Plus: Jacobs talks radio trends, and Wolf Hall keeps the codpieces small.
Plus: Jacobs talks radio trends, and Wolf Hall keeps the codpieces small.
If any part of the broadcast plant ever merited the label “necessary evil,” a top nominee would be the tower. Expensive to maintain, fraught with potential hazards, bound by an ever-growing web of regulations, unloved by neighbors and often located inconveniently far away, a pubcaster’s tower still serves as the essential link between its program service and its audience. In the early years of public TV and radio — before streaming and podcasting and cable and over-the-top video delivery — pubcasters and their audiences depended completely on the reach of the signals their towers could deliver. When broadcasting was a new and developing communications medium, those towers were much easier to build. As long as they weren’t in an airport flight path, the NIMBY factor was rarely a concern as public TV and FM stations spread across the country from the 1950s into the 1970s.
Pubcasters who own broadcast towers are about to get regulatory relief thanks to a FCC decision that closes the books on a lengthy effort to revise rules governing tower safety and maintenance. At an open meeting Friday, FCC commissioners approved the changes while decrying the long road their predecessors took to get there. “This issue was first raised in 2005 during the Commission’s 2004 biennial rule review,” said commissioner Michael O’Rielly. The question that has to be asked is, why did it take the commission nine years?”
Though the Part 17 rules apply to all owners of “antenna structures” (FCC-speak for towers), the Commission’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau promoted the changes as a boon to cellular and data services, which depend on hundreds of thousands of smaller towers across the country to meet ever-growing demand from consumers. By eliminating a requirement that tower owners conduct quarterly physical checks of the monitoring systems at all of their towers, the FCC “will save antenna structure owners millions of dollars annually,” said WTB representative Michael Smith.
AM: still used by several dozen pubcasters
AM radio uses the low frequencies where radio began, which have much longer wavelengths. While FM antennas are relatively small and mounted high on towers, AM’s longer wavelengths use the entire tower as an antenna, along with a network of underground wires that typically surround the tower in a circle as wide as the tower is high. Experts in the black art of AM facility design recommend that AM towers’ height be a precise fraction, such as one-quarter, of the station’s wavelength so that the tower will resonate with the frequency. Stations with lower frequencies tend to have higher towers. Old-timer KOAC in Corvallis, Ore.
Talk about collaboration! A typical FM/TV tower can be home to dozens of antennas for stations and other spectrum users. Five full-power TV stations and five FM broadcast from Pinnacle Hill in Rochester, N.Y. (right). Some FM translators and two-way radio and mobile users also share the tower. Pubcaster WXXI owns the middle tower and uses it to broadcast its TV signal and two FMs.
1 These are UHF TV antennas, typically 40-50 feet in length.
Iowa Public Radio’s KUNI-FM in Cedar Falls is again broadcasting at full power after several weeks of suffering from ice-storm damage. The network’s classical KHKE-FM, also in Cedar Falls, remains at low power after sustaining damage in another storm.
At Mountain Lake Public Broadcasting in upstate New York, Alice Recore put $1.2 million into reinforcing and preparing WCFE’s 30-year-old tower for the DTV age. Across the continent at KSPS in Spokane, Wash., Bob Wyatt assiduously maintained and upgraded the station’s 40-year-old tower. But that wasn’t enough in either case. Both towers suffered catastrophic collapses within the past year, at costs that are still mounting. Theoretically, towers don’t have to fail.
At a feel-good press conference May 13, all parties hailed the resolution of a decade-long fight over the tower of Fordham University’s WFUV-FM in New York City.The Daily News likened the scene to a Rose Garden peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians. Even Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued a joint news release endorsing Montefiore Medical Center’s offer to put the antenna atop its residential building. The new site is one-and-a-half miles from the scene of the station’s festering dispute with the nearby New York Botanical Garden, which says the present tower spoils the surroundings. Ralph Jennings, WFUV’s g.m., is saving his big hooray for the day when the station starts transmitting from the new tower. With its new antenna nearly 500 feet above average terrain and radiating 50 kilowatts of power, the station will reach farther into Brooklyn, Westchester County and Connecticut, instantly doubling its potential audience to more than 13 million.
Fordham University’s WFUV-FM and its opponents across the street at the New York Botanical Garden have been quietly pursuing an alternative site for the station’s tower, even while their defenders sparred publicly in FCC forums June 27. After eight years of legal struggles with the botanical garden, WFUV hangs its antenna from a tower that, despite being cut short by halted construction, offends the garden’s management. Both sides are encouraged by progress of negotiations for the alternative site. Garden spokesman Karl Lauby says only that the site is “up north” and WFUV General Manager Ralph Jennings won’t discuss its location at all. Neither wants to set off new opposition or alert landowners that their site is a rare one.
New York state’s highest court early this month unanimously upheld WFUV-FM’s right to complete the radio tower on Fordham University’s Bronx campus, despite complaints from the nearby New York Botanical Garden that the tower spoils the skyline. This was the fifth victory in various administrative and court appeals. For nearly four years the tower has remained half-built. The ruling by the New York State Court of Appeals upheld a local zoning ruling that permitted the tower. Remaining federal historic issues are being mediated between the university and the botanical garden.
The New York Botanical Garden, still fighting the completion of a nearby 480-foot tower for WFUV-FM, told the FCC late in October that the station should disguise the antenna as a 185-foot double flagpole. In its reply to the commission, WFUV said the notion was “without technical or practical merit” and asked for approval of its construction permit. The botanists are “trying to sidetrack the commission” and extend the two-and-a-half-year delay, says Ralph Jennings, g.m. Before proposing the double flagpole, the garden had suggested a stone tower to hold the antenna, but it was not feasible, he says. “All these things would be pretty, but they’re about 200 feet high, which is no higher than what we’ve got now.” The garden hired Washington engineers Cohen, Dippell and Everist to work with architects, who came up with the flagpole design, and commended the idea to other communities where stark towers are planned.
Fordham University’s WFUV has withstood for the third time a neighbor’s challenge to its plan to complete a 480-foot transmitting tower on its Bronx campus. The state Supreme Court in Manhattan upheld June 12  previous rulings of New York City’s Buildings Department and its Board of Standards and Appeals, which accepted the tower as a valid accessory use of the university. But many obstacles remain. The neighboring New York Botanical Garden, which opposes the tower as a blight on its horizon, expects to appeal the court ruling and points out that the city zoning regulators still want Fordham to move the half-built tower 25 feet to make it legal, and that the Federal Aviation Administration has yet to approve the tower. Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam dissed the garden’s esthetic argument.
With its new transmission tower half built, WFUV-FM in New York City now has some more money to pay for it, after prevailing in a funding dispute with a federal agency, but its neighbors won’t rest until the station tears down the steel and erects it elsewhere. The Fordham University station in the Bronx got its good funding news in December when the National Telecommunications and Information Administration settled the university’s lawsuit and gave WFUV an equipment grant of $262,858, plus about $100,000 in legal costs. In declaring WFUV eligible for the federal grant, NTIA Administrator Larry Irving reversed his 1993 decision that the agency would not assist stations carrying religious programming, including WFUV’s weekly one-hour Catholic Mass. Under the new policy, NTIA announced on Dec. 20 , public broadcasting stations will be eligible for grants even if ”a grant might result in some attenuated or incidental benefit to sectarian interests,” though not if religious activities are ”the essential thrust of the grant’s purpose.”
”In other words,” says WFUV General Manager Ralph Jennings, ”it’s okay to serve the religious needs as well as the other needs of the community.”
”Religious voices cannot be driven from the public square,” said Fordham’s president, the Rev. Joseph A. O’Hare, in a press statement.