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WHA(AM) Perseveres in Tower Re-Build

Steve Johnston shares story of how it handled environmental concerns

The migratory bird debate relates to a cautionary tale about the consequences when environmentalists fight your tower siting project.

Wisconsin Public Radio DOE/Operations Steve Johnston said environmental concerns took what should have been a one-year job and turned it into a three-year project when the pubcaster went to replace its aging tower for WHA(AM), Madison, located in a wetland bordering an arboretum.

An inspection in 2006 showed that rust had eaten through the tower legs. The tower, which dated from the 1970s, had to be replaced but the organization didn’t want to erect the replacement in the same exact spot because the concrete base under the tower legs was sinking, as were the guy anchors; also the guys were tensioning. He told attendees about it at last week’s Association of Public Radio Engineers meeting in Las Vegas.

The only way to move the tower was to go directional or reduce coverage since other stations had built up their towers right at the edge of WHA’s coverage areas, said Johnston. So the station chose to rebuild close to the old site.

“The arboretum people reacted in horror” at the tower rebuild, he said, adding that they liked the station but not its tower and didn’t seem to relate the facility to the original purpose of the land, which was a nature preserve and for water runoff. The state provided grant funding because it was afraid the tower would fall and environmental studies delayed the project, sending the total to about $330,000.

There’s a happy ending, though. While the ground system isn’t completed because winter set in before it could be finalized, Johnston has noticed that signal coverage of WHA has improved “due to decreased losses in the system.” He’s also seen “significant improvement” in the station’s HD Radio signal.