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Because of the timeliness of this story, the unedited version filed
with Broadcast Engineering is posted here with their permission:
- The WORLD TRADE CENTER
- Disaster New York Television's
- By Larry Bloomfield
- RESILIENCE! - There is probably no other
word that more aptly describes our American Nation and the broadcasters in
New York City. It would only be repetitive to reiterate the plethora of
words that have been used to describe the incidents of September 11, 2001 --
9-11. There is one story, however, that seems to have eluded the mass
media; the one about the resiliency of the New York broadcast community and
the spirit of cooperation of all concerned. This story of resiliency is
inseparable from and an integral part of the New York and American spirit --
the ability to bounce back from adversity. In a week's time, there has been
an incredible outpouring of people and businesses ready to assist those
directly affected by the tragedy and to start the process of healing in all
- What Was
- Of the seven buildings that composed the
World Trade Center in New York City, it was in the upper floors of the North
Tower where the transmitters for New York's television stations and several
FMs resided. Of the twin 110 story towers, the North Tower was very
distinctive, being crowned with its broadcast antenna, built by Dielectric,
that added 360 feet (110 meters) to the structure, bearing mute testimony to
its purpose and which so many viewers took for granted.
- Broadcast residence of the World Trade
Center's North Tower reads like a page out of NYC's TV Guide: WCBS-TV, Ch 2
(CBS -- O&O); WNBC-TV/DT, Chs 4/28 (NBC -- O&O); WNYW, Channel 5 (FOX --
O&O); WABC-TV/DT, Chs 7/45 (ABC -- O&O); WWOR-TV/DT, Chs 9/38 (UPN -- FOX
O&O); WPIX-TV/DT, Chs 11/33 (WB -- Tribune - O&O); WNET-TV/DT, Chs 13/61
(PBS -- Educational Broadcast Corp.); WPXN, Channel 31 (PAX Net -- Paxson
O&O); and WNJU, Channel 47 (Telemundo -- O&O).
- In addition to these television
stations, four FM's were part of this broadcast community: WKCR-FM, 89.9
MHz; WPAT-FM, 93.1 MHz; WNYC-FM, 93.9 MHz and WKTU-FM, 103.5 MHz.
- For clarification, some stations continue
to have some facilities in the Empire State Building: WCBS-DT, Ch 56 and an
auxiliary backup for WCBS-TV Ch 2, WNYW-DT, Ch 44 (FOX), and WNYE-TV/DT, CH
25/24 (PBS). According to the National Association of Broadcasters web site,
this brings the count of digital television stations down to 203 in 68
markets. (URL -
- It must have been, and probably still is
confusing to the New York viewing audience as to what really happened to the
broadcast community. Although off the air for a while, WCBS-TV, (Ch 2) was
able to come back up from their auxiliary transmitter they still had in the
Empire State Building, but the remaining stations were dark. From all
reports, only thirty percent of the New York viewing audience depends on
over the air (OTA) broadcasting for television reception, with the
preponderance of the viewing audience having satellite (DTH) or cable. Cable
operators in the New York area get their programming either via hardwired,
fiber feeds or a common carrier satellite feed.
- Prior to the early 70's, nearly all New
York OTA television was broadcast from the Empire State Building Empire
State Building, (350 Fifth Avenue, between 33rd and 34th Streets) in the
"heart of Midtown Manhattan" (New York City). At a height of 1,250
feet (391 meters), the Empire State Building was the tallest thing around at
the time, which made it the logical choice for early New York television
broadcasters. The addition of the broadcast antenna structure raised the
height to 1,472 feet (448 meters) to top of antennae.
- When the New York Port Authority opted
to build the World Trade Center complex at the lower end of Manhattan, local
broadcasters eagerly awaited the new, higher structure, as they were rapidly
outgrowing the Empire State Building. In addition to this, the new facility
would give them better coverage. Tower One was completed in 1972 at a height
of 1,368 feet (417 meters) and Tower Two in 1973 at a height of 1,362 feet
(415 meters); both 110 stories high. The foundation for each tower had to be
extended more than 70 feet (21.3 meters) below ground level to rest on solid
From the observation deck on of the World Trade Center, it was possible to
see 45 miles (72.4 Km) in every direction.
