CGC #1180

by CGC on December 13, 2012

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                      THE CGC COMMUNICATOR

                            CGC #1180

                  Thursday,  December 13, 2012

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                Robert F. Gonsett, W6VR,  Editor
                

    Copyright 2012, Communications General® Corporation (CGC)

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  SPECIAL EDITION ON LAX AIRADIO

  This special edition CGC Communicator newsletter looks
into the reasons behind the demise of the 530 kHz Travelers
Information Station at Los Angeles International Airport.

  We begin with the story from CGC #1175 which sets the stage,
then turn to our interview with Nancy Castles, Public Relations
Director for Los Angeles International Airport ("LAX") and Los
Angeles World Airports.  An invited letter from Burt Weiner
and a reply from Nancy conclude the showing.  (Burt participated
in the construction of the TIS station and had strong feelings
about the facility, as many of us did.)

  Our appreciation to both Nancy and Burt for providing a
wealth of new information.

  Editor

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  L.A. AIRPORT'S TRAVELERS INFORMATION STATION IS HISTORY
  (Extract from CGC #1175 for November 19, 2012)

  Thanks to the efforts of a sharp-eyed CGC Communicator
reader, we now know why the 530 kHz Travelers Information
Station at Los Angeles International Airport is silent.
Mark Nodine writes, "Los Angeles World Airports canceled
their recently renewed license for WNHV296 effective
October 1, 2012.  They no longer have a license."

  WNHV296 consisted of two transmitters, one to fill the
Sepulveda Blvd. tunnel under the runways (10 watts of power),
the other to broadcast to the general public (100 watts).
An FCC waiver was necessary in order to run 100 watts with
the above-ground transmitter.  That power level was granted
back in 2004 with some fanfare, the extra power being deemed
necessary to communicate with the general public in case of
a terrorist attack, see the first URL below.  You can read
about the demise of WNHV296 at the second URL....

  http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-03-3843A1.doc
  http://wireless2.fcc.gov/UlsApp/UlsSearch/license.jsp?licKey=1224481

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  THE TRAVELERS INFORMATION STATION AT LOS ANGELES INTERNATIONAL
  AIRPORT HAS BEEN REPLACED WITH A NEW FORM OF COMMUNICATION

  As reported in CGC #1175, the 530 kHz Travelers Information
Station ("TIS") at Los Angeles International Airport ("LAX")
is off the air because the airport operator requested that the
license be cancelled, and the FCC honored that request.  The
station, known locally as "LAX AiRadio," is now history along
with its grandfathered 100 watt FCC license.

  Not Many Listeners

  To discover the reasoning behind the license termination,
we contacted Nancy Castles, Public Relations Director for LAX.
Nancy indicated that except for rare emergency situations, an
exhaustive 2007 survey showed that only about 1% of those
passengers who said they arrived at LAX by personal vehicles
had listened to AiRadio while driving to the airport.

  Good Reporting and Promotion -- No Problem There

  At the time of the survey, the broadcast studio was staffed
live eight hours a day and gave up-to-the-minute, real-time
status of vehicular traffic conditions in and around LAX, parking
availability in all parking facilities, and any unusual weather
or flight operations (which are generally driven by weather
conditions at other airports in the U.S.).  LAX also pro-actively
promoted the AiRadio station because it provided the two most
requested pieces of information: real-time flight operations
and real-time road traffic.

  High Cost

  Unfortunately, this intense form of journalism was expensive.
The 2008 contract resulted in a $200,000 annual contract for all
content programming/announcing/operations/maintenance/repairs and
eight hours of daily "live" staffing that covered the morning and
mid-day peak travel periods.  The evening peak travel period was
not covered.

  Budget Reduction

  When management asked AiRadio to return to the pre-911 cost
of operations, the budget was slashed to $58,000/year by going
to pre-recorded 'canned' programming.  AiRadio then failed
to provide the two most sought-after items, real-time flight
operations and road traffic info, so the number of listeners
plummeted.  Then a key piece of equipment failed and, with no
budget for repairs, AiRadio fell silent.

  Advancing to Text Messaging

  On the positive side, it seems that more and more travelers
are equipped with Internet-type devices and prefer to receive
bulletins that way, so LAX has re-tooled their advisories for
that method of delivery although it has one drawback -- namely
that drivers should not drive and read text messages at the
same time -- but that problem may eventually be solved by the
advent of text-to-speech converters.

