New engineer - questions

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OgreVorbis
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New engineer - questions

Post by OgreVorbis »

Hello,

I am a younger guy (27) who's getting into radio engineering. I have been interested in AM radio since a very young age. Its mysterious properties have always been very interesting to me.

Most things I taught myself by building pirate radios and I now have a pretty large selection of gear. I want to build a real licensed radio station on either AM or shortwave. There are a number of things that are turning me off though. Shortwave has a minimum of 50kW in the US and this is just too much and will be too expensive.

How much would it cost (generally) to license an AM broadcast station of 1kW in a rural location? (Not including antenna + transmitter) In ideal circumstances, I'd want to use my own transmitter to broadcast with, but I don't think it's allowed. If I get an old cheap junky certified transmitter, can I then use my transmitter as a "backup" transmitter?

I am annoyed that there doesn't seem to be a place for me in the radio realm. Ham radio doesn't allow broadcasting shows and professional broadcasting doesn't seem to allow you to use your own equipment. Is there a way around it? It would certainly comply with the FCC specifications and I have the required equipment like spectrum analyzer to verify that.
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Re: New engineer - questions

Post by w9wi »

What I did... was both ham radio and broadcasting.

As you noticed, it's perfectly legal (even encouraged) to build your own ham gear. No, you can't broadcast shows but you can certainly tweak your equipment for the best possible performance and chat with other hams to pick up tips. Most hams don't use ordinary AM, but there are groups that do. (many use converted commercial broadcast transmitters)

The ham experience taught me enough technology to earn my FCC commercial license.# I then got my foot in the door with a part-time job at an existing broadcast station. (I'd expected to do radio, but television offered first:)


Right now, it is *not possible* to license a completely new AM broadcast station. The FCC only accepts applications during "filing windows", and they aren't held very often. (If I'm not mistaken, the last AM filing window was in 2004) Unless you're in an extremely rural location (like Montana) it is likely not possible to license a new full-time non-directional station. It would be far easier to acquire an existing license from a station that's sold its transmitter site, and modify that license for a new site.

That said, do not underestimate the expenses involved. There are minimum antenna efficiency requirements which will require a tower far taller than found in a typical ham installation. And an extensive ground system. (buried radial wires, potentially hundreds of feet long) And required Emergency Alerting System gear. I've never built a broadcast station so others here will be far better at estimating the cost but I can assure you it will run well into six figures. That's not counting various "clerical" expenses like music licensing or local building permits.


Is there a "community" radio station in your town? https://nfcb.org/map/ (this is not a complete list) These stations often have openings for those who'd like to air their own show. They also often need volunteers for a variety of functions, including engineering.


What I would suggest:
-Look into getting a ham license.
-Look into SBE certification.
-Look into a local "community" radio station.

========================================================================

# No longer available nor necessary in the broadcast context. I would look into the SBE Certification program as a means of showing your qualifications to potential employers.
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Deep Thought
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Re: New engineer - questions

Post by Deep Thought »

Probably the easiest (and definitely the fastest) way to do this is to look around your area for an existing AM station you might acquire or check out the "silent station list" for one which could probably be revived before the 1 year silent period deadline hits. There has been some mumbling lately about a possible new station/major change application window but I certainly would not plan on that. I have a client who is in the process of putting a new station on the air that he first applied for in 2003 which was anecdotally referred to by one FCC official as "the last new AM station". Take that for whatever it is worth. The cost to acquire a new station license, assuming you don't end up in an auction, is around $10,000 all-in. Then you have to build it, the cost of which is almost impossible to estimate but ranges in the $25,000-$50,000 range for the tower, ground system and associated equipment for a 1 KW ND station. That does not include the site real estate, buildings or studio equipment. YMMV.

The FCC made some changes to the allocation rules several years ago which reduced the antenna minimum efficiency requirements as well as the city of license coverage minimums that makes it easier to relocate a transmitter site (as long as you are not changing the city of license) and allowed some which were a DA at night to run ND at lower power but still remain protected.

There is no prohibition preventing "homebrew" equipment on the AM broadcast band. You will have to perform the same tests and measurements on the transmitter (carrier frequency stability, occupied bandwidth, spurious and harmonic radiation under all modulation conditions, etc.) to show it meets the rules as if you were getting it certified.
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TPT
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Re: New engineer - questions

Post by TPT »

We (hopefully) will be inking a contract to buy an AM this coming week. Of course, I've been in the business in one form or another since 1969, my business partner, since 1975. We already own three FM stations, and the AM station we are buying has an associated FM translator.

This would be the easiest way to own your own station, and you may be surprised at what appears to be the relatively low cost of entry into the business --in many instances well under $100 K. If you don't mind living in a small town, that is.

