We’ve called Tracy Teagarden, “the most interesting engineer in Las Vegas.” He’s no stranger to dong things right, even in terrible weather, and hard-to-access transmitter sites. Tracy joins Chris Tobin and me to talk about two AM directional stations on the same property, along with some FM backup transmitters, difficult AC power on Mt. Potosi, and his own work with new VoIP systems.
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Kirk: This Week in Radio Tech: Episode 234 is brought to you by Axia Audio and the Axia PowerStation-because there's no such thing as too much uptime-by Telos and the 6-line, 2-hybrid Telos Hx6. Give your phones an instant upgrade with the Hx6 Talkshow System. And by Lawo and the new crystalCLEAR virtual radio console-crystalCLEAR is the radio console with a multi-touch touchscreen interface.
Hey, we've called Tracy Teagarden the most interesting engineer in Las Vegas. He's no stranger to doing things right, even in terrible weather and hard to access transmitter sites. Tracy joins Chris Tobin and me to talk about two AM directional stations on the same property as well as some FM backup transmitters, difficult AC power on Mount Potosi and his own work with new VoIP systems.
Hey, welcome in to This Week in Radio Tech. I'm Kirk Harnack, your host. I'm delighted that you're here. This is the show where we talk about broadcast engineering, radio engineering usually specifically. Sometimes we delve into television or get into streaming or all the other ways of getting audio and content out to the masses, the public. Sometimes we talk about infrastructure and sometimes we talk about actual broadcasting, war stories sometimes. It's always a good, fun show.
On this show, we've got our usual cohost. I'll bring him in first. That is Chris Tobin, from New York City, the best-dressed engineer in radio. Hello, Chris, glad you're here.
Chris: Hello, Kirk. I'm just catching up on some reading. I was going through Regulation of the Electronic Mass Media. I'm just learning a little more about it.
Kirk: Oh my God.
Chris: Well, it's how things are changing, the landscape of broadcasting these days. I'm just curious to see where things will go. I'm looking to the past for the future.
Kirk: Is that a modern, up-to-date book or is that an oldie?
Chris: No. This is slightly old. It's a case book series. Let's see... what's the date on it? It's a couple of years old. It's got some good stuff, actually, some interesting historical notes in here. 1998.
Kirk: Okay. Yeah.
Chris: Just at the beginning of consolidation and changes in regulatory landscape and stuff in mass media. It's pretty cool.
Kirk: A lot's changed since then and a lot has stayed the same and probably some things ought to change.
Chris: Yes. Exactly.
Kirk: Chris, you join us from Manhattan. You are the proprietor of a company called IPCodecs. Folks reach you at support@IPCodecs.com by email. Give me the elevator speech about what you do there.
Chris: The elevator speech of what I do is basically I'm the after sales guy that tries to help you put together your technologies. So, if you're working on IP connectivity and someone's stumped, I try to un-stump your situation. I'm working with a couple of manufacturers and help sell their products and do the after sale part of it.
So, one side of it is, "Hey, I just bought this box. I'm not sure if I got it right but it keeps hiccupping. What do you know about it?" Since I've done about 15 years' worth of crazy IP stuff I think, "What the heck? This is the time to put it to good use." So, that's pretty much what I've been doing in working with folks. It's fun. Both wireless, wire line and IP audio and video-I just finished a video project this week. So, it's both, audio and video.
Kirk: Cool. I just talked to some engineers from a TV station here in Nashville. They are moving their entire newsroom. They have had to install six miles of Cat6 cable to help effect the move, but not much other cable. It's almost all Cat6. A little bit of video cable here and there, but wow.
Chris: Well, you know Cat6 cable you can use for a lot of stuff. If you've ever attended a seminar with Steve Lampen from Belden, you will know that you can use twisted pair cable in many applications where you thought you couldn't. I've done it and I tell you, it works. It's pretty cool.
Kirk: Strip it out and it's even good for bread ties.
Chris: That too. Yes.
Kirk: All right. Hey, our guest on the show-and I've been wanting to have this guy on for a long time-he is an interesting fellow, the most interesting engineer at least in Las Vegas and probably the whole West Coast. Let's bring in my friend Tracy Teagarden from CBS Radio in Las Vegas. Hey, Tracy, welcome in.
Tracy: How are you, Kirk?
Kirk: I'm great. You join us from the studios there in Las Vegas?
Tracy: Yes. My office, where you had prepped me a little earlier today about what was in and outside of boundaries. Yes. My office.
Kirk: Well, hey, Tracy is one of the most interesting guys in engineering. I follow Tracy on Facebook and it's always a wild ride. Tracy is always talking about his motorcycles and his trips up Mount Potosi. We're going to get into all that. Tracy's got some great stories to tell and some technology to talk about too. It's not just storytelling. He's got some projects going on now. So, I'm enthused about hearing about those things: transmitter sites, VoIP experiences, mountain top sites, three-phase power and all that stuff. That's all coming up here on "This Week in Radio Tech."Our show is brought to you in part by the folks at Axia and the Axia PowerStation. Now, why do I bring up the PowerStation? It doesn't work all by itself. You have to marry it with a console like an Axia Element console. The PowerStation is a product that Axia brought out I guess maybe five years ago.
In the world of Axia, they started out with different boxes to do different things-a power supply for the audio console, for example. That power supply had GPIO connections on it as well as memorizing what the console was supposed to be doing, also a mixing engine and audio nodes for audio input and output. And then you would add an Ethernet switch to the whole mix to get a complete studio going.
