One By One, They Returned to Air

New York Stations That Lost Facilities on World Trade Center Ponder Longer-Term RF Implications
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New York Stations That Lost Facilities on World Trade Center Ponder Longer-Term RF Implications

NEW YORK Long-term solutions eventually will have to replace short-term fixes for New York City radio broadcasters that lost transmitter sites in the World Trade Center collapse.

Five of the city’s FM stations had transmitters and antenna facilities atop the north tower when it crumpled after suicide pilots flew commercial jets into the twin structures on Sept. 11.

FM stations WKTU, WPAT, WKCR, and WNYC lost main transmission facilities, while WQCD lost its auxiliary transmitter.

The financial impact upon the stations is still being measured. WNYC alone lost two 10 kW transmitters, STL receivers, HVAC equipment and power control equipment. Broadcasters’ insurance coverage likely will offset some of the losses.

The 360-foot broadcast mast atop the Trade Center also was home to nine television antennas. An RCA BFF master wide-band antenna was built in the mid-1980s and held elements for WNYC, WKTU and WPAT.

Fire up the backup box

On the morning of Sept. 11, Clear Channel’s WKTU immediately switched to its full-power backup transmitter at the Conde Nast building in Times Square. The other stations found temporary locations for low-power transmission installations across the city within days of the tragedy.

The FCC issued several Special Temporary Authorizations allowing the stations to make needed arrangements. One engineer said the FCC was "very helpful" and helped cut down on the necessary paperwork normally required for such filings.

The next challenge for the stations will be searching out permanent transmission sites. Options include the Empire State Building, the Conde Nast building and the Alpine Tower in New Jersey.

Mike Tocco, WPAT chief engineer, said the Spanish Broadcasting System station was off the air for nearly 60 hours before finding a Bext 500 W transmitter and tower space on the wide-band port of the master FM antenna at Empire. The station did not have an auxiliary transmission site.

"It was around-the-clock work to basically move and rebuild our station’s transmission system in two and a half days," Tocco said.

The station also ordered a Broadcast Electronics 1 kW FM-1C1 transmitter to see the facility through at least early November, when it should be back to full power at 5.4 kW with a permanent home on Empire. WPAT’s auxiliary transmission site will be the Shively Master FM antenna at 4 Times Square, Tocco said.

Another affected station, WNYC, licensed to the WNYC Broadcasting Foundation, is considered by some as National Public Radio’s most-listened-to station in America. It was off the air for five days after the collapse.

Making do

Laura Walker, president of WNYC, stated on the station’s Web site that employees were evacuated from WNYC’s studios at the New York Municipal Building. The station temporarily broadcast from makeshift studios in an office at NPR’s New York bureau.

In the days following the outage, WNYC’s programming aired on WNYE at 91.5 MHz, licensed by the Board of Education for New York City.

Ralph Woods, deputy director of operations for NPR distribution, said WNYC’s programming originally was routed to NPR’s Washington facility via T1, then returned to WNYE in New York by ISDN.

"We eventually figured out a better system. We took signal from the T1 and put it on a spare NPR distribution satellite channel for WNYE to receive," Woods said.

WNYC(AM), which simulcast the FM programming, was forced to use a standard POTS dialup line from NPR’s New York Bureau to its transmitter in Kearny, N.J., just north of Newark.

Woods said engineering ingenuity was used to improve the AM audio’s quality.

"NPR sent out a truck with a Ku-band satellite dish receiver to the AM transmitter site. One of our guys set it up, acquired the signal and put it up on the AM," he said. "The dish rested on a tripod base with sandbags to hold it down."

WNYC’s service was restored at 93.9 MHz five days after the terrorist attack, employing a Harris Quest 1 kW solid-state transmitter and ERI two-bay antenna on the Alford backup FM antenna at 1,220 feet atop the Empire State Building. The FM master at Empire has an elevation of 1,360 feet.