However, then you have to run the station and make enough money to survive while doing so. A business partner with sales experience would be invaluable, even more so with some broadcast or advertising sales experience.
OgreVorbis
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Re: New engineer - questions

Post by OgreVorbis »

w9wi wrote: Fri Jul 24, 2020 5:35 am Right now, it is *not possible* to license a completely new AM broadcast station. The FCC only accepts applications during "filing windows", and they aren't held very often. (If I'm not mistaken, the last AM filing window was in 2004) Unless you're in an extremely rural location (like Montana) it is likely not possible to license a new full-time non-directional station. It would be far easier to acquire an existing license from a station that's sold its transmitter site, and modify that license for a new site.

That said, do not underestimate the expenses involved. There are minimum antenna efficiency requirements which will require a tower far taller than found in a typical ham installation. And an extensive ground system. (buried radial wires, potentially hundreds of feet long) And required Emergency Alerting System gear. I've never built a broadcast station so others here will be far better at estimating the cost but I can assure you it will run well into six figures. That's not counting various "clerical" expenses like music licensing or local building permits.

Is there a "community" radio station in your town? https://nfcb.org/map/ (this is not a complete list) These stations often have openings for those who'd like to air their own show. They also often need volunteers for a variety of functions, including engineering.
WOW, I didn't know it had been that long since the window was open. It looks like purchasing an existing station is the best way then.
I would choose, if possible, to be in the expanded AM band, so the antenna would not have to be too big. I'd use a 140ft 1/4 wave rohn tower or a valcom.

I worked at a community FM station for a while. It was OK, but there was no engineering involved and the content is not what I would prefer.
Deep Thought wrote: Fri Jul 24, 2020 8:59 am Probably the easiest (and definitely the fastest) way to do this is to look around your area for an existing AM station you might acquire or check out the "silent station list" for one which could probably be revived before the 1 year silent period deadline hits.

The FCC made some changes to the allocation rules several years ago which reduced the antenna minimum efficiency requirements as well as the city of license coverage minimums that makes it easier to relocate a transmitter site (as long as you are not changing the city of license) and allowed some which were a DA at night to run ND at lower power but still remain protected.

There is no prohibition preventing "homebrew" equipment on the AM broadcast band. You will have to perform the same tests and measurements on the transmitter (carrier frequency stability, occupied bandwidth, spurious and harmonic radiation under all modulation conditions, etc.) to show it meets the rules as if you were getting it certified.
I'll look into that.
Can you request a frequency change of the station if you buy one without getting a new license? I'd prefer to be in the expanded band. There's two expanded band frequencies in this area that are very clear and there aren't any stations on that frequency in this entire half of the country.

No prohibition against home brew transmitters. Interesting. I didn't expect that. I thought that it had to be type certified or have an FCC number. That sounds great. My transmitter should be just as good as a professional. Solid state Class D PWM. I have tested it, but I don't want to be breaking the rules.
OgreVorbis
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Re: New engineer - questions

Post by OgreVorbis »

See my last post, but I had another thought. I noticed that there is a 1kW shortwave station in Canada. I did some research, but was unable to find the rules for licensing a SW station in Canada. Maybe they don't have that 50kW requirement? (I also might be interested in MW if it's easier there.) I live very close to Canada, so if the lockdown ends, that could potentially be an option.
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Re: New engineer - questions

Post by TPT »

Save your pennies, and explore working for a local station in some capacity for a couple of years. (Yes, the "paying your dues" thing.)
I don't know the ins and outs of Canadian ownership, but suspect they require most of the license be controlled by a citizen or citizens.

Now--to possible AM ownership here. You will find most stations are locked into one area by interference protections to other stations. Sometimes, even if you can move the tower a few miles, the power may have to be reduced. Similarly, changing frequency is usually impossible.

And the last thing you want to do is move an AM tower if you can avoid it. Land values quadruple when the owner thinks someone wants to buy their couple of acres. THEN you get the expense of engineering in the new location, paying for environmental and archaeological studies, and getting building permits before the steel is stacked. Not to mention burying all that shiny copper wire in the ground for a ground system.

That's what I am going to have to do, luckily we have 3 acres around one of our FM studios, which saves on the cost of land. Plus this station has a translator, so we can begin programming while the AM is limping along on a temporary antenna.

There are AM stations going dark every month, some can be rescued, some should be better left dead. Looks like Liberty Media is making a run at I-Heart. If they take over, look for many of the small market I heart stations to be spun off. As I said, save your pennies.
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Re: New engineer - questions

Post by kkiddkkidd »

As others have noted, I also would highly, highly recommend that you get some experience in AM and radio in general before jumping into the fire as an owner. Just getting familiar with the regulatory BS could take a year or two and is not negotiable. I have 2ea noob owners as clients and I often talk to one or the other an hour or two a day just trying to keep them pointed in the right direction.

I also 100% concur on the finding a dark station to revive idea. But just remember that it probably isn't dark because it made the owner rich... A dark station can be returned to the air in a day with a lot of preplanning.

Here is the Silent Station Lists: https://www.fcc.gov/media/radio/silent-radio-lists I am not sure how up-to-date the lists are because one of my revived clients is still on the list even though it was back on the air April 1.

Be aware that there are a number of operable stations that are silent due to Covid and/or are associated with a college that is shut down.

