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Steve Tuzeneu
Sonshine Media

Improving Your Physical Plant

 

 

 

 

With each new year comes budget planning and plans for where you want to take your station.  One of those plans should include evaluating your physical plant.  By that I mean your transmitter plant.

 While it is good stewardship to keep your transmitter for as long as you can, there are financial rewards for periodically upgrading.  Here are some thoughts to keep in mind when evaluating your plant:

 

  1. Efficiency.  Probably the best reason for upgrading to a new transmitter is the money you will save in monthly energy costs. Some older transmitters are only about forty or forty-five percent energy efficient. That means you are spending more money than you should each month on energy.  A new energy efficient transmitter can pay for itself in energy savings in just a few years. Part of that savings is made up in the money you will save by lower costs in air conditioning the room or building where you transmitter is located.  By energy efficient, I am referring to a solid state transmitter.
  2.  Reliability.  Solid state transmitters are typically more reliable than tube transmitters because of the ruggedness of the newer designs and the redundancy of the circuits.  Some solid state transmitters are not as tolerant, however, of high v.s.w.r. conditions as the older tube models. This is usually only a concern when the transmitter and antenna are located in a part of the world where snow and ice are frequently part of the normal winter weather, in which case you should seriously consider radomes or an antenna equipped with heaters.
  3. Support. Some transmitter manufacturers do not support a transmitter after the twenty year mark.  At least one manufacturer that I know of supports every model they ever made, but most do not.  In the planning process, you want to choose a manufacturer that you and your engineer are comfortable with. While you can get a cheaper transmitter from a foreign manufacturer, you may pay later by not having an English-speaking, US-based tech support staff available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Some transmitters still in use are orphans, meaning the company has long gone out of business; so getting support is impossible, unless you know someone who has launched a business that supports your transmitter, or you know an engineer who has experience with it.  You want to make a point of asking engineers who maintain the brand of transmitter you are considering what they think of the support the manufacturer gives its clients.
  4. Documentation.  While this section could be a part of the “support” section above, I felt it necessary to make it separate because it deserves more than just a passing comment.  Of all the technical documents I have read for equipment used with a radio station, very few companies have produced support and service documentation that answered enough of my questions to qualify as a complete work. With the internet and compact media like C.D.s or flash drives, the cost for producing good documentation should be considerably less.  During the research process of purchasing your new transmitter, ask the company, and other engineers, “How good is the documentation that comes with the transmitter?”  Naturally the manufacturer won't be able to address every concern an engineer may have in the documentation, but there should be enough to help the engineer maintain the transmitter under normal circumstances.
  5. Parts. When a manufacturer goes out of business, or no longer supports your old transmitter, you come to the point where finding parts is a challenge.  Some companies assembled their products with proprietary part numbers.  If you call up a parts supplier, you are not going to be able to find replacements.  Other manufacturers use off-the-shelf parts that you can order from your favorite source simply by giving the sales representative the part number and name of the company that produced it.

 

These areas of consideration are by no means exhaustive, but they will help you in deciding whether or not it makes sense to replace that old box you call your transmitter.  If the transmitter shack electric bill doesn't make you cringe every time you read it, the transmitter is reasonably reliable, and you can get parts and manufacturer support for it, you may be able to keep it a few more years.  Be sure to weigh the costs of running the current transmitter with the potential savings you will enjoy with something new. 

 

Steve Tuzeneu is an experienced radio station manager and engineer and is the Director of Engineering for Sonshine Media, LLC.  You may reach him at: steve@sonshinemedia.net