wrong with this picture? Believe it or not, that is how my former USAF buddy, Jim Flinn, of
found this connection for an AM broadcast station that he and his team were called in to fix. Per Jim, "Before we
started you couldn't hear this 1000 watt AM radio station five miles out of town. After we were done it could be
heard 50 miles away." Paying advertisers probably were not happy about the 5 mile range since their audience would
have been reduced considerably. It is a wonder that the transmitter even survived what must have been an atrocious
The photo is not detailed enough to show the intricacies of the center conductor connection, but the
ground/return/shield connection is nothing more than a piece of copper wire bolted to the coax feed cable shield.
So, in addition to the awful return loss, the potential for
PIM (passive intermodulation) generation is enormous. I'm guessing if a spectrum survey of the tower output
had been conducted, it would have shown a huge blob of crap all around the carrier that would have warranted a
severe violation issuance by the FCC. A lot of times, those kinds of problems are first noticed and reported by
listeners of AM radio that pick up interference on adjacent channels. OSHA would have had a fit over the shock
hazard presented by the open connections
some back-of-the-envelope calculations shows just how bad it could have been. The reported range improvement is a
factor of 10. That equates to a power difference of 20 log (10) = 20 dB. In terms of power, that is a factor of 10
^(20/10) = 100. So, if we assume 1000 W into the antenna cable yields a 5 mile range with the crappy connection
and 50 miles with a good connection, that means roughly only 1/100th of the transmitter power is being radiated.
So, only 10 W out of 1000 W is being pushed through that kludge, and 990 W is being reflected!
coefficient (Γ) is sqrt (Preverse/Pforward),
so we have Γ = √(990/1000) = 0.994987.
VSWR (or SWR) = (1+Γ)/(1-Γ):1,
so we have
VSWR = (1+0.994987)/(1-0.994987) = 398:1
Whoa! That's a serious mismatch. Like I said, it's hard
to believe the transmitter and/or tuner was not destroyed. Jim replaced the mess with a nice set of connectors
designed for the cables.
I somewhat hesitated to publish this because the identification of the radio
station will be revealed, but it is a good object lesson on how just because an electrical connection might appear
sound, that is no guarantee that it is - particularly from an RF perspective. Based on this and other instances I
have seen both on Jim's website and those of others, there are a lot of ill-maintained stations around the world.
Oh, Jim called last Friday afternoon to wax nostalgic about the old days; that is what prompted this story. It had
been about 32 years since we last talked upon departing from Tech School (although we did write a couple times
Now for a little background on Jim and me. We first met in USAF technical school at Keesler AFB, Mississippi,
in January of 1979. We were both in the Air Traffic Control Radar Repairman class (AFSC 30331). Jim hearkened from
the Saginaw, Michigan area; I crawled out of
Maryland. We both had a lot of exposure to electronics and electrical circuits prior to joining. Jim's uncle owned
a Radio Shack, so that fed Jim's taste for things electronic. He was also an avid radio broadcast guy, and was the
first person I know that had a TRS (aka Trash) 80 computer. I left a job as an electrician and a hobby of
electronics to enlist.
We both graduated with the highest GPAs in our classes (he was a week ahead of me),
partly because of previous knowledge, and partly because neither of us was a big partier. That doesn't mean we
never pushed the limits of good GI behavior, just never far enough to get into trouble or otherwise affect
academic performance. While at Keesler, we along with a few other friends managed to totally rebuild the engine on
his VW Bug, have battles (not on base) with arsenals of bottle rockets and firecrackers, make a few trips to New
Orleans and Pensacola, FL, help organize and pull off a really great toga party for the entire barracks (imagine
Animal House with crew cuts), and we even built a couple stereo power amps and other minor circuits as
There were plenty of real characters there at Keesler. I remember one guy in
our radar class (we called him Sully) who could barely pass the exams, but had every skit from the Cheech & Chong
records memorized. He had all the parts down pat, and was such a clown that the Air Force instructors (the younger
ones) sometimes allowed him to get up in front of the class and go through his routine. One of the funniest ones
he did was the one with the room full of pilots being briefed Kamikaze mission - anyone remember that?
and I also spent about two weeks seeing to it that the floors outside the squadron chow hall had a glass-like
shine to them each morning before the troops showed up for breakfast. We had to get up at about 3:00 in the
morning to use those big mechanical buffers to first strip the floor of yesterday's wax, then apply new wax and
buff it to a high sheen. It took about 4 hours, but the reason we volunteered was because unlike the other airmen
waiting for classes ("Sets") to begin, we did not have to work full 8-hour days.