- Initial responses -- Where to
- Within hours of the attack, broadcasters
and vendors were on the phones talking "recovery." What followed is an
amazing story of mutual aid, cooperation and efforts to get television
broadcasters back on the air. The next questions: Where, When and How had to
be addressed. "When," was academic: ASAP! The other two weren't so easy.
- Richard E. Fiore, Jr., Senior Vice
President for sales at Thomcast Communications, Inc. reported: "On Wednesday
(9/12) Andy Bater of Tribune Broadcasting coordinated a teleconference with
all commercial broadcasters. The meeting was quite lively with all sorts of
information flowing back and forth. For the most part, it appears that
between Harris, LARCAN and Thomcast, soon to be renamed Thales Broadcast and
Multimedia, will provided all the transmitter systems; Dielectric was
working on transmission line and Antennas as well as RFS and Andrew was also
helping. All in all, it was a partisan effort where everyone was working
together to make sure the stations' needs were being addressed."
- The plans were fairly straight forward:
"Get back on the air with whatever power, from what ever location or
locations, as rapidly as possible." The "where" part seems only fitting and
completes a loop: Alpine, NJ. Situated just west of NYC, "Alpine" is across
the Hudson River, (40.95 N, 73.92 W) and holds a significant place in the
history of broadcasting. Ever hear the name of genius/inventor, (Major)
Edwin H. Armstrong? This is where he had his laboratories and a tower,
which are still standing.
- The list of Armstrong's accomplishments
reads like a primer of electronic circuits. Of his circuits and
technological innovations, the most important is probably his contribution
of Frequency Modulation (FM) in 1933; the very technology used to deliver
the aural portion of analog television today. A web site dedicated to him
goes rather deeply into his accomplishments and the Alpine site:
In addition to the Alpine site, some broadcasters chose the Empire State
- Fiore told us that of particular concern
at either site were more about the location of equipment and logistics.
Where and how to get equipment to the Empire State Building, Can vendors
even get into New York with trucks and cars?, If they can, where will they
stay?, Can they get into the Empire State Building? --- All of these types
of issues were discussed.
- Al Smirnoff, the transmission site
manager for the Empire State Building was on the call and it was decided
that he, along with station personnel would find out from NY emergency
services and determine how to handle this. There was a meeting the next day
to determine these needs.
- Offers for replacement equipment came in
from equipment suppliers, large and small, both here and from our neighbors
up north, Canada. With a place to put them, antennas, transmission lines and
transmitters with their diplexers began to arrive within hours.
- In the interim, the level of cooperation
extended to the extent that unaffected stations carried some of the downed
network O&O's programs. Keep in mind that nearly all programming was the
coverage of the aftermath. At one time or another, WABC-TV was carried by
WNYE-TV (channel 25, the Board of Education station, based in Brooklyn. WHSE-TV
channel 68, Home Shopping Network, located in northern New Jersey, and New
Jersey Network (PBS), which has a station, WNJM channel 50, in Montclair,
NJ, just eight miles from the Empire State Building.
- According to one source, all NYC
stations feed cable directly, "even out in Suffolk county LI." To many, over
air is almost an afterthought. One cable watcher told us that on WABC, they
were told: "if you have any friends or acquaintances that do not have cable,
tell them you can find us on channels 25, 67 or 68."
- The New Jersey Network got their WABC-TV
feed via satellite (Galaxy 1), as did others, until about 3 AM on Saturday
(9/15), when WABC-TV resumed regular programming. Bill Schnorbus, Director
of Engineering for New Jersey Public Broadcasting confirmed that his
organization also offered their Montclair, NJ tower space to WABC & WNET.
- Victor Joo, General Manager of WMBC-TV
in Sparta, NJ told us that his station carried WNYW-TV, (FOX) programming
for about 3 hours, but switch off them due to problems getting a clean feed.
