SBE 24 January 1997 Newsletter


Newsletter edited on Pagemaker 5.0 by: Mike Norton

Chapter 24 World Wide Web Site
Leonard Charles is the editor for the Electronic Version of this Newsletter uploaded monthly onto SBE Chapter 24's web page.
Thanks to Chris Cain for his work on the Chapter 24 WWW page and electronic newsletter

© 1997 by SBE Chapter 24. Views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the Society, its officers, or its members. SBE Chapter 24 regrets, but is not liable for, any omissions or errors. The Chapter 24 Newsletter is published twelve times per year. Other SBE Chapters are permitted to use excerpts if attributed to the original author, sources, and SBE Chapter 24.

Contributors this month:
Leonard Charles
Todd Hausser
Neal McLain
Mike Norton
Tom Smith
Paul Stoffel
Tom Weeden.

Contents for this Newsletter

About this Newsletter
Meeting Announcement
Upcoming Meeting Schedule
Meeting Minutes
EAS, Up and Running
Wisconsin's First EAS Test, Less Than a Success
EAS Firsthand
Local Legals
AT&T Telstar 401 Fails
WOLX's Tower Collapses
FCC Approves DTV Standards
FCC Rulemakings
Telecom Industry News
Amateur Radio News
National SBE News
Chapter 24 Sustaining Members

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The Chapter 24 Newsletter is published monthly by Chapter 24 of the Society of Broadcast Engineers; Madison, Wisconsin. Submissions of interest to the broadcast technical community are welcome. You can make your submissions by e-mail to:

Information and/or articles are also accepted by US Mail. Please address them to:

SBE Chapter 24 Newsletter Editor
46 Trillium Court
Madison, WI 53719-2308

Please submit text file on DOS or Windows 3.5" floppy diskette if possible.

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January 22, 1997

Meeting and Program at Alt N' Bachs, Next to American TV on the West Beltline Highway

EAS experiences will be discussed followed by presentations on the latest in Digital Tape formats from Panasonic and JVC.

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Tentative Program Subjects

Thu, Feb 20, 1997
Part 2 - Interfacing To Broadcast

Tue, Mar 18, 1997
Radio Automation

Wed, Apr 16, 1997
Elections and NAB Review

Thu, May 22, 1997
ATM Technology

Tue, Jun 17, 1997
Facility Tour - TBA

Sat, Jul 26, 1997
Annual Family Picnic

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Submitted by Neal McLain, Secretary

On December 17, 1996, Chapter 24 of the Society of Broadcast Engineers sponsored a Holiday Party at the Concourse Hotel in Madison. No official business was conducted.

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By Leonard Charles

The long awaited EAS online deadline has passed and we’re all now transmitting the new sounds of emergency broadcasting. In answer to some email and in composing articles for the SBE EAS Home Page, a few housekeeping bits of information have become note worthy.

The FCC EAS Handbook is now available on the Internet. The FCC states that a printed copy off the web will suffice for compliance to the Part 11 rule that requires the Handbook be available at the EAS control point of your station. The FCC further states that hard copies of the Handbook will only be sent out on request. There is a hot link to this document from the SBE web site EAS page at

You should have received your copy of the official EAS Wisconsin State Plan by now. It was addressed to the Chief Engineer. This Plan, by rule, must also be available at your EAS control point. If you did not receive yours, call the FCC at 202-418-1220.

What do you do with your old EBS equipment now that the deadline has passed? The EBS encoder can go away and is no longer needed. The EBS decoder, however, must stay installed and monitoring the same station it was for the EBS years, regardless of whether that station has been re-assigned to you as an EAS input. It is no longer necessary to log any receptions from the old EBS decoder. Its function is strictly stand-by in case the EAS develops huge un-foreseen problems. In actuality, on that old EBS decoder you will only receive EAS activations which contain the two tone attention signal. That means you will not hear the Weekly Test from it. You will hear the Monthly Test and any actual alert. Then on January 1st, 1998, you can remove that EBS decoder.

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By Leonard Charles

Wednesday, January 8th, at 10:59am marked the first ever EAS Required Monthly Test for the state of Wisconsin. Unfortunately, it will not be remembered as a success but rather the beginning of a sizable learning curve. After the test was originated by the State Primary, some stations saw their equipment receive and relay it, others received and ignored it.

Here’s what happened: the encoder in the State Primary studio had an incorrect UTC (Universal Coordinated Time) offset stored in its programming. Its offset put its UTC clock one hour behind the actual UTC. That UTC time is imbedded into the EAS header by the originating encoder and is used by all decoders to determine when the event expires. So, in this case, even though the test was originated at 10:59am local time, the incorrect UTC stamped it as originating at 9:59am local time. Since the test was only valid for 15 minutes, it was marked to expire at 10:14am local time, or 45 minutes before it was actually sent referenced to the correct UTC.

