It’s often hard to say goodbye to an old friend, especially one you’ve known for 29 years. That’s exactly what Don Ryan, former chief engineer and now part-time engineer with WENY-TV in Elmira, NY, found out when it came time to retiring the station’s TTU-30 transmitter following the station’s conversion to digital transmission.
“That transmitter has been a big part of my life,” he says. “A lot of the major things that happened during my life, like my son being born, occurred while that transmitter was calling. It would break down at the most inopportune times"
So demanding was the transmitter that Ryan compares it to an infant. In fact, Ryan, who served as the station’s chief engineer from 1982 to 1989, and his fellow engineers nicknamed it “baby.”
WENY-TV’s transmitter actually was put into service in 1969, about two decades before Ryan joined the station. Over the past 18 months, the transmitter has sat silently, unused — a casualty of a fire at WENY. Replaced by an analog Axcera transmitter, the TTU-30 remained present in the background, a quiet reminder of so many hours spent providing maintenance, says Ryan.
However, that all changed May 30, when a new Axcera Innovator HX digital transmitter went on-air from a new site with an antenna shared by two other local broadcasters. For Ryan, the station’s digital television transition meant saying goodbye to his old companion. “There was a lot of closure going on there,” he recalls.
When WENY engineers began cleaning up the old site and deciding what to cut off the TTU-30 for disposal, Ryan was struck by the desire to recycle part of the transmitter for a more personal use — one that would remind him of his time spent nurturing “baby.”
For a moment, he actually considered turning one of the transmitter’s klystrons into a floor lamp, but thought better of the notion when he considered how his wife might react, says Ryan.
When he removed the exciter plate and began looking around, Ryan settled on a more acceptable idea: make a desk lamp out of one of the boilers on the klystrons. “You know those boilers on the klystrons are pretty cool,” he says. Ryan simply removed the big rubber hose connected to the boiler and attached a plate he made for the top of his lamp.
The transition to digital marks the end of an era in television. Built with a new level of reliability, today’s digital transmitters just don’t offer the chance to build a new relationship that could approach Ryan’s history with the station’s old analog model.
“The new transmitter just sits there and does its thing. It doesn’t need the maintenance and babying,” says Ryan. “The old transmitter had a life of its own -it’s own personality. I’ll miss that.”
Editor’s note: Have you lost “an old friend” shutting off your station’s analog transmitter? Let us know how you’ve disposed of your old transmitter, and if you’ve employed a creative way to keep its memory alive. Simply e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.