The lonely transmitter sites are usually out in the boonies all overgrown with weeds and full of snakes. If that is what your transmitter location is like, you probably do not go out there very often. But you should or at least send your engineer there regularly for Preventative Maintenance, which is crucial.
I suggest weekly visits and at the least monthly visits to ward off any potential or rising issues. I have been doing routine preventative transmitter site visits for well over 30 years now and have many stories to tell about things I have found that could have led to off-the-air occurrences. Fix them before they become a problem is my motto. Did you know that ants can knock your transmitter down? Yes, they love the hum and warmth of electrical devices and love to make mounds in the contactors. Bees, as well as wasps, snakes and mice make nests in contactors to the point the relay device fails and puts you off the air.
Personally, I use a checklist that prompts me to look at several areas including both inside and outside the transmitter building. Yes, taking transmitter readings is important to see if parameters are slightly changing over time but also looking at the physical plant itself is just as important. Here are just some of the things I look for on my regular site visits:
- Tower condition (plumb, concrete, guy wires, rusting, coax lines)
- Insects and rodents (and treat for them)
- Air conditioning (temperature, moisture, filters and outside unit check)
- Roof leaks and plumbing leaks
- Smells (is something overheating or has something burnt up)
- Transmission line air leaks (is the dehydrator running a lot)
- Grounding (it is still intact and adequate)
- Corrosion, rust or water in contactors and electrical panels
- Satellite Dish (cracks, wasp nests, cables loose)
- Road condition and weed control (in case of emergency response, is road in good condition)
I would not send an unqualified person to perform these checks either. I know money is tight at your station, but sending the teenage intern out here is just asking for trouble. There are high voltages and RF all over the transmitter site and you do not need the liability of an accident or injury or even death.
If you do not employ an engineer, then use a contract engineer on a retainer basis. Fees for a qualified contract broadcast engineer start at only $550 per month up to $1950 per month depending on how much work you have for them. For instance, are they also maintaining the studio and doing installation work too? The question to you, is $550 per month (per station) worth it to you to keep you on the air? How much does it cost you when you go off the air? Yes, preventive maintenance is well worth it.
Glen Dingley started his broadcasting career in 1978 at the age of 17 as a radio announcer at a full power FM radio station in Houston while still in high school. He then went to college to get a 2 year degree in electronics. Later after obtaining the prized 1st Class Radiotelephone FCC License, he went to work at NASA working at the Johnson Space Center in Mission Control coordinating space shuttle television and working with the major TV networks. After leaving NASA in 1986, he took a position with the Trinity Broadcast Network as Station Manager/Chief Engineer for their Chicago station WWTO-TV.
Then in 1990 he went to work for the Home Shopping Network at their full power Houston TV station, Channel 67. In 1996 he left HSN to form his own Broadcast Engineering Company, where he designed and built out several radio and television stations.
He currently maintains and services approximately a dozen different full power radio and TV broadcast facilities in Texas. His company is called GMD Electronics that also does satellite, internet, digital signage, and more and now has 3 employees including his son Walter who serves as his lead technician. Recent projects have included designing, engineering, and licensing several LPFM stations throughout the US. Reach Glen at email@example.com.