But one of the things we had to do was get that motor shipped up from Wrangell. And then I had to bypass the IP1d because it was broken. It was a little bit of a dicey thing trying to get somebody from Harris to understand what I had to do, that I couldn't just get one sent up in like a couple of days. We kind of bypassed it, but if I bypassed it completely then it would stay in alarm and then the fan was still running at full blast.

So, I had to kind of do this jerry-rigging where I plugged it into the amp, which still worked. Anyway, it's probably more detail than you want to know. Bu the point is that I had to really jerry-rig everything to get it back on the air and make it keep working.

Then I remembered from the distant past that we had had an IP1d in Vermont. We'd converted a lot of our Z's to the next generation. It had been knocking around in the shop, knocking around in the storage. So, I gave Mike Seguin a call and asked him. He looked around and he goes, "Yeah. It's here."

So, they were very generous. They sent it to us just for the cost of shipping because it had probably been sitting there for ten years and not used. So, it's in Petersburg now waiting for me to go down there and put it in and get things back on the air. But again, that's the kind of stuff that we have to do, is just improvise, improvise, improvise.

This picture that's right there, that's one of our small translators. It's about I would say a mile or mile and a half off the road between the North Douglas Highway and the water at Gastineau Channel. It's on this thing called muskeg, which kind of like a dense patchwork of muddy bog and moss and short, small growth. When you walk, you really want your boots. At one point, I think I was like walking in snow up to my knees in mud and muck.

That's the shelter. It's an old shelter. We had to get the guy wires redone. We have to get those done every couple of years because everybody just sinks. That's, I think it's Adam from Nolan Brothers. He's up on the tower. This shot is a different shot. This is another transmitter. This one I had to walk about a mile and a half or two miles up to the top. There's an FAA tower there in the background.

Kirk: Oh, yeah.

Richard: That's overlooking the airport. That one just got out of place because that's the other translator. That's him standing on the top.

Kirk: What's this?

Richard: Okay. So, he's standing on the top. There's a receive antenna. I'm trying to get a bearing on it. I'm hollering at him over the radio. He's moving it so I can get it oriented to the right direction to the station because we couldn't see the station from there.

Kirk: Got you.

Richard: So, that's some of that. There are two of those towers up there and they have to keep going out and re-anchoring them. They're essentially big like screws in the mud, as deep as they can get them. That's kind of a funny - that's kind of how church is up here. Coffee time, we have an espresso machine for coffee. Everybody drinks espresso up here.

Kirk: Yeah.

Richard: That's the translator site up on top of what we call Peterson Hill. We have several tenants up there, some small stations, Christian broadcasters, Wi-Fi people and that kind of stuff. So, it's a little bit overloaded. It's kind of a mess, but there it is.

Kirk: Wow.

Richard: Let me flip through some of these here. Yeah. That's that same site.

Kirk: You make it look like vertical real estate is pretty precious there.

Richard: It can be. Yeah. It really is. That's just from my deck the other night. That was Sunday night, to give you an idea of some of the things that we see here.

Kirk: Do you need to make a long exposure to catch the Northern Lights like that?

Richard: I did. That's about a four-second exposure...

Kirk: Okay.

Richard: ...at F2.8. Yeah. That's just the waterfalls and some of the trails. There are the eagles and there's the fish. There are salmon spawning and behind them were the eagles. I thought that was real. It turns out it was another local ABC affiliate. They put an owl up there to keep the birds off the dish. That was very funny. That's my deck and a cup of coffee, my morning coffee, a little quiet time there.

Kirk: Andrew, I guess that's the end of that album.

Richard: Yeah.

Kirk: You sent me links to five. I only send Andrew links to four. So, I apologize for that.

Richard: No, that's okay. If you want to open the Juneau one back up and Andrew can look, there's some old test equipment and there are some pieces of gear up in the Juneau site. But he may not have that one.

Kirk: Yeah. Andrew is closed down now. He's got to run. We're going to finish up.

