|The top of the spire is lifted off the ground. Credit: The Durst Organization
NEW YORK — Management of the new One World Trade Center building in Manhattan is pitching its rooftop to radio and television broadcasters, part of its goal to establish the site as the major communications facility in New York City.
Developers of the $3.8 billion skyscraper, which reaches a height of 1,776 feet and includes a giant spire on top, hope the rooftop will serve as a successor to broadcast facilities lost in the collapse of the twin towers in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The Durst Organization will manage and lease space at 1WTC, which is a joint venture between the company and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The rooftop has been leased to Durst Broadcasting LLC, which will run the broadcast facility.
As of mid-June, the company lacked commitments from any local radio or television broadcasters. Durst executives have been approaching broadcasters individually to determine their interest; the discussions are ongoing. A Clear Channel executive told Radio World that the company “will likely stay with our current facilities.” Several other radio groups and their engineering consulting companies declined to discuss plans for this article.
If Durst succeeds, a major overhaul of FM transmission infrastructure in the city could follow — if broadcasters are willing to absorb the expense of moving. This would advance Durst’s role as a major broadcast “landlord” in the market, and mean that FM broadcasters would have three prominent skyscraper platforms from which to choose.
The Empire State Building, which is 1,250 feet tall plus a 204-foot antenna, is home to the main on-air transmitters of most of New York City’s FM radio stations. The historic building, which has multiple FM master antennas, also serves as home to nearly all of the city’s digital television transmitters. Empire is owned by Malkin Holdings LLC. Shane O’Donoghue, director of broadcasting at Empire, declined Radio World’s interview request for this story.
In a 2012 prospectus for an IPO, Empire management stated that 19 radio stations call the building home. A broadcast engineer familiar with the facilities said there are 16 stations on the Electronic Research Inc. master antenna and three on a second antenna, often referred to as the “mini-master.”
Recent developments at Empire appear to indicate that officials are prepared to build a new FM combiner and three-bay antenna that would be home to all 19 radio stations, said Mark Olkowski, a broadcast engineer and former chair of the FM Master Antenna Group at ESB (see sidebar).
|This photo shows the broadcast structure atop the original World Trade Center, destroyed in the terror attacks of 2001. Credit: The Durst Organization
Nearby, a broadcast structure atop the Conde Nast Building at 4 Times Square is owned and managed by Durst. At 1,118 feet above street level, it has 14 FM transmitters and a Shively master FM antenna. The vast majority of those transmitters serve their stations as backups.
John Lyons, assistant vice president and director of broadcast communications for Durst, said the new 1WTC could accommodate all the FMs at Empire to move their primary transmitter sites.
The final piece of the 800-ton, 408-foot spire at 1WTC was lifted into place in May. The spire features three galvanized steel communication rings that will allow for placement of an array of transmission equipment, including satellite downlinks, ENG, RPU, two-way radio antennas and relay links, said Lyons.
The spire, which contains 18 sections of steel, is tipped with a stainless steel beacon. FM, UHF and VHF master antennas would be affixed directly to the spire, he said.
“We are looking at a broadband FM antenna that could easily accommodate all of the radio broadcasters who lost facilities at the World Trade Center,” Lyons said. Some broadcasters with extremely directional signals could be accommodated with individual antennas.
Design features for the transmission facility are complete but no orders have been placed for transmission hardware, he said.
“We are waiting to see if we get commitments before moving forward and ordering transmission line and combiners. We need to make sure the project is financially viable before moving forward. We are lining up tours for broadcasters right now. We also are meeting with several antenna manufacturers to determine who we go with.”
He declined to name a minimum number of radio broadcaster commitments needed to move the project forward.
Lyons also said the FCC’s pending TV spectrum auction potentially could hold up the placement of transmission equipment at 1WTC.
“That will figure into where we place antennas and where we stack them on the tower. If the TV is going on top, I prefer to do that first before we place a master FM antenna.”
Lyons said the 105-story 1WTC will offer broadcast tenants a number of important elements including building engineers on duty 24/7, two megawatts of backup power dedicated to broadcasting and communications operations, 24-hour access, chilled and condensed water available for transmitter cooling, fiber and copper access lines and hydraulic lift gates at loading docks.