They did, however get a clean feed from WNBC-TV (NBC) and carried their
programming for some 40 hours, until they resumed normal programming.
- Jim Zaroda, Regional Sales Manager for
EMCEE said: "EMCEE received an emergency call from New York's Telemundo
station, WNJU looking for a UHF transmitter. EMCEE had a portable 1KW,
broadband unit that was deployed to Harrisburg, PA. We drove to Harrisburg,
where it was retuned and ship to the crisis area." Harris Broadcast, LARCAN
and Thales Broadcast & Multimedia (formerly Thomcast) redirected
transmitters destined for customers they had orders for in Tennessee,
Montana, Texas and South America.
- Nat Ostroff, Vice President of New
Technology Sinclair Broadcast Group, owners of Acrodyne Transmitter Company,
said: "So far Acrodyne and Sinclair have made offers, within hours of the
events, to supply transmission equipment and expertise to whomever need
same. Sinclair is prepared to decommission some of its solid state UHF DTV
systems as well as ship units we have not yet installed, overnight to NYC
plus "Acro" would convert them to NTSC."
- Scott Miron, Technical Services Manager
at LARCAN reported: "There were some Canadian/US border issues, but given
that this was 'emergency broadcasting equipment' and together with our
brokerage company and all of the correct paperwork, we did pass it through
customs and the help of the FBI, who carefully examined the shipment."
Reports of our boarders being sealed were not misreported. After US boarder
folks, with the help of the FBI, finished their "through inspection" of the
crates and equipment, things got rolling again.
- Who�s Got, or Is Getting -- What?
- CBS is in good shape. Bob Seidel, a
senior technical manager for CBS said: "The Empire State Building is our
geographically diverse backup site for WCBS Channel 2 and our main site for
WCBS-DT, Channel 56 (or Channel 2-1).
- "WCBS is on at full power from the
Empire State Building on channel 2 analog and WCBS-DT is on full power as
well." Sidel said that viewer reports indicate that they are servicing
their full Grade B contour for both analog and digital. "WCBS local into
local service on EchoStar and DirecTV was briefly interrupted when Building
7 collapsed," Sidel continued. "However, we have restored service to
EchoStar and DirecTV via a dedicated C-Band transponder. WCBS-DT service on
EchoStar was uninterrupted." When asked what the future holds, Sidel said:
"With the loss of the World Trade Center we are now building a
geographically diverse backup site for WCBS, Channel 2, which I am not at
liberty to discuss at this time."
- LARCAN shipped a 6 KW transmitter to
WNBC-TV who also took delivery of a 20 KW Harris transmitter in Alpine, New
Jersey. An associate at NBC in Burbank told me that KNBC-TV had a channel 4
antenna in storage at Mt. Wilson and was trucked to WNBC-TV. It must have
gotten there as they resumed broadcasting five days later.
- Not everyone had equipment stored across
the country they could draw on. Andrew and Dielectric answered the call with
transmission line and antennas. Dielectric shipped antennas, feeders and
accessories to WCBS-TV2, WNYW-TV5, WABC-TV7, WWOR-TV9, WPIX-TV11, WNET-TV13,
WPXN-TV31. We also have antennas and line going to WNJU-TV47 starting early
next week. Despite the antenna being sent from the west coast KNBC-TV,
Dielectric says they are also sending antennas, feeders and accessories to
them. And that's not all. According to Lewis M. Kling, President of
Dielectric, "Efforts will continue around the clock until we have met the
needs of both our customers and the people of New York City."
- Andrew Corp has supplied HELIAX® air
dielectric cable to facilitate the construction of an emergency broadcast
site in New Jersey. In addition to this, Andrew has supplied a standby
broadcast antenna and transmission line for the Telemundo station in New
York. According to Andrew Corp spokesperson, Greta Brown, "Employees at our
Portland Maine facility are working to get essentials, such as diplexers to
enable World Trade Center broadcasters to restore communications. We shipped
two diplexers and Low pass filters (analog) to Harris Corp. for NYC Channels
4 & 11 on September 12."