Well, some folks said, "We'd rather have one box do this all. We'd rather have it all together in one box." So, the engineers at Axia came up with the Axia PowerStation. First of all, the word power-the Axia PowerStation is, except for the surface, it's a complete console in a box. It's fanless. No fans in it. No noise whatsoever. But there is a power supply that I can only describe as a big, honking' power supply. We have had absolutely zero failures-we, Axia, has had zero failures with this power supply. It's just awesome. So, it's very reliable. You can also get a redundant power supply for it too.
But what's contained in the PowerStation box itself? Well, the power supply for the console. So, the console just connects directly to the power station within about 40 or 50 feet or so. It needs to be within 40 or 50 feet. The PowerStation has the whole mix engine, all the electronics, the DSP, the code that mixes all the sources together. It has audio inputs and outputs built right into it. So, you've got some mic inputs and some analog stereo line inputs, some analog stereo line outputs and some AES inputs and outputs.
Now, if it doesn't have as many inputs or outputs as you need, well, you can just add a node, one of the Axia xNodes, for example, to the whole mix. This is really key-there's a built-in Ethernet switch in the PowerStation. This is amazing because it lets you cut down on the wiring dramatically. If you have, let's say, a power over Ethernet phone, like this one, you can just plug it straight into the PowerStation. POE is supplied by the switch. It powers the phone. The phone gets all the data that it needs. It's on the Axia network.
And you have one cable, one freaking cable to connect that phone to your whole Axia network. If you need to add an xNode or a router selector node or if you need to add-let's say that you have an automation system there in the room and you've got an IP audio driver in it acting as the sound device. Well, you just run an Ethernet cable from a network interface on that automation into the switch and voila! You are connected, for GPIO and for audio both ways to and from your automation system. So many things happen so powerfully when you go to an AoIP, audio over IP system. The Axia PowerStation makes it just that much easier.
I've got one at my radio station in Mississippi. I absolutely love it. I've installed them at stations literally around the world and at trade shows. I did have one here in my office. We sold it to my radio station. It's reliable, just awesome. I encourage you to check it out. If you like to have a system that's consolidated where you've got everything in one box, you like the features and the functionality and the convenience of that setup, check out the Axia PowerStation, marry it with an Axia Element console, any size, two faders up to 40 faders, and you have yourself a whole console that is just incredibly capable.
AxiaAudio.com/PowerStation and thanks to Axia Audio for sponsoring "This Week in Radio Tech."
All right. We're going to jump right into this now. Tracy Teagarden, Las Vegas-Tracy, are you a native Las Vegan or did you get there through hook or by crook?
Tracy: Crook would be probably accurate. I've been here for 20 years. I was born a Bobcat. I'm an OU grad. I went into radio to piss off my in-laws. It's worked out exceedingly well all these years.
Kirk: When I met you, I came to visit you, I think, maybe to show you an Omnia processor or something like that.
Tracy: A 6CXi when it first came out.
Kirk: Oh my goodness. Yeah. That had to be like 13 years ago. So, you were seven years into your job at that point. My goodness.
Kirk: And my first thought after meeting you was, "I've never met an engineer in my life like this guy. He's crazy. He's nuts. He's fun-loving. He's irreverent." Would irreverent describe you?
Tracy: Sure. I'll take it.
Kirk: And just a lot of fun to be around. But the key to my liking the way you do engineering-and I did and I do-is that you do understand what's important. You understand what's key. You're pretty easy about sloughing off the stuff that doesn't matter. You want to get to the meat of the matter and the meat of the engineering. So, that's going to bring us into our conversation.
Before the show, you told me that you were dealing with a new transmitter site and a lot of issues surrounding that transmitter site. Why don't you give us a little background overview and jump into what this transmitter site is all about?
Tracy: Yeah. Sure. We are forced with losing our lease on our 50-kilowatt AM in August of 2016. You know that's not a lot of time to move a 50-kilowatt AM. Municipalities, specifically Northwest Vegas, are difficult to navigate when you want to build something like what ended up being a five-tower directional array, in the middle of their municipality.
The challenge is today, right about an hour ago, the permit for the building just got issued after a year of back and forth. It's an industrial building. It doesn't have fire suppression. It's just the kind of thing that municipalities are uncomfortable with. You have to watch yourself very closely when you deal with them. Wow, have I learned a lot about that in the past couple of years.
But we've already got one tower standing. We've got a permit for the building. We're moving along. I'm really pleased that we're able to get that done.
Kirk: Is this a directional array?
Tracy: This is a directional array going in with an existing directional array and I've got an eight-bay 88 to 108 on the side of one of the towers. I will be able to run all six of my Las Vegas stations off a 40-acre parcel of property that CBS owns. It's taken me 10 years to get the company on board with this. Suddenly they saw my vision. I'm really pleased with this.
Kirk: Is this going to be a backup site for those FMs or a permanent, main site?
Kirk: A backup site?
Tracy: A backup site for the FMs and I have a couple of non-com stations looking into moving there as their main sites full times.
Kirk: Oh, so you can accommodate some renters at this place?
Tracy: Yeah. I don't mess around.