Why then, did some stations successfully relay it and others didn’t? Some EAS decoders have a programming feature called “strict time”. When set to NO, the decoder does not check the time stamp at all and reacts as it is programmed for the received event. Stations with that feature set to NO as well as those stations also programmed with the incorrect UTC offset did successfully relay the RMT. All others did not.

The correct UTC offset for Central Standard Time is +6 hours. It is recommended that “strict time” be set to YES for normal operation on those units that have the feature. For bench testing it is useful to set it to NO so that pre-recorded alerts which may be well out of the valid time window can be sent to the decoder to test it, but care should be taken to reset it to YES when returning the unit to on-line. This incident also illustrates how important it is to keep the clock accurately set in your EAS unit. It is very important to periodically check the time of day clock on units not synchronized to line frequency.

It should be noted that the system did work from a diagnostic view point. From comparing the printouts of stations successful in the relay to those not, it was possible to pinpoint the reason of the system failure and correct it quickly. It also showed once again how the engineering staffs of many stations can work together effectively in problem solving situations.

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By Paul Stoffel

In this month’s newsletter and future newsletters, a written dialogue will offer firsthand experiences from users of various EAS equipment. I encourage broadcasters and cable TV operators to contribute to this monthly article as a way of sharing information.

Tom Weeden, WMTV, wrote, “WMTV specified the TFT with four audio inputs and also received a combination AM/FM/weather receiver tray with provisions for a fourth receiver. We will be using an outboard receiver already on hand to receive Dane County on 45.320 MHz.”

“The TFT package by Broadcast Software Solutions included the TFT EAS 911, the TFT receiver package, a Chyron Codi character generator, and an AST computer for running the BSS software.”

“Programming the TFT was fairly straightforward. We were one button short on the “county” buttons, so we dropped one county. Adams County is on the fringe of our coverage area but not officially in our DMA, so it was cut from our list.”

“The TFT is programmed for MANUAL operation in all cases except for the presidential message, which is set for AUTO forward.”

“The first good sign that things were working was the reception of a “Practice/Demo Warning” from the National Weather Service on the night that a Winter Storm Warning was issued for a portion of the state. The TFT successfully decoded the header and EOM off the weather radio receiver and automatically printed the message.”

“On New Year’s Eve we took the 1976 TFT EBS generator out of the audio chain and relegated it to a more distant rack. We then installed the EAS 911 at the master control operator’s position. The next day, January 1st, we received our first weekly test from the National Weather Service.”

“Since I’m one of the announcers for WMTV, I recorded the audio for the test messages. I also had the unnerving experience of recording the “real” national-level Emergency Action Notification script...the one I hope we never have to use.”

Paul Stoffel wrote, “WHA-TV purchased the Sage ENDEC package including the encoder, handheld remote control, relay interrupt panel and two receiver trays populated with modules to receive WIBA-FM, WERN-FM, WOLX-FM, NOAA Weather, 45.12 MHz State EAS frequency, and an additional WX/RPU module. A recently received Harris Allied packing slip said the low-band receiver module would ship January 15. Also purchased was a dot matrix printer. The messages print across the full width of an 8.5”x11" sheet of paper.”

“There is a computer program for the Sage (available from Harris or on the web if you have access at that allows you to program from the computer, then upload to the unit, as well as download. It is much more convenient for programming and review purposes. The software allows the user to print a hard copy of the set up parameters.”

“When running the Required Weekly Test (RWT), a Codi-generated crawl runs twice; the VDS crawls once. I entered only Dane County (county of license) for the RWT’s “location” to shorten the crawl length. I also entered a NEW LOCATION and called it “(055025) Dane Co.” so that the RWT crawl would read “Dane Co., WI” instead of Dane, WI.”

Jim Hermanson, WKOW, wrote: “The ENDEC will hold a test in the TIMED-RELAY mode with hold-off function satisfied by an appropriate hold-off function programmed and an appropriate contact closure or open. In that hold-off state, the display timer counts backward from 15:00. When zero is reached the timer counts negatively, apparently indicating a count since 15 minute expiration. The backwards count is not a time readout but a growing negative number. When the opposite contact open or close was given to deactivate hold-off, the test was IMMEDIATELY sent.”

From PBS e-mail, Louis LaBonte of KVIE wrote, “Because of the severe flooding here in the Sacramento Valley, we went through one printer tape and are half way through our second roll with our Sage Endec EAS.” And from Dennis Speck, KOZK, “After talking with tech support of the Sage Endec about the crawl messages, Sage is going to send out a new eprom sometime in January. Evidentally, some end users who have the VDS CG were complaining when the crawl started, the video would flash. So they’re going to put an option in the the eprom update, giving you the choice of letting the video pass through the electronics to switch on the vertical interval to give it a cleaner transition."

