Out with the old
The shutdown date for analog television is right around the corner. That begs the question: What can you do with your analog debris?
“As far as the transmitters go, a lot of times that's a question of the vintage of the transmitter,” says Jeremy Ruck, consulting engineer for Don Markley Associates. “If it's new enough to be converted to DTV, the stations will probably avail themselves of that.”
Rich Redmond, director of strategic marketing for Harris Broadcast Communications, agrees.
“In many cases, what we've found is our customers are converting their analog transmitters for digital operation,” he says. “They realized 10 years ago or so they needed to have reliable analog, so what they purchased had an upgrade path to digital.”
This is the case with the Sinclair Broadcast Group. Harvey Arnold is the director of engineering for the group, which operates 58 TV stations in 35 markets. He says that over the past six years, the group has replaced many of its old analog klystron transmitters with new-generation IOT transmitters, which can be easily converted to digital service.
Some of the bigger market stations that had bought a new transmitter for both NTSC and DTV now have quite a bit of redundancy, more so than they'll probably need.
“So that becomes a question of shipping it somewhere else in the group,” Ruck says. “There are a couple of groups we represent that are playing the transmitter, antenna and transmission line shuffle. That way, they can minimize the amount of capital they have to spend on equipment.”
But what are your options if your analog transmitter is older? If it's in good shape, it may have some resale value. The challenge is finding a buyer.
“Whether you can find somebody that has a use for it, like a religious group or school that can use the equipment, is an issue,” Ruck says. “If you can't, then you've got the extra cost of paying for the disposal.”
Rolin Lintag, chief RF engineer for the Victory Television Network (VTN), says he's been working with mission organizations to see if they can use VTN's analog equipment.
“One TV network in Guatemala responded that they were serious in getting our transmitter and analog test equipment,” Lintag says. “However, they got bogged down by customs duties that their government imposed on them, so they backed out.”
Now, the station is repurposing some of the parts, like the heat exchanger and the pumps, for its other station that still uses IOT tubes.
“I tried to salvage some parts as well that we can still use, but the rest will go to scrap,” Lintag says. “It is sad.”
The Sinclair Broadcast Group has klystron UHF TV transmitters, some of which were more than 30 years old.
“They are basically useless and will be salvaged,” Arnold says.
Pat Ingram, director of engineering for WBNS, says the station had an RCA TT-50 that was still operational after nearly 60 years.
“We disassembled it bolt by bolt and sorted the different metals,” he says. “All of it was sent to recycling. There were quite a few pieces kept by the engineering guys as collectibles.”
Towers and antennas
For a lot of antennas, the post-NTSC usage is going to be minimal.
“There could be a small market for used TV antennas, but these antenna systems are typically specific in design,” Arnold says. “We expect there may be a small business for equipment brokers to sort out some possible matches vs. needs, but I do not see the reuse of antenna systems to be a big market. Remember that many of these analog antennas have been in service for 30 years or even longer and have served their purpose for many years.”
Ruck adds, “If it's a panel antenna, those are usually broadband, so you could pretty much move it someplace else. When we start talking about the slot antennas, you've got a really narrow market in which those can be used because they work on a particular channel. Most of those end up getting scrapped, assuming they take them down.”
Removal of large antenna systems and transmission lines requires careful coordination to ensure safety and to make sure that other systems on the tower aren't damaged. And, the costs can be considerable. In some instances, the cost of paying recyclers to scrap antennas for materials outweighs the benefits. This holds true for the copper in antenna lines.
“The price of copper has come down significantly from its peak,” Arnold says, “so broadcasters should not expect salvage sales to become a profit center for their company.”
As a result, many broadcasters are leaving their analog antennas and transmission line in place, as long as the tower can handle the load or until the tower space is needed.
Andrew Suk, vice president of engineering and operations for Cordillera Communications, says that several of its systems were designed for adjacent channel operations and that its new DTV antenna was actually designed for analog and DTV service.
“In those locations, there will be no need to remove the analog antenna or feed line,” Suk says. “In the locations that do have analog antennas and feed lines, we're not in a rush to spend the money required to remove those structures and will instead address them at opportunistic times.”
In a situation where an analog tower must be completely removed — for example, because of lease requirements — Arnold says it's important to ensure that your tower crew has the experience and credentials to safely remove these heavy items, which weigh between five and 10 tons. Also make sure they have adequate insurance.
“Because of the complexity, we only work with established tower crews that have an excellent safety record,” Arnold says. “Consider FAA notification requirements if the top-mounted antenna is removed. A lot of towers are in populated areas, so you can't be too careful.”
With cost an issue due to today's economy, Arnold suggests coordinating tower work with other broadcasters that may be on the tower in order to reduce cost. That's what the Sinclair Broadcast Group is doing in all of its markets, whenever possible.
“With dollars tight, we're just trying to think smart,” he says.
With the hurdles involved in the removal of analog equipment, don't expect to see broadcasters racing to take down their analog antennas on June 13.
Susan Anderson is the managing editor of Broadcast Engineering.
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