Kirk: Okay. Now, we've talked about this on the show a time or two before. Honestly, I don't have my brain wrapped around it very well. I know Chris Tobin has a lot of experience with this subject I'm about to mention but I don't. How do you get two or more AM transmitters to operate from a transmitter site? And my goodness, what a complicated mess you bring up, it seems to me, when they're directional and may be different directionals. Tell me about that process a little bit of getting two AMs co-located.
Tracy: Well, you've got to be very careful with the filtering between the two stations to keep them out of each other. Another consideration that had to be made that I was concerned about immediately is you'll end up arcing over your [inaudible 00:13:55] on the first station that was there because the voltage potential just skyrocketed. It's an incredible dance to get your guy anchors. There are going to be 11 towers-4 are already existing 90-degrees at 1140 and then 6 additional plus an STL tower-all on this site.
Getting your guy anchors located, keeping everything within your property boundaries, making sure the stations don't interfere with each other, get into each other, perceive each other as VSWR, hire a great consultant, Carl T. Jones Corporation in my case-these are some of the things you got to think about.
Kirk: Tobin, what are your thoughts about that? Remember, I'm a newbie. I've never had more than one AM transmitter connected to a tower before.
Chris: Tracy hit on the hotspots. The first thing, you definitely have to have yourself a good consultant. Tom Jones is definitely the guy to have. I've worked with him and it's an absolute pleasure. Also, what's the second frequency you have? You have two AMs there? 1140 and what's the other one?
Tracy: 1140 and 840.
Chris: Ooh, boy. Nice spread. So, filtering and tuning out each other is another task. As Tracy pointed out, the guy anchors have to be within the perimeter of your property. In the event of a collapse, they have to pull the tower down within the property, hopefully. The engineering of it is really the key, working with the consultant and getting the filters together.
I can tell you from working at the two or three 50-kilowatts I've worked with-one was a directional four-tower box, square box antenna. We were in the middle of the Meadowlands so we had to filter out all the other AM stations that were within an eighth of a mile of us, all operating at 50-kilowatts. So, you can imagine the amount of RF voltage in the air and filtering out those people. So, now when you have two sites right on the same property, that's even more fun.
But yeah, Tracy hit the points. Basically you have to be just very cautious but diligent about your paperwork and the engineering.
Kirk: So, you get through he AM-now, when you install other towers, doesn't that affect the pattern characteristics of the station that was already there?
Chris: Yeah. That's part of the engineering and the filtering and working with the consultant and developing the patterns, the programs. I can tell you from my experience in the Meadowlands again, when we were making changes on our towers, just making filter changes, the coils, we could actually change the characteristics of the towers across the other radio stations. So, that's part of the process. It's very interactive.
Kirk: Tracy, I think you were going to say something else.
Tracy: Well, Chris just slammed it on the head there. Plus, the addition of the MOM proof here recently really helped us out on things like that. You're allowed to mathematically prove that your array is working. You don't have to do it out here in the desert chewing up tires and out in the middle of the stinking desert. A lot of that has gone away. We can moment proof things and move along, keep track of our base impedances, keep track of our sample lines and do that with a lot more assuredness than we used to.
Kirk: Gotcha. So, there's no more "walking in" a pattern like we did for years and years with field meters, several guys out in the field at the same time with walkie-talkies, cell phones and field meters to get the nulls in the right place and then write down all the parameters. You mentioned earlier the MOM method, and that stands for Method of Moments, a mathematical model for an AM directional array that apparently is good enough that the FCC says, "That's all you need." Did I get that right?
Tracy: It's not only good enough. It's better.
Tracy: As it turns out, the math works better than the field measurements. The field measurements are so dependent on so many things-the amount of moisture in the air, a train goes by-so many things depend on the field measurements. The mathematical measurements are really predictable, especially when you're dealing with arrays like mine. The patterns don't develop for a long way out. The readings you get in close to the array are so skittish and so unpredictable.
Tracy: It just works a lot better.
Kirk: So, you also mentioned that you had some municipality type of issues. Tell me about that. What do you run up against?
Tracy: When I set out to build this-this site is 800 meters from the end of the runways at Nellis Air Force Base.
Tracy: You heard me.
Tracy: I was expecting to have to really have my ducks in a row when I approached the Air Force base. That turned out to be two phone calls and a high-quality survey. The Air Force base was on board. The municipality needed so much more input and hand-holding on the whole process.
I was talking to my boss in Maryland who gives us the money here at CBS. He asked me the question, "If a guy wanted to open a muffler shop or a florist, what would he do?" That's an excellent question. He might just give up. But walking that through, these municipalities just need so much more hand-holding, so much more input to get these things built that it's been a long, slow process.
Kirk: Okay. So, does a lot of this involve public hearings? "Will this put brainwaves into my cat?" or nutty stuff like that.
Tracy: I'm in an industrial area. So, the public hearings weren't the problem. It was the land use hearings. "Look, there's already a radio station here. There shouldn't be an issue with land use." It was the development around the property that we owned, "What if we decide to put a church, school, whatever, next door to you?" Well, I'll deal with those issues at that time. Let's proceed based on what we have to work with today. That's something that cities don't like to do.
Kirk: Suggestions for other engineers who have to go before a zoning board?
Tracy: Make them your friends if at all possible. Do your business on the phone whenever you can and not as much by email and electronic communications as you like to do because personality plays into it. Standing in front of them, if they can believe what you're saying and believe you're going to say what you are going to do, you'll get a lot farther a lot faster.
Kirk: Chris, has that been your experience as well dealing with zoning? Mic?
