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FM Mini-Master for Empire?

Alterations to the master FM combiner at the Empire State Building - along with plans for a new "mini-master" antenna - appear to have satisfied the demand for additional tower space here following the loss of transmission facilities in the World Trade Center collapse.

Jersey Tower Effort Focuses on TVJERSEY CITY, N.J. It looks like New Jersey will be the home of a new 2,000-foot broadcast tower, replacing the World Trade Center transmission facility destroyed on Sept. 11 of last year.

Officials with the Metropolitan Television Alliance, a consortium of New York City television stations formed to find a suitable tower replacement, say the new project could include radio.

“There is currently nothing that would rule out radio broadcasters leasing space on the new structure,” said Pat Smith, spokesman for the MTVA. “However, right now it is not planned for that purpose … the tower is being designed with television in mind.”

Smith said there has been “some expression of interest” from radio broadcasters.

Despite rumors, it’s unlikely any new tower would include a restaurant or observation deck, Smith said.

“A lot of different designs are being floated right now by different architects. Our focus is to find a suitable site and build a tower for our group and improve the reception for the 700,000 New York City residents without cable. The goal is not to put together a tourist attraction,” Smith said.

The MTVA is in discussions with several municipalities in New Jersey, including Jersey City, to construct the tower.

One New York City radio engineer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said most of the city’s FMs have had sufficiently bad enough experience with TV broadcasters in the past to shy away from joining the new project.

“We were second-fiddle to (TV) at WTC, and we’ve had to fight very hard to ensure that our interests at Empire are guarded,” he said.

— by Randy J. StineNEW YORK Alterations to the master FM combiner at the Empire State Building – along with plans for a new “mini-master” antenna – appear to have satisfied the demand for additional tower space here following the loss of transmission facilities in the World Trade Center collapse.

Sources familiar with the current availability of tower space in New York City said the main FM combiner system at the Empire State Building eventually will be able to accommodate the displaced radio stations from WTC and possibly others.

WKTU(FM), WPAT(FM), WKCR(FM) and WNYC(FM) lost main transmission facilities from the tower on top of 2 World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Three of the stations have secured permanent new homes on the Empire State Building.

Combined operation

Joe Giardina, president of DSI RF Systems Inc., which is assisting the master FM antenna group at Empire, said WPAT and WNYC eventually would be added to the Electronics Research Inc. master combiner system. WKTU began broadcasting from the Empire master this September.

“That will bring our total number of stations on the ERI combiner to 16. We will also add a maintenance combiner, a backup combiner if you will, to allow for longer periods of work on the master combiner,” Giardina said.

Both WPAT and WNYC are still broadcasting from their backup sites on the 52-story Conde Nast building at 4 Times Square. WKCR continues to broadcast from a temporary rooftop position on Columbia University’s campus.

Tom Silliman, president of ERI, said construction of any new transmission projects on the master combiner at the Empire State Building has been stalled momentarily.

“The building is nearly overloaded right now. It’s possible some things could be moved to accommodate others. We are waiting for a final structural analysis and the possibility of doing some structural enhancements to the building. We’ll get it done,” Silliman said.

One of those moves could be removing an older RCA FM antenna, which serves WPLJ(FM) and WQHT(FM), and replace it with a new mini-master, Silliman said.

“We are also looking at replacing the aux antenna with a newer panel antenna,” Silliman said.

A handful of stations are considering the mini-master concept and are in final negotiations with Helmsley-Spear, owner of the Empire State Building, to lease space for the new independent antenna system, said Kevin Plumb, director of engineering for ABC Radio in New York City, who has spearheaded the project.

“It would be a five-station single-bay antenna, dubbed the mini-master system,” Plumb said.

Plumb said the new antenna would likely include WPLJ, WQHT, WCBS(FM), WQCD(FM) and WKCR.

“Everything is coming together at this point. We think we can get the deal done with the five stations,” Plumb said.

Mike Tocco, chief engineer for Spanish Broadcasting’s WPAT, said the station will be on the master at Empire as soon as the maintenance combiner is completed.

“We’re hoping that will be around the end of the first quarter of 2003,” Tocco said.

An engineer familiar with the ERI combiner at the Empire State Building, speaking on condition of anonymity, said designers have allowed for additional slots for each FM broadcaster in the city.

“In the eventuality we need it, there will be space left for each station with a piece of transmission line in place of the filter. After calculating the power levels for both analog and digital, there should still be an acceptable safety level,” the source said.

Looking for tenants

The Durst Organization, owner of the Conde Nast building at 4 Times Square, has publicized plans to expand its transmission capabilities. That facility already serves as the auxiliary site for Clear Channel’s five-station group, Spanish Broadcasting’s WSKQ(FM) and WPAT(FM), and public radio WNYC(FM).

“The game plan is to remove the 132-foot tower, which was originally designed to accommodate 12 stations, and replace that with a new 358-foot tower,” said John Lyons, manager of communications and broadcast operations for the Durst Organization. “We would then have the room to serve as an aux site for every FM in the city.”

Lyons said a new three-bay antenna would be interlaced with a digital antenna on the same aperture to satisfy broadcasters’ eventual needs for in-band, on-channel digital transmission.

“We already have FAA approval and hope to begin work early next year with the project being completed by June,” Lyons said.

“Having 4 Times Square serve as a true backup site for all of the city’s FMs makes sense,” he said. “That way not all of the eggs are in the same basket at Empire.”

Conde Nast’s tower project also will include aux sites for New York City television stations. Lyons said the Durst Organization was in negotiations with various television broadcasters to secure slots on the new tower.