Raycom Media's tower crisis in Albany, Ga. took a turn for the worse Wednesday when the planned demolition of WFXL's tower, damaged last week when it was struck by an Army helicopter, also destroyed the neighboring tower of sister station WALB.
WFXL's 1000-foot tower has been off-air since the morning of June 1, when an Army helicopter on a training mission between Savannah and Fort Rucker, Ga., hit part of the tower, clipping one of its supporting guy wires and cutting its RF line. The chopper subsequently crashed, killing four of its five occupants.
Since then, a tower crew from ProCom Towers has been on-site to assess the damage, and in the meantime, WFXL worked with WALB's assistance to get back on-air, mounting a temporary antenna on a 300-foot tower atop WALB's studio. WFXL began low-power broadcasts from that tower Sunday night, according to WFXL station manager Deborah Owens.
From the initial accident, there were concerns that the damaged WFXL tower would collapse and damage WALB’s main broadcast tower, which was located adjacent to, and only 150 feet away from, WFXL’s damaged stick. That threat became a reality on Wednesday when a specialized demolition crew from Controlled Demolition set off explosives to take down the WFXL tower. As the WFXL tower fell, one of its guy wires lashed out and wrapped around the WALB tower, causing that structure to collapse as well.
"We were hopeful, but they were too close together," says Raycom VP of marketing Anne Adkins. "We almost made it."
WALB is now operating from a low-power antenna atop its studio as well, and with carriage on EchoStar and 60% cable penetration in the market, "we're not totally out of the loop," says Adkins.
The long-term tower replacement solution for WALB and WFXL remains unclear, since WFXL is being sold to Barrington Broadcasting as part of a 12-station, $262 million deal announced in March. Jenny Collins, general manager of WFXL, says that building a master tower for both stations is one possibility, but no plans have been discussed as of yet. She doesn't expect the tower disaster to hinder the closing of station's sale, which should happen by the end of July.