Total Blackout 40th

My Sunday engineering shift had been long and trying. I had spent all afternoon fighting KITY transmitter problems that I was finally able to resolve with some phone help from Chief Engineer Bill Kiley. I was standing in front of the KITY transmitter informing my relief engineer, whose name I am unable to recall, what had happened that afternoon when suddenly the power went out.

We both stood on the dark for a moment waiting for the power to return by either the regular power provider utility (City Public Service) or the backup power generator located behind the building. After about a minute in darkness, we decided that it might be a good idea to see why the backup power was not working.

We walked out the front door and soon arrived at the non-functional power generator. After evaluating things for a few minutes, my relief engineer suggested that it might be a good idea for me to drop by the KONO transmitter site off Gembler Road on my way home. It was possible that the power outage had also affected the transmitter site. I could verify that everything was functional there. I agreed.

As I drove out of the parking lot, I turned on my radio. I heard the KONO transmitter AM carrier on the air. That was good news. The bad news was that there was no audio. Since there was a carrier, that meant there WAS power at the transmitter site. I decided to “scan the dial” to see what other San Antonio radio stations had been affected by the power outage. I was completely surprised to find no local radio station (AM or FM) on the air except KKYX. Since KKYX had normal music programming, I assumed (wrongly) that they had not been affected by the power outage.

I turned off the radio and decided that I needed to concentrate on my driving since none of the traffic lights I encountered were functional. Each traffic intersection needed to be approached with extreme caution because of possible traffic.

After what seemed like forever…I finally arrived at the KONO transmitter site. I did a quick walk around the building and determined that the generator was running and the site was on emergency power from the generator.

I entered the building and turned on the lights. Since backup power systems are not always used under load on a regular basis there can be problems just like my relief engineer was encountering at the KONO/KITY Studios. I immediately walked toward the transmitter to look at the meters to verify the transmitter was working properly on backup power. To my amazement the transmitter was NOT on the air! There was power. The lights in the building were on. The transmitter HAD been on the air when I had driven out of the parking lot at the studios. What had happened since then?

I brought out the test equipment and started testing. Everything I tested looked good. I went outside the building and tested everything associated with the generator. Everything tested fine there too!

Since it had been a long hard day I decided to retest things in the building again to assure that I had not missed something.

About half way through my re-test sequence, George Ing walked in the door. Before I could say anything, George reached for the light switch and turned off the lights.

Immediately the KONO transmitter turned on!

He then turned the light switch back on and the KONO transmitter immediately shutdown.

I was completely flabbergasted!

George left the lights on and started explaining.

The KONO transmitter on KONO Road was remotely controlled via a phone line from the studios located on Arden Grove near Saint Mary’s Street. FCC rules required that if the transmitter control phone line or remote control unit at the studio had any problems that the transmitter immediately shut down. Over the years George had encountered multiple intermittent control phone line problems causing the transmitter to go off the air even though the audio feed between the studio and transmitter was working fine.

To keep the intermittent problems from happening, George decided to disable the automatic shutdown feature…With a twist. In those days, FCC Inspectors would regularly visit all broadcast facilities to assure they were complying with the rules. So…George set things up so that as soon as an FCC inspector entered the KONO transmitter and the lights were turned on, the inspector could verify that the automatic transmitter shutdown feature was enabled as required by FCC Rules.

After I informed George about the generator problems at the studios, he told me that I needed “go home” after a long day. He would take care of things at the transmitter site. In fact, he was going to leave the lights “on.” That way he would know when the power was back up at the studios.

I told George “Good Night” and headed for my car. As I turned on to Gembler Road, I decided not to listen to the radio on my way home. It would be safer for me (and those who I encountered on the roads) to use my full concentration for driving.

John Ross

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