After the collapse, stations struggle

The hijacked jetliner that stuck Tower 1 of the World Trade Center knocked eight of New York's most biggest TV stations off the air for at least a day. The doomed building housed their transmitters and supported the rooftop tower with their broadcast antennas.

The stations were still able to reach most viewers via cable or satellite TV. And by week's end, three of the stations had restored limited broadcast service.

Of the major New York stations, only CBS's WCBS-TV, was able to stay on the air throughout last week's ordeal, switching quickly to its backup transmitter and antenna at the Empire State Building.

By Wednesday, Tribune's WPIX-TV, WABC-TV and WNBC-TV had made temporary arrangements to resume broadcasting. WPIX-TV, an affiliate of The WB, returned at "substantially less" than half power using a low-power transmitter and two north-facing panel antennas at the Empire State Building, according to engineer Michael Gano.

WABC-TV cut a deal to use the transmission facilities of USA Broadcasting's WHSE-TV in Newark, N.J., and noncommercial WNYE-TV in Brooklyn. WHSE-TV normally airs the Home Shopping Network.

Likewise, WNBC-TV took over a couple of independent stations, Mountain Broadcasting's WMBC-TV Lake Hopatcong, N.J., which normally offers foreign-language programming, and LTV Networks' WXNY-TV Long Island City, N.Y., a Spanish-language station.

At deadline last Friday, other stations, notably Fox's WNYW-TV and WWOR-TV (UPN), were still not putting out a broadcast signal. "We're scrambling right now," said Fox engineer Dennis Beattie.

Also off the air at week's end: Paxson's WPXN-TV, Telemundo's WNJU-TV and noncommercial WNET.

Cable was the lifesaver for those broadcasters that relied on Tower 1. Nearly 80% of New York market's 7.3 million TV homes get their TV from cable and satellite TV.

Time Warner Cable and Cablevision, which serves the city, were able to continue carrying the broadcast signals because they receive them via fiber links rather than off air. However, Comcast Cable, which serves suburban New Jersey, does pick up the New York signals up off air. To restore ABC and NBC programming to its customers after the tower went down, a representative said, Comcast had to switch to its Philadelphia affiliates.

Time Warner Cable was able to maintain service to its Manhattan subscribers, except to subscribers in the vicinity of the World Trade Center.

Subscribers of DirecTV and EchoStar temporarily lost some local signals when another of the buildings at the World Trade Center, Building 7, collapsed on Wednesday. According to a EchoStar representative, the building next to Building 7 was the source of its fiber feeds from WCBS-TV, WNYW-TV and WWOR-TV. When Building 7 went down, the feeds were interrupted for a few hours.

The feeds of WABC-TV, WNBC-TV and WPIX-TV come from a different location and were not affected.

Under the auspices of the TV All-Industry Committee, an informal association of radio and TV broadcasters in New York, affected broadcasters met at ABC in New York on Wednesday to work out plans for getting everybody back on the air on a permanent or temporary basis.

"We're reviewing many options, for radio and TV," said Kurt Hansen, chief engineer at WABC-TV. "We're dealing with this as best we can."

Hansen said WABC-TV is considering a site in Alpine, N.J., and others are looking at another site in Central New Jersey and the Empire State Building.

Ken Devine, director of engineering for WNET-TV, said he had ordered a Larcan transmitter and hoped to be back on-air this week by co-locating with other stations at either the Empire State Building or one of the New Jersey sites.

"There's a lot of pressure from management to get these stations back on the air," he said, "but everyone is doing the best that they can."

CNN lost a fixed microwave receive facility on the 110th floor of Tower 1, which was used to bounce live video signals from ENG vans around the city to CNN's studios near Madison Square Garden.

CNN engineer Jeff Gershgorn said the network would handle its ENG transmissions from the Empire State Building under an agreement with Quicklink until its new headquarters at the southwest tip of Central Park is completed in about two years.

"It's been very hard for everyone, but it's easier when we keep focused on the job at hand," he said. "When you take a moment to realize the scale of what has happened, it's just incredible."

Harris Broadcast is trucking six replacement transmitters from its Mason, Ohio, facilities but wouldn't identify the customers. Harris Vice President Dale Mowry said engineers from as far away as Washington were helping the installation.