Richard: That's fine.

Kirk: We're going to actually have to talk to each other for the next few minutes.

Richard: That's fine. So, like I said, the challenges are logistical. You have to do a lot of McGyver-ing and try to be creative and scratch your head and go, "How are we going to do this? How are we going to make it work?" Sometimes you know what needs to happen and you know what you can do, but you go, "I don't have that. I don't that here and I won't be able to get it for months or weeks."

Kirk: Speaking of MacGyver-ing, as you call it. Good word. Is this something you had much experience at before? Are you having to draw out new skills and think out of the box that you didn't have to before because when you lived in the contiguous states, stuff was available pretty much overnight. How has your thinking process changed up there?

Richard: Well, let's just start with going to a site. Going to a site, I can take three bags on Alaska Airlines. They have to be 50 pounds or under. So, I've spent up to two hours at night with a scale moving tools from one bag to the other and trying to figure out how to get that together. And then figuring out what tools you really, really need, a lot of the sites in Vermont, we had tools either on the back of the snowmobile with us or there were whole toolkits up at the station, up at the transmitter.

So, that's a bit of a challenge, trying to figure out how to winnow down your toolkit to what's really essential. Start to figure out what's available at other sites that you don't have to carry and then figure out how to get it there. Sometimes you just have to airship in a crate with tools or equipment.

There's a lot of cross-pollination between stations. They're all independent stations but they're members of what's called CoastAlaska. So, we provide engineering, the back end office support. In other words like fundraising, personnel and all that stuff all comes out of here in Juneau at CoastAlaska.

So, just like Cindy was able to go out and get that fan off of that Z4 for her colleague up in Petersburg, there's a lot of that kind of cooperation that goes on among these small stations, very small stations, very small budgets and a lot of volunteers and a lot of great people that love radio.

Kirk: Chris Tobin, this just seems like so different from the kind of engineering that you and I both did, but especially you. You're in the market number one. Heck, right now, you're on a big, tall building and there are skyscrapers around you. What do you want to ask Rich that contrasts with what you and I are used to?

Chris: Wow. I've worked in a couple of markets where things were sparse, but nothing to the degree that Richard goes through. Let me put it this way, I have had to travel with news divisions from some of the networks to breaking news stories. So, packing for an airplane and having weight restrictions, I can appreciate what he's talking about.

So, you go to cover a plane crash or the death of a princess and they tell you, "Look, you can only take one box or two road cases and you better keep it under a certain weight." When you're going to a place to cover a story like, "Okay. What do I bring? What do I do?" So, now you're talking a transmitter sites. As we all know, transmitter sites have a myriad of various things that can go wrong and a three-eighths inch wrench is something you need and you don't have, it's like, "Oh, now what?" That's a challenge.

What he's talking about in the physical, I guess the geographic spans between the sites, that's - wow. Yeah. I can see just getting up in the morning going, "Oh, what? I've got to go to the transmitter. Hmm... Now what?" That's a tough thing. You've got it down to a science, it sounds like, or at least you can appreciate what you need to do and you have people that you can work with that get it. So, that's very handy.

Richard: Yeah. It's definitely a work in progress. I've been here a year, but every time I go out, I go, "Well, okay, I didn't even touch that last time. So, maybe I can leave this out," or, "I saw one of those there, so I don't need to carry that," or, "That's a big fishing town and they've got the most amazing hardware stores I've ever seen anywhere."

Kirk: I bet. Yeah.

Richard: It's crazy. But you're talking about tools and I'm like, well, I had to work on the satellite dish in Sitka and I didn't have quite what I needed. There was like a True Value or something and they had like every sized wrench you could ever want and really nice ones. And it was like, "Well, okay," we went and got some wrenches and I left them at the station and now the next time I go there, they'll be there. So, it's an iterative process. It certainly is.

