New York stations are back

The nine New York TV stations that lost their transmission facilities on Tower 1 of the World Trade Center were all back on the air last week. But, with the exception of WCBS-TV, they were making do with less power and less over-the-air coverage.

WCBS-TV was in the best shape. Shortly after the attack on the WTC, the station switched to a backup transmitter at the Empire State Building and has maintained continual service on ch. 2 since then.

Last week, CBS engineers were at work, transforming the Empire State facilities into a new broadcasting home. They began replacing the 40-year old Harris tube transmitter with a Harris Platinum solid-state model, which had been slated to go into the WTC. They will also install a Harris Sigma digital transmitter for the digital TV station, whose service was also uninterrupted.

Fox's WNYW-TV and WWOR-TV are also now broadcasting from the Empire State Building, using space that had been set aside for their planned digital TV stations. Fox is negotiating with building owner Helmsley-Spear to make the building the permanent home for its analog and digital stations.

Meanwhile, WABC-TV, WNBC(TV), noncommercial WNET(TV), Tribune's WPIX(TV), and Telemundo's WNJU-TV are broadcasting at low power from a tower in Alpine, N.J. Located 15 miles southeast of midtown Manhattan, the tower rises 920 feet above sea level and has a line of sight to the New York skyline.

Engineers concede that the low-power Alpine signals are not reaching the entire market. WABC-TV, which broadcast over two independent UHF stations in the days immediately after the attack, switched to Alpine on Sept. 15. According to Chief Engineer Kurt Hansen, viewers in Connecticut; Westchester County, N.Y.; and the northern half of New Jersey are getting a good signal, but coverage has been spotty elsewhere.

"Some people are getting it; some aren't," Hansen said. "Eastern Long Island can be tough."

It's "undetermined" when the station will be able to improve coverage by increasing power, Hansen said. And he declined to talk about any plans for moving elsewhere.

A spokesman for WNBC, which also borrowed other stations' facilities the week of the attack, turned on its Alpine signal on Friday, Sept. 14. Last week, the spokesman said, the station was operating at 6 kW but expects to crank the power up to 20 kW in 60 to 90 days. At the WTC, the station was broadcasting at about 25 kW.

WPIX lit up its Alpine transmitter on Sept. 17, with engineers working 18- to 20-hour days to get on the air. It is also broadcasting from a backup transmitter on the Empire State Building (ch. 64), which enables it to reach Brooklyn and eastern Long Island.

WNJU-TV, another Alpine resident, hopes to go to full power in the next two months, said Ramon Pineda, vice president and general manager at the Spanish-language station. That is, once a new Harris transmitter and other equipment are in place.

WNET was on the air from Alpine by Sept. 15, using a new Larcan transmitter, according to Director of Engineering Ken Devine.

Paxson's WPXN-TV plans to move to Alpine in a month. Right now, it is broadcasting from low-power facilities in East Orange, N.J., and Amityville, N.Y.

The Alpine site is the former Armstrong Tower, built by FM radio pioneer Edwin H. Armstrong in 1937. It is now owned by Alpine Tower Co., Montvale, N.J.

Thanks to a direct fiber feed from the stations, most New York-area cable operators have been able to continuously carry the stations that had been on Tower 1. That's good news for the stations, since the cable systems serve 75.7% of New York's 7.3 million TV homes, according to Nielsen. (Satellite TV reaches another 5.3% of the homes but carries only a handful of the most popular stations.)

Time Warner Cable's 1.2 million subscribers in Manhattan experienced little or no service disruption, except for those in the immediate vicinity of the WTC, a spokesman said. Late last week, he said, about 5,500 homes near Ground Zero were without service.

Cablevision says it maintained service to its 3 million subs in The Bronx, Brooklyn, lower Hudson Valley, Long Island and New Jersey.

RCN, which would not reveal exact sub numbers, said it provides service to 1,000 buildings in Manhattan and Queens and only those in Battery Park City, across the street from the WTC, lost service.

Univision's WXTV-TV, whose primary transmitter is at the Empire State Building, was unaffected by the attack.

Broadcasters at the Alpine tower don't consider it a permanent solution. Victor Tawill, of the Association for Maximum Service Television, said they have considered other sites for a common tower, including Staten Island and Manhattan's Chrysler and CitiCorp buildings.

"There's a lot of options being talked about," said WWOR-TV's Al Shjarback. "We're taking this one step at a time. Everyone's in the design-and-build-as-you-go mode."