A Story

Discussion in '"Boat Anchor" & Classic Equipment' started by KL7AJ, Dec 12, 2019.

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  1. KL7AJ

    KL7AJ XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    DEATH OF A MACHINE


    by


    Eric P. Nichols, KL7AJ






    R.F. Burns swiveled around in his chair in the engineering room and gazed at the fifteen-dollar Eico oscilloscope. The green trace of the CRT gyrated to the voice of Leon Rodale, the late night DJ who was enamored with the sound of his own wit. Leon wasn't a bad guy; it was just hard to be original after two in the morning. His choice of “music” left something to be desired, as well, but that could be excused based on ratings alone.

    Burns returned to his labors, reviewing the engineering plans for the transmitter and studio upgrade. A few moments later, he felt a strange heat on the back of his neck. Unfortunately, it wasn't strange enough; he knew exactly what it was. He swiveled around and glared at the ancient Westinghouse transmitter. Sure enough, the 833 vacuum tube behind the transmitter's right-hand window was glowing white hot. Burns jumped up, grasped the PLATE TUNING crank beneath the window and quickly cranked the control, gradually bringing the final amplifier tube's brilliant white incandescence down to its normal dull red glow.

    This ritual had been part of Burn's life for the past two months, as the transmitter, affectionately known as “Wes” registered his disapproval at being put out to pasture. He couldn't just die like a normal piece of hardware; he had to make life miserable for everyone around him in the process. Burns had conquered many intermittent electronics problems in his life, but Wes' refusal to respond to all the normal troubleshooting methods in the arsenal was frustrating to the point of distraction.

    Having calmed Wes down for the time being, Burns turned up the audio monitor, and listened to Leon's dulcet tones for a while. Other than the subject matter, the audio quality of the station's signal seemed none the worse for wear.

    Burns turned around and gazed at Wes again. He was a gargoyle of a machine if ever there was one. Wes was built during the mid-century “chrome” era, when everyone tried to make inanimate objects look like they had faces...cars, toasters, everything. Remember the 1949 Studebaker?

    Wes had a face too. He was constructed of three steel cabinets. There was a window on the right and left hand cabinets, each with a glowing 833 tube behind it, which served as his eyes. A row of indicator lamps at waist level on the center cabinet served as a nose. And a metal air filter grill below the nose was an evilly-grinning mouth. Wes weighed a ton, and had vast quantities of chrome trim which served no known purpose except to help control the surplus 1955 U.S. chromium supply. A vaguely greenish tinge to his gray paint always looked somewhat bilious. He had a face only a mother could love.

    Burns decided he needed another cup of coffee. He sauntered up the hallway toward the program room, nodding at Leon behind the soundproof glass of his padded cell. As Burns poured himself some sludge, Leon emerged from his studio and held out his mug for Burns to fill also.

    “So, what's new in your zoo?” Leon queried.

    Burns returned the pot to the burner. “Don't ask.”

    “Can't we just put him out of our misery?” Leon suggested.

    “Don't tempt me,” Burns yawned.

    “Well, if you need any help, just let me know,” Leon offered, striding back to his studio.

    “I'll keep that in mind,” Burns said, thoughtfully.



    ****************

    Three weeks passed, and to everyone's delight, the new transmitter had arrived, a modern, but boring looking, all solid-state Nautel. Although the transmitter had been delivered on Wednesday, Burns had decided to allow Wes to finish out the week; early Sunday morning, the station usually signed off for routine maintenance anyway.

    Awaiting for the big moment, Burns sat at his desk, reviewing the new Nautel's schematics. As the final strains of the National Anthem strained through the engineering shop speaker, Leon materialized at Burn's desk. He dropped a .44 Magnum on Burn's desk with a resounding thud.

    “What's this?” Burns gasped.

    “Your big chance, buddy. To finally put Wes out of our misery!”

    Burns gazed at Leon in disbelief...for a moment. He suddenly realized he now had the opportunity to do what every other broadcast engineer had only dreamed of.

    Slowly, deliberately, Burns picked up the revolver. Until that time, the most authoritative weapon he's ever fired had been a German Luger, a pistol that emitted little more than a mild pop when fired.

    He aimed the .44 point blank at Wes' right eye, which had just started to glow white in that insolent, defiant manner, as it had done countless times in the past week. Trembling with anticipating and some fear, Burns felt the trigger.

    “What are you waiting for?” Leon urged.

    Burns took a deep breath, closed his eyes and pulled. A deafening explosion rang out in the confined room. A shower of sparks ensued as Wes' right eye exploded. A few seconds later some relays chattered. After some further convulsions, Wes' entire electrical system shut down, his blowers slowly coasting down to a mournful low moan. Thirty seconds later, there was silence. The deed was done.

    A week after the new Nautel transmitter was installed, some surplus people came by to collect Wes' hulking carcass. All that remained to remind Burns of Wes' existence was a dull red stain on the concrete floor, where he had lived for over forty years.
     
