The cold, quiet days of winter herald the season of another annual
event: the facility checkup. The relaxed production schedules that
follow the holiday rush make this the perfect time to conduct a
comprehensive examination and review of your client's entire broadcast
Before you begin, however, bear in mind that such an effort deserves
a fresh perspective and a systematic approach. This means devoting
days, not hours, to the task. Anything less is likely to yield a
superficial treatment that misses embedded problems that go overlooked
on a day-to-day basis.
Scheduling time to fully inspect and align the studio equipment can be
difficult, but will have long-term benefits.
Of course, this means having to take the time and effort to convince
some clients that the expense and inconvenience of a thorough review
are worthwhile. Here again, a digital camera can be a great asset. By
showing pictures of actual problems uncovered during past inspections
and explaining how their early detection preserved revenue, your client
will better appreciate the value of a proactive approach.
Begin with a review of the records. The self-inspection checklists
for radio stations available from the FCC's website provide a perfect
template for this task. Make sure that all authorizations are current,
complete and accurate. This is an area worthy of close
attention, as ownership turnovers, facility moves and the deregulated
atmosphere of the industry seem to be degrading compliance.
Be especially vigilant regarding chief operator designations,
broadcast auxiliary authorizations and antenna structure registrations.
Also, spend some time analyzing the past two years' EAS send/receive
records, equipment status notations, quarterly inspections and tower
lighting records (if applicable). Finally, a review of transmission
system operating parameters over the same period can yield important
clues about changes in the long-term stability of both the transmitter
and antenna systems.
Where tape equipment is still in use, it's time to clean the tape
path and run azimuth and response checks. Never assume that operating
personnel take care of these details - many younger, digitally oriented
production staff simply don't understand the maintenance-intensive
nature of analog tape equipment. Unfortunately, there are very few
stations that don't continue to process at least some analog production
Likewise, analog audio level, cross talk and frequency sweeps should
be run in each studio. You may be surprised by what you find,
especially where operating personal have been creative in integrating
unbalanced equipment into the audio chain.
Pay special attention to dirty equipment cooling fans and messy AC
power outlet configurations - these can degenerate into real hazards.
As a final test, listen with fresh ears to the sonic quality of the
audio product from each studio. Ground loops, sibilance and other
subtle anomalies may mark deeper problems. Keep detailed notes
throughout the process.
Once you've completed the studio sweep, check out the air chain.
Verify that the EAS encoder is inserted in the program line as required
and that the appropriate stations are being monitored. You may also
want to run a weekly test to spot check modulation levels. If radio
STLs are in use, you'll want to check forward power and SWR and compare
them to previous readings. Check out all outdoor antennas, especially
STL and satellite dishes. Look for unsecured coax or hardware and for
weatherproof seals on all RF connectors. It's also a good idea to run
an end-to-end level check on the air chain to assure that sufficient
audio headroom is being maintained throughout the system.
The high level of studio automation and IT integration at many
stations also requires a set of inspections at the systems and software
level. Every PC and network needs periodic updating of software and
reviews of performance.
At the transmitter
When you visit the transmitter, see that all locks and gates are
secure and that the required signage for tower registration and RF
exposure is present and legible. Once inside, inspect all posted
documentation for completeness and vailidity. Verify that an
operational flashlight and fire extinguisher are in an easy-to-access
Inspection of the tower site should include the existence and condition
of the appropriate signage.
Compare all transmitter parameters to those available on the remote
control or automated logging and control systems. Any significant
deviations warrant close scrutiny. Check all components in each
transmitter's cooling system including ducts, filters, automated
louvers, blowers and fans. Don't overlook the tines of squirrel cage
blowers, which tend to load up with grunge. Test by touch all
accessible coaxial fittings for heat buildup and note hot spots for
later disassembly and inspection.
Auxiliary equipment (processing, transmitters and generators) should
be operationally tested and their operating parameters recorded for
comparison with past records. A minimum generator inspection includes
oil, coolant, fuel level and condition, batteries and charging system,
as well as heaters and transfer switch operation. Also visually inspect
of all AC power disconnect switches and fuse boxes for the
discoloration that indicate obvious hot spots.
A pair of good binoculars will help you pick out any physical
discrepancies on towers as you look them up and down and check tower
light operation. On the ground, you'll want to verify that all grounds
are intact at entry points, guy anchors and tower bases.
Writing it up
The type of procedure detailed above is only useful if it's
thoroughly documented. Use direct, objective language and an outline
format to detail all discrepancies found. Include as many visual
elements as possible with captions explaining their significance. For
each problem listed, include a brief description of the appropriate
corrective action required.
consultant on contractengineering, can be reached at
. He is based inCleveland.
The FCC self-inspection checklists are availableat