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North East Commerical Radio Antennas and Towers

NECRAT logo

NECRAT logo

Or NECRAT for those who have been around the internet for a while. Many, if not most of you will know Mike Fitzpatrick’s NECRAT website which features many pictures of radio transmitter sites around the country (not just the Northeast).

Even before I began blogging, I checked NECRAT often for interesting pictures of many different transmitter sites.

If you are one of the few who has not visited his site, go and check it out: http://www.necrat.us

PBS Frontline: Cell Tower Deaths

Interesting video (part 1 of 3) about the large numbers of Cell tower deaths in the last eight years:

Watch Cell Tower Deaths on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

There are two kinds of tower companies, those that have been around for a long time and do things right, and those that hire subcontractors who are minimally trained and take shortcuts. The reasons for this are the same and we hear them over and over again in all aspects of this business; budgetary constraints, time constraints and what, who me?

The rest of the videos can be found at PBS.org:  Frontline: Cell Tower Deaths

Written story from Propublica: In Race For Better Cell Service, Men who climb towers loose their lives.

Tower light malfunction

We were notified that the WFAS-AM tower lights were out, thus, it was time to investigate. This problem was easy to find. Upon removing the water proof cover on the tower light flasher box, I found this:

SSAC melted tower light flasher, damaged by lightning

melted SSAC B-KON tower light flasher, damaged by lightning

As soon as loosened the screws on the cover, I smelled the unmistakeable odor of burned electronics and plastic.   I disconnected the flasher and covered the photocell, which turned the side markers on.  Of course, the top flashing beacon was dark, therefore, it was time to report the outage to the FAA.  The nation wide number to report tower light outages is (877) 487-6867.  That number is for an automated system, however, eventually it leads to a live person.  Since the new reporting system was established, the only required information is the tower ASRN.  From that information, the operator will access a data base and have all the required information to issue a NOTAM.  In the past, many questions were usually asked; what is the nearest airport, how far away is the airport, how tall is the obstruction, what is the position, etc.  Therefore, things have become slightly easier than before.

Once the outage is reported and a NOTAM is issued, the tower owner generally has fifteen days to correct the problem.

So, you call this work?

A trip to the WSPK transmitter site on a pleasant day, or, one could say, another day at the “office.”  Tower painting season is here, I’ll post some more about that later.  This is a nice set of pictures from the top of Mt. Beacon, in Beacon, NY.

Hudson Valley looking north from Mt. Beacon

Hudson Valley looking north from Mt. Beacon

South Mount  Beacon with the old fire tower:

Mount Beacon looking south at the old fire tower

Mount Beacon looking south at the old fire tower

Tower farm; two TV stations, Media Flow, one radio station, three translators, several cell carriers, one paging company, some government two way gear, and a few microwave relays.  The 320 foot guyed tower in the center holds the main (top) and backup (bottom) antennas for WSPK:

Mount Beacon Tower Farm

Mount Beacon Tower Farm

Tower climbers ascending a 320 foot tower.  This picture (and all the others as well) was taken with my HTC smartphone camera, proving the old adage, sometimes it is better to be lucky than good:

Tower workers on 320 foot guyed tower

Tower workers on 320 foot guyed tower

View from the ATC site at the very top of North Mount Beacon of the tower workers painting the top of the tower:

Tower workers painting torque arms on 320 foot guyed tower

Tower workers painting torque arms on 320 foot guyed tower

Another view from the ground:

Tower workers on Mt Beacon tower

Tower workers on Mt Beacon tower

All in all, not a bad day.

WSPK antenna replacement, part I

WSPK is located on North Mt. Beacon, which is the highest point for miles around. It has a fantastic signal. The site is a little difficult to get to, however, especially in the winter.  In previous years, the road has been impassable four months out of the year.  Some engineers have hired a helicopter to get up there when the snow is deep.  For that reason, it is important to keep the equipment in good shape.

WSPK Shively 6810 antenna with damaged top radome

WSPK Shively 6810 antenna with damaged top radome

After last February’s snow/rain/ice storm, it was noted that the top antenna radome was missing it’s top.  A tower climber was sent up to look at it and it was also discovered that the top bay was bent down and the element was almost cracked in half.  A result of falling ice, likely from the big periscope microwave reflector (passive reflector) mounted above it.

WSPK tower

WSPK tower

The periscope reflectors went out of service in 2007, but the tower owner did not want to pay to take them down, thus a problem was not being solved.   It was decided to replace the 25 year old Shively 6810 antenna with a new one, during which work, the radio station would pay to remove the reflectors from the tower.  In exchange for that work, the radio station would then be able to repair and remount the old Shively antenna below the new one, thus having a backup antenna.  Problem solved, except for, you know:  The actual work.

The tower and the periscope microwave system was installed in 1966, operated on 12 GHz and was used by the Archdiocese of New York to relay their educational television programming from their Yonkers headquarters to the various schools in the Hudson Valley.  Sometime around 1975 or so, the FCC mandated that periscope microwave systems could no longer be used due to all the side lobes and interference issues they caused.  They were to be taken out of service as soon as possible.  The Catholic Church, being a multi millennial organization figured “as soon as possible” meant within the next fifty years or so.  Anyway, somebody else needed that frequency, therefore in 2007, they bought the Archdiocese a new digital microwave system.

The problem with the reflectors; they are big.  They are also heavy, and present a huge wind area.  They are also 300 feet up in the air.