Chris: For some reason, it doesn't want to unmute under certain conditions. Yes, actually. Tracy is absolutely. Local zoning boards and local municipalities, it's best to do business in-person if you can. If by phone works, then the phone is definitely the way to go. Minimize email. Use the email for record-keeping, basically, follow-ups with the conversations.
Chris: I have three sites that I built. All of them we successfully did with very little pushback from the local municipality because I did a lot of campaigning, a lot of handshaking, a lot of talking, a lot of education. I kept my word. Everything I said was factual. If there was any situation where I knew there was a gray area that could be developed, I quickly dismissed it. I was like, "If you believe that to be the case, then let me come back and get the information that will prove what I'm saying is correct. I will not answer you right now."
More people enjoyed that than me simply saying, "Yes, yes, yes, we're fine. We're fine." And then you have a second hearing or meeting and all of a sudden it's like, "Well, by the way, we need to do this instead." And then that's it, you're dead. And then you're back to square one and it's like that's done. I'm sure Tracy is familiar with that in Vegas.
Kirk: So, can you tell us the call letters? What was the existing station and which AM is being added out there?
Tracy: KXST is the existing station, 1140 licensed to North Las Vegas. KXNT, that's our 840, also licensed to North Las Vegas, moving 20 miles closer to town right into town. I'll get my line of site back. I've got a Ku-uplink for STO right now and I'm unhappy with that. So, those are our two calls. I got until August of 2016 to get it done.
Kirk: But it's pretty cool. Your company owns both of the AMs here. So, you're not having to also cooperate, coordinate with a third-party entity. It's you for both AMs, right?
Tracy: Yes. Unfortunately, I am one of the most difficult people in the world to strike a compromise with. So, this might be harder than working with another company. I have high expectations for the whole project.
Kirk: So, when you're done, you'll have two fabulous-sounding AMs putting good signal over Las Vegas and they'll be located on the same piece of property, which is always a benefit, instead of operating on different pieces of property. It's twice as easy to have redundant STL systems and other redundancies when things are co-located.
Kirk: You mentioned earlier about this antenna that you're going to be installing, an FM antenna. I take it on one of the AM towers?
Tracy: Yeah. It's already up.
Tracy: I have four Class Cs here on the market. I've chosen to be able to run them all at 25 kilowatts from that site because a base insulator was getting a little impractical there, much over that power level. Six-inch transmission line, four-inch rigid up the tower for the tuning, a 125-kilowatt base isolator jumping the base of that tower. It looks like a barbeque for the Jolly Green Giant. It's great. So far I have run two of my four FMs into it. It's working great. I'm really pleased with it.
Kirk: Now, I don't know if you can describe it for me or not, but I have no idea what an FM antenna looks like that spans the entire FM band. Normally, FM antennas are built on the frequency that you need for your FM station. They're sized. They bays themselves and the spacing between the bays are sized to accommodate your frequency. You can have a little bit of flexibility up and down. Actually, at our stations in Mississippi, in the future we're going to be buying an antenna that will actually handle I think three different frequencies. But what does an antenna look like that you can plug any FM band, frequency into it?
Tracy: It looks basically like your standard ERI Rototiller. The bay spacing is a little different. I did not do a three-round panel or a four-round, for that matter, on this tower. What I ended up doing was doing a wide band super high-powered Rototiller. Then you have to slug your frequencies in rigid line down the side of the tower. The tune at odd-ordered multiples of the frequency. So, I've got a 107.5, a 100.5, a 98.5 and a 94.1 and it's a 312-foot tall tower. I need every inch of that to get those slugs in there.
Kirk: Oh, so there are tuning slugs all up and down the tower?
Kirk: Wow. Chris Tobin, you've got some familiarity with these panel antennas that Tracy mentioned. None of my stations ever did have panel antennas. Those are often found in big cities where you've got master antenna systems. Why is the design of a panel antenna conducive to having multiple stations on it?
Chris: Well, actually, you can have multiple stations on a Rototiller or any of the others. I think what people enjoy is the panel antennas have a more uniform pattern. They take up less real estate. Not less real estate, they actually aren't officially use of real estate. But you don't have to use them at a master antenna operation or urban centers. They can be in any place.
Chris: The antenna design that Tracy is talking about is not uncommon. I've seen that done in a few places where they do the tuning for bird band so they can do multiple stations. It's just the physics of RF emission. It's interesting the way it works. So, let me see, the ones I've worked on, which we've done combiner rooms and Tracy is doing it a little differently. With the combiner rooms, you can sort of have a bandwidth that you want to work with on the antennas. You can have broadband or minimal and let the combiner take care of stuff. So, there are several different ways you can do it.
But the panel antenna is a very nice design. The pattern is very controllable, very efficient and you can do many things. The structure you're putting the antenna on doesn't de-tune it like to say Rototiller. If you're familiar with the Rototiller, they say if you take your index finger and thumb on both hands and put them at 90-degree angles of each other, that's a Rototiller, made by ERI. That has to be setup and tuned and distanced from the tower structure so that the tower structure doesn't create a dimple in the pattern if you're trying to be omnidirectional.
Kirk: Yeah. Okay. So, a Rototiller antenna can also be broadband, but what helps make all this work, each of the transmitters has to look into a proper load and be unaware of the other transmitters. So, these tuning slugs, I guess, help at the frequencies that you've specified. So, it's not really broadband broad band. In other words, you can't just plug any transmitter into it. You've got to have the system design for the frequencies that you want. Is that right?
