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RF Express: The RF Business Plan

The RF Business Plan

Every transmitter purchase these days is the result of business planning sessions, feasibility studies, and then negotiations. But these days, all eyes are on the energy saving RF tubes and their host transmitters. It’s turning out that every station looking at energy savings has a unique view of how these tubes and transmitters fit into the business plan. And sometimes the results are surprising.
At WJZ in Baltimore, Rick Seaby, WJZ’s Director of Broadcast Operations and Engineering, had filed for an increase in power from 42.6 kW to 77.6 kW to meet the station’s goal of 1 Megawatt ERP on channel 38. At first blush, that would seem to add up to higher power bills. For WJZ, that turned out to be just barely correct.

According to Seaby, using a Harris Sigma transmitter averaging 24% efficiency, the station’s monthly power bill sat at $11,000. Harris and Seaby calculated that the station could meet its new power objective by installing a 3-tube design for the Harris PowerCD manned by E2V’s ESCIOT tubes. But how would that affect the monthly power bill?

As Seaby explains, “Since the new transmitter is running at 55% efficiency, we’re seeing power bills of about $11,550. In other words, for $550 a month we doubled our power!”

Of course, the plant required a few changes, which called for a new combiner and mask filter from Dielectric. However, Seaby reports that no antenna changes were necessary.

One of his alternatives was to add two more Sigmas to make the new power required, but as he’s quick to add, that would have changed the economics drastically, especially the power bills resulting from 24% efficiency. “That could have raised the monthly power bill to about $22,000.”

Some stations, wandering through the foxholes and tank traps of today’s broadcast industry investment strategies, are concerned about what to do with the transmitter being replaced. For WJZ, it was no problem. “We shipped about half the transmitter to our station in Pittsburgh, and the other half went to our station in California. That allowed them to upgrade.” Now, there is a very real additional cost savings!

In other words, power saving decisions aren’t always clear-cut. WJZ met the business plan goals for maximum power, but by utilizing the latest energy savings technologies, the station saved $10,450 in power bills that would have resulted from adding to the Sigma. But it also saved thousands of dollars in capital expenditures by splitting up the old transmitter, allowing two of its other stations to upgrade.

Energy costs continue to rise across all industries. Normally, dramatic rate hikes aren’t typical for broadcasters, but Seaby offers a sobering thought.

“I recently saw a program where energy experts were talking about worldwide oil reserves. It was their opinion that in 2005 we have reached the point where just over 50% of all known reserves have already been consumed. That’s a wake up call for broadcasters, and the new technologies offer us a hedge against future increased energy costs.”

At Thales Broadcast & Multimedia, Dick Fiore, VP of Marketing and Sales, says that to calculate real savings, you need to factor in more than just the efficiency percentages.

Already chalking up nifty savings at stations such as WGBH in Boston, and KVIE in Sacramento, using their Paragon transmitter, Fiore calculates that it’s possible that a station could save enough in power bills to pay for the new transmitter in as little as two years.

But Fiore believes the key to transmitter purchasing decisions is cost of ownership. “Of course, that depends on what you are replacing. The older the technology, the greater the savings!”

Optimistic about the new technologies and Harris’ on-air record, Dave Glidden, Director of Television Products and Services, cites the learning curves manufacturers and stations are traveling.

“There are some variables the industry is looking at. For example, what type of cooling works best? How will the new tubes react at one station where they are on the air 24/7 versus one that shuts down every day, sending them through endless up and down cycling?”

While early results are quite promising, no one can accurately predict how tube life will work out. Also, bean counters already know that these new tubes are more expensive than their predecessors. But as Glidden is quick to add, “Eventually the prices will drop, perhaps offering further savings.”

Ron Merrell is the executive editor.