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Economy Shakes Freedom Tower Plans

Empire & 4 Times Square remain New York's main platforms.

NEW YORK Construction of a costly master television antenna atop the 102-story Freedom Tower now appears unlikely, and broadcasters in this city are left with the existing vertical real estate to handle future radio and television transmission redundancy plans.

Plans at Freedom Tower, announced in 2003, had called for construction of a 408-foot TV antenna spire to bring the tower’s height to a symbolic 1,776 feet.

However, negotiations between the Metropolitan Television Alliance, a coalition of a dozen television stations organized after 9/11, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is developing the Freedom Tower project at Ground Zero, have broken off, according to sources.

At present, the city’s FM and television stations use antenna and transmission systems that they lease atop the Empire State Building and the Conde Nast Building at 4 Times Square.

Sources familiar with talks between MTVA and the Port Authority say it appears the rocky economic climate resulted in difficult price negotiations for a final lease at Freedom. The original basic agreement called for annual rent of close to $10 million per year from the TV broadcasters. That was in addition to a one-time $20 million payment by broadcasters for the cost of the antenna’s construction.

The Freedom Tower is expected to open in 2013.

Concept drawing of the Freedom Tower. Photo courtesy of The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey Port Authority officials declined to answer specific questions pertaining to further negotiations with television broadcasters. But a spokesman said radio broadcasters were never a part of the Freedom Tower discussions.

“This was to be a television antenna project only,” he said.

TV-only plans

Several sources said it is unlikely radio broadcasters could have used the Freedom Tower transmission facility since it was being designed as TV-only.

Nevertheless, they said the building’s failure to lure television broadcasters to its rooftop and further expand the city’s broadcast communications infrastructure — assuming the deal is not revived — could one day affect radio broadcasters.

“It’s one fewer transmission option all broadcasters will have,” one source said.

Much attention has been focused on the New York City radio market and its broadcast transmission infrastructure since the loss of the broadcast facility on the north tower at the World Trade Center on 9/11. Radio and TV broadcasters lost main and auxiliary sites in the tragedy, which also took the lives of six broadcast engineers among the many people who died that day.

The ensuing scramble for transmission sites led to an expansion of facilities at Empire and a new master FM antenna at 4 Times Square.

The Empire State Building is home to transmitters for nearly every major FM broadcast station in the city. The 1,454-foot landmark boasts 16 FM stations on an Electronic Research Inc. two-bay master antenna. Three FMs — WPLJ, WQHT and WCBS — were added to a new mini-master combiner system in 2004 with room for several more. A source familiar with the mini-master said a fourth station filter has been installed but never utilized.

Empire also is home to 14 analog and 11 digital TV antennas, and dozens of point-to-point radio and data communication services.

The Durst Organization’s facility atop the Conde Nast Building at 4 Times Square was completed in 2004. The 385-foot broadcast structure on the 53-story building includes a 21-station master FM antenna, which was designed by Shively Labs and handles both analog and digital broadcasting. It is 1,018 feet above street level.

Radio aux options

John Lyons, assistant vice president and director of broadcast communications for the Durst Organization, said the rooftop Shively 6016-3/4 modified master FM panel antenna serves as an auxiliary site for five Clear Channel stations — WAXQ, WHTZ, WKTU, WLTW and WWPR — plus Spanish Broadcasting’s WSKQ and WPAT, Univision’s WCAA and non-commercial WNYC. Also, 4 Times Square serves as a primary site for Columbia University’s WKCR as well as WNYE, which is owned by the New York City Board of Education.

In addition to radio, the building’s rooftop complex has TV transmission facilities for ABC and Univision, Lyons said.

“4 Times Square is more than capable of handling the TV broadcasters who opted out of the Freedom Tower project,” Lyons said.

“Between 4 Times Square and the Empire State Building there is still room for everyone, either as primary or backup, for radio and TV.”

Empire State Building officials declined a request for an interview for this story. A spokesman said he could not discuss the building’s broadcast technology history or plans citing, in part, security concerns.

The ESB named Shane O’Donoghue as its first director of broadcasting in 2008. At the time of O’Donoghue’s appointment, ESB officials said the building is host to transmitters for every major broadcast station in New York City.

It’s not clear how much further broadcast antenna expansion is possible at ESB, a source said.

Another source close to the situation said he expects lease agreements for additional TV transmission installations to be announced soon, which could cause some reconfiguring or shuffling of the current rooftop facility, possible affecting radio tenants.

Radio World previously has reported that limited physical space and structural issues are potential obstacles to further expansion at ESB.

Jim Stagnitto, director of engineering for WNYC(FM) in New York, said ESB and 4 Times Square provide adequate locations to suit broadcasters’ current purposes.

“However, a re-examination (of both facilities) will be in order soon, if the HD power increase goes through,” he said.

Stagnitto said radio broadcasters, in his opinion, neither want nor need another transmission platform besides ESB and 4 Times Square, unless a new need arises.

Both platforms have their advantages, Stagnitto added. WNYC has its primary antenna on the ERI master at Empire, with its auxiliary transmitter at 4 Times Square.

“ESB offers easy access to the transmitter rooms once you’re past security. It’s basically just office space. The transmitter rooms at 4 Times Square are a little less accessible, as they are in the mechanical areas of the building,” Stagnitto said.

Broadcasters’ access to emergency power currently is an issue at Empire, Stagnitto said.

“4 Time Square has emergency power generation, which is not offered to the broadcasters at Empire. If there was a power emergency of any sort, our FM will be on the air from 4 Times Square.”