- Brown added, "In addition to broadcast
infrastructure material, we are also working with wireless companies to help
them restore or enhance cellular communications."
- Jim Clayton, General Manager of WNYW-TV
(FOX) told us that they were back on the air from the Empire State Building
with a 20 KW Harris transmitter.
- In a conversation with Dave May,
Director of Customer Service and Don Carpenter, Manager of Television
Service Transmission equipment at Harris, they said they'd shipped new
transmitters for WABC-TV, WNBC-TV, WNYW-TV and WWOR-TV on September 11. A
transmitter for WPIX was shipped on September 12 and a transmitter for WCBS
is in the process of being built.
- WABC-TV will get a 2 KW transmitter in
Alpine, New Jersey. WABC-TV's Kurt Hanson told us that his station was back
on the air around noon on Saturday (9/15). They are using a temporary panel
antenna and are looking to replace it with a more substantial device that
will give them better coverage. WABC-TV's Hanson told us he was "truly
impressed with the communal effort from other broadcasters, vendors and the
folks working at the Alpine site."
- WWOR-TV, now owned by FOX, will resume
operations from the Empire State Building. They took delivery of a LARCAN 3 KW
transmitter and a 2 KW Harris, while Tribune�s WPIX-TV has opted to use a 10
KW Harris in Alpine, NJ.
- Everett Helm, Director of RF Engineering
for Oregon Public Broadcasting (Portland, OR) told us that he�d been asked
to ship a 10 KW "loaner transmitter" they'd been using from Thomcast
directly to WNET in Alpine, NJ. WNET was back up and operating,
temporarily, with a 1 KW internally diplexed LARCAN transmitter on Thursday
- Although WNET's Frank Graybill was quick
to express his appreciation for the cooperation he'd received, saying: "The
cooperation from broadcasters across the country, manufacturers and vendors
has been outstanding," in getting back on the air. Graybill told us that he
was very surprised when a guy in a pickup truck drove up with a load of
HELIAX transmission line on Wednesday (9/12) and said: "Here it is. Use what
you need." If that wasn't enough, Graybill said he was further surprised
when he was able to get an antenna the same day from Myat in Norwood, NJ.
- Graybill said he did have some concerns.
One was obtaining local property variances for the Alpine, NJ site. In
addition to this, he mentioned that the coverage is very different than what
they had been accustomed to, taking into account the lower power at this
point. The Alpine sight is some 500 feet lower than the World Trade Center.
Issues of covering the south Jersey coast were mentioned. Graybill did say
that they would probably look to translators to fill in some of the gaps.
- Fiore also told us that his company was
able to deliver two 100 KW transmitters, one each to WPXN in West Orange, NJ
and WNJU, who will be joining the others at the Alpine, NJ site. In the
interim, Pax's WPXN (Channel 31) is being seen over several Low Power TV
stations; East Orange, N.J. and Amityville, Long Island, NY. Viewers calling
WPXN on 9/19/01 are being told that they, themselves, will be back on the
air within a week.
- With their transmitters, LARCAN
dispatched 3 Technical Representatives to provide installation services at
the other end. The other manufacturers said they had provided technical
assistance as well. Volunteers have made offers from nearly every television
market across the country. If nothing else, this incident, like no other has
coalesced American and its broadcast community.
- Getting From Here To There
studio-to-transmitter links (STL) and, in some cases, transmitter-to-studio
links (TSL) had to be established for nearly all stations to all the new
- Nucomm Inc.'s
President, Dr. John B. Payne, reported that his company is located less than
an hour away from New York City and was able to address the emergency needs
of broadcasters during this time of crisis.
- Dr. Payne said
they received a call on Tuesday (9/11) from WABC-TV to provide an STL from
their studio facilities at Lincoln Square to the new transmitter site in
Alpine, NJ. "We sent an engineer with the equipment to assist the ABC
engineers and had the link up and running by mid day Wednesday (9/12),"
Payne mentioned, adding; "Nucomm is also working with WNJU, & WNET to
provide emergency microwave equipment for the Alpine STL."