Kirk, as you were saying, "How do I think different?" It is a lot of what Chris was saying and what you were saying. It's trying to imagine, "Well, nobody is going to come bail you out." I have to say my colleagues on email and Pubtech and the Facebook take pictures of transmitter sites and some of those things, those are really just invaluable because there will be times when I'll just get into, "What do I do with this?" Somebody will usually have a pretty good suggestion, "Well, have you tried this? Have you tried that?" I just can't imagine doing it without the cloud of witnesses behind me that are doing that, helping out.

Kirk: Wow. That's amazing. I don't know what to ask. Oh, yeah. Here's the last thing on my mind. How do you feel about the stress level? You used to take care of a number of transmitter sites in studios in a state. It wasn't for a commercial broadcaster. It was a public broadcaster. I think the situation varies, contrasting the pressure level there. But do you have a different kind of pressure? At the end of each day, can you breathe easy and say, "I did a good job today."? How does it affect your thinking about work in general, to work where you are now?

Richard: You know, it's interesting that you ask me that. I know a lot of my colleagues are in situations where they really do a good job and they still come home feeling like, "Well, all they want to know is what have you done for me lately," and maybe don't feel quite as appreciated as they really should, given their talents and their efforts. That's not always the case, but I hear it a lot.

Here, I'll get off a plane, go to a site and I'll be greeted with hugs, literally, from the station people and managers. "Oh, we're so glad you're here. Here's a list of things that have been bugging us. We're trying to fix them. Thank you for helping us over the phone." It's a very, very different environment from anything that I've ever experienced. Gosh, it feels good to be wanted and liked and appreciated. It feels great, I can tell you.

Kirk: Wow. Boy, you kind of wish managers and program directors in other places could hear you say that. That's what a lot of people, we want and need out of our jobs, appreciation for what we do.

Richard: Yeah. Well, it's true. I appreciate them and they know it. I think the second piece of it, because of the way that things are here and the way people are, I started this job and I made it very clear to all the managers that, "I'm the engineer, but I'm here to help you and do what I can for you, but I also want to empower you as much as possible because you're smart people."

What I mean by that is I don't want them sitting by the phone going, "Wow, we're off the air and I don't know what to do and I can't get ahold of the engineer." I've given them a lot of tips and tricks and tools and things in their toolbox that they can try and workarounds. When they get hold of me, we can talk through some more. But these are just really a unique breed of people up here. I like helping them.

The program director in Ketchikan is a woman who has like gone to some SBE training in Alabama. She wanted to learn more about engineering. They have a small BW 600-watt transmitter that they use for backup. She's got no problem taking that apart and replacing the encoder wheel in the front and those kinds of things. It's just really cool. It's kind of like being a teacher, a mentor, a helper and yet, sometimes there are just things that only I can do. So, it's a great mix.

You know, the stress is having to travel sometimes, having to go away, a little bit of stress of like, "Boy, I could help them if we just had some more money for blah." That's the part that's hard sometimes. You go, "Well, okay, we don't have that. So, what can we do? How can we make it work?" But I kind of like figuring things out.

You asked me about out of the box, my son, when he was still alive, he used to say... He came to NAB. Some of you met him. He came to NAB a couple of times and worked with a number of people in audio engineering, great kid. But he's looking at me and he goes, "Dad, you talk about people saying you think outside the box and you're just like, 'Oh, what box?'" I guess he's right. I think that sometimes maybe I can do what I do because I didn't know I wasn't supposed to be able to do that, if you know what I mean.

Kirk: Sure. Absolutely.

Richard: Chris, it's something as crazy as making a fiber attenuator out of a three-eighth dowel and some black tape.

Kirk: Yeah, who would have thought? I guess it's the curving over and over again that the light goes, "Hey, wait a minute, whoa." Rich, if I could impose upon you. Think of a tip, an engineering tip that you'd like to leave with our viewers and listeners. We're going to get to it right after our last commercial announcement.

