WMHT’s former analog transmitter

During the digital TV conversion in the US, all broadcast television stations installed new transmitting equipment and antennas.  Most stations ended up on a different frequency than their original analog channel.  In Albany, New York, all of the TV stations moved to a common transmitter site and installed their antennas on a single tower.

Albany DTV tower, home of WRGB, WTEN, WNYT, WXXA, WMHT, and WCWN

For more on the Albany DTV site, check out the NECRAT page: www.necrat.us/albdtv.html

So, what happened to the old Analog TV sites in Albany?

For the most part, after the analog turn-off on June 12, 2009, the sites have sat empty.  Such is the case with the former WMHT site.

Sign outside of former WMHT transmitter building
Sign outside of former WMHT transmitter building

This old sign about sums up the end of analog television.

Former WMHT Comark analog transmitter
Former WMHT Comark analog transmitter
Former WMHT analog transmitter wide shot
Former WMHT analog transmitter wide shot
Former WMHT operator position
Former WMHT operator position

The former transmitter operator desk. The maintenance log is still open. From the looks of things, they opened the circuit breakers and walked away. Everything remains intact from the antenna to the klystrons and exciters. It does appear that the coolant has been drained from the system. Other than that, it seems like the whole thing could be restarted with minimal effort.

Former WMHT Onan DFN 350 backup generator
Former WMHT Onan DFN 350 backup generator

There were two Onan DFN 350 backup generators. With a TV transmitter, running the cooling system after shutdown is vital. The idea here is that both generators in parallel could run the whole station, if one generator failed, then the cooling system would still run and cool the klystrons.

Former WMHT site kitchen
Former WMHT site kitchen
Former WMHT tower, wave guide and WVCR antenna
Former WMHT tower, waveguide and WVCR antenna

The former WMHT tower, which currently holds the WVCR-FM, WXL-34 (NOAA weather radio), and W44CT-D (Three Angles Broadcasting) Low power TV transmitter.

Current site occupants; WVCR-FM and W44CT-D
Current site occupants; WVCR-FM and W44CT-D

These equipment racks and the NOAA weather radio transmitter in the other room are the only active equipment at this site.

WMHT-TV Chanel 17 (488-494 MHz) was signed on 1962 from this site.  The Comark transmitter was installed in 1984.  The station’s analog ERP was 2000 KW visual, 200 KW aural.

It is an interesting site.

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17 thoughts on “WMHT’s former analog transmitter”

  1. That tower is one of the most loaded towers I have ever seen. There is so much on it, it hardly looks 500′ tall.
    All those stations in the market, except for WMHT (I believe) still own their old analog sites. I am surprised that none have constructed off site backup facilities.

    Also pretty cool seeing the Comark S series rig. WXXA-TV has an even older Townsend rig in their building (well they had one, it’s probably gone). I don’t know if it was an active backup or not to their Comark IOX primary or not.

    I really want to see inside these buildings sometime, I’ve only ever been inside 4 of them up there.
    (6, 10, DTV, and WFLY)

  2. It is something to see, kind of an “Ozymandias” moment:
    ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shattered visage lies…
    …”Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.’

    I share Mike’s surprise that none of these TV stations, especially the leading commercial operations, have availed themselves of the opportunity to repurpose their old site(s) as backups. That single DTV tower is a lot of eggs in a very full basket. (Not that my employer has a backup, either. Feeding CATV and DSS outfits directly means “off the air” isn’t nearly as off as it used to be.)

    Who’s looking after the tower lights on this ex-TV tower? If I was the landlady, I’d be wanting to sell the site to the major tenant; keeping a tower painted, lit and otherwise maintained isn’t really worth it unless the owner gets use of it, too. OTOH, taking one down is not cheap.

  3. PS: “Everything remains intact from the antenna to the klystrons and exciters. …. Other than that [replacing coolant], it seems like the whole thing could be restarted with minimal effort.”

    Ever started up a klystron/klystrode/IOT? Better bring your lunch! Assuming the cooling system hasn’t started leaking badly or is about to (normal for most older liquid-cooled UHFs), the big tubes go soft without the juice on. For brand-new or long-cold tubes, little (15 kW, +/-) E2V IOTs in my last UHF rig wanted a day with “back heat” low fil volts and the ion pump running before applying HV and setting idle current. Eights hours, minimum. 36 kV plays for keeps! A tube swap was usually a half-day’s work to pull and replace the tube(!), an overnight warm-up and another few hours tweaking and tuning. Timed right, you’d have transmitter for supper, transmitter for breakfast, and a good night’s sleep in between. 🙂

    Don’t you wish some prewar TV transmitter sites could’ve been left like this, turn everything off and walk away, at the big GE setup and maybe Farnsworth’s site in Philadelphia?

  4. Two things prevent station from having aux sites. The first is money. You could move the TX to another channel (in the same band) but everything beyond that is probably scrap. Even the line can’t be used in some cases. You might say they could have a low power backup but then there’s the auction….

    We scrapped tow complete systems in 2009. why would we want to do it again?

  5. 🙂 It’s not the transmitter I was thinking of but the physical facility — building, tower, possibly transmisison line. But yes, with the auction possibly going to make a new mess, it’s probably not worth it.

    The difficulty of coordinating shut-downs for tower work on a very shared tower can sometimes make a backup site a little more attractive. –But I say that from Indianapolis, a market with very little sharing of tower space. We even have a candelabra in town with two of the three corners unused! The only really shared space is atop a downtown building, with some LPTV, FM backups and a terrestriasl fill-in for DBS radio to coordinate.