(Send “EAS Firsthand” contributions to

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By Tom Smith


New FM, Cuba City, WI. American Family Association (Donald E. Wildmon, President, Tupelo,MS) seeks to construct a new non-commercial FM at 89.7 mhz. The station would operate with an ERP of 15 kw at 122 meters with the transmitter located near Tennyson, WI. American Family Association owns 7 FM’s and 1 AM station with construction permits for 7 more FM’s. They also have applications for 59 non-commercial FM’s and are in the process of selling 1 FM station. Filed October 3, 1996.

New FMs, Sister Bay, WI. The Educational Communications Board is seeking to construct 2 new FM stations in Sister Bay. The stations would operate on the frequencies of 89.7 and 91.9 mhz. Both stations would have a ERP of 3.4 kw with an antenna at 164.5 meters. The transmitters would be located 2.3 km SW of Ellison Bay, WI. Filed October 3, 1996.

(Compiled from BROADCASTING and CABLE)

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By Mike Norton

On Saturday, January 11, 1997 AT&T said that its Telstar 401 satellite experienced an abrupt failure of its telemetry and communication at 6:15 am EST, affecting service for all customers. At the time this newsletter went to press, service had not been restored.

This caused some problems for many customers, including ABC, Fox, PBS, and program syndicators. AT&T restored service for customers whose contracts called for transfer of their transponder service to Telstar 402R in the case of a service outage.

AT&T and Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the satellite, are working to determine the cause of the problem, while AT&T SKYNET control is continuing to send commands to the satellite in an effort to restore service.

This causes an interesting situation, as Loral Space and Communications Ltd. had entered into an aggreement last September to acquire AT&T SKYNET Satellite Services. That aggreement included $712.5 million for the purchase of Telstar 401. This transaction was projected to be completed in the first quarter 1997.

The satellite was insured, but AT&T has not stated what the value of the policy is. The cost to build, insure, and launch a satellite like a Telstar series is approximately $200 million.

AT&T SKYNET currently has three other satellites in orbit: Telstar 402R, 302, and 303. Telstar 302 is no longer operational, while 303 is in limited use in an eliptical orbit.

Telstar 401 was launched in December of 1993, and was put in service on February 1, 1994 at 97º west longitude. Telstar 402 was lost shortly after launch vehicle separation in 1994, and the ground spare was launched in July 1996 as Telstar 402R (replacement) at 89 º west longitude. The Telstar 4 series has an estimated service lifespan of 12 years.

In May of 1996, SKYNET Satellite Services was granted authority by the FCC to constuct, launch and operate Telstar 5 at 93º, and Telstar 6 at 69º west. Telstar 5, under construction by Space Systems/Loral in Palo Alto, California, is on schedule, with launch targeted for May 1997.

(Excerpts from AT&T press releases and www site)

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By Todd Hausser

At 6:15pm on December 31st, radio station 94.9 FM WOLX experienced the worst nightmare possible. Eight days of intermittent mist, freezing rain and heavy frost were collectively more than the 652 foot tower, erected in 1948, could bear -- causing it to collapse and split into three sections.

Although no one was hurt in the incident, Glenn and Sue Disney, site managers who live on the property, and their two children were home at the time of the tower collapse. They compared the incident to an earthquake accompanied by lightening and fireworks. Several trees were damaged and one of the tower sections fell on a garage at the site.

Engineers could not do much that night due to heavy fog and darkness. Management assessed the situation first thing New Years Day, and planned a course of action. Priority one was to get WOLX back on the air. Luckily, a sixty foot tower on the site, that was scheduled to be leveled, proved to be invaluable in this process. Engineers were able to find 200 feet of undamaged hardline, and borrowed one bay of a four bay antenna from another radio station and retuned it to 94.9 MHz. Three antennas were placed on the 60 foot tower. There was some speculation as to whether the STL would make it, but at 7:00pm on January 2nd, WOLX was back on the air. Due to the unknown condition of the hardline, output power was set at 75%, and the transmitter never skipped a beat! Everything was functioning as if nothing had ever happened.

WOLX has made plans to build a 200 foot interim tower by January 23rd, and rebuild a permanent tower to the original height of 652 feet by the end of March.

Everyone at WOLX would like to thank all of the local broadcasters who offered their resources and a special thanks to Richard Wood and his crew at Skyline Communications for getting WOLX back on the air within 2 days.

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By Tom Smith

On December 26th, the FCC gave it’s approval to a DTV standard. The standard is based on a compromise plan that was agreed to, by the broadcast and computer industries, on November 27th. This agreement between the two industries was prompted by a November 25th deadline requested by FCC Commissioner Susan Ness. The FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on this agreement with comments due on December 6, 1996 and allowed for no reply period. The notice was published in the FEDERAL REGISTER on December 3rd.

