John Lyons Dies; Helped Shape New York’s RF Skyline

New broadcast transmission facilities atop One World Trade Center are just the most visible of his numerous accomplishments.
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NEW YORK—John Lyons has died. He suffered cardiac arrest at home Friday, according to his family. He was 71.

Lyons to Receive TV Engineering Award at 2017 NAB Show promo image

Lyons was assistant vice president and director of Broadcast Communications at The Durst Organization.

He was responsible for the communications infrastructure of Durst’s multimillion-square-foot commercial portfolio and played a major role in helping broadcasters return to the air in New York City after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack on the World Trade Center. Among his many accomplishments was leading the design and implementation of the redesigned master antenna at 4 Times Square and the new broadcast transmission facility at One World Trade Center.

In 2006 Lyons received the Radio World Excellence in Engineering Award; in 2017 he was honored with the NAB Television Engineering Achievement Award.

Earlier in his career he held engineering positions with several New York-based broadcast organizations and served two stints as chairman of the Master FM Broadcasters Committee at the Empire State Building. “He was a walking history of New York broadcasting,” said fellow New York engineer David Bialik. “In addition he changed the RF landscape of New York.”

Lyons is survived by his wife Natasha Lyons and sons Matthew, 26, and Constantine, 7.

He was former president and most recently treasurer of the Association of Federal Communications Consulting Engineers; he was elected Fellow of the Society of Broadcast Engineers, and was active in the National Association of Radio and Telecommunications Engineers, the NAB Broadcast Engineering Conference Committee and the Veterans’ Hospital Radio and Television Guild.

He was a devoted family man, and he made learning a lifelong pursuit. Among other things he was a licensed New York State Real Estate Broker and a member of the Real Estate Board of New York and the Building Owners and Management Association, and held a Certificate in Property Management from New York University.

Radio World described him in 2006 as “funny, brash, no-nonsense, unpretentious, sentimental … all characteristics we love in native New Yorkers.” He also enjoyed golf and competitive dancing; Lyons had met his wife in Siberia, while photographing a ballroom dance competition.

According to a biographical summary published earlier by Radio World, Lyons attended Brooklyn Technical High School and was a transmitter operator and studio engineer for radio station WRFM (later WWPR). He spent nine years as chief studio technical operator at WWRL and while there also worked as director of engineering at ZDK Radio in St. John’s, Antigua, a station he built and put on the air. He worked for WOR Radio as assistant chief engineer, then was moved by the company to WXLO (later WRKS) to be chief engineer, where he served for a decade.

During most of that time he was chairman of the Master FM Broadcasters Committee at the Empire State Building, coordinating the operations of 13 city FM stations with the broadcasters at Empire and the World Trade Center.

In 1990, he left WRKS to join DSI Communications (later DSI RF Systems), where he was senior project manager, responsible for communications facility build-outs, including TV and radio station transmitter facilities, two-way communications, point-to-point microwave and satellite communications systems. In 1994 he took a consulting position at the new Sony Worldwide Radio Networks, where he worked to establish and set standards for a nationwide satellite-programming network, built the studios and developed its operations system. With that established, Lyons moved on to WLTW with Viacom Radio (later Clear Channel Communications) as assistant chief engineer, and was promoted to become chief of the recently acquired WAXQ. He resumed his position as chairman of the Master FM Broadcasters Committee at Empire for four more years and was design engineer for many of the Clear Channel New York operations including the pioneer backup FM transmitting site at 4 Times Square for the five Clear Channel NYC stations.

After the catastrophic losses of Sept. 11, 2001, Lyons worked with the Empire State Building, 4 Times Square, broadcasters and contractors to restore broadcasting operations for all of the orphaned WTC stations. He designed transmission line runs, laid out transmitter plants and assisted the stations to return to the air as soon as possible.

In 2002 he was named manager of communications and broadcast operations at 4 Times Square for The Durst Organization and was responsible for removal of a 132-foot master FM antenna tower and its replacement with a 385-foot master TV and FM antenna tower, capable of accommodating all the TV and FM stations licensed to the New York metropolitan area. This facility also was capable of point-to-point microwave, spread spectrum, broadband, two-way, STL/TSL, RPU and ENG services.

In 2005 he became responsible for the communications needs of the entire Durst portfolio.

He also helped establish a state-of-the-art communications system for first responders in Durst skyscrapers in the wake of 9/11.

“His thumbprint is all over New York radio,” Radio World wrote in 2006, even before the new One World Trade Center and its showcase transmission facility were built.

(L to R) John Lyons, TVT writer Doug Lung, Nick Wymant (RFS), Steve Kolvek (Myat) and Josh Gordon

(L to R) John Lyons, TVT writer Doug Lung, Nick Wymant (RFS), Steve Kolvek (Myat) and Josh Gordon

“The Television industry has lost a great truly man,” Josh Gordon, president of the Josh Gordon Group, told TV Technology. “John Lyons defined and redefined the RF skyline of Manhattan. He oversaw the initial RF system builds on the Empire State Building and then One World Trade Center, and Four Times Square. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, John oversaw the rebuild of One World Trade Center. He was quick witted, incredibly funny, and one of the best organized people I have ever known. I never understood how he could manage so many people, tasks, and details and still have time to respond personally to small requests for details and decisions in near real time. He was a giant in our industry, yet very humble. He led by example with high energy, enthusiasm, and integrity. The first requirement of working with John was just keeping up with him. I have never met anyone like him. He will be missed by many.”

Funeral arrangements were not finalized as of Saturday evening.