Fred Baumgartner is the former TV Product Manager for Nautel.

Fred started with AM in the 1970s, then FM, and now TV. Of all things in broadcasting, he loves transmission the most. He’s the guy with the 1954 1KW AM rig he’s slowly restoring for 160M Amateur operation; taking up the space normal people might have used for restoring a sports car. Fred loves a good idea, contemplating how to make this industry better, or an engineering puzzle.
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by Fred Baumgartner

danger-safety-signWorking on an old analog 5,000,000 Watt ERP UHF-TV transmitter, running three 60 kW Klystrons with 25,000 volt beam supplies, running 4-plus Amps each, sucking from a 480-Volt Voltage regulator, with a corporate VP of engineering (after he had left permanent grab marks in my dash following the “terrifying” ride up the mountain in a minor blizzard) we had one of those mutual “let your guard down moments of honesty and clarity” that can only happen in the “stupid hours.”

We agreed that part of the attraction to big rigs was that they can kill you (or worse) in a micro-second of just marginally bad judgement and bad luck. Any activity can hurt you, but very few present the dangers a transmitter can, or require this level of knowledge and proper work habits to survive. Something to be proud of. Transmitter engineer is kind of the Green Berets of broadcast engineers.

Having both been at this a while, we spoke of those we lost and our own near misses. Personally, my first near miss was at ten-years old with a home-brew 800 VDC amateur CW transmitter and burned in my mind is my gratitude to Randy, a consulting engineer I barely knew, for grabbing my hand before I got close to a Klystron’s filament supply (floating at negative 25 kV). We talked of engineers who knew just enough to be ruinous, in particular one who placed an oscilloscope across one of those filament supplies. We talked of engineers who were on the edge and lost, in particular one who adjusted a transmitter with a greenie that shattered under the voltage stress. And the friend who never got his sight back in one eye after looking briefly into the half-inch hole in an 8-inch transmission line that he had just pulled the power probe out of.

arc-flashPost the digital TV transition, most rigs run on 50 VDC. Only the IOT/Klystrode family of the full power UHF transmitters, maybe 1,000 in the U.S., have that ultra-serious high voltage hazard. As TV engineers age-out, it seems likely that broadcast engineers strong on IT and weak on RF, high voltage, and the arc flash dangers of high current, will work on big rigs. Probably alone. My greatest fear is that broadcast engineers share the challenge of the tower industry; lots of learners in the field, too many making that one final, youthful mistake.

The bottom line is that a mentality of safety, knowledge of all the things that can go wrong, and developing safe skills… is a very good thing. You only get this with some study and experience. Mentoring and hand holding go a long way, and please don’t let the unready, or anyone else if it can be avoided, work alone… especially in those “stupid hours.”

The industry has “RF,” “Hazardous Materials,” “Lock-Out-Tag Out,” and these days “Arc Flash” safety courses that some companies make mandatory… usually with some mind-deadening Web-based learning system that seems directed to someone who probably doesn’t have the “right stuff” to be a broadcast engineer. Worse, so many of these folks don’t seem to have any clue about the dangers and practices that are common to our unique profession… with one big exception… the SBE “gets it.” I for one am rather proud to be with Nautel who supports the SBE’s safety efforts — way over the top.

I’ve been a few places in my life, but Nautel is just rabid about safety. I’ll leave a pair of hard-toed shoes for my visits to the factory and I don’t even think of crossing the yellow safety lines on the floor without real-time clearance. You can be great at the transmitter game, but it simply doesn’t count if someone gets hurt… or worse.

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