Kirk: Okay. Wow. Normally I think of these tuning slugs-ERI does the tuning slugs. Other companies do little tuning adjustments along the hardline, usually up near the feed point of the antenna, whether it's a center feed or an end feed, but that's where the tuning adjustments are. In your case, because of the different frequencies that are going in there and the tuning that needs to be done, these tuning slugs basically take the whole length of the hardline.
Tracy: Yes. They run at odd-ordered multiples of the frequency. So, you come one wavelength down from, let's say, the 107.5, three wavelengths down from the 100.5, etc. You just slug them in. I had the benefit of purpose building the tower. So, it's a lambda section on top. It's designed to be electrically transparent at my frequencies.
Tracy: Like I say, we've had it on the air with a couple of our stations. I could not be more pleased with what we have. I'm really kind of sort of hoping for a zombie apocalypse right now so that I can just prove that I had the right idea.
Kirk: Only Tracy Teagarden would hope for a zombie apocalypse to prove he's right. Tell you what, we're going to get into your main transmitter site after this commercial break. But you're on a big mountain there. It's terribly interesting, especially how the AC power is setup three. I've just got to hear more about it. I've got to go there sometime. It's quite amazing.Hey, you're watching This Week in Radio Tech: Episode 234. Our guest is Tracy Teagarden. He's the chief engineer for CBS Radio in Las Vegas, got to be the most interesting engineer in Las Vegas. Also, Chris Tobin is with us. Chris runs a company called IPCodecs. You buy something, you don't know how to make it work, he'll make it work. That's what Chris does, especially if it uses IP.
Our show is brought to you in part by Telos, my employer and the Telos Hx6, a 6-line TalkShow system. The Hx6 is just amazing. It's very low-priced. I think it's typically under $3,000 plus a phone to plug into it, like a VSet-6. Six lines, two hybrids built into it.
So, a lot of folks are very accustomed to the good old, venerable Telos 1x6. The 1x6, as you might recall-they just stopped making it in the last six months or so and you can't get parts for it anymore, at least not in production quantities-you have one hybrid and six phone lines. Frankly, it's a 20-some year old design now. Well, the Hx6 is a very new design. Instead of one telephone hybrid in there, we give you two telephone hybrids, that way you can properly and easily conference two callers together.
So, let's say you do the kind of show where you have an expert guest, like here we are doing This Week in Radio Tech with Tracy Teagarden. Let's say Tracy is our expert guest on the phone. We keep Tracy on, let's say, hybrid number two and we can lock him in. We can't take him off that hybrid accidentally. We won't drop him by mistake. And then we have the other lines for our listener callers. So, let's say we have five lines for listener callers and one for a hotline for our expert guest. Well, the five lines for listener callers, we take those on hybrid number one. These get conferenced together.
There are a couple of ways to do this. With the Hx6, it's very flexible this way. If you have an audio console that only can provide you with one mix-minus, then the conferencing, your audio conferencing can take place within the Hx6, just one mix-minus back to the Hx6 will let you put two callers on the air at the same time. They can hear each other and they can hear your mix-minus program. So, they can hear you, the announcer talking or music or whatever you may play.
If you have a console that has two mix-minuses built into it, like every Axia console and plenty of other consoles too that have two mix-minuses, well, you can feed them individually to hybrid one and hybrid two. The point is that the Telos Hx6 gives you the flexibility to either make a two-hybrid system with the console you have or to really do it right with a console that has two mix-minuses built into it. Either way, you've got the choice.
The Hx6 has Telos fifth-generation telephone hybrids. These are the best sounding telephone hybrids in the world. Automatic EQ, Omnia audio processing, we even have an anti-feedback mechanism where the audio being sent to the caller, like your mic audio or your mix-minus audio, is actually changed in pitch by 25 hertz. That reduces the chance of feedback if you've got open mic, open speaker on your end or theirs.
All these great advances and also a longer what we call hybrid tail to help null out properly cell phone calls and calls from VoIP callers. Of course it's got program on hold, all the features that you need. You can operate a dual-hybrid mode. You can use one audio input, one audio output, lots of flexibility built into it.
The Telos Hx6-contact your favorite Telos dealer and they'll tell you all about it or go to the website at Telos-Systems.com and look for the Telos Hx6. I've got one at my radio stations. Love it. Works great.
All right. We're on This Week in Radio Tech: Episode 234. Chris Tobin is with us. Chris, you've been to Las Vegas many, many times. Have you ever gotten to go to Mount Potosi?
Chris: Yes, many years ago. Yes. It's a site to be seen.
Kirk: Ah, I've never been there.
Chris: Maybe what we should do is for next year's NAB we should plan a trip. We should try and organize something.
Kirk: We should have Tracy take us up there on a motorcycle.
Chris: That too.
Tracy: No... At least not mine. I enjoy taking sea-level flatlanders up there because they usually leave fingernail marks in my dashboard and have conversations with deities on the way up that mountain.
Kirk: On the way up. Oh God. So, what vehicle do you normally take up there?
Tracy: I have my Tahoe right now, my Chevy Tahoe. I've had various Jeeps and Fords and all kinds of things through the years. But the Tahoe will haul a couple hundred gallons of diesel fuel and live through it.
Kirk: Let's back up a little bit. Tell me about this mountain. Why is it the place to be for FM broadcasters, if you want to call it the place to be?
