Monday, February 28, 2011

Bright idea or dead wrong?

What this Radio Station Engineer designed
To remotely reset a transmitter
Never should have been lauded
In a Trade Publication?

As the Contract Broadcast Engineer for a 5000 watt Class (A ) AM Radio Station I receive a number of different Trade magazines including those dedicated to radio and TV broadcast Engineers, which goes to a number of broadcast outlets thru out the country.
To my horror in one of its columns the author showed how a Broadcast Engineer had rigged up a remotely resettable breaker using an externally mounted solenoid set up for his transmitter so he did not have to run up to the station if the breaker tripped due to power sags etc. because he was maintaining several station sites and did not have enough time to run around doing resets which is typical in today’s broadcast world. He just used his remote phone call up system to reset it. Although the author warned it was not a good idea to do so
He lauded this engineer’s ingenuity in coming up with a well thought out ideal how to deal with a situation even thou it was not a good idea.
This remotely resetable set up is in fact not ingenuity at all but an extremely dangerous
Practice, which could easily result in the destruction of the station transmitter and buildings
If something goes wrong like a dead short of the breaker to the metal case of the transmitter or line to line voltage can result in fault currents as high as 200,00 amps.
If the breaker would stick on and not trip out which I have seen many times and had I not been there to perform an emergency shut down a runaway electrical short would destroy everything in its path.
What this engineer did borders on extreme negligence because he totally and completely disregarded all safety rules of the National Electrical Code.
Besides jeopardizing his stations equiptment and building he is putting you the first responder lives in jeopardy as well who has to respond and put out the fire.
But all to often what one mans designs, as ingenuity is another mans tragedy. IE The Titanic
One of the big problems again is that if you took a poll of Broadcast Engineers and asked How many of them know they have to follow the NEC and other various codes besides the FCC rules they must follow you will once again get blank stares.
How many times in how many different trade magazines have I seen in print that NEC and building codes do not play a rule in what a tradesman or technician does in his line of work and they do not have to follow them? Only to have to call the editor of these articles on the carpet for it.
As long as there is a mind set that I do not have to follow NEC because what I am doing is not what an Electrician does exists will dangerous wiring practices be condoned and tolerated.
But this story has many more considerations as well.
What happens to this station after the fire? Besides losing thousands of dollars an hour in advertising revenue, this station could very well loose its insurance coverage and have its claim denied because of an act of negligence on the part of the station engineer.
Plus depending where this station is located which most times are remote wooded areas you could also end up dealing with the adjacent woods on fire and this has happened.
A terrible fire in a transmission facility on the fabled Mt. Washington in New Hampshire
Burned out of control due to its extreme remoteness and high winds which totally destroyed multiple transmitters and structures .It caused millions to be lost, as well as a broadcast technicians life as well who was babysitting the site.
Ok so you are saying to your self-wait a minute don’t Broadcast Engineers have to take tests and be licensed shouldn’t they know they have to follow NEC.
Surprisingly the answer is NO. Several years ago the FCC changed the rules and regulations for Broadcast Engineers and the General Class Radiotelephone license is no longer required which means you have Engineers like my self with extensive background and schooling and one or more FCC license such as amateur Radio to all the way down the end of the scale with no formal training maintaining stations.
So what happens if the FCC inspector comes by? You better have your station with in the rules and be able to show you understand them and can show you properly maintain a station or your in trouble. But like any thing there are only so many inspectors for thousands of stations.
Ok so why are the local AHJ not doing proper fire and building inspections of stations and there structures.
Many believe the FCC rules trump their authority. That answer depends on what is to be inspected. The FCC sets rules for Equiptment and towers etc but the buildings still must follow local building codes. But of course if you are out in the middle of no where like my station is who is going to enforce the rules other than the FCC That’s why I inherited a mess from the old retired engineer who rigged in a capacitor or wire here and there and made a mess in general instead of getting to the source of the problem.
To my knowledge in all the years we have been in business since 1938 and numerous renovations additions, deletions etc. to our building there has never ever been an inspection by either a state or local inspector other than a 3rd party electrical inspector and this goes for most stations and industrial facilities I have worked in as well.
Unless OSHA happens to show up or the Insurance Company sends a compliance inspector around.
So you have an entire culture of individuals who think because they can wire there radio or TV station or Mill or factory they can also wire there home or social club who have never once ever had there work inspected. And we wonder why Pa. Leads the country in fire deaths and the UCC and ICC regulations are totally ignored.
Plus there are how many people who read my articles and consider me @#$%^ because I dare question there work and how they do it. Because they have been doing it for many years and never had a problem . But they never get to see the consequences down the road like I do years later when I have to repair it or investigate it because what they did then has directly contributed to what has happened now.

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