Saturday, March 31, 2012

Co - Location

Radio and television stations come in all shapes and sizes but they come in only two types, co-located and not co-located. “Huh” you might say, “what’s he rambling on about now.” Co-location is the term used when the studio and the transmitter are in the same location. Back in the earliest days of broadcasting, most stations were co-located to avoid the high cost of transmitting the broadcast signal from the studio to the transmitter. Today, the cost of getting the signal to the transmitter is much lower and most stations are not co-located.

The first two stations I worked for were not co-located. The WUSC – AM transmitter was located in the basement of the University Terrace apartments about 100 yards from the studio. They were connected by cable to the studio for sound and control. WCOS – AM/FM was about 5 miles from the studio site and was connected via several telephone circuits to the transmitter, one carried the sound and the other was connected to a remote control system that we used to control and switch between the daytime and nighttime transmitters.

Pictured here is the legendary broadcaster, Mike Rast who was my friend and the newscaster for my show at WCOS. Behind him, over his right shoulder is a standard remote control system of the day. This one controlled both AM transmitters and the FM transmitter.

My first experience with a co-located station was at WAPE where the daytime transmitter was the back wall of the control room. It was cool, I felt completely immersed in the technology of the transmitter. It was built by the Brennan Brothers like the transmitters of their other stations. I was amazed that this transmitter contained a coffee warming compartment, a moisture proof cabinet set above the final tubes, which glowed cherry red while the transmitter was on the air. During nighttime operations, the transmitter was 20 miles northwest. The strangest thing about that was that because they had to protect a Canadian clear channel station operating on the same frequency, the night time beam was so narrow that it could not be heard at the studio location. Back in those days, the FCC had a requirement that the transmitter operator, the disk jockey in that case, had to be able to hear the station. So they ran the sound back to the studio on another telephone wire to meet that requirement.

Shown here is a modern transmitter remote control system; all modern and sleek and much easier to use. These days, I can also control my transmitters from the Web or my cell phone. That more than makes up for the geeky "coolness" that old rotary dial controlled remote control with all its meters and switches had. Heck the AM transmitters these days can even switch power at sunrise and sunset all by themselves.

I did engineering work at both co-located and non co-located stations over the years and my personal preference was for the co-located operation. True, in most cases, they were not as ascetically pleasing as the ones that were separate from the studio. But it was more pleasant for the engineer to be near the rest of the staff when working. Being out at the transmitter can be a little lonely and sometimes, a little dangerous. For if something happened around all those high voltages and currents, there was no one around to call for help. All three of the stations I work with now are not co-located. Wait, that is not completely true. The backup transmitter for WUSC-FM is located in the engineers, closet. So technically it is both co-located and not co-located.

Here is that backup transmitter in a closet.

The Brennan Brother at WAPE had the perfect plan. They made all the accoutrements of high power transmitters work aesthetically. I mentioned the coffee warmer and the back wall of the control room. But they also incorporated the water cooling system of the transmitter into the ambiance of the station. They did this by incorporating an indoor/outdoor swimming pool into the cooling path. This pool was the coolest in every sense of the word. There was a path that ran under the wall into the public lobby and the audience was invited to swim in the Big Ape’s pool. The DJs could look out from the control room and seek the kids really “getting into the station.” Oh yes - this was real, not an April Fool’s story. The Brennan Brothers were not “corporate broadcasters,” they were folks who had a fire in their belly for broadcasting and did everything in their power to increase the coolness factor. Oh MY!

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