This month I would like to start with the initial power on tests of IPTV's first solid-state DTV transmitter for facility KRIN in the Cedar Rapids/Waterloo, Iowa, market.
Unfortunately I cannot, because we were unable to get the transmitter connected to the dummy load for testing. The reason is that the precision directional coupler was manufactured using Myat line, which is incompatible with the Dielectric transmission line used throughout the rest of the installation, and line layout didn't allow for the use of adapters. The part shipped March 22 and we continued the install March 25.
The transmitter install otherwise has gone much more smoothly compared to our first install in Des Moines. However, that is not to say we haven't had a few issues come up and I would like to spend some time on a few of those issues. Possibly the most perplexing problem we have had so far was not particularly technical. In fact, it was more biological. Who would have thought that the construction of a rather small addition to our existing transmitter building would necessitate the relocation of the septic system? I know what you're thinking: Bill, why would you build your addition on top of the septic system?
THE SMELL TEST
While it is true the DTV conversion has been mired and at times things haven't smelled quite right, there must have been another location. Strangely enough, we didn't build on the septic system, but since it wasn't where the prints showed it to be, the new addition was close enough that there was concern over the footings. Although not initially a major problem, it did become significant when the contractors dragged their feet on the process because it wasn't part of their initial bid. The old system was filled in so that work on the building addition could move on, but then there was much discussion and consternation over where the new septic system could be installed.
By the time the contractors were ready to start, winter had set in and the ground was frozen. The resultant folly necessitated the use of an outhouse through an Iowa winter. Historically, I think Iowa winters were the driving force behind the invention of indoor toilets.
IPTV has selected Harris as the manufacturer of our DTV transmitters. Our network consists of eight stations and although two of our facilities (Des Moines and Iowa City) use IOT-based systems, the remainder use solid-state systems. KRIN is our first installation of the Harris DiamondCD series transmitter. In this case we are installing a DHD90P3 rated at 20.5kW average DTV power. Our construction permit calls for an ERP of 250 kW. From our perspective, solid state was the best way to go for IPTV, given the number and locations of our stations.
FINDING GOOD HELP
When the network was originally built each site was manned by at least one full-time RF engineer and many had two engineers. Over time, like most facilities, we have seen budgets reduced and fewer engineers interested in RF. As a result we have had a difficult time filling vacant RF positions. After a significant period of vacancy it is difficult to hold an open position when we've been able to keep the facilities running with the remaining personnel. It is especially difficult when the choice may come down to eliminating a vacant position or letting an employee go.
By constructing solid-state transmission facilities, in theory we'll increase the reliability of the operations in an environment where there will be fewer and fewer engineers available to service the systems. By standardizing on a single manufacture and model of transmitter we can better service the system with fewer people. It is certainly not the ideal solution but under the given conditions it seems to be the most sensible way to proceed.
Another particularly interesting challenge with this project is that we are working with a commercial partner on the facility. I described this partnership before and I won't go into any real detail other than to say that IPTV has purchased a panel antenna and transmission line that will be shared with KCRG for their DTV service. In exchange for letting them use the antenna and transmission line, they are letting us use their tower. We're splitting the costs of the tower modifications.
This is a pretty straightforward arrangement; however, recently a third station in the market has approached us about also using this antenna for their DTV service. As of this writing, there is still no final agreement on the third station's participation, and with construction slated to begin in less than a month, time is running short. The output of our transmitter must go from our building to KCRG's building, where the combiner will be located and then out to the antenna. Theoretically, the third station will also have to send their feed into the KCRG building for combining. Since KCRG and the third station have adjacent DTV channels, the combining gets a little tricky and the hardware is quite large, so the quicker the decision occurs, the better.
Although the tower work hasn't started yet, I'm already getting concerned about how things are proceeding. The plan from the beginning has been for KCRG's existing antenna to be mounted on top of IPTV's new panel antenna. That stack would then be mounted on the KCRG tower. To prevent any need to change KCRG's operating parameters, the center of radiation for its antenna has been treated as a fixed point in vertical space.
Knowing that point and the length of the stacked antenna, a certain amount of the existing tower would be removed, a new top plate manufactured to mate to the stack and - voila! - project complete. Yes, I know there is more to it, like changing guy points and strengthening the remainder of the tower, but the basic concept is pretty simple.
The first proposal for this was made in May 2000. About a month ago, I was speaking with a rep for the tower company and he informed me that IPTV would need to have our existing analog antenna removed and put up a temporary antenna. This is because our antenna was up higher than the tower company thought it was - which, of course, comes to light after we have already signed an agreement for the work including pricing.
The confusion over the location of our antenna really surprised me because it hadn't moved since this company had built the tower and installed it. One of the reasons for going with the company was that they were intimately familiar with the tower, there would be less room for error. It turns out error is like Jell-O and there's always room for it.
More next month.
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Bill Hayes, director of engineering and technology for Iowa PBS, has been at the forefront of broadcast TV technology for 40 years, 23 of them at Iowa PBS. He’s served as president of IEEE’s Broadcast Technology Society, is a Partnership Board Member of the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) and has contributed extensively to SMPTE and ATSC. He is a recipient of Future's 2021 Tech Leadership Award.