KTVZ GM DeChant discusses DTV buildout in Bend, Ore.

Battle lines have been drawn pitting some residents of Awbrey Butte against the owners of the towers who wish to expand their existing plant to, among other things, accommodate the FCC-mandated DTV buildout of local broadcasters. (Photo courtesy of Everett Helm, Oregon Public Broadcasting.)

As the July 15 meeting of the Bend, Ore., hearing on the proposal to expand the facilities at the Awbrey Butte Towers site approaches, all sides are preparing their response to the contentious issue.

Battle lines have been drawn pitting some residents of Awbrey Butte against the owners of the towers who wish to expand their existing plant to, among other things, accommodate the FCC-mandated DTV buildout of local broadcasters.

As reported in the last RF Update , other interested parties include emergency communications operators, radio broadcasters and an EMF environmental consultant who questions the safety of proposed DTV transmissions in areas with public access.

Periodically, RF Update will revisit the Awbrey Butte issue focusing on one side or another to provide broadcasters nationwide with perspective on what can happen when they begin their DTV buildout or ramp up existing DTV transmissions to full power. This issue, RF Update discusses the Awbrey Butte expansion with Jim DeChant, general manager of KTVZ in Bend.

RF Update: Do you find yourself in an awkward position trying to serve the public interest on the one hand and on the other being confronted by members of the public who don’t want you to expand your facilities?

Jim DeChant: It’s a balancing act. We serve a lot of people and advertisers and we want to be good neighbors. We certainly don’t seek confrontation with the public. We have never benefited from that.

RF Update: What are your DTV buildout plans for KTVZ?

DeChant: As of right now our transmitter showed up yesterday (June 18) and we’re doing an install now. We test tomorrow, and Friday should sign on with a low-power facility. We did low power to avoid displacing one of the FMs on our tower. They are in the space we would have built, and we went on a secondary tower. When they move off, we will move into that slot.

Probably in 2006, when the FCC requires us to, is when we bring all of the stations to full power.

RF Update: What are your plans for updating Awbrey Butt?

DeChant: To mitigate the RF exposure issues and the blanking issues and the issues of trying to mix land mobile users with full-power broadcasters.

We want to create a stratosphere of high power – 350 feet with the highest power service.

We had gone to the city and said we would like to do this. The city told us that instead of each tower owner coming up and going through seven individual cases, they wished to treat it like a housing development and wanted it done in phases.

We need to raise the high-power users up. Right now the highest FM is 250 feet up. There are currently eight full-power FM stations, two NTSC full powers and a handful of low power FM translators on five towers. The master plan would put all the FM stations at around the 250- to 300-foot level and the analog and DTV would be above that.

We can’t lower interference and ground exposure till we do all of this and do it right. If we just do phase one it will help, but we really need to do five of the seven towers.

RF Update: What do you make of the assertion made by Cindy Sage of Sage EMF Design that if the city agrees to your plan that those in proximity to the site on publicly accessible ground will be exposed to harmful health affects from the TV, FM and additional DTV transmissions?

DeChant: I looked at what she (Cindy Sage) had done in the past. She is more of an EMF exposure expert –power lines and that sort of thing.

The big concern seems to be that the additional real estate resulting from taller towers will mean increased services of all kinds: FM, DTV, TV, LPTV and land mobile and will increase RF exposure and interference on the hill.

Her projection seemed as if her model was possibly overstated. She looked at separate frequencies in band and did an additive things. (In other words,) if we have two it will be double.

However, as you get away from the tower the power drops off exponentially.

We did our studies with a calibrated meter, and we got back very accurate readings. James Hatfield who did the testing held the meter at waist height and he is about six foot tall. (Thus) I don’t think she can demonstrate it’s higher at different heights.

I believe holding a cell phone next to your head will be far more damaging (than the exposure to RF from the proposed transmissions from Awbrey Butte.)

RF Update: What advise would you offer other station managers around the country who might face similar objections as they buildout their DTV transmission facilities?

DeChant: Start as early as you can. Get your intermods, exposure, all that stuff, and really sit down ahead of time with the public servants, police, 911 and fire. Coordinate well with them.

And get ready for a little discussion of the necessity of your service and why it’s important and mitigate the objections.

Kind of expect it, and stay calm.

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