The Chief Engineer Blows Town

Larry Bolef is getting tired of being the unpaid Chief Engineer of KCHU, so when he hears of an opening at another station back East, he goes for it and gets the job. Well, this left poor old KCHU in one hell of a mess... especially Colin, who wound up with the whole enchilada suddenly dumped in his lap. Plus, there was another minor little problem. Colin didn't have the proper license to be the Chief Engineer, nor did he know anyone who did, and oh... what was the station going to do...

Colin knew from the start that the station was in serious trouble. Larry had just barely installed the remote control panel, and the bugs weren't out of it yet. You would push the button to start cart 1, and tape recorder 2 would stop... all sorts of nice mix-ups like that. Larry hadn't left Colin a schematic of the dread panel either. Plus, there were more serious problems, like the stereo modulation monitor not working, but that's a little ahead of the story.

The remote control panels were only the tip of the iceberg that Larry left Colin to fume over. There is a problem with "birdies" in the SCA subcarrier that listeners kept complaining about. So the station calls up Collins Radio (no relation to Colin) and they send some engineer out to go down to the transmitter with Colin to figure out what the trouble is. They arrive at the transmitter with a spectrum analyzer, plus the station's stereo modulation monitor.

Well, they monitor this and that, can't find anything wrong, so they pack it all up and head back to the station. Colin re-installs the modulation monitor and the engineer notices that the stereo pilot signal is twice what it should be, so Colin tweaks it down and the engineer splits... But when he gets into his truck and notices that the stereo light on his radio won't come on, he knew that the damn monitor must be on the fritz. He comes in to tell Colin and sure enough, something must have jarred loose in the freakin' monitor on the way back from the transmitter. So they tweak the pilot back where it was and Colin removes the dead monitor from service and ships it back to the factory.

Things soon got to the point where Colin could barely keep the station on the air each day. The bench was littered with equipment that needed repair, and as soon as he got something fixed, someone would come into the engineering room and say, "Hay Colin, look what just broke off the Otari."

"Oh man, I don't even want to hear about those bastard Otaris. I've got my hands full as it is." And indeed Colin did...

The station knew that something had to be done before things got so bad that Colin committed suicide. They needed a Chief Engineer but how were they going to pay for one? They finally found some redneck dude, who used to work at WRR...

...Well that was a laugh... Colin, with his long fluffy Hippie Hair and beard working with this cowboy dude who does everything by the book... The first thing he wants to do is run a "proof" on the station, to make sure everything is within FCC limits... so late one night, Colin announces that he is discontinuing normal programming for tests... like this is just a test...

The first thing to do is get all the audio levels right. So Colin is in the control room, running the console, tone generators and other equipment while cowboy Frank tweaks the levels in the engineering room. They are talking to each other over the intercom. "Now give me a 1000 cycle tone." Colin puts it on. "Now play the record," the record being the rock musical, Hair... This goes on half the night... the tone and then a bit of Age of Aquarius.

Finally, Frank wants Colin to come to the engineering room. He shows him the signal on the oscilloscope. The 1000 cycle tone is there all right but so was a lot of other garbage that didn't belong...

"What's all this crap competing with the sine wave?"

"It's stray RF. It's so bad that I can't take any of the measurements properly. There's only one thing we can do, ground strap the entire station."

So the station orders a 150 foot roll of 2 inch copper ground strapping and an 8 foot ground rod, and Colin goes to pick it up. The Pranksters help him drive the ground rod into the ground, and run the copper strapping up the side of the building, nailing it down with sheet rock nails, up from the ground rod into the circuitry room, then into the engineering room, then down the hall and into the production room and finally into the control room. Then Colin runs wires from all the equipment grounds to the copper strap.

After everything is grounded, more measurements are taken and the situation is just as bad as before, if not worse. Frank goes back into the circuitry room and notices that none of the audio lines are shielded...they are all 25 pair teleco cables. So the next thing Colin knows, he's running shielded cable all over the station.

Frank does not like Larry's sleazy audio processing rack at all. So he takes Colin down to WRR and shows him the "right way" to set up engineering. Colin did like what he saw. All the equipment was mounted in racks in the wall between the engineering room and the circuitry room. Why not do the same thing at KCHU?

Between the KCHU engineering room and circuitry room is a boarded up window that had been made into a bookcase... the perfect place to install the equipment. So the Pranksters take all the books out of the window, remove the plywood back and install the equipment rails that someone had donated to the station. Then Colin rolls the equipment rack into the circuitry room, behind the window rack and then he transfers what equipment he can to the window rack.

Some of the equipment cannot be transferred without taking the station off the air, so they wait for a Saturday to do that. Then Colin takes the station off the air and Frank and Colin transfer the rest of the equipment to the rails in the window. Colin has to admit, this new setup looks really sharp, much better than Larry's funky roll around rack...

