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Tower crews stay busy

DTV business is less brisk than had been expected, but tower companies aren't complaining 8/18/2002 08:00:00 PM Eastern

The expected uptick in demand for tower modification and construction in the wake of DTV broadcast requirements has flattened out a bit, thanks to the FCC's granting extensions to TV stations across the country.

Nonetheless, tower companies are still hustling. John McKay, manager, U.S. broadcast sales, for Radian, says there is a crunch when it comes to tower crews. Radian has eight tall-tower crews, and McKay says other tower companies have a similar number of crews and are also running flat out. So the spreading out of demand for tower crews over the next couple of years may be a positive.

"Stations are doing this fall what they would have done a year ago," he adds, "but a lot of stations are waiting until the last minute to get started."

Calls are coming in now, he says, from stations that need to be on the air by Nov. 1. That makes things rather tight, if not impossible. "They need a good three months, and that's if nothing needs to be fabricated for the tower. If there is analysis or reinforcing, that requires another month or two."

McKay's advice to stations is to get started six months in advance, especially because most of the towers do need some sort of strengthening. That can range from simply replacing a couple of members to putting in new guy wires and foundations.

Companies that, like American Tower and Spectrasite, build and lease towers are also constructing MSO community towers, though only if they're confident the demand is going to be there.

American Tower, for example, has spent the past five years purchasing and developing large-tower sites. According to Vice President of Broadcast Development Pete Starke, a lot of the towers designed from 1997 to 1999 were intended to support multiple TV and radio antennas, and DTV antennas are starting to roost on those towers. American Tower built a tower in Oklahoma City in 1998 that, at the time, had two tenants lined up. Today, it has seven antennas, after broadcasters did their research and realized it was cheaper to lease than to modify an existing tower. That's a common finding for broadcasters today.

"We've had no problem getting the crews lined up to do everything we've been asked to do by our tenants and prospective tenants," says Starke. "And the tenants that have gone direct to their preferred tower crews haven't had trouble either."

Starke says it takes about two or three days to line up a crew to get a tower ready for DTV transmission by the end of the year. If no modifications are required, the typical side-mounted digital television antenna and transmission line costs about $200,000 for a 1,000-foot installation.

For stations that do decide to go the construction route, Spectrasite Broadcast Group President Tom Prestwood has some advice: Make sure you work things out with your local community.

Prestwood joined Spectrasite nine months ago after working with cellular-tower construction, so he's well-versed in the problems that can arise. "You have to do a lot of political leg work to make sure that what you do best suits the community. No matter what you do," he cautions, "you won't make everybody happy."

Working with city councils is the key, he says, adding that a broadcaster needs to be sure the council understands exactly what it is that is being put up. Misunderstandings, he notes, could get in the way of proposal acceptance.

"Their perception of what a tower is will not be what your perception is," says Prestwood. "They have a right to protect their community and interests, but it's our responsibility to tell them what it's really going to be. Don't try to hype what you're doing."

Also, he says, make sure the attitude you take lines up with the interest of the people in the community. "If you don't take their input to make this thing work, you're gonna hit walls all day and get nowhere."


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