07.15.2003 12:00 PM
Severe winds likely cause of downed WIFR-TV tower

Eighty to 100 mph straight-line winds are responsible for the collapse of the WIFR-TV tower in Rockford, Ill.

At about 4:25 a.m. on Saturday, July 5, the tower WIFR-TV in Rockford, Ill., has used to transmit for nearly 40 years collapsed.

The tower, which stood near the rear of the WIFR-TV building, collapsed away from the studio into a field. It appears that 80- to 100-mph straight-line winds were responsible for the collapse. No one was injured.

The tower collapsed while the station’s general manager was overseas on vacation. Bob Smith, regional vice president for Gray MidAmerica which owns the station, was in Rockford on Tuesday, July 8, helping to coordinate the station’s recovery efforts.

According to Smith, the station is distributing its signal to local viewers via area cable providers. A temporary antenna and backup transmitter have been ordered and are on the way to Rockford. WIFR plans to lease space on a tower owned by America Tower that’s the home of the Fox TV antenna. NTSC over-the-air transmission could resume as early as the weekend, he said. Digital service will resume in the future, although no timetable had been set, he added.

“I knew the storm was bad,” recalled station chief engineer Mark Olson. “My windows at home were floating back and forth like rubber. It was a very violent storm.

It may take six to eight months to erect a new tower. The WIFR-TV tower has been used to transmit for nearly 40 years before its collapse July 5.

“My master control operator called and said the tower was down in the field. I have seen them down before. To see your own tower down, that’s a shock.”

Initially to restore a signal to the cable headend, Olson used the station’s news vehicle to microwave the station’s signal from master control to the cable facility to a receive antenna he borrowed from WBUW-TV in Madison, Wisc. Eventually, that set up was replaced with a coax connection, which ultimately may be replaced by a fiber optic hookup to the headend.

A new tower is likely to take six to eight months to erect, said Olson. However, he noted, that due to the severe winter weather in Rockford, it’s likely that work to replace the tower won’t begin before April 2004.

Driving to work at a television station without a tower is a strange experience, said Olson. “I’ve been here for 20 years, and to come driving over and not see that tower is eerie.”

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