Broadcasting Oddities and Weather
"Are y'all on the air today? My radio isn't picking you up."
"Why did y'all change all the music you play and your call letters all of the sudden?"
These are the kind of questions radio and television broadcasters sometimes get this time of year when the 'skip is in'. Relax, no one has changed the music, everyone at Townsquare Media is on the air and the transmitters didn't suddenly get timid and weak and allow radio stations from far away to bully our signals.
When we say we're on 'the air', we quite literally are, but at this time of year when the weather is essentially changing from cooler winter temperatures to warmer spring temperatures the atmosphere itself does some odd things with AM and FM radio signals and it also affects television broadcasting.
But you typically don't notice problems with TV reception because most people's televisions are hardwired to the TV station via cable. But those cord-cutters that watch TV with an antennae are going to be noticing something odd from time to time.
If you're driving around town happily listening to your favorite music on our station, thank you very much. If you're getting spotty reception and even stations from hundreds of miles away, thank mother nature. You've been affected by Tropospheric Ducting.
As the weather shifts back and forth from cool to warm and back at this time, sometimes a layer of warm air gets caught between lower and upper-level masses of cool dry air. And it's in this sliver of warm moist air 9 to 12,000 feet up that causes the trouble. Radio waves, which are dependent on the electromagnetic spectrum for their lives, get into the little sliver of warm air and travel. Sometimes hundreds and even thousands of miles around the earth.
And, it can squash out the local signals, to an extent.
I've had broadcast engineers tell me they've been sitting in their trucks, in sight of their own tower and listening to some out of town station over their own frequency. With the station managers jumping up and down screaming for them to 'fix it'. Fix the sky? Ain't science a beaut?
It's a lotta mumbo-jumbo physics to try to explain and there are all kinds of variances which I can't begin to explain. The good news is it only lasts a few days, maybe a week and then as the atmosphere really warms up for spring it all goes away.
Thanks to our friends at The National Association of Amatuer Radio (cause the same thing happens to HAM operators) there's a little drawing that illustrates what's going on. It's a simplified chart cause there's really a lot going on up there.
While 'skip' refers specifically to AM radio waves bouncing off the ionosphere during nighttime hours, the reason you can often hear stations from Denver, Chicago, etc., at night, the term has become generic as a catch-all description of FM and TV signal issues. We like to say: the skip is in at times when the anomaly is happening.
So how can you decide if you're hearing skip or TD? AM skip only happens at night. Tropospheric Ducting only happens during the day. Science.
As you can see, on April 18, 2018, Lake Charles and almost all of S. Louisiana is in a 'Strong' zone. (yellow)
This whole thing usually happens in the spring when the cool air is dryer, cool air in the fall and winter is too moist for the ducting effect. AM skip happens throughout the year.
But stay tuned, the weather will be getting much warmer soon and your favorite jams will be coming through loud and clear. Or to be sure you're always getting us loud and clear, uninterrupted by buildings or distance or the time of day, download the Classic Rock App here.