North Adams Tower Collapse

High winds seem to be the culprit in the collapse of two towers in North Adams. According to the Motorola system technicians, it happened at about 12:30 am Sunday morning, which is when all their link loss alarms started going off.  The larger, self supporting tower broke from it’s mounting plate and tipped over into the smaller guyed tower next to it. Effected are WUPE-FM and W226AW (WFCR New England Public Radio) as well as NEPR new station WNNI which has not officially signed on.

Cellular service for ATT, Verizon and Sprint/NEXTEL were all knocked off line as well internet services and E911 dispatch.  Those services are coming back on line, with temporary modular cell units en route. N

Here are some pictures:

North Adams Cell Tower
North Adams Cell Tower
WUPE-FM antenna on the ground
WUPE-FM antenna on the ground
WUPE-FM antenna
WUPE-FM antenna
WUPE-FM STL dish
WUPE-FM STL dish
Base of WUPE-FM (formerly WMNB) tower
Base of WUPE-FM (formerly WMNB) tower
WNNI antenna
WNNI antenna
WUPE-FM WNNI and W266AW transmitter building
WUPE-FM, WNNI, and W266AW transmitter building
North Adams Cell Tower
North Adams Cell Tower
North Adams Cell Tower
North Adams Cell Tower
North Adams Cell Tower
North Adams Cell Tower
North Adams Cell Tower
North Adams Cell Tower
Tower base mounting plate, apparent failure point
Tower base mounting plate, apparent failure point
Tower base mounting plate
Tower base mounting plate
Tower Base Mounting Plate
Tower Base Mounting Plate

For pictures of the towers during happier times, refer to this post: Filtering for co-located FM transmitters.

Restoration work is underway with WUPE-FM expected to return to air at low power by Monday afternoon.

Update:

WUPE-FM was returned to air at low power by about 1pm on Monday 3/31.  We took an unused Shively 6812 antenna that was tuned to 94.1 MHz and retuned it to 100.1 by cutting 1/4 inch pieces from the end of the elements until it was on frequency.  It took a bit of doing, but with a network analyzer, we were able to get it to 1.2:1 SWR with symmetrical sidebands.  Running 600 watts, it covers the city of license and then some.

WUPE-FM temporary antenna
WUPE-FM temporary antenna, Shively 6812

The STL antenna is a survey antenna mounted on the side of the building. In this configuration, with the leaves off of the trees, we are getting about 250 uV signal, which is pretty good.

WUPE-FM temporary STL antenna
WUPE-FM temporary STL antenna

The site is now crawling with insurance investigators, cell site technicians, North Adams fire department, Berkshire County Sheriff’s officers, tower workers, etc.  After we finished this work, we cleared out to make more room for everybody else.  Estimated restore time for W266AW is Wednesday 4/2.

Planning for the replacement tower is already in progress, I’d expect it to happen fairly quickly. The next step for the broadcasters is to put up a 70 foot utility pole and get a full powered antenna for WUPE. This should happen in the next two weeks or so. That will serve as the temporary facility until the new tower is constructed.

21 thoughts on “North Adams Tower Collapse”

  1. How high were the winds? There seems to be a tendency to hang entirely too much stuff on cell towers these days.

  2. Lee, I agree on the overloaded towers. The fire department people were saying 70 MPH gusts recorded at a nearby wind farm. It was raining heavily and the temps were right around freezing, so there is a possibility of ice as well, although I didn’t see any when I was there on Sunday morning. Still, seems like a survivable event.

  3. I would guess that a major underlying problem is the difficulty in getting approval for new towers in populated areas. Everybody wants their cellphone service but nobody wants towers spoiling their ‘viewscape’. Existing structures are maxed out until there’s no safety margin remaining. Antennae and feedlines are added and fingers are crossed. Management doesn’t want to hear any talk about windloading and structural limits, but 70 mph is not that uncommon a wind speed and ice is not a freak event.

