During a Sunday �crisis� at one of my transmitter sites a few weekends ago, I was reflecting upon how the old Radio Shack stores could bail out a desperate broadcast engineer on a weekend with a relatively wide selection of transistors, ICs, capacitors, relays, resistors and other components that could get a faulty transmitter control circuit or a bias supply back in operation (the �old-timers� will know what I mean).
Even the most well-organized transmitter site or rack room can be crippled by a sudden lack of internet connectivity caused by a dead router or switch. Knowing where to get a replacement during off-hours can save you a lot of aggravation.
The Shack was open Sundays in some cases until 6 p.m.! This was in the days when Radio Shack actually kept a wide stock of parts, and the local store manager knew you by name (knew me, anyhow). As you may know, equipment doesn�t seem to keep any time reference and can �conk out� at any moment, though it seems to have a predilection for failure when parts or support are not available. (This is just my sense of events and not to be presented as a fact based upon some scientific study.)
Now it�s 2017, and we have a different set of issues to deal with. On this particular Sunday afternoon, our internet access to the site in question was down (for as yet reasons unknown), and therefore, I was thrown back in time 20 years and had only telephone DTMF control of the site (yikes!). Why, cause for panic, I say! Having only dial-up access is sort of like driving your car with blacked-out windows using sonar � you can�t see anything, but you know objects are out there.
When I arrived at the site, I determined that my router, WAP and 24-port network switch (not a �smart switch�) were inoperative and, despite all efforts, would not pass data. The broadband router needed a power-cycle; fortunately,it came back up, although the port to which my router was connected was damaged. There had been electrical activity the night before, so I concluded a surge on the incoming cable had done in the router, WAP and switch.
OK, Sunday afternoon � I would rather be watching my promotionally-free HBO, so what to do? I looked up some office supply stores on my iPhone (since my PCs at the site had no internet�) and found that a well-known office supply chain (ahem, Office Depot/Office Max) had all sorts of network equipment in-stock. I went to the nearest store and found a managed, 24-port switch (rack mount) and a router, which, although it didn�t have the security features I needed, had port translation capabilities and Wi-Fi built-in. The price was good enough, and within an hour of bringing the purchases back to the site, I was up and running and had restored internet access to the site. As a bonus, I improved the quality of the 24-port switch, which had been there for years!
What�s my point? Are such stores the new Radio Shack of our times? I suggest you know the location of your nearest office supply store � it could save the weekend for you.
Now I�d like to switch to another, decidedly unrelated topic: the Alternative Broadcast Inspection Program, aka �ABIP.��
We just had our six stations participate in this program as sponsored by the Virginia Association of Broadcasters. I believe very strongly in this concept and consider it inexpensive insurance against routine FCC inspections. Further, it rapidly brings into focus the things you�ve been doing right, and the practices/procedures you need to improve upon.
Once you pass the inspection, you have a three-year period of semi-immunity from routine FCC inspections (though I hasten to add that this in no way will prevent an inspection if a complaint has been filed against you, or if the FCC receives a credible report of non-compliance in some fashion).
The program is available through your state broadcast association; or check the SBE website for more information. The inspections generally cost $400 per station and usually are conducted by former chief engineers.
Be prepared for the visit by downloading the FCC Self-Inspection checklist and perform your own �pre-inspection� work. The checklists are free and available at: http://transition.fcc.gov/eb/bc-chklsts/.
All for now � keep safe out there!
Dennis Sloatman is director of engineering and IT for SummitMedia�s Richmond, Va., radio stations.