    (In Indy, two of the VHFs were able to re-use their solid-state analog rigs by keeping the same make for analog and digital; one moved from ch. 8 analog to ch. 9 digital, while 13 reverted to 13 on the cut-over, and repurposed their ch. 46 IOT UHF rig — less IOTs! — for the digital transition of their LPTV. The IOTs and cavities went to another station owned by the same family. The UHF Fox affiliate kept the same brand of transmitter from analog to digital, using the same cavities and IOT. The other VHF went to UHF for the transition and stayed there, and ran their analog rig well past the freshness date to get to 2009.)

  6. I notice on the Kitchen photo there’s a half-jug of water still sitting on the water cooler. Just curious, has that been there since 2009?

  7. When I worked for Tribune, the WEWB 45 RCA transmitter was one of the sites I was in charge of. I was attending planning meetings on the new site, but left working for Tribune before the new site was built. When the new site went up I heard they sold the old site “as is” for a steal (for something rediculous like around $80K). Heard this through Rodney Cole who worked for Comark and was doing the routine Tribune maintenance at the new site.

    I was an engineer Townsend for many years till they went bankrupt in 1989. I even still have like 4 fully working exciter systems in my basement as I had been supporting them for TBN and other stations across the US since the bankruptcy. I probably knew the Townsend exciters better than anyone else in the world. There never really was a good alignment technical manual on these, you really had to have worked for Townsend to know them, and the head of the exciter test department was my responsibility along with engineering some other new developments. I have A LOT of Townsend parts and gear. I recently scrapped about 5 exciter systems but some how think there may be a day where someone may want these others for some kind of broadcast history museum. I probably will keep these remaining ones in mint shape for such an occasion. I believe Rodney Cole told me the WXXA Townsend was gone, but I am not sure.

  8. Lorne, yes that water bottle has been there since 2009 or before. The fridge is unplugged, but there is still a half full box of D cells on the shelf
    Roberta, regarding restarting the transmitter, I understand there is a process, but it still would be easier than installing a whole new transmitter. Of the analog TV sites; WNYT (channel 12) still has one or two FM stations on the tower. WRGB (channel 6) still has WRVE-FM (original GE FM stereo station). Anyway, interesting to read the comments, as always 🙂

  9. WRGB also has that LPTV channel 15, and “WNYA-TV” the Pittsfield licensed TV station.

    I don’t know what is on WXXA-TV’s tower , other than a couple of two way users.

    Steve: That’s funny what a small world we are in. I saw Rodney at Comark a couple weeks ago. He and I go a ways back myself (Every station I have been employed at, has had a Comark rig). I got to see the WRLP (Greenfield)’s Townsend exciters, still on the air, down in Dayton Ohio, driving a LPTV translator there at WWLP’s former sister station, WKEF.

  10. Mike, that must have been the SBE meeting a few weeks ago. I wanted to go to that but I was out of town. As far as the exciter you saw still on air, if you know who they belong to, and they want spare boards for the IF units, I can offer some for free if they want to pay the shipping. Or if they want a full recalibration I can still do that, but for a small fee. I still have all my NTSC test gear in working order.

  11. Paul, is there still coax up the towers? The last 6″ line we scrapped out paid for the dismantling with a five-figure surplus. That’s perhaps the most surprising asset for stations to abandon — I’d think they’d either scrap it or rent it to a tenant, an FM, LPTV or whatever.

    I wasn’t getting after you about the big-tube UHF rig; they’re just a lot more trouble than any other broadast transmitter. Between the tube being built right into the cavities, the extremely high voltages and the various liquid-cooling schemes, there’s a lot to go wrong. 🙂 (I admit it, I was not at all fond of the IOTs we ran for 11 years. Component failures could blink the building lights — on 2 kA service! — and/or produce impressive, aluminium- and ceramic resistor-melting arcs, filling the “dry” portions pf the power supplies with soot and metal spatter in seconds.)

  12. I must agree with Raberta X.
    I say,bring your attornies as well!
    This baby is gonna leak it’s glycol/water mix all over that hilltop if it’s been standing empty for 10 years,for sure.
    Heaven help you if you manage to contaminate a water table or 2 in town!
    Ch 68 in West Orange was either filled with water or completely emptied during a dark period back in the early 70’s and even this in-door heat exchanger popped so many copper pipes on the radiater on fire-up,it clearly missed it’s new on air date,by a lot.
    The damage was evident throughout the station’s best era.

    Yes,they must be treated like an old car and cycled regularly,filiments ON FULL TIME especially during in the winter.
    I’ve operated and or maintained at least 4 of these outdoor sights over the years and always ran the pups and filiments during the sign-off periods.
    Made for the smoothest sign-on of these pigs the next day!

  13. In my rant,I forgot to mention the moisture buildup in the waveguide( and worse) if they shut down the pressurization.
    That would be a flash seen for miles signaling the end of any thought of going anywhere but the steel dump,if it’s worth it.

  14. And I love it Raberta X!
    The only folks truly who know how to fly such a site are those who have been tought by others:-)
    Digital has taken the fun out of so much I so pain-stakingly had so much fun learning!
    I control 30 sites I’ve never even seen,I feel blind when something truly phisically blows up!
    But that’s seems to be Ok today until…….

  15. I found this older thread and wanted to add a bit;

    WRGB has an AUX transmitter at the old analog site using the 4 bay batwing antenna. It can run without the DTV location active.
    WNYT runs channel 18 on Bald Mt. Yet Bald Mt is a single point of failure because the STL for channel 12 runs through Bald Mt.
    WTEN also runs WCDC, but the STL for WCDC is off-air pickup of WTEN’s UHF channel 26. So the DTV site is a single point of failure.

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