The agreement eliminated all of the 18 picture scanning formats. This was because the computer industry objected to the use of interlaced scanning in some of the formats. The ability to providing data transmission in the DTV system was another request of the computer industry that was agreed upon. The MPEG 2 video compression profile, the VSB modulation system, the 16:9 aspect ratio, and the digital audio standard as proposed by the Advanced Television Systems Committee were also adopted. The broadcast industry got an agreement that the computer industry would not support the auctioning of spectrum for DTV.

At the same time, comments for the 6th Notice of Rulemaking were filed with the FCC. Over 650 broadcasters signed a filing with the FCC objecting to the proposed elimination of channels 60-69. A number of stations and broadcast groups also objected to the possible disparity between stations with the replication of current coverage areas of VHF and UHF stations. These groups would like equal service areas for all stations. Motorola, police and public safety groups and public interest groups favored the reduction of the TV band. The National Cable TV Association voiced concerns over TV stations broadcasting more than one program on a DTV channel.

The FCC still needs to act on the allocation table that was discussed in the 6th Notice of Rulemaking and the transition timetable from NTSC to DTV. The FCC expects to act on these by April.

What is the reason for the need to strike a compromise between the various industries? In speeches and comments at a recent computer trade show, leaders of the computer industry stated that they were after eyeballs for their products. This signals that the computer industry is after the broadcast and cable TV viewer.
The adoption of the DTV standard was covered in feature stories on all of the TV and cable news channels. The one issue that was raised in most all of these features was the expected $1500-3000 cost of the first sets and their acceptance by the average consumer.

There are a number of articles in December issues of TELEVISION BROADCAST and VIDEOGRAPHY concerning the technical differences over DTV between the broadcasters and the computer industry.


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By Tom Smith


MM Docket No. 96-197;
DA 96-2039
Newspaper/Radio Cross-Ownership Waiver Policy

The FCC is extending the comment period for its inquiry concerning newspaper/radio cross-ownership. Comments are now due on February 7, 1997 and replies are due on March 7, 1997. The original dates were December 9, 1996 for comments and January 8, 1997 for replies. These dates match the due date of 3 TV ownership inquiries.

This notice was adopted and released on December 5, 1996 and published in the FEDERAL REGISTER on December 11, 1996 on page 65192


MM Docket No. 94-150, 92-51,
87-154; FCC 96-436
Multipoint Distribution Services

The FCC is seeking comments on a number of TV ownership rules in 3 separate notices of inquiry. This notice concerns the FCC rules pertaining to the attribution of ownership for broadcast stations. These rules define how much of a financial interest in a broadcast station is applied for determining multiple ownership compliance.

This rule allows station owners to raise capital without the investors share, such as from banks and investment firms, counting against any of their clients ownership limits. The FCC is concerned about recent trends, such as when networks or others with their own broadcast stations aid other stations with investment capital or in the operating of other stations under local marking agreements. The Commission questions the influence these silent marketing partners may have in the operation of a station, and if it constitutes ownership rights.

The FCC is also seeking comment if cable and multi-point distribution services should be covered under the same financial rules. Currently, a cable system and a MMDS service cannot be owned by the same company in a common service area. The FCC feels that the current rules are overly restrictive.

Comments are due on February 7, 1997 and reply comments are due on March 7, 1997. The FCC adopted this notice on November 5, 1996 and released it on November 7, 1996. Published in the FEDERAL REGISTER on December 20, 1996 on pages 67275-67291.

MM Docket No. 96-221 and 87-8; FCC 96-437
Local Television Ownership Rules

The FCC is seeking further comments on it’s tentative conclusions to modify the local television ownership rules to allow for less restrictive Designated Market Area (DMA) and grade “A” contour standards. Comments are also sought on local television ownership rules, including television duolopy rules and radio/television cross-ownership rules in light of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

The FCC is proposing to use a stations DMA as determined by Neilsen’s ratings instead of a stations grade “B” contour coverage for determining audience coverage for national ownership rules. Another proposal is to allow for the overlap of commonly owned stations to be reduced for grade “B” contours to grade “A” contours as long as they are in different DMA’s.

Other ownership rules being discussed include the allowing of TV duolopies, such as owning a UHF/UHF or UHF/VHF combinations in some markets. The proposal would allow for such combinations in certain circumstances such as markets with sufficient independent voices, to keep a failed station on the air, or allow for the use of a long unapplied allocation. The repeal or modification of the rules that prohibit radio/TV cross-ownership in markets 25 to 50 is also proposed. Comment on extending this to smaller markets is also being sought.

Finally the commission raises a number of questions concerning LMAs including if and when they should count against ownership limits and if LMAs should fall under duolopy rules.

The FCC has a proposal to set November 5, 1996 as the grandfathering date for LMA’s, in the event the FCC considers LMA’s as counting against TV ownership limits.

Comments are due on February 7, 1997 and replies are due on March 7, 1997. This notice was adopted on November 5, 1997, released on November 7, 1997, and published in the FEDERAL REGISTER on December 19,1996 on pages 66978-66987.