Stations could move into 1WTC as early as 2015, when the building begins to open, said Lyons. The next phase of the project will be building out the broadcast floor and ordering antennas once commitments are received from broadcasters.
Lyons also is promising potential tenants better coverage of their market from atop the site in lower Manhattan, thanks to the height of 1WTC.
“Broadcasters may decide to add 1WTC as a backup,” Lyons said, “or turn Empire into their backup and have 1 World Trade as their primary — there are several options for them.”
Since Durst controls both 1WTC and 4 Times Square broadcast platforms, scenarios could include making special arrangements for broadcasters to utilize the two sites, he said.
|Empire to Get Touch-Up?
|Officials with the Empire State Building and its public relations firm declined to comment to RW on recent developments in the marketplace.
Longtime broadcast engineer and market observer Mark Olkowski said he has been told work on a new FM combiner and master antenna at ESB could begin by this fall. “I think this is all in reaction to the new competition from One World Trade Center,” he said. “Competition is good news for broadcasters.”
Olkowski conducts contract transmitter work for New York Public Radio’s WNYC(FM) and WQXR(FM). He said the project was announced at a meeting of the FM Master Antenna Group and will include replacing the Alford auxiliary antenna, which is located just above the Empire State Building’s observation deck. The building’s backup Alford antenna is used when the FM master is turned off for maintenance.
A new FM combiner and master antenna at Empire State Building has been rumored for years, he added. “I think [Empire executives] are nervous about the new kid downtown.”
Olkowski said he has not been told the cost of the Empire project.
Jeff Littlejohn, executive vice president of engineering and systems integration at Clear Channel Media and Entertainment, declined to comment about improvements at ESB. Clear Channel has five FM radio stations broadcasting from Empire.
Olkowski, a long-time observer of radio in the market, said broadcasters who choose to leave Empire would incur significant moving expense.
“When you add up all the hardware and building out a transmitter room, it’s usually a $1 million per station at Empire, and might be similar” with a move to 1WTC, he said.
The Master FM Antenna Group at the Empire State Building owns the FM combiner and master antenna. The group requires participants to “buy in,” and the money is spread among the broadcast entities that comprise the group, according to Olkowski. The group leases space from Empire to house transmitters, the combiner and master antennas.
At 1WTC, Lyons said, the master antennas, combiner mainframes and combiner-to-antenna interconnecting transmission lines would be provided by Durst, and there would be no buy-in.
“It will be really plug-and-play at One World Trade Center. Broadcasters would only sign a dual license agreement for equipment space and the antenna usage. Broadcasters would have to provide their transmitter, terminal equipment and combiner module. That’s it,” Lyons said, adding that broadcasters would not be asked to include a capital expenditure for the building.
Radio broadcasters in New York City use about a half-dozen broadcast transmission locations, according to Lyons. “In addition to 1WTC, Empire and 4 Times Square, CBS has a couple of backup sites on the Viacom Building and Emmis has several in West Orange, N.J.”
Gauging the interest level of broadcasters in the market in 1WTC is difficult, according to Olkowski; and several broadcasters in the market did not respond to RW’s request for interviews.
Olkowski still believes the Empire State Building remains the best technical site for broadcast facilities since it is more strategically located in the middle of the New York City market. “Plus, all of the FM radio stations are already allocated for Empire. If any stations were to leave for 1WTC, they would possibly have to reduce power or go to a directional antenna.”
As broadcast tenants choose between the skyscrapers, the decision ultimately will come down to performance and cost, he thinks. “If John [Lyons] can demonstrate the new antenna facility would result in as good or better coverage and signal penetration, then broadcasters will be interested in them,” Olkowski said. “Anytime you can improve facilities cost effectively is good.”
At least one notable broadcast owner appears to be staying put at this juncture.
Clear Channel Media and Entertainment transmits WAXQ(FM), WLTW(FM) WKTU(FM), WHTZ(FM) and WWPR(FM) from Empire. In addition, it has five auxiliary sites at 4 Times Square.
Queried about Clear Channel’s plans, Executive Vice President of Engineering & Systems Integration Jeff Littlejohn replied in an email, “While the height at 1WTC is very interesting, we will likely stay with our current facilities.” But Littlejohn did say the company likes the “location diversity [of 1WTC] from their other locations.”
Once verified by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, One World Trade Center will be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and third tallest building in the world.