Controling a broadcast site with UART panels

A wonderfull working system that is being phased out...

Here is an actual system in operation. This is NOT a simulator.

This system has been working here since 1992; serving reliably. I totally built this system by hand. Reliability has proven better than other commercial systems, but still, it has a weak part. The weakest part is the PC computer. For example, the system uses a computer for all calculations and control logic. Also, the hard drive has failed due to surface errors, the keyboard has failed due to humidity, and the video card has failed. Any of these errors have in the past TOTALLY shut down the control system.

In 1996 I began to draft out another control system that did not need a PC computer. This system shown should be phased out despite a good record.
"Nothing changes your opinion of a friend so surely as success - yours or his."
-Franklin P. Jones
Upper management loves it, operators love it, but a few of my fellow technicians say it (my control system) can not possibly exist.

"The difference between God and Man is that Man can change history."
-I don't know who said this. But I remember it from long ago as a kid, and I remember it often.

The main part of the system are these remote panels. The remote panels are each connected to their gear. There are a few more rack mounted units that are not shown in the picture. The remote panels, being rack mounted, suffer a tremendous congestion of wires in the back. (My new system solved this problem: as controlling modules are integrated near, at, or in their gear.) There is a limit to the number of these panels that can be used. The system can only address approximately 250 panels. This number is plenty for this particular site, but I wanted no limitations. (My new system got around this problem.)

The system shown has now remained in operation for an additional twelve years. The undeniable record of reliability and service has kept an obsolete system working untill 2007.


The Computer Part...
Copper screened cabinet

As part of the REMOTE PANELS (above) there is the computer. The first computer used here was a 286.
In fact, it is shown in the picture. It was replaced a few years later.

The machine was so slow that many routines had to be written in Assembly Programming Code. The rest of the program was written in Basic. I was taught in school to always write in the highest level language possible. At the time this was any of the many BASIC languages. Otherwise, program writing slows down to a crawl, but program executing speed increases dramatically.

The active RAM memory was so restricted, only 512kB, that the program had to be divided into several parts. Each part was loaded into the 512 kB RAM memory, and then swapped out for another part. The necessity turned out to be a good thing. With memory in short supply I had to handle data manipulations on the hard drive. And all this "indirectness" was before data bases such as Access. At the time, I thought that I had come up with something original, but in actuality supplemental data bases that are used by programs have been around for a long time.

You will notice that the computer cabinet is inclosed in copper screen. In those days a PC could induce terrible electronic noise at a broadcast station. (Most of this noise came from the monitor cables.) But the whole thing interfered with radios and other electronic gear. I was getting a lot of complaints. We had two engineers that were hams, and incessantly insisted that the problem with my control system be stopped. But I had a sympathetic and talented friend come to my aid. Bob Hoppo had built a couple of our news sets. He said he knew nothing about electronics, but if I explained it, then he could build it. And, indeed, it was so. Bob is the greatest guy: He dropped everything that he was doing. He IMMEDIATELY built me this stupid box lined in copper screen. And it worked. He died unexpectedly a few years after he built this copper lined cabinet. Hurts much...

You will also notice in the picture the old 5.25 floppies. I had to use several floppies to make any change to the program. All sections were loaded in parts. The old system had one advantage: Changes to the program could be made easily. A program written in Basic is almost like talking to a friend. At home changes were made quickly and easily.
Logic criteria would be set up:
For example, if you wanted the generator to start warming up if the PGandE voltage sagged below 100volts, and to transfer over to generator power if the voltage was less that 80volts, or absent, for 1 second or longer, then you would type two or three sentences as easily as talking.

I must explain something here:
In the old days, I knew that if I left any software switches for human beings to change, then, for sure, people would find a way to screw them up! Especially with a language like basic, it is easy and safer for me to make the change right in the code, than for me to ask "Who in the hell made that change?" Anyway, after testing on a simulator, the floppies were hand carried to the site and the program changed.

Probably a hundred operators, over the years, have used my systems and have been signing my logs. As well as my systems running equipment, my systems also looked after operators themselves. If an operator was late for work and had not given the command for the transmitter to begin operation. Then my system would first call the house of the operator, then my system would call that operators supervisor. Also, if the transmitter did not come up for technical reasons, then the system would call me. Also the system would announce, using speech, on the radio of site problems. The brief message would also identify which transmitter had failed in English.

Also, the system would announce on the radio about security events.

Also the system would aid remote van operators, out in the field. My system helped van operators in panning their dishes with tones and speech. A van operator could be all alone out in the field with no one to help line up a shot. The van operator would push a couple of tones on the radio microphone, and alert the system that a van operator wanted attention. My system gave him that attention. The system had access to his receiver and fed him back information of his signal strength with tones and speech. Fellow engineers considered it amateurish, but operators used it a lot out of need.

There was nothing that I was not controlling. My stuff was controlling frequency selections, power levels, transmitter selections, transmitter operations of all kinds, video and audio path configurations, and so much more. My system was monitoring security, with all the doors and all its motion detectors. My system was even handling speech. There was absolutely nothing that I was not controlling. My system was like an octopus with a hundred tentacles. And I directed those tentacles into every nook and craney at the site. I looked for a challenge with an irresistable passion. There was nothing that did not fall to my control.

BBALLPUR.GIF, 0 kB I was probably the first broadcaster with PC control for the broadcaster. (1992 SEP)

BANASTAR.gif, 1 kB Old Screens


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