MM Docket No. 91-222, 91-221, and 87-8; FCC 96-438
Broadcast Television National Ownership Rules

The FCC is issuing a notice of inquiry on the national television ownership rules.

The FCC is making several proposals on how to calculate the total audience reach of a TV group owner, in relation to it’s compliance with the Commission’s 35% national audience cap. This notice includes questions on market determination, UHF discounts for reduced reach, local marketing agreements, and the broadcast TV satellite station exemptions.

Comments are due on February 7, 1997 and replies are due on March 7, 1997. This notice was adopted on November 5, 1996, released November 7, 1996 and published in the FEDERAL REGISTER on December 19, 1996 on pages 66987-66992


PP Docket No. 93-253; FCC 96-447
Interactive Video and Data Services

The FCC has modified the rules for the auctioning of spectrum in the Interactive Video and Data Service (IDVS). IDVS is a service that is to provide for interactive data service that will be displayed on a TV set. It uses spectrum just above TV channel 13.

The new rules revise the definition of a small business and provide for different bidding credits for small businesses. The FCC eliminated credits to women and minorities in this action. The bidding credits allow for small businesses to deduct from their payments 10 to 15% of their bid if they should win. It is to help equalize the bidding between large and small businesses.

The new rules also redefine ownership attribution to outside interests and increases upfront payments from IVDS bidders. The upfront payment was increased to minimize the possibility of speculative and frivolous bidding and bidder default. In the first IVDS auction, a number of bidders defaulted. Another rule change was that the license term was increased from 5 to 10 years.

The rules were adopted on November 15, 1996, released November 21, 1996 and published in the FEDERAL REGISTER on November 27, 1996 on pages 60198-60205.

DA 96-1958
Auction Notice and Filing Requirements for 981 Interactive Video and Data Services Licenses

This notice scheduled the beginning of an auction for 981 IVDS licenses to start on February 18, 1997. This auction is the result of PP Docket No. 93-253; FCC 96-447.

In Wisconsin, 10 licenses are included in this auction. One of the licenses is for Columbia County.

This notice was adopted on December 10, 1996 and was published in the FEDERAL REGISTER on December 24, 1996 on pages 67819-67832.

ET Docket No. 94-32; FCC 96-390
Allocation of Spectrum Below 5 GHZ Transferred From Federal Government Use.

The FCC has issued rules allowing for the use of the 2300-2400 mhz and the 2402-2417 mhz bands for amateur service, data-PCS devices, and other unlicensed devices allowed by the rules. The FCC declined to combine the 2390-2400 mhz and 2400-2483.5 mhz bands for use by data-PCS and other unlicensed services.

In this action, the FCC prohibited the airborne use of unlicensed devices in the 2390-2400 mhz band in order to protect the radio observatory in Arecibo, Puerto Rico.

This action was adopted on September 20, 1996 and released on October 30, 1996. It was printed in the FEDERAL REGISTER on October 30, 1996 on pages 55924-55926.

(Compiled from the FEDERAL REGISTER and the FCC WEB PAGE)

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By Neal McLain


The Wisconsin Public Service Commission has ordered a geographic split of area code 414. The final split line follows the staff recommendation (see map); the area north of the split line will be assigned new area code 920. Permissive dialing begins July 25, 1997; mandatory dialing goes into effect October 25, 1997.

This decision was the culmination of many months of work by the PSC staff and the telephone companies involved. But much more work lies ahead, now that the split must be implemented.


As early as 1994, it was evident that area code 414 was approaching exhaustion, and that some sort of relief would be required by 1998. Recognizing this fact, the PSC invited a group of interested parties to recommend a relief plan. The resulting group came to be known as the Industry Team; participation was open to all wireline telephone companies, wireless (cellular and PCS) telephone companies, and alternative service providers.

After several months of deliberations, the Industry Team released their “Summary of Issues.” In this summary, the Team stated that it agreed on several points:

• That some sort of relief plan was indeed needed.

• That there were two feasible ways to provide relief: geographic split or overlay.

• That if a geographic split were adopted, Milwaukee and surrounding counties would retain 414.

The Industry Team did not agree on which relief plan -split or overlay- should be adopted. Accordingly, by letter dated June 10, 1996, it referred the matter back to the Commission.


Thus, the Commission was forced to resolve the toughest of the issues: Split or overlay? And if a split, where? These are, of course, the very same issues that have arisen many times before in other states. (1,2)

In an effort to obtain citizen input, the Commission held a series of public hearings in cities within the 414 area code, including Green Bay, Oshkosh, Sheboygan, Watertown, and Waukesha. Each hearing followed a fixed format: opening remarks by a Commission staff member; presentations by industry representatives; and questions and comments from the audience with responses by the industry representatives. The Commission staff took a neutral stance on the overlay-vs.split question; the industry representatives presented the various arguments favoring one side or the other.

