Storm Wreaks Havoc on WSPA Spartanburg

Slideshow: WSPA Collapsed Tower

A fast-moving winter storm that raced through South Carolina Sunday left a toppled tower for WSPA Spartanburg in its wake and knocked both the station's analog and digital signals off-air.

The 459-foot tower atop Hogback Mountain, which broadcast WSPA's digital TV signals on Ch. 53 and its analog signals on Ch. 7, collapsed at about 2:20 yesterday afternoon and fell over onto WSPA's old analog tower, which stands next to it at a height of 259 feet. The collapse of the Stainless-built tower, which was constructed for the DTV transition and was less than ten years old, completely destroyed two seven-ton antennas and caused significant damage to the station's studio-to-transmitter link and microwave receivers for ENG feeds. It also caused minor damage to the station's transmitter building, though the transmitters themselves were unharmed.

WSPA is currently feeding satellite operators DirecTV and Dish Network with its signals via fiber, and has established new fiber connections to local cable operators that it wasn't already feeding via fiber, says Media General SVP of broadcast operations Ardell Hill. Pay-TV penetration in the market is 88%.

Media General hopes to have standby transmission facilities in place atop the remaining tower in the next 10 to 14 days, which Hill estimates could cover 80 to 85% of the market's geographic area. With the turnoff of analog signals just over three months away, the company is currently evaluating the feasibility of restoring both digital and analog signals in that timeframe.

Engineering crews were on-site Monday assessing the damage. The cause for the failure is yet undetermined, though it appears a combination of strong winds and a heavy accumulation of ice and snow atop the tower may be the culprit. The Spartanburg area experienced a strong storm front Sunday afternoon with rapidly falling temperatures and rain quickly turning to sleet then snow. Pictures taken by WSPA engineers showed large chunks of ice surrounding the steel tower and some 8" of snow on local roads.

Ground-level winds in the Spartanburg area were recorded at over 40 mph near the time of the collapse, and Hill guesses that gusts could have been twice that much atop 3500-foot Hogback Mountain at the tower site.

"It goes to show that when you get enough wind and ice, that combination with that big of a weather snap, it doesn't have to do a lot with how strong it is [built]," says Hill.