RF Manufacturers: Always On Call

My first field assignment as an editor of a broadcast magazine was to go to Biloxi, MS to check out how WLOX-TV and WLOX-AM, both owned by the same company, were recovering from the destruction of their facilities by Hurricane Camille. As I drove into Biloxi, the scene was more devastating than anything I'd seen in a year of combat during the Korean conflict. Buildings along the waterfront were still standing, but they had no front or back walls. Large fishing boats had been heaved miles inland. Rubble was everywhere.

I visited with WLOX-TV's Chief Engineer Blue Majure and the radio station's General Manager, Ray Butterfield, and toured what was left of their destroyed facilities. Both their stations had been within a short walk from the Gulf. WLOX-TV was operating out of a church, while the AM station was transmitting from a beachside motel.

As I walked the streets of Biloxi with Butterfield, a woman approached us and handed an envelope to him. "This is all the money I have, but I want to donate it to your station because you stayed on the air and that saved my life," she said.

She quickly disappeared among the pedestrians.

Since then, I've been on the scene of other disasters, reminded every time that the broadcast industry has a heart and soul big enough to falter occasionally, but always ready to step forward with resolve to serve in the public interest.

What's often overlooked is that, without exception, broadcast equipment suppliers-especially RF manufacturers-have rushed to the aid of stations crippled by hurricanes, ice storms, fires, and collapsed towers. The New York disaster is no exception.

Doing What They Can
It's no surprise that RF manufacturers were instantly in contact with stations whose antennas and transmitters were at the World Trade Center. But what struck me the most in the course of interviewing and writing for this article was manufacturers concern that other members of the broadcast industry might perceive them to be publicity-hungry opportunists. In addition, all of them requested that there be no mention of the commercial value of their offered services and equipment. One company sales VP put it best when he said, "Out of respect for those engineers who died, please don't focus on us."

Virtually all RF manufacturers have offered their engineering expertise and equipment to help stations temporarily relocate to Alpine, NJ, the site of the historic Armstrong FM facility and tower. But since the WTC housed mostly VHF TV transmission equipment, the UHF manufacturers were not as prominently involved. Still, they offered their services.

To get the stations who had been knocked off the air back up and running, manufacturers mostly supplied low-power transmitters and support equipment. This was necessary because these transmitters could be quickly installed and because initially, the Armstrong facility's AC power feed could not support many full power transmitters. The facility's only broadcast tenant at the time of the disaster was FM station WFDU. Both AC power and transmitter power are expected to be increased shortly.

Meanwhile, the Empire State Building is also being used as a temporary transmitter site. However, AC power there is limited. Feeling the urgency to get back on the air quickly, FM station WKCR returned to the air from the roof of a dorm building at Columbia University.

Do What You Can
Out of respect to our missing engineers and those who insisted on anonymity, transmitter, transmission line, test equipment, filter, antenna, and microwave suppliers and manufacturers are not identified in this article. There'll be time enough for that later.

As the work continues, similar quotes from manufacturers and engineers at the Armstrong and Empire State Building sites have been repeated over and over:
"We're just doing what we can to be helpful."
"When I leave the site, I feel guilty. I'm going back!"
"I don't know how important what I'm doing is, but I'm here."
One company spokesman made a point of citing the cooperation taking place at both sites: "It's great to see the cooperation among the stations. Not one station is pushing to be first back on the air. They're working together. They're cooperating between staffs just as the manufacturers are working side by side with them."

There Is Hope
If anyone feels the existence of over-the-air broadcasting is heading down a tunnel with no light at the end, think again. The resilience of these New York stations is testament enough to their tenacity, ingenuity, and dedication, and that's being matched by our manufacturers' willingness to help.

Will DTV stations other than WCBS-DT and WNYW-DT (which have always transmitted from the Empire State Building) be back on the air soon in New York? You bet, and just as surely, the FCC will want to honor our missing engineers and accommodate all broadcasters in these difficult times.