    KQ9J, AC0OB and AC8UN like this.
  2. W8TMT

    W8TMT Ham Member QRZ Page

    Thanks for the smile. Reminds me of the time I was summoned to a local Sheriff's department because they shot a hole in their GE remote control console. Does the story describe a real transmitter? I'd like to see a picture.

    73,

    Terry
     
  3. KF9VV

    KF9VV Ham Member QRZ Page

    Worked with a guy years ago who earlier in his career ran a TV repair shop in Palm Springs. One day, a very high end RCA television was brought to him which had clearly been shot. The gentlemen who brought the TV to him worked for Elvis Presley.

    Yes, he fixed it.

    I have had the pleasure of working on more than a few older transmitters that ultimately were scrapped. I never would have been able to bring myself shoot one, even though a few of the klystron beasts deserved it.
     
  4. N0NB

    N0NB Subscriber QRZ Page

    Back in the early '90s I was tasked with replacing a bunch of Data Speed 40 IBM 3270 protocol terminals and printers with more modern 3270 stuff. The printers were to be distributed elsewhere as spares but the terminals and the printer cabinets were to be disposed of locally (before any thought was given to electronics disposal) so I tossed them in the dumpster at each location. I had a thought of stacking them up on the main line but didn't want to be responsible for a train derailment so early in my career. I threw a few into an empty dumpster as hard as I could and all it did was chip the plastic a bit. Those things were tough!
     
  5. AC0OB

    AC0OB Subscriber QRZ Page

    Good one. Reminds me of the furnace in the basement of "Home Alone."

    So Wes left his mark after all!


    Pheel
     
  6. KQ9J

    KQ9J Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Those old transmitters had personalities. Or at least it was easier to believe they did. Thanks for the great story! :)
     
  7. K6BSU

    K6BSU Ham Member QRZ Page

    I don't like stories with sad endings....R.I.P.
     
  8. G3YRO

    G3YRO Ham Member QRZ Page

    Yes, great story !

    Can't think where else to post this, but talking of AM Broadcast Transmitters . . .

    Here in Britain, the Commercial Radio stations were set up for the first time in the late 1970s, by the Independent Broadcasting Authority. Unlike the BBC, who set up their own Transmitters, the commercial stations had to go with what the IBA provided. However, they were paranoid about not causing interference to other stations, and so their original spec for required Field Strength in the Licensed Transmission Area was absurdly low!

    So the first staion I joined as a Presenter was in Portsmouth, on the South Coast of England. Our FM Transmitter only ran 1kW output (these days the same site radiates 10kW). But our AM Transmitter was located on salt marshland north of the city, so had a fantastic ground under the 150ft vertical antenna.

    The transmitter installed was rated at 1kW . . . but it radiated such a strong signal that the engineers ended up setting the output power at around 150 watts !!

    As a result, apparently the PA Valves didn't like running at such lower power (no idea what thet were) . . . so every few months the IBA engineers had to swap them (in both the main and backup Txs) with the ones from the station in Reading !

    When I read about the kind of power levels your AM Broadcast transmitters run in the USA, I am astounded !

    Roger G3YRO
     
  9. KL7AJ

    KL7AJ XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Hi Roger:
    For 25 years, I was Chief Engineer of a 50 KW directional AM station (KJNP). It was a great old rig...extremely reliable. We got 14 years out of a final tube (a 7480 vapor phase cooled beastie), running 24/7. Later on we installed an MW-50 pulse width modulated transmitter, which was a lot more efficient, but just didn't have the same soul as our old Gates VP-50! HI.
    On this side of the pond ALL our stations were commercial (or privately run public broadcasting stations, which eventually ended up commercial anyway), except for Voice of America (and I guess Radio Marti, later on).
     
  10. SM0AOM

    SM0AOM Ham Member QRZ Page

    For the better part of my professional life, I worked with the Government telecom organisation, which among others ran the state-owned broadcasting system.

    AM broadcast had fallen out of fashion already before me entering the company, but to the end one LW (Motala 300 kW at 189 kHz) and a few MW (Stockholm 150 kW 773 kHz, Gothenburg 150 kW 981 kHz, Hörby [later Sölvesborg] 500 kW 1179 kHz) were operated, all paid by Foreign Office and Civil Defence money as the Swedish audience was very small.
    People were listening to the FM network where there were more programmes (in the larger cities 4).

    In the late 80s/early 90s, the transmitters became uneconomical and worn-out and the Government decided to stop LW and MW broadcasting except for Sölvesborg, which continued for a few years with the Radio Sweden International programme aimed for Eastern Europe.

    A study made by a consultancy firm in 2000 outlined a scheme for local commercial AM broadcasting, using 1 or 5 kW transmitters and the AM channels available from the latest ITU Regional Broadcast Plan.

    There were however absolutely no takers, despite the regulator literally would have given away licences.

    I heard about a few commercial broadcasters making "back of the envelope" ROI calculations and finding that they never would get their investment money back from selling commercials to an AM audience, as long as the FM network that they rented from the State kept up its quality and coverage areas.

    73/
    Karl-Arne
    SM0AOM
     

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