  Cultivating Strong Relationships With Traditional Media

  Nancy added that, "It's been surprising to me personally that
during each [major event since AiRadio went silent], that through
other media forms, we have been able to directly reach hundreds
of thousands more passengers, airport visitors, airport workers
and others with our advisories than we ever did during the peak
listenership years of the LAX AiRadio.  And by building stronger
relationships with the traffic reporters at commercial all-news
radio stations to ensure they receive accurate and timely
information as soon as possible, in a sense, we have stopped
competing with those radio stations for listeners during
airport emergencies."

  For further information, media inquiries may be directed
to Nancy Castles at ncastles (at) lawa.org or (424) 646-5260.

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  COMMENTS ON THE DEMISE OF LAX AIRADIO

  Just a few comments from what I know:

  LAX AiRadio was created because airport officials were
looking for a way to communicate directly to the public, and
at any time, with no intermediate systems or people involved.
Regular radio station news items are fine, but any particular
story is only carried for a few moments and may not be repeated
for an hour or more, if ever.  LAX AiRadio was more than a PR tool
for L.A. International Airport -- it was a way to continuously
communicate not only emergency airport information, but parking
information and airport traffic conditions, as well as where to
find your airline.

  Speaking for myself, I would often tune into AiRadio when
taking or picking up family or friends at the airport because
I didn't know what terminal many of the different carriers were
in.  It was easier and safer listening to the radio than trying
to read all the signs and drive at the same time.

  It seems to me that an important lesson should be learned
from the recent storms back east.  The Internet and cell phones
were not reliable.  Broadcast AM and FM was where many people
tuned for emergency information.  In a number of cases, radio
broadcasts were the only thing that was reliable.  One broadcast
signal can feed an unlimited number of receivers at the same time.

  I work in the broadcast engineering field and have it on
good authority that the reason AiRadio ultimately fell silent
is because of loss of primary power at its main transmitter site.
A nearby billboard was taken down and the power meter was removed.
AiRadio was fed from that circuit.  It is reasonable to believe
that after AiRadio's UPS ran out of battery, the transmitter went
off the air.

  AiRadio's main transmitter facility on Century Boulevard
contained two transmitters: a LPB 100 Watt transmitter and a
backup 30 Watt transmitter.  The antenna was a top-loaded Valcom
with a real ground system, not just a ground rod.  The processor
was an Orban 9100B and the system had an Inovonics AM modulation
monitor.  While the site didn't have a generator, it had a
transfer switch that could switch between DWP power and a panel-
mounted male U-plug for connection to an external generator.
On a few occasions, I ran the system on my Honda EU2000 generator.

  A separate ten Watt transmitter was used to feed the long
wire antennas on the ceilings of the Sepulveda tunnels.  Although
that transmitter has been shut off, you can still see the wire
today, a testament to a very well built AM booster system where
the transition between the main and boosted signals at the
tunnels' entrances and exits were undetectable to the public.

  I feel very disappointed that airport management has turned
their back on such a time-proven and reliable way to communicate
with the public at any time of the day or night.  Turning in
their specially-negotiated license for cancellation was a shame.

  Burt Weiner
  Burt I. Weiner Associates

  December 7, 2012
  biwa (at) att.net

******************************************************************

  LAX RESPONDS

  Thank you for sending me your [subscriber's] comments.
I guess he must be part of the group described as "less than
one percent of those who drive to the airport."  We agree with
his comment that Internet and cellphones may not be reliable
during an emergency, and the fact that AM and FM radio seems
to be where many people will tune in for emergency information.
So, our focus has been to ensure the commercial, region-wide-
reaching, all-news radio stations, as well as other media,
receive this information in a timely manner.  Our decision to
cease broadcasting the LAX AiRadio station was not an issue
of the type or reliability of the equipment.  It was due to
significantly declining listenership, which we recognize
was in large part driven by the lack of daily or up-to-the-
minute/real-time program content.

  Nancy Suey Castles
  Public Relations Director
  Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
  Los Angeles World Airports

  ncastles (at) lawa.org
  (424) 646-5260
  December 11, 2012


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