Oklahoma's KWTV Broadcast Tower Is Coming Down

OKLAHOMA CITY--In 1953 the television broadcast tower at KWTV, the local CBS affiliate, held the record as the world's tallest manmade structure. At more than 1,572 feet tall, (around 300 feet higher than the Empire State Building), it was massive and immediately improved the station's signal propagation. However, time marches on and now it's been decided to take it down the tower and move the station's transmission facilities to a newer co-located tower in the city's northeast side.

The station first signed on the air in December of 1953 from a short temporary tower in northeast Oklahoma City. In fact, it was the tower then used by KOMA Radio, according to former KWTV General Manager, Jack DeLier. He and Jack Mills, KWTV's current Director of Engineering, were interviewed by Kelly Ogle, a news anchor at KWTV, who has written a piece on the station's website after taking a ceremonial "last elevator ride" up the tower for posterity. There's also an accompanying video.

The tower stands at more than 1,572 feet tall and requires 14,400 watts of power to light it up. DeLier said station owner John Griffin (Griffin Communications) knew that bigger is better in the world of signal transmission and made arrangements to build the new tall tower.

"The higher the tower, the more viewers we got," DeLier said.

Ogle writes that Griffin was so enamored with the new structure that he decided against the call letters KOMA and instead chose KWTV (for "world's tallest video") for his growing station. By the fall of 1954, the station was reaching the widest coverage of any station in the southwest; with the view from the top reaching a 60-mile horizon.

DeLier recalls that the unveiling of the new tower "was a real big deal. We had a grand dedication, Johnny Carson was the master of ceremonies, and Vera Ellen who was a film actress and dancer at that time, climbed up on the elevator to the 1,300 foot level and danced on the platform."

The tower cost $650,000 to build in 1953 and consists of: 100,000 pounds of bolts used to construct the tower (with an overall weight of one million pounds), 28,690 feet of cable, 770 gallons of paint (for just one coat) and 14,400 watts of power to light it up. It also has a one-man electric elevator for workers to use for antenna and tower maintenance.

"It was kind of overly designed," said Jack Mills, KWTV's current Director of Engineering. "They never built a structure that tall before and so they had to come up with unique measures of doing it."

The station has hired a company that specializes in removing broadcast towers to come in and take it down piece by piece this fall. The CBS network didn't sign on each day until 6:30 p.m., so stations were tasked with filling the airwaves, mostly with syndicated and local programs. Lola Hall was the station's first weather girl," DeLier said.

Migrating from black and white analog to digital (in February 2009) and then on to high definition (Oct, 2010), the tower has served the station well, but management said it's now time for it to come down. Director of Engineering Mills is now supervising the demolition of the tower.

"The process will be basically a reverse process of installation," Mills said. "They'll put a gin pole on the tower which will be a small section of tower that they can dismantle pieces and lower it down. I feel privileged to take down the tower."

The station isn't going off the air; they simply don't use the tower anymore. The current KWTV HD signal will be moved to a different tower that is a shared tower with other stations in the market.

"That's why we are having the KWTV tower taken down," wrote Ogle. "We've hired a company that specializes in removing broadcast towers to come in and take it down piece by piece this fall. Once it's down, a scrap metal company will take it to be recycled. I feel privileged to be one of the last people to travel up this towering piece of broadcast and Oklahoma history before it's laid to rest."

Owned by Griffin Communications in cooperation with Cox Communications and referred to as "News 9," the station is a news simulcast/rebroadcast channel that previously operated as cable-only News Now 53 from December 3, 1996 to March 30, 2011. KWTV also uses a sub-channel (9.2) to carry CBS programs in place of the main channel during extended breaking news or severe weather coverage and to run select network programs that are not cleared to air on the station's main channel.