...Oh, the problems with that rack. Colin remembers the day quite well... He's working in the engineering room, while someone is touring a group of people around the station... "...and this is our engineering room, where we control the transmitter and repair the equipment..." One of the tourists stumbles on the umbilical cord between Larry's freakin' roll around rack and the circuitry room, causing the power cord to become unplugged, knocking the transmitter off the air. "Like oh no!" says Colin, as he rushes over to plug it back in and get the station back on the air...

...And then there was the dream... Colin had just walked into the station, when he hears the carrier suddenly go off the air... hisssssss... then he hears a tripple-tropple, tripple-tropple, tripple-tropple, Bang, CRASH... shatter... He runs to the back of the station and finds that Larry's damn audio processing rack had somehow migrated out of the engineering room, into the newsroom and down the freakin' stairs. All the teeny freaks in the station are eyeballing Colin with large lollipop eyes, wandering if he can put humpy-dumpy back together again so they will once again be able to go back on the air and play disk jockey... It's too much for Colin and he wakes up... Yes, yes, getting rid of that audio processing rack may be the best thing that ever happened to KCHU... at least it will ease Colin's piece of mind...

Colin only had one snag with the equipment in the new location. He was working on a new monitor panel for the window mounted equipment rack and somehow a wire broke loose from the AGC, killing one audio channel. It was real late in the day when he noticed that one of the audio channels was out, so he put the station in mono mode and put up a sign on the console to tell everyone to operate in mono mode until he had time trace out the problem and fix it. Well, the next day, which was Colin's day off, some fool came in and somehow covered up Colin's sign, then someone else came in and put the station back into stereo mode.

The FCC happened to be monitoring the station and they noticed that one channel was out and called the station and told them they'd better fix it. So Walter calls up Colin and tells him what happened, and Colin realizes that if he doesn't go down to the station and fix the problem right away, other disk jockeys were likely to put the station back in stereo mode, so he has to go down to the station and fix it before there were any more screwups.

Things at the station were beginning to look up. Besides getting rid of the funky audio processing rack, Frank had helped Colin get the bugs out of the remote control panel in the control room and having that operating properly was a load off his back, but the thing that was now eating his lunch was the new DTMF encoder-decoder for the Emergency Broadcast System tests. It had arrived at the station none too soon and needed to be installed the day before it was required by the FCC to be installed.

Colin hates these last minute rushes. He mounts the EBS unit in the wooden rack that the cart machines, cassette recorder and patch bay are located in and he tries to connect it to an unused input on the console, but every time he tries to put it on audition, the damn EBS tones go out over the air. He changes it to another unused input, but the same freakin' thing happens. Finally, he plugs his headphones into the patch bay, and sure enough, he can hear program material.

He realizes that some wires must be crossed in the circuitry room, so he heads for it to look at the master field of terminal blocks. After pulling Larry's records and going through pages of notes which as far as Colin is concerned, might as well be written in some estranged foreign language, he soon realizes that the only thing he can do is trace every wire.

So he finds the punch block that goes to the patch bays. He thought that the last holes in the patch bays only went to the other patch bays, but soon found that they went to the AGC, the limiter, and several other points in the audio chain, and christ knows where else. One cable even went down to the basement to pick up the telephone lines and remote line equalizers. Now isn't that special! Where in heaven's name was it possible to tie in the freakin' EBS unit where it wouldn't wind up in the middle of the audio chain? ? ? ? ?

Well, Colin has to call up cowboy Frank and Frank has to drop what he is doing to help Colin figure out this damn mess of wires, but when Frank gives it the hairy eyeball and goes over the esoteric notes, he comes to the conclusion that the only way to get to the bottom of this mess was to check with the cat who installed they call up Larry and finally get the EBS signal divorced from the audio chain.

Colin has just about had it with Larry's notes. "From now on, I'm keeping all the wiring diagrams in one three-ring binder, so stuff can be added in an organized manor, and anyone can quickly find the information they need. This business of keeping scribbled notes in file folders just doesn't hack it," he announces at a station meeting.

The first thing Colin decides he needs are some pin-out forms, where he can write down what each pair of wires on each punch block go to, so he types up a ditto master and runs it off for the Notebook. Dennis, the station manager makes up some schematic forms and runs them off for the Notebook. Pretty soon, Colin has every circuit identified and in the Notebook. When any new piece of equipment is built, it goes into the Notebook.

Colin couldn't understand why Larry kept such rotten records. Frank explained that doing so was a Chief Engineer's job security, because the next Chief Engineer that came along would have to spend months tracing all the wiring out to find out what is connected to what. Well, Colin thought that this was for the birds and wanted everyone to keep all the information up front, in the Notebook, and understandable by all. 