IF you are just wanting to play radio, an AM without an FM translator can sometimes be found for almost free. AM's with an FM xlator are bringing pretty big prices comparatively. Additionally, most any small market, standalone AM without an xlator will not be listed with a broker unless part of a bigger combo. The brokers don't want to screw around for commission on a station that may sell for not much more than the expense of the transfer.

Good luck,
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Re: New engineer - questions

Post by Deep Thought »

OgreVorbis wrote: Fri Jul 24, 2020 9:26 pmI'd prefer to be in the expanded band. There's two expanded band frequencies in this area that are very clear and there aren't any stations on that frequency in this entire half of the country.
The FCC has yet to accept an application for a new ex-band station in a general filing window, so that won't be happening.
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kkiddkkidd
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Re: New engineer - questions

Post by kkiddkkidd »

Deep Thought wrote: Sat Jul 25, 2020 10:23 am
The FCC has yet to accept an application for a new ex-band station in a general filing window, so that won't be happening.
I didn't know that... Then again, I just barely remember the last AM filing window.

WEUP Huntsville AL station got an expanded band license and sorta forgot to turn in their original license when the 5yr simulcast period ended around 2006. They have a perpetual STA to operate both stations "in the public interest".

Later,
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Shane
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Re: New engineer - questions

Post by Shane »

The original point of the expanded band was to make a place to which stations could migrate that would alleviate interference in the traditional AM band while making a place that was relatively free of interference for the stations which chose to move. So, in order to be on the expanded band a station has to already exist.

You don’t hear a lot of interference on the expanded band because that’s how it was designed. Stations are spread out farther from each other in both the distance and frequency domains. And most stations operate at 1kw at night, further limiting interference potential.

While it’s tantamount to building a new station, it IS possible to move a station - even a daytimer - to an entirely new location, but not done often, in part due to all the circumstances to line up. WFYL/1180 in King of Prussia, PA (Philadelphia market) was moved from McConnellsburg, PA and 1530 (as WVFC) several years ago. About the same time Clear Channel proposed moving WWVA from Wheeling, WV to Stow, OH (Cleveland/Akron) but never went through with it.

There was a commercial station in New Jersey that had built its own transmitter and surely others so that’s not unprecedented.

If you’re really interested in SW/HF, ham radio is certainly easier to get into albeit with no broadcasting or music permitted.

Last point. There is a newly developed antenna for AM broadcast called the HEBA, which doesn’t need the big ground system nor height that would not be practical in a residential area, that is claimed to be able to fit within such a lot of 1/3 acre or more. Here is a YouTube link to a presentation about it:
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=TY1TArbqEfI

Love your handle. I knew Ogg Vorbis suggested something to my subconscious. Now I know what it is.
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Re: New engineer - questions

Post by Deep Thought »

Shane wrote: Sat Jul 25, 2020 4:27 pm Last point. There is a newly developed antenna for AM broadcast called the HEBA, which doesn’t need the big ground system nor height that would not be practical in a residential area, that is claimed to be able to fit within such a lot of 1/3 acre or more.
Yeah, I wouldn't plan on using one of these. There is a whole lot of smoke and mirrors involved. The FCC may permit it (with a bunch of field intensity measurements to "prove" the radiation efficiency, but the performance will suck eggs.
kkiddkkidd wrote: Sat Jul 25, 2020 3:07 pm WEUP Huntsville AL station got an expanded band license and sorta forgot to turn in their original license when the 5yr simulcast period ended around 2006. They have a perpetual STA to operate both stations "in the public interest".
Most of them did it. Clear Channel even moved one from Southern Illinois to Chicago and both stations still exist.
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Re: New engineer - questions

Post by NECRAT »

Shane wrote: Sat Jul 25, 2020 4:27 pm Last point. There is a newly developed antenna for AM broadcast called the HEBA, which doesn’t need the big ground system nor height that would not be practical in a residential area, that is claimed to be able to fit within such a lot of 1/3 acre or more. Here is a YouTube link to a presentation about it:
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=TY1TArbqEfI
Fits in an area of 1/3 acre and has a signal that covers at least twice that!
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Re: New engineer - questions

Post by kkiddkkidd »

Deep Thought wrote: Sat Jul 25, 2020 9:29 pm
Yeah, I wouldn't plan on using one of these. There is a whole lot of smoke and mirrors involved. The FCC may permit it (with a bunch of field intensity measurements to "prove" the radiation efficiency, but the performance will suck eggs.
As my old friend, Ham class instructor, Elmer and fellow broadcast engineer Bob Plunkett used to say: "Verticals radiate equally bad in all directions..."

I have to think that smoke and mirrors aren't particularly efficient at radiating RF.
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Re: New engineer - questions

Post by Jim Sofonia »

NECRAT wrote: Sun Jul 26, 2020 7:45 am Fits in an area of 1/3 acre and has a signal that covers at least twice that!
Reminds me of fiberglass rod somebody in Canada was selling that wouldn't broadcast much past it's own shadow, oh but it too was FCC approved.
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