Rebranded Harris Broadcast Harkens Back to Its Storied Past

When Harris Broadcast announced it was rebranding the company and cutting it into two separate companies—one focused on software-centric technology and the other on RF solutions—it appeared that over-the-air broadcasters could at least find solace in the notion that they were not being abandoned. In an era when IP video delivery is on the rise and only about 20 percent of all TV households (about 60 million) in the U.S. get their TV from free OTA broadcasts, they could be excused for feeling a bit left out.

The new GatesAIr will manufacture most of its transmitters from the existing Harris facility. Harris Broadcast CEO Charlie Vogt, in introducing the new company transformation, allayed those fears when he stated that the company would continue to support its RF customers though a new entity called GatesAir. The name actually harkens back to Harris' roots as a supplier of radio and TV transmitters.

"It's good to hear the new Harris is not getting out of the RF business," said Del Parks, Vice President/Operations and Engineering at Sinclair Broadcast Group. "We have a lot of transmitters that need service and, eventually, updating when the repacked channels are assigned. We've trusted Harris for many years and hope to continue to."

While the second company, called Imagine Communications, is clearly focused on the future (with plans to work closely with customers like IBM and the Walt Disney Company), the GatesAir name is a blast from the past for Harris. A company called Gates Radio made radio and later TV transmitters for many years as a separate company before Harris bought them in 1957. Gates was originally located in Quincy, Ill. and the new GatesAir will utilize the same location for manufacturing (although its administration offices will be headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio).

With that legacy, the new GatesAir can now claim it has been pioneering over-the-air TV and radio transmission innovation for nearly 100 years. Quincy Broadcasting—which, after FCC approval of a new series of station purchases, will own 23 stations in 14 markets throughout the Midwest—was Gates' first radio and then TV transmitter customer (for WGEM-AM and WGEM-TV, in Quincy). That very first AM radio transmitter is still operational today as a backup unit.

Quincy Broadcasting, which also owns newspapers and began broadcasting in the 1940s, is based in Quincy and that's how the Gates-Qunicy relationship started. The independent broadcaster bought its first TV transmitter from Gates in 1969 and as an NBC affiliate, soon began broadcasting in "living color." In addition, the very first color studio camera with the Gates name stamped on the side debuted at WGEM-TV and, as Quincy Broadcasting began to buy more stations, soon was being used by others in the Quincy group.

In 1993 Quincy bought its first ENG van, built by the then-named Harris Broadcast, and in 1998, Quincy helped Harris complete the very first HDTV broadcast in the U.S.; of a live NASA Space Shuttle mission with Senator John Glenn aboard. At the time WGEM-TV, Channel 27, was one of a few stations capable of handling the HD signal and putting it on air (for the very few who actually had a set that could receive it).

Richard Redmond, former vice president of transmission products at Harris Broadcast, will head up the rebranded division in Quincy as Chief Product Officer. Ralph Oakley, President/CEO of Quincy Broadcasting said the new GatesAir name "brings it full circle for us and we look forward to continuing this partnership that has lasted almost 75 years."

He added that his company recently went on air with a new high-efficiency Harris transmitter at one of its station that, Oakley said, is "100 percent more efficient" in terms of power consumption and effective radiated power capability. It's this type of customer loyalty that GatesAir is counting on to be successful through channel repacking and emerging markets outside the U.S. that have yet to begin broadcasting in digital or high definition.

While Vogt will serve as CEO of the new GatesAir, Richard Redmond, former vice president of transmission products at Harris Broadcast, will head up the rebranded division in Quincy as Chief Product Officer. Redmond has been with Harris Broadcast for 18 years.

"We see a lot of upside to the over-the-air transmission industry, both in the U.S. and overseas," Redmond said. "We're continuing to develop new technologies that take advantage of the current and next-generation ATSC standard. This means new hybrid systems that include distributing signals simultaneously to TVs in the home as well as to mobile devices, thereby providing both OTA broadcasters and wireless carriers "significant advantages in the cost of delivering content.

"It's pretty clear why we chose the GatesAir name, due to the technology innovation that has come out of this company over some 100 years [since 1922]," he said. "Gates and later Harris has helped broadcasters enable the delivery of content on all continents across the globe. So, it's fitting that we honor that legacy as move forward to the next opportunity and chapter in the company."

Harris Broadcast, and now GatesAir, holds 80 patents related to OTA broadcasting. It has also instituted a "green" strategy as part of its PowerSmart 3D technology. The energy-efficient PowerSmart 3D technology delivers operational efficiencies that result in lower monthly bills and thus a lower cost of ownership—without compromising power levels or reliability. The product line features a broadband, single-amplifier design specific to each over-the-air band (UHF and VHF). It also allows customers to reduce the footprint of transmitter installations via its high power density, with rack space reductions exceeding 50 percent across most power levels.

"This 'new beginning' makes us at GatesAir more nimble and better able to support our customers around the world," Redmond said. "We believe we're uniquely positioned to help support the next stage of growth for OTA broadcasting; which is still the most efficient way to deliver a message or live telecast—one to many. OTA broadcasting provides the ability to scale, much more easily than an IP network can."