Stations Unite in Tower Project

After losing their sticks in a helicopter crash, Georgia stations will share hardware
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A single tower will perform double duty for two Georgia stations that lost their 1,000-foot broadcast towers in a June helicopter crash. Raycom Media and Barrington Broadcasting will build a 1,000-foot tower for WFXL and WALB Albany, Ga., with completion targeted for February sweeps.

The stick, which should cost around $3 million, will feature a “T-top” structure with a cross-bar on top to support both a VHF antenna for Raycom’s WALB station, an NBC affiliate, and a UHF antenna for Barrington’s WFXL, a Fox outlet. Digital television antennas for both stations will be side-mounted lower on the tower.

As reported in the June 19 B&C, the WFXL tower was severely damaged when it was struck by an Army helicopter on a training mission June 1, an accident that killed four of the five soldiers on board.

The collision cut one of the tower’s supporting guy wires, making the structure likely to collapse and placing the adjacent tower for WALB, located 150 feet away, at risk. During a controlled demolition, one of the WFXL stick’s guy wires lashed out and brought down WALB’s tower as well.

Getting by on Low Power

Since then, both stations have been broadcasting from temporary low-power facilities atop WALB’s studio. With high cable penetration in the Albany market and carriage of local signals by satellite operator EchoStar, WALB and WFXL executives estimate that only about 10% of their audience was affected.

“The ERP [effective radiated power] is respectable, and we’re doing okay,” says Keith Bland, senior VP of technical operations for Barrington.

At the time of the accident, WFXL was owned by Raycom but was in the process of being sold to Barrington. The deal closed Aug. 11. Because of the confined plot of land on which the towers were situated in Doerun, Ga., creating a single tower was seen as the safest solution.

While the change of ownership could have complicated the tower-replacement plan, Raycom and Barrington agreed to form a joint venture called Albany Tower LLC to build and maintain the new stick. “The joint venture solves a number of economic and business issues,” says Bland, “and delineates who pay taxes, who maintains it, etc.”

Raycom has been leading the effort to build a new stick, submitting insurance claims for both towers and fielding engineering proposals. Dave Folsom, VP/chief technology officer for Raycom, says construction should begin in the coming weeks, with LeBlanc & Royle building the tower and Dielectric providing antennas.

“Back to Where We Were”

“Instead of two 5-foot-face towers, it will be a single 10-foot-face tower with a T-bar on top,” says Folsom. “The two primary antennas will be at the same center of radiation as the old two towers. So we’re right back to where we were, except on a single tower.”

The station’s DTV antennas will be side-mounted about 150 feet down from the NTSC antennas mounted at the top of the tower. WALB currently broadcasts on VHF Ch. 10 for NTSC and on UHF Ch. 17 for DTV. That station has elected to revert to Ch. 10 for DTV broadcasts after analog broadcasts cease, so it has no need to change antennas when the digital transition is completed.

WFXL, on the other hand, broadcasts on UHF Ch. 31 but has elected to move permanently to its DTV assignment on Ch. 12 at the end of the digital transition. It has the choice of remaining on the side-mount VHF/DTV position or buying a new top-mount–style VHF antenna at the transition, with the latter scenario more likely.

Folsom was concerned about the availability of industrial-grade steel for the guy wires. But he says availability isn’t as bad as initially thought, allowing a tower and supporting wires to be constructed in as little as four months. “If we get really lucky and the weather cooperates,” he says, “we’ll have the tower back up by the February book.”

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