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Be an effective record keeper
The creation and maintenance of logs and technical records represents an inescapable responsibility for every broadcast engineer. Before the days of the now-ubiquitous computer, this was achieved through the use of reams of paper and manila file folders. Early attempts at radio station systems integration saw operating logs stored in a wide variety of data formats, while maintenance records were relegated to notebooks. Ultimately, hard copies of all FCC-required records were deposited in a file to meet inspection accessibility requirements.
Unfortunately, this haphazard amalgam of data and paper represents the current state of affairs at many radio stations, despite advances in information technology, and seems to be particularly acute among those operations that employ contract engineers.
Deciding what to keep and what to discard can be a daunting task.
First, consider exactly what records should be kept. For the FCC, every station needs a technical operating log or record that provides transmission system operating parameters, (power output for FM, antenna current and phase and ratio for AM), EAS activity and tower obstruction light operation. All of this information may be routinely gathered by an automated control system or human observation.
Depending on the nature of the operation, there may also be requirements for quarterly tower inspections, AM directional antenna monitor points and related data, along with annual AM emission checks (RF mask) and one-time measurements (harmonic and spurious emissions, antenna impedance) necessitated by additions or changes in the transmission system.
On the purely practical side, keep a transmitter site maintenance record that includes operating parameters of all equipment and physical condition observations, along with technical discrepancies and their resolution. A similar record may be maintained for the studio facility. Don't overlook regular audio performance checks of the air chain, and include data on generator maintenance and any other mission critical equipment such as air conditioning.
Once you've decided what information you're going to save, select the best way to do it. In most cases, this can be narrowed down to a single word — spreadsheets. Programs such as Excel are, friendly, flexible, economical in terms of file size, and have the ability to create a wide variety of customized templates for various types of logs and records. The beauty of this approach is the ease with which the user can create archive copies with multiple backups. For example, save every bit of desired data for each station in a single master file. Many years of records can be burned to CD-ROM and multiple copies kept by the user and the client. An addded benefit is not having to maintain bulky paper files, so your system can retain the desired records over a long period without suffering a space crunch. It also makes indexing a snap.
The disadvantage of switching to electronic record keeping is that it requires discipline and additional time and effort in terms of inputting data. It's still a lot easier to pick up a clipboard than it is to carry around a laptop, but by creating customized spreadsheet templates for different applications, and using the unfilled printouts as the forms, the post-inspection inputting is simple. Don't overlook the possibility of using some of those slow old PCs that are taking up rack space and performing routine transmitter and studio functions, as a convenient entry station for your records — it doesn't take much processor speed or RAM to run a simple spreadsheet. If the user is networked, this becomes an even more attractive proposition.
What about automatically collected data from the transmitter control and EAS? Is there an easy way to merge this data?
Unfortunately, answers to this question depend completely on the systems in use. Most transmitter remote and automated control systems use proprietary software to save the operating parameter files in formats that may or may not be easily imported to a spreadsheet. If the PCs used by the system are networked, collecting and backing up those files may be relatively simple, but the “sneakernet” is a viable alternative. EAS activity may also be dealt with by using some of the free software to spool EAS printer output to a text file. Once again, the type of EAS hardware used will determine how easy this is to do. Ironically, many stations still rely on the tiny thermal roll printers provided in most EAS encoder and decoders as the sole source of their EAS records. As a consequence, they often lose days, or even weeks, of records when the tapes run out or the printers fail. Saving the data files simplifies things and increases reliability.
The station should maintain some hard copies. Two years worth of printouts of all FCC-mandated logs and technical records should be kept available by the station licensee in the same location as the station's public file logs (even though electronic records are legally acceptable, if suitable a computer and printer for retrieval are available) for easy access in the event of an inspection. These records should be printed weekly, along with a review affidavit form, which the designated chief operator signs when the batch is placed in file. This form attests that the data has been reviewed to ensure full compliance with applicable regulations, and should include an area for notations explaining the reasons for any discrepancies that appear (such as missed EAS tests, equipment malfunctions or logging errors), as required by FCC rules. By printing the copies, the station will establish a routine that ensures proper reviews are made on schedule.
Record keeping is a chore, to be sure. By harnessing the power of the PC, you'll manage it efficiently and effectively.
Krieger, Radio's consultant on contract engineering, is based in Cleveland and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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