Ameritech and several long distance companies argued in favor of a split. An Ameritech handout distributed at the hearings cited the following points:

• Customers retain the current 7-digit dialing plan for local calls, whereas 10-digit dialing would be required if an overlay were adopted. (3)

• The area code retains geographic significance.

• A split is pro-competitive, treating all telephone service providers equally.

• Customers prefer a geographic split.

In support of the last point, Ameritech cited the results of a survey conducted by Consumer Market Analysts, a market research firm based in Troy, Michigan. This survey, conducted during April, 1996, sought the opinions of 900 respondents divided equally between those living in the area which (assuming a split) would retain 414 (Milwaukee and surrounding counties) and those living in the area which would be assigned a new area code. According to this survey, between 69% and 77% of the respondents preferred a split instead of an overlay.

At one of the hearings (Watertown), one of overlay-advocates (BellSouth Cellular) attempted to discredit the Consumer Market Analysts survey by noting that Ameritech had commissioned it. The Ameritech representative responded by noting that it had invited all interested parties to participate, but that BellSouth had declined.

BellSouth Cellular (the Wisconsin Cellular One franchisee) argued in favor of an overlay. Its handout cited the following points:

• An overlay allows all current telephone subscribers to keep their present numbers, including their present area codes.

• Businesses would avoid potential loss of business from customers unable to reach phones in the new area code.

• An overlay plan would provide sufficient new-number capacity to last 10 to 15 years; by contrast, under the geographic-split plan, 414 would have to be split again within 5 to 7 years.

• With a geographic split, metropolitan areas “... reach a point where they cannot be geographically split along logical identifiable lines.”

In support of the last point, the BellSouth representative cited the situation in the Chicago area, where the original area code (312) has been split into five separate codes within the past eight years.

It is interesting to note that BellSouth did not cite another -and very significant - reason for supporting an overlay: a split would require it to reprogram all cellular phones in the new area code. This is a difficult process: each subscriber must bring his/her phone into a company office for reprogramming. Experience in other states has shown that many subscribers simply don’t bring their phones in until they are forced to do so at the end of the permissive-dialing period, when their phones suddenly stop receiving incoming calls.


At each hearing, a court reporter recorded the audience questions and comments, and the responses by industry representatives. This information became part of the record on which the Commission would base its decision.

After the series of hearings ended, the Commission staff prepared a preliminary report known as the “Staff Draft.” In this report, the staff tentatively indicated a preference for a geographic split, and sought further public comment. Copies of the Staff Draft were mailed to interested parties on November 8, 1996, with comments due by November 19. Recipients included all parties who had registered at any of the public hearings, as well as Industry Team members and media representatives.

The comments received in response to the Staff Draft did not change the staff’s recommendation. The staff’s final recommendation went before the full Commission at its meeting on November 25, 1996. All three Commissioners were present:

Cheryl L. Parrino, Chairman
Daniel J. Eastman, Commissioner
Joseph P. Mettner, Commissioner

After some discussion, the Commission voted to approve a split by a vote of 3-0. According to Albert F. Schams, a Communications Analyst with the Commission, “The vote ended up being unanimous. There were some questions by Commissioner Mettner regarding some other possible area code relief. However, after a brief discussion with the other two Commissioners, he changed his position in support of the staff draft recommendation.” (4)


Following the Commission’s order, the various parties responses echoed their original positions. Ralph Deptolla, media representative at Ameritech Wisconsin, reiterated Ameritech’s decision to support a split “because surveys showed that our customers overwhelmingly preferred the split.”

William Brown, manager, state regulatory, for BellSouth, stated that, “We and the industry believe that overlay area codes are a better solution in this type of area code split situation. We’re disappointed that the Wisconsin PSC didn’t chose the overlay, but that they did recognize the unique burden an area code split places on the wireless consumer and the wireless service providers, as customers will have to make an extra effort to have their phones reprogrammed, and carriers will want to ensure that all customers have been taken care of properly. We hope that the PSC accepts the implementation plan that the industry is putting together, specifically the issue of an extended permissive dialing time-frame for wireless. This would give carriers and their customers more time to adapt to the new calling procedures.”


The new area code will be 920. Like all new area codes, it was assigned by the North American Numbering Plan Administration (NANPA), a unit of Bell Communications Research (Bellcore). Bellcore is the research arm of the seven Regional Holding Companies (RHCs) which resulted from the breakup of the old Bell System. (5)

So why was 920 chosen as the new code? We’ll probably never know the full story: such matters are generally not explained by NANPA. But we can analyze the evidence at hand and make a fairly good guess. Here’s my guess:

The total number of possible area codes now available in North America can be calculated as follows:

• The first digit (often represented by the letter N) can be anything in the range 2-9 (initial 1 and 0 are reserved for long-distance access and other special services).

• The second and third digits (represented by the letter X) can be anything in the range 0-9.