Tracy: I've got one of mine up there. It is almost 10,000 feet AMSL. It's about 6,000 feet of HAT. You can cover a good amount of the Western Hemisphere from up there. My station actually, the 107.5, went on the air licensed to Pahrump, Nevada, which is across the ridge. Somebody needed to find a place where you could cover the metropolitan Las Vegas area and Pahrump. So, that road was cut into the side of the hill and we're still operating up there today.
Kirk: Directions to the transmitter site-do they include the phrase, "You turn off the paved road?"
Tracy: Yeah. You turn off the paved road. Don't try it unless you got a high-clearance four-wheel drive. If there's snow on the ground, get one of us that know what we're doing because, like I said, it's 10,000 feet. You'll get snow up to your eyeballs up there. We don't have any yet, but we're expecting it any day.
Kirk: So, when I'm in Las Vegas for the NAB show and I look at the mountains, is this to the Northwest of Downtown?
Tracy: Potosi specifically is to the Southwest of Downtown. You're looking at Charleston to the Northwest, which also gets a lot of snow. It's a 12,000-footer. It's an even taller mountain.
Kirk: Okay. But these are the ones that in April have snow. When we're sweating at NAB, there's snow up there.
Tracy: Quite a bit of snow.
Tracy: The temperature is usually about 30 degrees lower than ambient in the valley, which allows us to not have air conditioning up there since we're power-challenged anyway. It works out pretty good. Growing up in Ohio, I certainly never saw anything like that, but I enjoy it now that I'm out here.
Kirk: All right. You mentioned power. I got to spend a few days with your friend and mine, Joe Talbot in Pahrump and he pointed out-I thought he was pointing out to me the power feed that goes either up Potosi or maybe up a different mountain-but tell me about your power feed. How does AC power get up to this place?
Tracy: We have one of the last single-wire power distribution systems in North America. There are still a few around, but this is certainly the highest current one. There are a total of nine stations up there. We were talking about it before. I went and dug out a piece of power line. This piece of power line I cut out of the hill slip in 2004 and ruined 300-400 foot of our power cable that's buried under the road all the way up. We ran off generator for about seven months that time. We have big continuous duty generators too, a single phase and a three-phase.
The single-wire comes up. It's ground return. We have a Kay Phasemasters, rotary phase converters to get us the three-phase. When we bought the station and they made me responsible for it, I was absolutely terrified of those things. But I'm pretty comfortable around them now and they work really well.
Kirk: So, you're fed single-phase power through a single power line and quickly you said ground return. What does that mean in terms of getting power? That seems kind of-well, I guess it wouldn't be unreliable. The earth is the earth. But don't you need a really good ground stake at each end to make that work?
Tracy: Several of them. As a matter of fact, at that site, it's 10,000 feet of badass Sierra Nevada rock. What they had to do was drill and grout the ground rods and then run radials out from them. After doing all that, our current limitation is never the power line. It's the amount of ground return we can get on top of the mountain.
Kirk: Okay. Is there some way to meter, like when the seasons change, when the ground conductivity changes, moisture levels change? Is there some way to measure, "Uh oh, we're getting close to the limit of what we can pull through here?"
Tracy: Sort of. It's not real scientific. But a fun thing to do is get your fluke and put one lead up close to the building, then get a bunch of wire, put on the other lead and run down the hill. See what your voltage difference is between the two leads on your fluke and you've got kind of a backwards representation of what your ground conductivity is doing.
My boss, Glynn Walden, Director of Engineering of all CBS, the first time he was up there with me said, "You know, if you touch the bottom of this mountain and the top of this mountain at the same time, you'd get electrocuted." I said, "Well, that's brilliant. I'll have to remember not to do that."
Kirk: Leave it to Glynn. He's been a guest on our show. You're right. So, single-line power-are there transformers at the top of the hill?
Tracy: Yes. Two transformers at the top of the hill. It's a very odd voltage coming up there. I'd mention it, but I forget for sure what it is, 5,620 volts or something weird like that coming up there. It's converted into the single-phase, the two-wire feed. Then we run through the Phasemasters for the three-phase feed.
Kirk: Yeah. So tell me about these Phasemasters. Plenty of engineers know about these. I don't. I've never had the opportunity or need to use one of them. You have a flat-lander, you need three-phase power somewhere, you can probably get it. So, you have single-phase coming up but some transmitters work a lot better with three-phase power. It smoothes out a lot better for the high-voltage power supply. How do these things work?
Tracy: Well, they're rotary phase-converters. You feed in the single-phase power which drives a motor. The motor is directly coupled to an alternator, which generates your other phase. One benefit of running off of a Phasemaster that I'd never considered until after I'd been around them for a while is you have a lot of mass absorbing your power surges. To get a power surge through the Phasemaster, you have to accelerate this mass or decelerate this mass or whatever it is to get that spike to show up on the other end.So, it really has kind of this sideways reliability factor built into it that you learn to appreciate after doing business on a mountain like that.
Kirk: What kind of maintenance does this rotary thing need? It's mechanical. What does it have to have?
Tracy: You've got to pump grease into them about every six months, keep them nice and slicked up. Occasionally you lose brushes in the alternators. They have brushes. You can replace them with it still flying.
Tracy: Which is a bit scary, but you can do it. Occasionally you'll lose a bearing. You can press new bearings in with tools you'd carry in your truck.
Kirk: Not while it's running, though.