I actually spent about 5
weeks buffing floors because the USAF hosed me. Here's how. The first 6 weeks of classes consisted of Basic
Electronics, where lessons began with Ohms Law and an introduction to electronic components. It progressed through
to the point where the graduation project was the successful completion of an astable multivibrator circuit using
two transistors and a handful of Cs and Rs. You had to design, build, and troubleshoot it yourself. A test was
given at the end of each week. Well, there was an option to test out of all Basic Electronics classes by taking
all the tests and building the circuit. The payoff would be getting into the "Sets" a month earlier and therefore
out of Keesler and onto my permanent duty station that much sooner. I was done in 3 days. The next morning I
reported for TDY (temporary duty) to the squadron maintenance NCO, one Mst. Holloman. After doing odd jobs for a
few days, he offered me the floor waxing detail. How could I refuse? He said my orders to begin radar classes
(about 30 weeks worth) would be forthcoming. So, I waxed floors. After a couple weeks, I was still waxing floors,
and that's when Jim came on to help. About two weeks passed and Jim got his orders to start classes. Others had
come and gone the same way. I finally went to the squadron commander and asked what the heck was going on. It was
just a simple SNAFU, I was told. I started class the next week. Unbelievable.
But, I was not surprised at
the USAFs propensity for SNAFUing. My "guaranteed" job when I enlisted was as a weather equipment specialist,
where I would have maintained weather measurement and reporting equipment (weather phenomena is also an interest
of mine). About 4 weeks into Basic Training, I was called into an office where a guy with lots of stripes on his
sleeve (intimidating to a new recruit) explained to me that he could not figure out how that job was promised when
an opening never existed. The good sergeant told me not to worry though, because he had lots of other good jobs
for me. He handed me a list to choose from. Let's see, administration clerk, paving maintenance specialist, dental
hygienist, military policeman... When I dared to suggest that I really wanted something having to do with
electronics, he grunted and told me that the jobs on the list were all that was available. Somehow I managed to
garner up the courage to remind him that my enlistment contract stated if my guaranteed job was not available
through no fault of my own, that I had the option of separating from the service. I scored 100% on my entrance
exam (which didn't require a genius IQ), so being qualified was not an issue. He did not appreciate my boldness.
Sarge left the room and came back with another list. This one included jet engine mechanic, aircraft loadmaster,
and... wait for it... air traffic control radar technician. The rest, as they say, is history.
rambling a bit, but some people like reading this kind of stuff.
The saga continues. A few weeks prior to
graduating from the radar course, I received orders to report to an Air National Guard base in Duluth, Minnesota.
I was Regular Air Force, but would be maintaining a mobile radar unit used by the ANG there. It was a perfect
assignment since I preferred the cold weather over being in the South. Jim received his orders for K. I. Sawyer
AFB on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, not real far from his home. K.I. Sawyer closed back in the mid 1990s, BTW. I was making all kinds of plans
for what I would do in Duluth, including take classes at the local college to work towards an engineering degree.
About two weeks from the end of tech school, I was informed that my orders had been red-lined (cancelled) and that new orders would be
issued. Graduation came and went - along with all my friends - and still there were no new orders for me. It was
back to waxing floors again. Finally new orders arrived - for the
5th Combat Communications Group (5CCG) at Robins AFB, Georgia!
Ugh, hot, humid weather. Strike 3.
I left Keelser AFB
the afternoon of the day before
tore through the area, and drove through Mobile, Alabama just a few hours before the eye passed through it early
the next morning. I was the last person that the MPs let go through the gate. If I hadn't gotten out that day, I
would have spent a couple weeks helping to clean up the mess on base and out in the Biloxi area. I know because
another guy (Allen Coker) came into our radar shop a
year later who had arrived at Keesler just a couple weeks before the hurricane hit. He and all the other students
spent about three weeks doing clean-up.
In the last 30-some years, Jim has built quite a reputation as a
commercial radio equipment specialist. He has repaired and rebuilt many stations around the U.S. He has also done
some stints as a radio talk show personality, going by the name
James Alexander. Always the go-getter, entrepreneurial type, Jim even travelled around the country conducting
Guerilla Marketing seminars.
There's a lot more I could tell you, but that will have to wait for another