Therefore, 8x10x10 = 800 possible NXX combinations.


• An area code can be used only once. As of December 15, 1996, 218 area codes had already been assigned or reserved for a pending assignment. Subtract 218.

• All N00 and N11 combinations are reserved for special access codes like 411, 611, 800, and 900. Subtract 16.

• The 521-529 block is reserved for Mexico. Subtract 9.

• All N9X combinations are reserved for “digit-length expansion,” against the day when area codes must be extended to four digits. Subtract 80.

• At least 78 other combinations are reserved for other purposes. Subtract 78.

This brings the number of possible combinations down to 399.

Now we come to another constraint: if at all possible, the area code and the central office code shouldn’t be the same. Avoiding this conflict means that the new area code must be selected from the list of presently-unused central office codes. But, as we’ve noted before,(6) that list is likely to be fairly short: if an area code needs to be split, it’s already running out of central office codes.

As of December 3, 1996, 705 (out of a possible 792) central office codes had been assigned within 414, resulting in 87 unused combinations.

So now we have two lists of possible combinations for the new area code: the unassigned-area-code list (399 combinations), and unused-central-office code list (87 combinations). But these are independent lists; only combinations which appear on both lists are valid candidates. Merging the two lists yields 21 possible combinations to choose from.

The final choice, from among these 21 combinations, was probably influenced by two other factors:

• Other things being equal, NANPA seems to have a preference for area codes which end in zero (see sidebar). Of the 21 possible combinations, one met this criterion: 920.

• NANPA must consider dozens of area code requests simultaneously. As part of this process, it must repeat an analysis, similar to the one above, for every pending request. Obviously, any code which appears on two or more short lists can only be used only once.


Now that the new code has been assigned, and the split line has been finalized, the change must be implemented. A number of issues must be addressed:

• Switching equipment must be reprogrammed. At the local level, telephone exchanges near the split line must be reprogrammed so that local calls to nearby exchanges on the other side of the line, formerly dialed as seven digits, can be dialed as eleven digits. On a national level, the routing tables stored in every telephone exchange (and many PBXs) must be updated.

• As has been pointed out repeatedly by overlay advocates, businesses in the 920 area will have to revise brochures, stationery, business cards, yellow-page listings, websites, and signs for buildings and vehicles.

• All those cellular telephones now in 920 -both BellSouth’s and Ameritech’s- will have to be reprogrammed.

• The public must be made aware of the change. Indeed, public education is now Industry Team’s biggest task. The PSC itself placed great emphasis on this issue: its final order specifies in considerable detail how the Industry Team “shall reconvene to determine the best education program,” and shall submit its plan to the Commission for approval.

And finally, we should note that residents of Fond du Lac and North Fond du Lac probably will be seeing a new series of central office codes within a few years. As it happens, all 414-92X central office codes will end up in the 920 area code:
921 Fond du Lac
922 Fond du Lac
923 Fond du Lac
924 Fond du Lac
925 Lebanon
926 Fond du Lac
927 Reeseville
928 Fox Lake
929 Fond du Lac

As soon as 926 (the newest Fond du Lac code) is exhausted, a new series of codes will have to be assigned. Two obvious candidates: 90X and 91X.

Of course, 920 can’t be used as a central office code without violating that unwritten rule: the central office code and the area code can’t be the same.

Thanks to the following persons who provided information used in this article: John Cropper, LINKS; Ralph Deptolla, Ameritech Wisconsin; Nicole Lipson, BellSouth; and Albert F. Schams, Wisconsin Public Service Commission.


(1) “Area Codes 312 and 708 Split (Again).” SBE Chapter 24 Newsletter, February, 1996, p. 1.

(2) “Three States Approve Overlay Area Codes.” SBE Chapter 24 Newsletter, August, 1996, p. 8.

(3) As part of its efforts to encourage competition in the local telephone services market, the FCC has ordered that, within an overlay area code, 10-digit dialing is mandatory for all local calls: “Requiring 10-digit dialing for all local calls avoids the potentially anti-competitive effect of all-services area code overlays.” SECOND REPORT AND ORDER AND MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
FCC Docket 96-333, August 8, 1996, at 296-297.

(4) E-mail message, Schams to McLain, December 4, 1996.

(5) This situation is about to change, however. Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), a defense contractor looking to expand into the commercial market, has agreed to acquire Bellcore, subject to the approval of the seven RHCs and their respective state regulatory agencies. Meanwhile, the FCC has established a Federal Advisory Committee, known as the North American Numbering Council (NANC), to assume responsibility for the administration of the North American Numbering Plan.

(6) “The North American Numbering Plan,” Part 2. SBE Chapter 24 Newsletter, September 1994, p. 1.