Chris Tobin, if you can think of one too, that would be great, a tip that people can walk away with, maybe something you've figured out, found out or discovered in the last week or two would be great or maybe something that you've always known but you're kind of surprised that other engineers don't, could be very helpful.

Our show is brought to you in part by the folks at Axia and the new Axia Fusion console. The Fusion is - well, it's gorgeous. It's a beautiful-looking piece of equipment. It's an absolutely gorgeous console, made with some premium materials. The way it's engineered, just from a mechanical point of view is very interesting. It's a thing of beauty.

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So, the Fusion console offers all of these kinds of things with that OLED display. The Fusion console, like the Element is available, anywhere from a couple of faders, I think four or so. You could probably build one with six faders or four, all the way up to 40 faders. Now, you need a split frame to do that so that it's two frames and you can have up to 40 faders with the Fusion console.

A huge amount of V-mixers, virtual mixers are built into the mixed engine now so you can have 16 V-mixers, each one with five inputs. You can use these for a fixed V-mix to mix things together that don't change, or you can also control them in real time with an app from BSI or with a little applet that runs in Windows from us, from Axia along with the Pathfinder software. That's included.

So, all these features and a very effective record mode, very effective back feed modes. If you do any kind of complicated remote broadcasts, outside broadcasts, well, this console will give you precise control over the feed that's going back, maybe on the left channel to the remote side, you play program audio all the time, a clean feed, if you will. On the other channel, you have a chat channel going forth with the talent at the remote site and your own talent or operator at the studio.

So many possibilities, so well-built, I'd really like you to check it out. This is a premiere audio console. Hey, available in small sizes to big sizes. Whatever you need, you've got it there. It's on the web. It's at the Telos Alliance website. Click on the Axia area and then click on the Fusion AoIP Mixing Console. It's now shipping. They have been seen in the wild. I think there are about 25 or 30 of them out there now. There are beautiful ones going into San Francisco. We've had a couple of pictures of those and we'll try to show you more in the coming weeks.

Check it out, the Fusion AoIP console. There are videos on the website as well. You can click on those and have Clark Novak take you through a lot of the features of the Fusion console.

Thanks a lot to Axia for sponsoring "This Week in Radio Tech."

Without further ado, let's see if Rich Parker, we can put him on the spot. He can give us a tip for the show.

Richard: Wow. That's a little pressure there. I will tell you that the biggest thing that you can do for yourself as an engineer, for your clients, for the people that you work for is to trust yourself, trust your instincts and the knowledge that you've gained over the years, but also don't be afraid to ask for help. I've gotten such great help, as I said, from my colleagues. I've gotten great help from vendors.

I've talked to people who have spent like all night at a transmitter site trying to figure something out. Maybe because I didn't think I was like that great an engineer, I would be up at a transmitter site for 20 minutes and I'd pick up the phone and call a manufacturer and go, "I'm seeing this. What's going on?" Nine times out of ten it was like, "Oh, well, that's good. I can do that. That's easy."

You don't want to necessarily make a pest of yourself, but as a friend of mine, Doug Mitchell, who's a trainer at NPR says, "Don't be the smartest guy in the room or you won't learn anything." So, I think that's the number one thing you can do for yourself as an engineer.

Don't feel like you have to be the smartest guy in the room. You probably are on a lot of levels. But there's a different kind of smartness that allows you to get help, to find the information, to find the people that can do what needs to be done and to trust your colleagues. A lot of times they do want to help. They do want to get involved and they do want to understand. They like to be told what's going on because they don't want to be kept in the dark.

Kirk: Great advice. Don't be afraid to ask directions. I like your advice too. Don't be a pest. In other words, have all the information you can garner together, including, if you're calling a manufacturer, serial number and a description of what it's doing, not that, "It doesn't work," but how doesn't it work? How is it deviating from the way it's supposed to work? Great advice, Rich. Thank you very much.

Chris Tobin, what have you found in the past couple of weeks? What would you like to pass along?