- Nucomm also
received a call on 9/11 to provide microwave relay links for New York One,
Time Warner Cable's 24 hour news channel, WNJU's ENG and WNET's ENG. These
were hand delivered the following morning (9/12) to help re-establish the
respective companies' live ENG operations.
- Robert Morrissette, Microwave Radio
Communications (MRC)'s North East Regional Sales Manager told us that his
company was providing STL links for WPIX-TV and WCBS-TV. In addition to
this they are also supplying two-way STL and TSLs for WWOR-TV and WNYW.
- Since electronic news gathering (ENG) is
an intrigue part of most all television operations and the World Trade
Center played a part in nearly all stations ENG networks, MRC was called
upon to help WABC-TV, WNYW-TV, WWOR and CNN with their central and remote
ENG receive sites.
- The FCC
- Audrey Spivack, FCC spokesperson said:
"The FCC is available to grant any necessary regulatory relief; such as
issuing Special Temporary Authority (STA) where needed or allowing companies
to install remote towers." Spivack added: "The Wireless Bureau granted a
company's request for some extra temporary spectrum in NY. The Mass Media
Bureau has granted a few STAs, including one to set up a temporary site in
Alpine, NJ. They also granted a couple to operate low power TV stations with
increased power." Spivack concluded by saying: "MMB has been in constant
contact with the nine broadcasters affected by the World Trade Center
collapse and the MMB is acting quickly on any requests."
- Along with most other federal agencies,
the FCC did closed its offices and sent its employees home shortly after in
the terrorist attacks (9/11) in New York City, Washington, DC, and
elsewhere. The FCC issued no emergency declaration nor other special
instructions but did published a notice, one week after the terrorist attack
(9/18), suspending routine weekly and monthly EAS testing until October 2,
2001. The notice said the reason for the suspension was "to avoid potential
public confusion or fear in connection with the recent terrorist attacks."
- What Happened To EAS?
- Additionally, during this period, cable
systems need not comply with the rules regarding the handling of the routine
weekly and monthly EAS tests. The FCC says they "will not take enforcement
action against broadcast stations or cable systems for not complying with
the rules relating to these routine EAS tests during this period. Should an
extension be required, an additional FCC public notice will be issued. All
other EAS rules must be complied with." No mention was made as to why the
EAS was never utilized by the President, or anyone else for that matter.
- Further Down The Road
- Irrespective of the equipment and
location, everything was being installed into what are only temporary sites,
however long term prognosis is that Empire simply does not have the
infrastructure to handle too much more, Vertical real estate in NYC will be
at a premium. Permanency is a real issue.
- The next step is for all the affected
stations to turn these low-power emergency installations into full-power
transmission facilities that can be used for the long haul. Despite all the
talk of rebuilding the Trade Center towers, any reconstruction would be
years in coming, and that means the Empire State Building and the Alpine
tower are likely to remain the area's primary TV sites for a while.
- One other consideration not directly
addressed in our conversations, was an underlying tone of the need for
diversified auxiliary back up transmitter sites. This is under study, as
mentioned by CBS and will undoubtedly be the topic of more than one senior
management meeting when things begin to calm down from this initial
- Thompson's Fiore probably summed it up
best: "All in all, I can't help but be proud of how all of us have responded
to the catastrophe not just all the people here scheduling equipment,
trucks, personnel but also all of the contractors, customers and
installation crews. Even other customers who were in the process of having
systems installed had no problems in allowing us to free up people to send
to the NY sites.
- "If the terrorists think they set us
back, I for one , would be pleased to say all they did was make us more
committed to working together to overcome adversity, some of it short term
some long term, it is they who had better be looking over their shoulder,"
- Lest We forget
- It would not be proper to conclude this
report without mentioning those fellow engineers who are missing. For the
most current information on this matter please visit the New York City SBE
Chapter�s web site,
www.broadcast.net/~sbe15 You will also
find information on how to donate to the Broadcast Engineer's Relief Fund,
which has been put in place to help the families of those engineers that
have been lost.
- The opinions expressed herein are those
of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or
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