Tracy: Not while it's running. No. If you go up there and they're screaming like they've been stabbed, it's time to replace your bearings. But very little maintenance over the years. And I've been responsible for that station since '96, actually. So, I'd say I've had the Phasemaster out of service maybe ten hours in all that time.
Kirk: Wow. Chris Tobin, do you ever deal with those rotary phase converters?
Tracy: Not the Phasemaster particularly, but the flying wheel, the spinning disc-I can't think of the name of it, but something similar. Yeah. I have.
Kirk: Wow. Never have had the pleasure. I did have a transmitter site where we had single-phase power but we paid extra. We had a single-phase FM transmitter that should have been a three-phase. But yeah, it was a single-phase transmitter. That was plenty of difficulty there anyway.
Hey, we have one more subject we want to cover. Tracy, you had mentioned that you're doing some replacement of phone systems. You're taking out these big iron hulking masses of PBX and replacing them with something smaller, better, more efficient. Tell us about that adventure.
Tracy: Yeah. I demoed absolutely everything in the universe and came up with the Digium system that were about 60 percent deployed right now, maybe a little higher than that. What you come to realize is people, most of their voice interactions happen on their cell phones these days. You really need to look into a system that not necessarily emulates that but provides them a similar enough interface that they're comfortable with it.
I've had a really great time deploying this system, learning this system, using this system. I put my first radio station, albeit one that doesn't get very many calls, but I put them on an eight-line rotary apidictor coming off the voice over IP system. It works exceedingly well. No new wiring. Nothing that you wouldn't buy anyway. It's great.
Kirk: So, in these VoIP phone systems-and Digium is pretty famous for making the cards that go into various generic and various commercial Asterisk-based VoIP phone systems. They make the PRI, the T1, the POTS, The ISDN cards that turn traditional telco services into what a SIP server, like an Asterisk box with PBX software running in there too. It turns into what they need. Are you doing your own on premise IP PBX or are you doing any off-site hosted VoIP?
Tracy: I'm all on premise. I'm 100 percent on premise. I have a generic Asterisk box, PBX in a flash. It was a computer I drug out of the trash and decided, "Hey, let's do some proof of concept here."
Kirk: You've been talking to Joe Talbot, haven't you?
Tracy: Joe and I have different points of view on this.
Kirk: Oh, okay.
Tracy: We both hit things with hammers. But I hit different things than he hits. So, I got my proof of concept in. This was a scary thing for some of the powers that be at CBS, compromising their relationship with big iron companies, going in a different direction. After my old Dell that I drug out of the trash and put a two-port Asterisk PRI card in, Digium PRI card in and got it working, put a phone in front of my GM and said, "Here's what we can do." The money for the Digium system became available pretty quick. It's Digium's version of Asterisk.
Tracy: I just couldn't be more pleased with it.
Kirk: Oh, good. Good. A lot of folks are finding that out. I'm glad you are too. We talked with the iHeartMedia engineer in Birmingham, Bob. Bob went with the Elastix system, but he's been playing with those quite a bit. Lots of people have been getting voice over IP on-air phone systems. Telos makes the VX, for example. They've been experiencing this whole world of VoIP. You do it right, it's just amazing. Absolutely amazing.
Hey, we're actually running a little bit short on time. You're watching and listening to This Week in Radio Tech: Episode 234, with Kirk Harnack, me, along with Chris Tobin in New York and Tracy Teagarden, our guest. He's the outspoken and most interesting engineer in Las Vegas. He's the Chief Engineer for the CBS Radio cluster in Las Vegas.
We're going to have a couple of final notes from them. Gentlemen, your assignment in the next minute and a half or two minutes is to think of a tip for our listeners. What's something that you've learned in the last few months or years that you really would like to pass along to folks? I should have given you that assignment much earlier. Sorry. You've got two minutes to do your homework.
Our show is brought to you in part by the folks at Lawo. Lawo is a console manufacturer from Germany. Their website is Lawo. You think of Lawo. You go to the tradeshows and they make these enormous radio consoles for television, for live events, for TV trucks, for symphony concert halls. They make these big, hulking consoles. But now they also make smaller consoles that are appropriate for radio stations.
One of their consoles is called the crystalCLEAR. They call it their virtual radio mixing console. The thing about the Lawo crystalCLEAR is this. Your user interface is a touchscreen. It's a multi-touch touchscreen. It's actually a PC made by Hewlett Packard. It could be a touchscreen made by anybody. They've just got it proved out on this one.
It's a ten-touch multi-touch touchscreen. You get eight faders. They're gorgeous because they're graphical on the screen. There you go. There's a picture of somebody touching one of the faders right there. You can move it up and down. It's well-calibrated. The software is written so precisely.
The buttons on the virtual console, well, they're virtual buttons. That means that they can become what you need them to be at the moment you need them. So, if you have a mic input, a mic fader and you need to touch the options button for it, you get options that only have to do with microphone processing and the microphone operation.
It has an auto gain control where you can preset. Let's say you have some guests coming in to your studio. You've got a very loud and boisterous guest and you've got a very soft-spoken guest. You can have them each talk, hit a button and it will calibrate the mic preamp input for that person. Therefore, your fader is always going to run in just about the right place on the console.
The part that does all the work, well that's the DSP box. It's a one-rack unit box that goes in your rack. It doesn't have to go nearby. It can. It can go in a different room if you need it to. It has mic inputs, line level inputs, AES inputs and, of course, outputs for line level and AES. That's where all the smarts of the console really are. That's where the mixing is. And over the network, that's what the HP computer, the multi-touch interface connects to over the network.