  4. The picture of the failed base anchor plate does not have a clean raw steel look to it. This looks weathered and may have been cracked for some time. Normally things like this should have been seen in a quarterly tower inspection unless they were not being done at this site. But with tight budgets inspections are an easy item which can be cut, but NEVER SHOULD BE! I know, I was in charge of several sites in the past and the owner or GM wanted to cut inspections out of the budget sometimes, but I never let them…stand your ground and bring up examples like this when they do.

  5. Steve, you raise several good points. The insurance company investigation is ongoing, so I cannot comment about it too much. When they are finished I will perhaps shed some more light on it. I will say, the tower is owned by a tower company and not any radio or broadcast station, so there is that.

  6. Paul, many Kudos go out to you or whomever took this set of site pictures from the tower collapse. This is the only place I have seen actual pictures of the failed base plate anchors. The Berkshire Eagle and others had lots of pictures but seemed only interested in publishing the carnage vs. pictures of what really looks to be the main cause of the failure…not the winds, but a cracked support which may have gone unnoticed for some time. As I mentioned before, the rust or oxidation on what’s left of the anchor leg kind of indicates this was going on for a while waiting for just the right conditions to topple it over. Though I did not look it up and maybe someone should, the wind conditions during the time of collapse may just happened to have been blowing strong the wrong way…from the East.(West/NW winds normally prevail in New England). What I have seen makes me believe this was a failure of the east side leg as the tower fell to the west but I have not seen anywhere to confirm the failure was on the east leg. Well that’s my 2 cents as a broadcast and RF engineer of 25+ years and I’m really, really glad nobody was hurt.

  7. Paul,
    You were trained well in the HV.
    Your recovery efforts reflect that nicely.
    As with certain sitiations around the valley being everything from stellar to frightning,I have coined the phrase (use it often),”what is it worth to you?
    I’m just not available for really dumb s&#t at 04:00 anymore…
    EL

  8. Alright, so my curiosity got the best of me and I could not resist looking further for wind data. Conditions were the “Perfect Storm” for an East leg failure with a crack in it at the time of the collapse. December 15th if you adjust the dates was also a day which was near the same conditions. Maybe ice in the crack somehow cemented it together back then…who knows.

    http://www.wunderground.com/history/airport/KAQW/2014/3/29/CustomHistory.html?dayend=30&monthend=3&yearend=2014&req_city=NA&req_state=NA&req_statename=NA

  9. Actually, the “tower slum lord” is a respectable local business person. Furthermore, every new installation of additional antennas on this tower had a proper structural study done by a licensed engineer. Temperatures were not cold enough to change the material resistance of the steel used on the tower legs.

    We are all curious as to why this happened, but lets not speculate on such things. This is not CNN or MSNBC. When the investigation into the failure is completed, I will share the results, if I am privy to that information.

  10. The Channel 22 report gave a good account of the collapse affecting cell and public safety communications, but didn’t have a speck of mention that three radio stations were also affected — one with decades of proven service to the Berkshire communities.

    Should I take this as some kind of indicator that “good old radio” is becoming ignored by the public as an obsolete service?

  11. KF4RCA commented:

    “The tower slum lord should have known this.”

    Interesting observation, with a modicum of truth thrown in.

    Paul, how old was the instillation, and any idea who was responsible for the orignal install? It appears this is one of those thing that started bad and was overlooked many times. . .

    Wesley H
    K0WHH

  12. For those of us in our fifties and beyond,our job is incresingly getting the kids ,who become our bosses to understand that wether it’s mount beacon or empire,they have a major stake in keeping the equipment,old or new up and running without incident.
    again,ask them “what’s it worth to you?”

  13. Great job on that 6812. I have a 2 bay 6812 on 106.9. Have a cp for 107.5 I think the narrow band may not work as is on 107.5, could always try.But tuning it to 107.5 shouldn’t be too difficult. amazing you tuned your antenna from 94.1 to 100.1.

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