Chris: Well, actually, it's funny you should ask. About a week and a half ago, I got a call from someone to help them with an Intraplex T1 frame. They needed to do some programming and check some stuff out on the frame and couldn't figure out how to connect to it. Why? Because it uses a serial interface in the older frames.

So, what I have had over the years is a little bag. In this bag are serial cables. So, you have standard male to female extension cables. You can see there. And then you make your own version of the Intraplex connector. So, you have a RJ11 on one side, DB connector on the other. It's always handy to have a loopback just in case you try and test something and make sure your serial connection is working properly. So, you make a loopback connector using a standard phone jack. You label it with a pin out so you know what you're doing and testing.

And then you have, lately, you have a Cisco switch. Guess what? You can telnet into the switch if you know the password it's working or you can do a console connection, which happens to be serial. But you've got to make sure you have the Cisco cable or you properly pin out the RJ45 to a Cisco DB connector.

Then you say to yourself, "Wait a minute? How do I plug things and unplug them?" Greeny. Make sure the greeny is in the bag. You'll need it for the connectors.

Kirk: Ah, yeah.

Chris: But then there's the million dollar question. Wait a minute, "I'm running a Windows 8.1 laptop. There is no such thing as a serial port on them anymore." That is correct. So, you make sure you carry the USB to DB9 serial adapter. Now you have yourself a nice little serial kit. Believe it or not, I have used this about a half a dozen times in the last year.

So, it's amazing the number of things, that are still serial controlled, that are in radio stations and TV. People just panic. I literally was working with a gentleman back in November at a TV facility. We were doing some IP video. One of the boxes he was testing out, the only way you could program and talk to it was with the DB9 serial connection.

Kirk: Wow.

Chris: He panicked. He panicked. He's sitting there with a Macbook going, "Now what do I do?" I said, "Well, hang on a second. Let me see what I've got in my bag. Oh, yeah, how about that? Look at this. Let's plug it in and see what happens."

So, that's my tip. Put together little kits that you'll know you'll need for the equipment you have. Just as Richard said that when he's traveling, he needs to make sure he figures out what he needs or what's most important, put these kits together. Keep them with you or store them at the transmitter site or studios and just remember to take nothing for granted these days. There's always going to be some legacy device you're going to come across.

Kirk: Great idea. I've got most of the stuff that you just pointed out, but I don't have it in a kit. It's scattered in a drawer and in a toolbox and in a bag. So, that's a great idea. A little prep work, just like Richard was talking earlier, a little prep work before you go to a site that's hard to get to.

Chris: Yeah, even if it's a site that's easy to get to.

Kirk: Wow. Hey guys, we've got to go. I want to thank Andrew Zarian for producing most of the show. I believe Suncast is at the controls now. Thanks very much. Thanks also to our sponsors Lawo and the crystalCLEAR Virtual Radio Console, also the Omnia.7, a new audio processor popularly priced from Omnia and the Axia Fusion AoIP console. I mean, it is the ultimate console. It's amazing. Check them all out.

Be sure you tell your friends about "This Week in Radio Tech." If you want to send us an email, no problem. You can do that from the "This Week in Radio Tech" website. I think you can probably also email ThisWeekinRadioTech@gmail.com. I'll get it or you can send it to me at Kirk@Harnack.com. That's fine too. I'll get your email that way too. Remember, I get no spam.

So, I appreciate Rich Parker, thank you for joining us and taking a couple of hours out of your day from Juneau, Alaska. Thanks for being here, Rich.

Richard: Thank you for having me, Kirk. I enjoyed it. Chris, good to hear from you.

Kirk: Thanks for all those pictures too. It was really interesting. Chris Tobin, I appreciate you. If people want to reach you, it is Support at where?

Chris: Support@IPCodecs.com.

Kirk: All right. Thanks a lot. We'll see you guys next week on "This Week in Radio Tech." Bye, bye everybody.

Topics: Broadcast Engineering