Columbia University’s WKCR was silent for approximately 80 hours before reestablishing service with temporary transmitting facilities on top of a 10-story dorm building on the school’s campus on the upper west side of Manhattan.

New STL

"It just so happens that we have been working with Harris on a new studio build on campus, and were in the process of mounting a new STL on top of the building to hit WTC when it happened," said Roger Koziol, WKCR chief engineer.

Koziol instead mounted one bay of an ERI LPX two-bay antenna to the STL mast, operating at a mere ERP of 250 W, to get the station back on the air.

"We had run a new piece of half-inch transmission line from the tech room to the roof for the STL, so instead I used it to couple the new transmitter to the temporary antenna," Koziol said. WKCR purchased a Quest 1 kW solid-state transmitter from Harris.

Koziol said the new hardware was shipped from Harris’ facility in Illinois to New York by truck. The delivery had to be coordinated with FEMA officials, Koziol said.

"It’s been so hard to get around in the streets. Security is so tight. The school is probably 10 blocks from where the World Trade Center stood. It was hard getting equipment in," he said.

Koziol said he felt lucky not to have been in the north tower when the plane struck that Tuesday morning. He had made many visits in the preceding weeks, preparing for WKCR’s new STL.

"I certainly will miss the people I worked with and saw there so often. But I will also miss the building itself. Because as engineers we get to go into all of the odd places … the nooks and crannies, so to speak. I think you have a more intimate involvement with a building," Koziol said.

John Lyons, chairman of the master antenna group at Empire and chief engineer for Clear Channel’s WAXQ(FM), said the facility at Empire could accommodate additional FM stations.

"We’ll be working with ERI to upgrade their system to accommodate more stations," Lyons said. ERI designed and installed the Empire wide-band master antenna and combiner. He said talks between the building’s commission and WKTU, WPAT and WNYC for permanent tower space at Empire were continuing.

Antenna alternatives

Lyons said stations could also consider the 52-story Times Square location. With an antenna height of 907 feet, the master FM panel has room for seven additional stations.

"The Alpine Tower in New Jersey is another alternative. That’s where the TVs have put all of their emergency stuff for now," he said. The tower is just west of Yonkers across the Hudson River.

With the loss of the World Trade Center master FM antenna, fees for new transmission sites eventually could prove expensive for broadcasters.

"Right now, Empire has frozen their prices where they were before the World Trade Center collapse. Nobody wants to price-gouge anyone. There are some location options left, just fewer than before," Lyons said.

Lyons applauded the New York broadcast engineering community for pulling together and helping other broadcasters restore their signals.

"I think we were all grieving by helping and staying busy. We are a pretty tight-knit group. We all knew the television engineers who didn’t make it down from the 109th and 110th floors," Lyons said.

As of late September, six television technicians were missing from the north tower: Donald DiFranco of WABC; William Steckman o fWNBC; Steven Jacobson of WPIX; Gerard "Rod" Coppola of WNET; and Robert Pattison and Isaias Rivera, both of WCBS.

Supplier rush

Broadcast equipment suppliers immediately offered assistance to the New York broadcasting community following the attacks.

Scott Beeler, director of worldwide sales for Electronics Research Inc., said the antenna manufacturer worked around the clock on the day of the disaster to finish and rush an order for three two-bay antennas for WPAT, WKCR and WNYC.

"We basically built the things from scratch. Then we tuned them to frequency and put them on the truck," Beeler said.

"We are in discussions with some of those broadcasters affected for long-term solutions," said Matt Leland, FM product line manager for Dielectric. "We also expect broadcasters to pay even more attention now to auxiliary sites."

Leland said one major broadcaster in New York that was not knocked off the air ordered a spare antenna for its backup at one of its stations as a result of the terrorist attack.

It wasn’t just RF gear that was rushed to the city.

EZ UP Inc., for instance, helped with the emergency relief in New York. The fold-up canopy maker, whose products are used by broadcasters to cover remote gear, sent 60 canopies to the NYPD to use as emergency shelters.

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