Those corny FCC test questions

One of the things I had to do at KCHU was train the volunteers to be able to pass the FCC third class radiotelephone  license exam (with broadcast endorsement). There were about 100 Hippies at the station and I was only able to get a third of them to pass the test. It was worse than pulling teeth. You know how Hippies are when it comes to rules and technical matters. Besides, about 3/4th of the test didn't apply to broadcast stations, but to ship and aircraft radio operators. Anyway, the FCC said they had to have the license before they got to go on the air and play, so I got stuck with training them, because I knew the most about the equipment, having installed almost half of it. The reason the Chief Engineer didn't get stuck with this job was he had blown town.

I was looking for some music for my web site the other day and found a spoof test question I must have written on my air shift at KCHU and tucked in the record album, and it stayed in there for over 20 years. It's a spoof on the question that asks what you should do if an alarm sounds, indicating that the station's tower lights are out. 

An alarm sounds indicating that the station's 500 foot tower has toppled. What's the first action that should be taken? Choose the best answer.

A. Nothing, a normal condition.

B. Nothing, a normal condition with modulation.

C. Call the FAA immediately and tell them that an airplane must of hit your tower and that it's no longer a threat to low flying aircraft.

D. Give yourself 30 minutes to try to re-erect the tower, then call the FAA.

E. Give yourself 30 minutes to spell the word toppled with what's left of the tower lights. Then call the FAA.

F. Shout louder into the microphone

G. Advise the FCC that your station's radiation pattern may have changed.

H. Transmit the word toppled three times followed by this is once, followed by the station's call letters three times. Then state the assistance you need to re-erect the tower before the 30 minute FAA grace period is up.

I. Drop the station's SCA subcarrier for five seconds, return SCA to the air for five seconds, drop SCA for five seconds, then return to air with a 1,000 cycle steady state modulating tone for 15 seconds.

J. Record incident on FCC form 318 and file with the operating logs

K. Check the station license to make sure you were authorized to have a 500 foot tower in the first place

L. Ask other stations if they've had trouble with their towers lately.

M. Check SWR reading to make sure tower really has been toppled.

N. Increase power beyond legal limit to make up for signal loss.

O. Shut down the transmitter.

P. Inform the master of the ship (or aircraft) that the station's tower had a slight accident.

Q. Switch to daytime power.

R. Chase away any kids away who might have been playing with the guy wires

S. Check for crashed aircraft. Then call the FAA.

T. Take what's left of the tower to the trash area

U. Sign out. You've been on duty too long

V. Don't hassle it. Hardly a day goes by when some station's tower doesn't come crashing down.

W. Check with the studio to make sure the STL tower hasn't also been toppled.

X. Report the vandalism to the police. Then call the FAA.

Y. None of the above

Z. All of the above

A little background Information:

Answer I is really the old procedure for doing the EBS (emergency broadcast system) tests, except you dropped the main carrier instead of the SCA subcarrier. What the heck is the SCA subcarrior? It stands for Subsidiary Communications Authorization. That's what they used to transmit Muzak® (and other background music) on before they went with the satellites. Nowdays they use it mainly to send the meter readings from the transmitter back to the studio. For the EBS tests, they changed from dropping the main carrier to the DTMF tones while I was at KCHU, and since the Chief Engineer had blown town, yours truly had to install the new DTMF encoder.

SWR stands for Standing Wave Ratio. It's also known as reflected power. If anything goes wrong with the antenna or transmission line, it usually causes the SWR meter to become pegged. You're supposed to shut down the transmitter at once if this should happen. I had to do just that on one of my air shifts, but it turned out that the remote control was screwed up, not the transmission line. So the next day, I had to go out to the transmitter and hassle with that.

The STL is the Studio Transmitter Link. It sends the program audio from the studio to the transmitter and also the control signal from the remote control that controls the transmitter. It consists of the remote control, the STL transmitter and a 60 ft tower with microwave dish at the top. It would have been pretty hard to topple because it was fastened to the building and embedded in cement and I don't know how they got it out of the ground when Collins Radio repossessed it when KCHU went belly up.

Actually, the correct answer to that question depends on if you're at the studio or at the transmitter. If you're at the transmitter, you'll be the first one to know that the tower came crashing down. Obviously, the first thing you should do is shut down the transmitter. But if you're at the studio, the only hint you will get is suddenly hearing the carrier go bye-bye. You won't be able to shut down the transmitter because when the tower came crashing down, it also took out the transmitter end of the STL, which is another microwave dish on the transmitter tower. The transmitter would probably shut down on it's own accord, because it's programmed to do so whenever it loses control presence from the remote control. The only thing to do is go out to the transmitter site and try to find out what exactly caused the carrier to go bye-bye. We'd always pack a few body bags just in case some kids had been playing with the guy wires or just in case some 747 jet had hit one of the guy wires, only to have one of it's wings sheared off. Just think of what a bloody mess that would be.

Actually, KCHU's 700 ft tower never did come crashing down. That was wrongly reported in the news. We did have a lot of trouble with the tower lights. They had a nasty habit of going out in the middle of my shift. What finished off the station was it cost $200 dollars a day to run the station and we could only raise about $100 a day in pledges. The two towers that did come crashing down in Dallas were the channel 33 tower (now 39) and the tower at the transmitter where I used to work, which was channel 21, 27, 33 and three FM stations, one of which used to be the Dallas underground station, KNUS, but had switched it's call letters to KLUV and had switched to disco. These were both 1500 ft towers. Three people were killed when the one went down where I used to work. I thank my lucky stars it didn't happen on my shift.

They were trying to change out an antenna when it happened, same thing they did on one of my shifts. Only thing was, it was real windy that day, unlike the clear summer day when they changed out the antenna on my shift. They had decided to abort, but when they were taking the tower elevator down, some tool fell and hit one of the guy wires just right and it took out the whole tower. I don't think I'm going to look for a job changing out tower antennas anytime soon. 

Copyright © 1998, Colin Pringle