Sunday, November 2, 2014

Darkness Falls

This is the weekend it happens! Daylight Savings Time (DST) is over and we are now officially back on Eastern Standard Time. We set the clocks back this morning and now sunset occurs an hour earlier than it did yesterday. How does that old saying go “Spring Forward, Fall Back?” “Fall Back” sounds a little bit like a retreat. So what if we get an extra hour today, we spend it changing all the clocks in the house.

Left: WWV Transmitter Building All but two anyway; we have three clocks that are synched to WWV, the radio service from the United States National Institute of Standards and Technology's (NIST) out of Fort Collins Colorado. Two made the transition last night but the third didn’t. I think the problem is that down here in the southeast, the reception of the time signal is a bit sketchy. It is always a guessing game as to which clocks will get the change and which won’t. It does seem to be a bit better on the fall switch than it is in the spring. I believe that atmospheric conditions are better, fewer thunderstorms.

DST was both good and bad to me as a broadcaster. The first year it was implemented on a permanent basis was 1966 and I was just starting my career in radio at WCOS. That Fall I was doing the “All Night Satellite” show from 1 AM until 6 AM. We were still working out the kinks in how to manage the time change. When filling out my time sheet, I was told by Woody, my boss, not to worry about that extra hour because I would get it back in the Spring. So that night, the program log had two 1 AM to 2 AM hours in it. That meant I had a seven hour shift. That suited me, an extra hour to rock and roll. I thought that was like putting money in the bank. Well, fate had a little twist in store for me. That Winter, my shift was changed from the overnight show to the “Doug Broome’s Nightbeat Show” which ran from a booth at the local drive in restaurant between 8 PM and 1 AM. So I never got that hour back. Hey, if someone sees Woody, tell him that I am still looking for that hour.

DST was a real friend to me during my “Nightbeat Show” days and it was all about power, transmitter power. AM radio waves go farther at night than they do during the day. So most AM radio stations had to reduce power or switch to a directional pattern at sundown in order to protect other stations operating on the same frequency. During DST that meant there was a 15 minute sliver of time during which my show was on the daytime power. At sundown when we switched to night time power of one quarter of the daytime power, I would lose the audience on the fringe of our coverage area for about an hour or so when the change in the atmospherics allowed the nighttime power to cover as much area as the daytime coverage.

Nightime radio propagation is a squirrely thing. Radio waves bounce off the ionosphere and you got listeners drifting in and out from hundreds or even thousands of miles away. More than once the chief engineer would come to me and ask if I remembered what songs I was playing a couple of nights before because he had received a “QSL Card” which was a request from a distant listener to confirm that they had indeed been able to pick us up from a distant location. When eventually I took over as chief engineer of WIS Radio back in the late 70s, I loved getting QSL Cards. Sometimes they worried me, especially if they came in from the direction that I was protecting in a “null” in my pattern. That always resulted in a review of the transmitter log to make sure all the phase and current readings that were recorded every half hour were within operating parameters.

Left: Typical three tower directional AM antenna array similar to the one I had at WIS Radio DST was a little bit of a pain when I was at WIS Radio because four evenings per week, I was required to walk out into the tower field and inspect the tuning components housed at the base of all three towers in our array. That had to be done when the transmitter was connected to the directional array so I had to wait until power reduction / pattern switch time. That occurred at 8:15 PM during the month of July. That made for a really long day. Every Friday afternoon around 2 pm, I performed a required “monitor point check” to measure signal strength in the four “nulls” of our pattern. I would get the fifth tower inspection done that day and get an early start on the weekend. During the winter months, the pattern switch time occurred between 5 and 6 PM, much better! These days automatic transmitters check their own parameters and text or e-mail the broadcast technician (no longer called “Chief Engineer” for several good reasons) if something is amiss. No longer does the broadcast technician have to manually make all those arcane measurements.

FM and TV are different, they don’t have power reduction or pattern switches so during my time there, I didn’t have to worry about DST. When I look back on my career; I enjoyed being a DJ more than being a broadcast technician, especially in the afternoon drive or early evening day-parts. So when I remember time change weekends my memories tend to be more about those times of my life. There is nothing quite like the light of a fading sunset through the widow of a control room or a booth in the middle of a parking lot of a drive in restaurant. Oops, better quit daydreaming in the sunset’s light. It’s almost time to segue out of this song and see if I can “hit the post” on the next one. Oh MY!

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