Los Angeles Transmitter Site Hit By Ice and Rock Slide

Walley Cole and his colleague weren’t going anywhere Saturday night before the Super Bowl. The two were trapped on Mt. Wilson, the mountaintop site where a majority of Los Angeles TV and radio stations have transmitter facilities.

The Fox transmitter engineers were preparing for Super Bowl Sunday when a rockslide (depicted right) blocked the road to and from the site, 5,000 feet above beach roughly 10 miles to the west.

Cole and his colleague were still at the site mid-day Monday.

“They’re clearing it at the moment,” he said, eschewing a potential airlift. “If it got serious, they’d get us out.”

Just a week or so earlier, the transmitter engineers at Mt. Wilson were dodging falling ice. The weather in Southern California has been uncharacteristically wet and cold in the first weeks of 2008.

Ralph Ortiz from Univision, shown at left in his snowshoes on Mt. Wilson, sent over some images taken Jan. 25 of the ice-bound antennas on the mountain, including one of the KCAL-TV stick shown below. KCAL is a CBS owned and operated station.

Jim Rogers of KABC-TV said the combination of rain and snow in late January caused the worst build-up of ice on the Mt. Wilson sticks that he’d seen in eight years of working up there.

“We have plastic radomes on the antennas,” he said. “We recovered pretty well.”
Most of the ice had melted off within a few days, though at the time, Rogers said some of the stations were “contemplating alternative actions to stay on cable.”

A couple of radio stations were reported to have lost antennas due to the weight of the ice breaking pieces from them. Robert Gonsett of CGC Communicator reported that two radio stations went off the air for a day or more.

At least one TV station sustained equipment damage ice, Rogers said.
“When you get four inches of ice on anything… you get stuff to break off,” he said.

Rogers, who previously worked in Chicago, said the antennas in that area all have radomes because ice is a part of the winter landscape. The L.A. sticks are less likely to have the weatherproof domes because ice isn’t nearly as common.

“Some stations have heaters, which will hopefully keep up with the ice forming,” Rogers said, “but after a point, they tend not to be able to keep up. It’s always a craps shoot if they work from year to year…. If you have radomes, you don’t need de-icers.”