It wasn't long before the next disaster hit the station. One Saturday afternoon, someone was in the middle of their show when the audio suddenly burst into a loud hum and nobody could figure out how to get rid of it. Walter, the Program Director, realizes that the audio console was on the fritz and calls up Colin, who tells him to unplug it and put the production room on the air. Walter's in the engineering room and Colin is telling him where to stick the patch cords in the patch bay. Well that got the other studio on the air all right, however...

...Colin thought that there was some simple problem with the console, like a blown filter capacitor or something. He gets down to the station only to find that the console power supply had gone high (lost it's regulation) and fried the whole console. He would be replacing blown transistors and charred resistors for months and that was only for openers. The station couldn't do any production work while the console was down, since the production console was now on the air. The production room only had one cart machine (for cutting carts) so back to back carts couldn't be broadcast without a bunch of dead air between them, while you waited for the freaking carts to re-cue.

The other problem is that the production room has no remote control or door buzzer setup. So Colin has to take these items out of the control room and run an umbilical from the control room to the production room in order to get everything up and running. Doing so took a run of three 25 pair telco cables down the hall from one studio to the other. Everyone would walk into the station and see Colin's cables snaking down the hall and wonder what the fock had happened. Or they would walk into the control room to do their shift only to find it empty and a big hole in the desk where the console used to be.

Although the charred console was the biggest engineering nightmare that Colin had faced at the station, it was a bummer for the entire station, especially the Pranksters, who couldn't get any production work done now that the production room had become the control room. The control room being down was also a drag for everyone who had an air shift, because the records were all in the control room and when you went to pull them or shelve them, you couldn't hear what was going over the air.

To cowboy Frank, the control room being down was a blessing in disguise, because now Colin could wire it "the right way." So instead of fixing the console, he has Colin pulling shielded cable, grounding this and wiring that...while the console sat on the bench in the engineering room gathering dust, which was a sight in itself. On the bench sits the console, the schematics of the console, pieces of the console and pieces of pieces of the console...well, Colin had his work cut out for him, no two ways about it...and this time all the little teeny freaks really are looking at him with large lollipop eyes, wondering if he would every get Humpy-dumpy put back together again so they could go back on the air and play disk jockey.

Well...all of this is just too freaking much for Colin. He had been through some sticky engineering messes before, but this nightmare topped them all. Not only does he have the dead console to worry about, but the RF problem with the unshielded wiring has become so bad that you can hear WFAA-AM every time you call the station and someone puts you on hold. He's sitting in the engineering room trying to make up a list of parts the station needs and there are all these teeny freaks getting in his way, who look like they will burst into tears if he can't raise the control room from the dead. Christ, Man! He wonders when this freakin' nightmare is ever going to end...

...Meanwhile...Larry has his own problems to contend with... That great job he went after turned out not to be so great after all. There's some kind of nasty power struggle going on at the station and Larry just doesn't seem to fit in, so he comes limping back to KCHU, only to find out that cowboy Frank is now the Chief Engineer. Larry has it out with cowboy Frank over the unshielded wiring and grounding problems, over dinner at the Old Warsaw Restaurant. Colin really enjoyed the whole show...

The station decides it can't afford cowboy Frank any more, so Larry once again becomes the unpaid Chief Engineer, which lets Colin off the hook, because now the dead console is Larry's problem. He walks into the engineering room and is not only greeted by the fried audio console, but finds that all the equipment had been taken out of his roll around rack and has been mounted in the wall.

It took Larry and Colin a month to repair the console and get the control room back on the air. Meanwhile, production jobs had stacked up so badly that Colin doesn't know where to begin. He has the Pranksters round up every free tape machine in the station and they drag them all to the production room. He's got so many cords plugged into the patch bay that he runs out and Cryspian has to go to the control room to get him some more... now he needs more recording tape, so Clarke runs downstairs...

Colin has so much equipment jammed into the production control room that there isn't even enough room for all of the Pranksters, so he puts Cryspian and Steve in the production studio so they can voice scripts in a quiet room and not have to compete with the den of all the studio recorders starting, stopping and rewinding tapes.

Things went a little awkward at first, because Colin had one mix going on the program bus and Clarke has another mix going on the audition bus, plus Cryspian could only voice scripts while Clarke was playing musical parts and Steve could only voice scripts while Colin was playing music. Finally Colin took Clarke off the console and had him edit on another machine. The tape machines grind away into the wee hours of the night...

Finally things at the station return to normal and Colin winds up all the cables he had snaking up and down the halls, in and out of the various studios. He has never ridden out a worse storm than he had to contend with when the console knocked out. 

Copyright © 1995,
Colin Pringle