NORTH WALES, PA. — Stainless, one of the largest suppliers of towers for the broadcast industry, is selling off its fabrication operation. The 66-year-old business is closing its manufacturing plant in Pine Forge, Pa., in the face of “reduced demand for tall tower fabrication,” Gregg Fehrman, president and chief engineer, said on the company website.
One industry source says Stainless is the only game in town for stations that need towers in the 2,000-foot range, which are found mainly on the plains. Don Doty, founder of Stainless emphasized that the company will continue to do engineering, detailing, fab and installation, with fabrication farmed out.
“We have located several fabrication operations to provide Stainless-quality materials on an as-needed basis,” Doty said. “One-stop shopping will continue without interruption. As all business must face, under-performing assets cannot be retained indefinitely.”
Stainless estimates that it has supplied more than 7,500 towers in 100 countries, including around half of those in use for broadcasting in the United States. The fab plant is located in an area with a 300-year history in ironworks. TV Technology’s James E. O’Neal visited the facility in 2008.
“My tour of the Pine Forge facility was unlike that at any other manufacturer visited in this series—the plant is devoid of any automatic surface mount parts pickers and placers, wave soldering machines, conveyer belts, clean rooms, or automated testing and repair facilities,” he said. (See “Stainless Continues 300-Year-Old Tradition.”)
Stainless, like transmission antenna-maker Dielectric, suffered the slings and arrows of serving a government-regulated industry. Both endured roller-coaster business cycles associated with the DTV transition, originally scheduled for 2006 and subsequently extended to 2009. Then nine months after the June 2009 transition, the Federal Communications Commission proposed reassigning 40 percent of the remaining broadcast TV spectrum for wireless broadband.
Orders for tower modification and new construction at first plummeted, then screeched to a halt sixmonths ago when the FCC put a freeze on all new full-power and Class A TV station modification applications.
“Our numbers were cut by 60 percent overnight,” Doty said in April when Dielectric announced it would shut its doors. Unlike the previous cycles, there’s no way for Stainless to know when this downturn will end because it’s not known how many stations will voluntarily relinquish spectrum for the tentative 2014 incentive auction designed to free up licenses for broadband. Consequently, there’s no way to know how many stations may require tower modifications to move to another channel assignment.
“How long are companies supposed to absorb losses with no answers?” Doty said.
Dielectric, located in Raymond, Maine, was bought out in June by Sinclair Broadcast Group. Sinclair had 140 TV stations at the time of the purchase; 124 of them had Dielectric antennas. (See “Sinclair to Buy Dielectric for $5 Million.”)
PMI of Houston is handling the Stainless sale, covering the “complete tall tower manufacturing facility,” including the 32,920-square-foot building, 21 acres of land, the fabrication equipment and component inventory. The auction is scheduled to take place at the site at 10 a.m. Oct. 10. Inspection will take place Oct. 9, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
April 23, 2013, “Dielectric Demise Raises Repacking Alarm”
The number of broadcasters that will be moved to new frequencies remains unknown, because the auction is designed so stations can participate anonymously. The estimate of participating stations now stands at around 200 out of some 1,735 full-power licensees. The FCC’s goal of reclaiming TV Chs. 31-51 would require 672 full-power TV stations either to be moved or shut down, according to a study by the National Association of Broadcasters. A total of 174 stations were relocated in 2009.
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