In 1975, AT&T (the old “Bell System” AT&T) published a document titled Notes on Distance Dialing (*). This publication predicted that the N0X and N1X blocks of area codes would be exhausted “sometime after 1995” (in retrospect, a remarkably accurate prediction). In an attempt to forestall the need for “interchangeable” area codes (area codes which are indistinguishable from central office codes), this publication suggested that NX0 combinations be held unassigned for future use as area codes.

It didn’t work out that way. In highly-congested area codes, virtually all NX0 codes were assigned as central office codes long before another area code was assigned. As a result, many new area codes have had to be selected from short lists without any NX0 combinations. This result is obvious from an examination of the list of new area codes assigned since 1/1/95 (the date on which interchangeable area codes were introduced), e.g., 281, 334, 423, 562, 626, 765, 847, 954.

But in many less-congested area codes, the legacy of this attempt is still evident today. As new central office codes were added, NX0 combinations were avoided whenever possible; as a result, they’re now available for use as area codes. Indeed, of the 74 new area codes assigned in North America since 1/1/95, 21 are NX0, statistically more than a random selection would indicate.

The availability of 920 as an area code is a textbook example: even though the entire block 414-921 through 414-929 had already been assigned, 414-920 was still available.

This legacy is nowhere more evident than right here in 608. On 1/1/95, only two (out of a possible 64) NX0 central office codes were in use within 608: 780 (Century Cellunet, LaCrosse) and 950 (long distance access, which arguably shouldn’t even be counted because it’s a national assignment, valid in every area code). Since that date, only three more have been added: 250 (Ameritech, Madison), 770 (Ameritech Cellular, Madison), and 850 (TDS Telecom, Waunakee).

(*) Notes on Distance Dialing. American Telephone and Telegraph Company, 1975.

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By Tom Weeden, WJ9H

• The collapse of the WOLX tower on December 31 not only forced that station off the air, but also knocked out one of the widest-coverage amateur repeaters in the state of Wisconsin. The Central Wisconsin Repeater Association’s 146.88 MHz machine located on the tower in the Baraboo bluffs was popular with travelers because of its range. It was also used for a weekly “swap net” for amateurs in the southern half of Wisconsin and provided a link for “SKYWARN” volunteers to the National Weather Service at Sullivan. CWRA estimates that it will cost several thousand dollars to replace the feedlines and link antennas which were lost in the collapse. The repeater’s radios and controller were not damaged.

• The FCC has proposed to create a new Wireless Communications Service in the 2305-2320 and 2345-2360 MHz bands and to award licenses through competitive bidding. The bands include a 5 MHz segment that Amateur Radio shares with government services between 2305-2310 MHz. In October, Congress approved a provision as part of the much larger appropriations bill that directed the FCC to put the 30 MHz of spectrum in the 2.3 GHz region up for bidding to help balance the budget. It’s believed to be the first time that Congress has ordered the reallocation of specific frequencies. The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) reports that its general counsel, Chris Imlay (W3KD), has filed papers with the FCC to petition for the adjacent amateur allocation at 2300-2305 MHz to be elevated from secondary to primary status.

(Excerpts from January 1997 “QST” Magazine)

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By John L. Poray, SBE Executive Director


The National Certification Committee proudly announces the addition of two new certification categories. They are Certified Engineer/Video (CEV) and Certified Engineer/Audio (CEA). The two categories have been created to allow engineers who work in our industry, but do not operate transmitters, to become certified. The new categories will be at a five-year level, comparable to the Broadcast Engineer – TV and Broadcast Engineer – AM/FM. We have long since recognized the need for certification in this area. Fellow workers who have spent years in video and audio engineering have not been able to become certified up to now because their field does not include RF. Questions relating to the transmission of the signal such as EAS, FCC and RF will be excluded from the CEV and CEA tests. Instead, we will include more specialized questions in these particular fields. The Certification Program is well-known and highly respected by broadcasters everywhere. Certification is preferred, and many times required, from an ever increasing number of employers. Surveys have shown that employees with SBE Certification are better paid than those without certification. By introducing these new categories, we hope to allow more engineers the opportunity to reap the benefits of certification.


The Society of Broadcast Engineers will once again be the co-presenter of the NAB Engineering Conference at the NAB Spring Convention. This will be the third year that SBE and NAB have worked together to plan the conference educational sessions. The NAB Spring Convention is the largest exhibition and conference in the world for broadcasting professionals and those in related fields. The NAB Broadcast Engineering Conference is one of the many conferences held during the NAB Spring Convention, each specializing in a segment of the broadcasting and communications industries. Held in Las Vegas, the conference will be April 6-10, with exhibits opening on Monday, April 7. Special pre-conference educational programs, including for the first time, Ennes Workshops, will be held on Saturday, April 5. Registration for the Conference will include admission to the Saturday Workshops. SBE Members Get Discounted Registration. Members of SBE will be able to register for the NAB Engineering Conference at NAB member rates, a savings of $300. Registration and hotel information is available directly from NAB.

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