WSPK tower periscope reflectors seen from ground level

WSPK tower periscope reflectors seen from ground level

Finding a day with lite winds on top of Mount Beacon can be a problem.  Luckily, the weather was with us.  Still, it took a while to get this work moving along.  The other consideration is RFR and tower climber’s safety.  There are two digital TV stations, WSPK, several cell carriers, something called “Media Flow,” and a bunch of two way radio repeaters.  The main concern was WSPK, the DTV’s and Media Flow since the top of this tower is right in the aperture of those antennas.  All either went way down in power or off the air while this work was on going.

Rigging a gin pole and getting it to the top of the tower was a chore.  The gin pole needed to be threaded through those torque arms like a needle.

Gin Pole

Gin pole

The tower riggers truck had two winches, one a basic 120 volt capstan, the other a hydraulic winch in the bed of the truck with 1/2 inch steel cable.

Tower rigger's truck

Tower rigger's truck

The bolts holding the reflectors in place had to be cut with a saw, you can see the tower climber working on the left hand reflector, gives you an idea of size.  If this reflector were to fall off the tower, chances are good the major damage and or injuries would result on the ground.  Proceed with extreme caution.

Cutting bracket mounting bolt on periscope reflector

Cutting bracket mounting bolt on periscope reflector

Carefully lowering reflector past Shively 6810 FM antenna and Scala PR-950U microwave antenna.  During this phase, the tower climbers had to push the reflector out away from those obstacles with their legs.  You can see the gin pole at the top of the tower.

lowering periscope reflector

Lowering Periscope reflector

Another view:

Lowering reflector

Lowering reflector

Another view:

Lowering reflector

Lowering reflector

Almost down to the ground.  This measured 15 by 10 feet and ended up weighing 830 pounds.

Reflector almost to the ground

Reflector almost to the ground

One down, one to go.  I can’t believe those gigantic things were at the top of this tower, on the top of this mountain for 43 years and the tower is still standing.  This is going to change the appearance of the mountain top from down below.  For years, it looked like a pair of mickey mouse ears, now it will only look like a tower.  I wonder what the environmentalists will think.

I will make a second post with the antenna pictures as this one is getting a little long.

Tower Safety Equipment

The tower climbing video that has gone near viral pointed out a few things.  Climbing towers is dangerous business, best left to those who are trained for it and have the insurance.

It is true that tower climbing contractors have the responsibility to protect their own workers while working on a clients tower.  That does not completely absolve the tower owner from liability.  The it is incumbent on the tower owner to provide a safe structure to climb.  This can mean the mechanical integrity of the tower, reduction of transmitter power while workers are in high RF energy fields, and providing the proper permanently attached safety equipment on the tower itself;  Climbing ladders, ladder safety cages, rungs, elevators, and fall arresting gear.

In that tower video post, I mentioned something called a safety climb.  That is a cable, usually 3/8 inch stainless steel aircraft cable, attached, about eight inches from the climbing surface like this:

Western Electric 200 foot tower with retro fitted safety climb[

Western Electric 200 foot tower with retro fitted safety climb

The tower itself was built in 1959 and did not have this equipment when new.  This was a retro fit kit, installed in 2003, I believe.

The tower climber wears a harness with a special karabiner attached to the front and waist level.  When climbing this ladder, the karabiner slides up the cable.  If he were to fall, the karabiner has an auto locking or braking mechanism that would stop his fall.

Tower safety climb

Tower safety climb, attached to climbing ladder

Many tower climbers, especially those that have been in the business for a while, do not like these things.  When climbing, especially if one has long legs, the tendency is to bump your knees on the bottom of the next ladder rung.  This is because the belt holds the climber’s waist in making it difficult to get the rear end out, away from the ladder the way most people like to climb.  The alternative is to climb with the knees spread apart, like a frog, which is hard on the hamstrings and quite literally, a pain in the ass.  However, if a tower is so equipped, it must be used.

I have, wherever possible, retro fitted towers with these devices.  Of course, all new towers come equipped with them. In some situations, it is not possible to retro fit towers with safety climbs, either because there is no attachment point at the top of the tower that meets the OHSA spec, there is not a climbing ladder, or it would affect the tower tuning, as in an AM tower or near a TV or FM antenna.

Hundreds of gallons of ink have been spilled by Los Federals in OHSA regulations 29 CFR 1926 and 29 CFR 1910.268(g) regarding fall protection and fall protection equipment for telecommunications workers.  In this litigious world we live in, tower owners and or their on site representatives should know these rules and make sure they are followed.

Lightning strikes

For about 4 years, I lived in a house next to a four hundred foot radio tower.  Although I never actually saw lightning strike the tower, I heard it several times.  Like everything else, after a while, you get used to it.

This is a video of lightning hitting the WSIX STL tower in Nashville, TN. The camera work is a little unsteady, the strike occurs around the 1:36 mark:

Yep, that is what it is like.

Axiom


A pessimist sees the glass as half empty. An optimist sees the glass as half full. The engineer sees the glass as twice the size it needs to be.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
~1st amendment to the United States Constitution

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.
~Benjamin Franklin

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. To be your own man is hard business. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
~Rudyard Kipling

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers
~Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, Article 19

...radio was discovered, and not invented, and that these frequencies and principles were always in existence long before man was aware of them. Therefore, no one owns them. They are there as free as sunlight, which is a higher frequency form of the same energy.
~Alan Weiner

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