The WORLD TRADE CENTER Disaster – New York Television’s Recovery
 
(Copy as submitted to Broadcast Engineering -- Pictures added)
By Larry Bloomfield

 

RESILIENCE!
(3,644 words)
 
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 respects.
 
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 - http://www.nab.org/newsroom/issues/digitaltv/dtvstations.asp )
 
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 bedrock. 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 relocate
 
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.

 

Major Edwin H. Armstrong's laboratory and first transmission site was thought by most to have been relegated to history. With the WTC tragedy, however, it has become perhaps the most important tower site on the East Coast. Shown here is the original laboratory building, which still houses some broadcast equipment.
Antenna as it stood on September 13, 2001 at the Armstrong laboratory.
 
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: http://users.erols.com/oldradio/index.htm#Y  In addition to the Alpine site, some broadcasters chose the Empire State Building.
 
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 (9/13).
 
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
 
The 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 transmitter sites.
 
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 resurrection activity.
 
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,” Fiore concluded.
 
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.