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Tower Collapse Slows DTV Project

A two-year, $2 million technology project came crashing to a halt early March 2 for independent station WSKY Chesapeake, Va., when high winds knocked down a digital television tower it was building.

The collapse of the WSKY tower, located just south of the Virginia border in Camden County, N.C., occurred in winds of about 40 mph, says station President Glenn Holterhaus, as a line of storms that first wreaked havoc as tornados in Alabama and Georgia made its way to the Virginia coast.

“It happened at 6 a.m. during a line of thunderstorms that came through,” says Holterhaus. “We’re extremely happy no one was on the tower at the time, as, obviously, it could have been an extreme disaster.”

The tower had been under construction since September and was about three weeks from completion. It had already reached a height of 760 feet, with a planned final height of 1,036 feet. The new tower was to provide digital television signals for WSKY, which has yet to begin DTV broadcasts but has invested in HD master-control gear and the new tower to prepare for the Feb. 17, 2009, turnoff of analog signals.

Holterhaus says that his station will seek space on another tower to begin DTV broadcasts and that constructing a new tower will take at least eight months in the best-case scenario. The station’s construction permit runs through August, and it has already filed with the FCC for an emergency extension.

The cause of the failure is under investigation, but the culprit appears to be an anchor for one of the tower’s high-tension guy wires. The anchor failed, and the tower crashed down right through WSKY’s new transmitter building and then folded in half on top of itself. Raw video of the collapse can be found on the WAVY Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News, Va., Website,

That a tower would collapse in winds of only 40 mph is surprising, and it is even more so that a guy anchor would fail, says Holterhaus. Typically, he said, “even when towers are hit by planes or really bad weather, the anchors are the last thing to fail.”

Meanwhile, a broadcaster whose tower was struck by an aircraft is on its way to constructing a new stick. Raycom Media is in the process of building a new 1,000-foot master tower for two stations in Albany, Ga., that should be ready by May. Raycom embarked on the project after an Army helicopter struck the tower of Fox affiliate WFXL, now owned by Barrington Broadcasting, last June. The subsequent demolition of the WFXL stick resulted in the accidental destruction of the tower used by NBC affiliate WALB, which is still owned by Raycom.

Raycom is managing the replacement project on behalf of both stations, creating a single tower with a T-bar antenna on top that will support both analog and digital signals. In the interim, the stations have been broadcasting from temporary facilities at WALB.