Of course, the console features features that you'd normally have in any console: three stereo mixing groups, program one, program two and a separate recording bus, a stereo record bus, programmable scenes, so you can have different setups for different shows, different day parts if you want. You can have talk-back to guests and talk-back to any remote input.
They have what they call Euro and US operating modes as far as the way the faders either start or you have a button start, whatever you like. A big time of day clock-of course it's synchronized to NTP. Advanced DSP processing for your microphones and external sources. There are 24 sources available at any time on the console with eight of them assigned to faders at any time. So, go ahead and wire all your sources to it. Most shows you do probably don't have any more than eight things anyway. So, the eight faders on the console will take care of you very, very nicely.
Broadcast-grade compact 1RU audio engine; it does AoIP, either Ravenna or AES67, which is actually included in Ravenna. That's optional. And power supply redundancy is there as well if you want that.
Let me encourage you to check it out. If this appeals to you, this idea of moving faders, controlling a broadcast facility with a touchscreen, check it out at Lawo, Lawo.com. Look for their "Radio Products" page. You'll find the crystalCLEAR-you can even type that into Google as one word, "Lawo crystalCLEAR" and they'll pop it up right there. There's a video on the site as well, Mike Dosch, Director of Virtual Radio Projects showing off how the crystalCLEAR console works.
Thanks to Lawo for sponsoring This Week in Radio Tech.
All right, gentlemen. Let's see how we do with our assignments. Chris Tobin, do you have a tip for our listeners today?
Chris: Well, I guess the simplest tip I can offer up is using a USB memory stick key and putting on that audio files for when you are trying to reference digital audio workstation levels. Recently, it dawned on me as you were talking, a couple of months back I was working with a station here in the area. We were working on a couple of Pro Tools settings and what not and all of a sudden one of the guys is going, "I need to set a level or figure out this or that." They're trying to record stuff and find things, generate tones. I'm like, "Yeah, I'm not sure what reference level you're using because it doesn't match what you've got here in the studio."
So, I ended up recording off their system onto a USB key digital files. Then all of a sudden I was like, "Oh, this is handy." We went around to all the booths. It was a quick reference. It's not supposed to be 100 percent accurate, but just enough to get you in the ballpark. And then it turns out they needed to download some drivers for some equipment they decide to plug in. They go, "How do we get it to the box? It's not in the same room." That same USB key is very handy for that too.
So, a quick, simple tip for those working and running around doing stuff. The USB key, put audio files on it and use it as your go-to storage in case you have to move something fast rather than try to shovel it across your network if you have VLANs and you're trying to avoid people compromising your system for security reasons.
Kirk: So, you could probably use a program like Adobe Audition which can generate tones and you can set the exact level with reference to 0 dB full scale to full scale of those tones.
Kirk: You can record those as waves and put them on the-that's a great idea!
Chris: And a friend of mine who's an archivist, we were talking about it and he's like, "I never even thought to do that. It makes so much sense. Now I can move around and do different projects," and quickly go to a booth and go, "Here's what I got. This makes sense," and not be panicked that the guy setup something totally incorrect.
Kirk: Just make sure you know the history, the legacy of that USB key. You can really spread some viruses that way.
Chris: Well, that's a whole different topic.
Kirk: That's a whole different topic. Tracy, you've been our guest and I appreciate it. Would you have a tip for our listeners?
Tracy: I do. It's more of a career tip than a tactical tip. One thing that I see in my colleagues all the time is a reluctance to be a personality in front of other people. Engineering rule number seven here is feature it. A few minutes in the PD's office telling them about how and why their station is working, going into the GM's office and telling him what's up with a little bit of personality will just get you so far will just get you so much better of a holistic person in the radio stations. Make them think of you as a human. Be a happier person. Be involved.
Kirk: That is great advice.
Chris: That's true.
Kirk: I've never heard that said so succinctly.
Tracy: You brought up a couple of times my personality and how I'm so bombastic, I guess.
Kirk: Your words.
Tracy: Yes. A lot of people know who I am. A lot of people don't want to go, "I don't want to deal with Tracy," or maybe they do and I just don't know about it. But I really enjoy my career because of the relationships I've built and because of the places and can go and the things I can do. I wish that for all of us so that we can bring young people into this field, so that we can have the respect that we should have, just what's on my mind.
Kirk: Awesome. Great advice. Thank you, Tracy. That's as good or better than any technical tip we could have. So, thank you for putting that so well.
Hey folks, it's time to end the show. I want to thank Chris Tobin, Proprietor at IPCodecs.com for joining us. You can reach Chris if you need help at support@IPCodecs.com. Send him an email. He will get back to you and help you out. Also Tracy Teagarden, the Chief Engineer for the CBS Radio stations in Las Vegas-I've been waiting a long time to have Tracy on. So, I'm glad he was able to make it. Thanks very much, Tracy.
Our show has been produced by Suncast, affiliated with the GFQ Network. Thanks to Andrew Zarian, Suncast and the GFQ Network for putting us on their network and making this show possible. Thanks also to our sponsors, Axia Audio, Telos and the Hx6 phone system and Lawo and their crystalCLEAR virtual mixing console.
We're going to see you next week for another great show of This Week in Radio Tech. Bye-bye, everybody.