The Height of the Issue

Last Updated by John Chatfield on

As we conclude our eighth week of construction on a new broadcast antenna, the station’s signal delay is being resolved by a team of dedicated technicians who have been working steadily to restore our two over-the-air channels.

Last month, Rhode Island PBS began transitioning to a new frequency on the broadcast spectrum. The move was assigned by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which directed the relocation of more than 1,000 television stations nationwide through the year 2020. As a result, WSBE Rhode Island PBS, which shares tower space with WJAR NBC 10 and WLNE ABC 6, was tasked with installing an array of new hardware on its main tower.

Situated about 790 feet in the air, the current WSBE broadcast antenna sits below the WJAR and WLNE equipment; this location inevitably slated us third in the construction queue. However, schematic complications arose from the overall size of the tower. The WJAR antenna, a 65-ft foot tall structure weighing approximately 7 tons, pushed the tower’s height over its legal limit, so 60 feet of the tower had to be dismantled before work could continue. As soon as the other stations were finished installing new antennae and completing their relocation procedures, construction resumed on our behalf.

The crew then needed to build the new WSBE antenna, a multi-sided apparatus consisting of nine “bowtie” structures. Each section is about 13 feet wide and 40 feet tall, weighing more than 2 tons altogether. When the bowties are mounted to the three sides of the tower, they will serve as conductors for the newly-repacked and relocated VHF signal. To accommodate broadcasting on the lower side of the spectrum, a series of insulated copper pipes were fitted and wired to the antenna. This ensures that the new signal remains active at the optimal frequency without interference from the elements. With the majority of construction being done on the ground, the antenna was prepared to ascend the thousand-foot tower.

Antenna installation at 790 feet above ground level

On Friday, November 15, the first of the three antenna arrays was lifted and swung into place. That little dark speck in the photo is actually the aerial crewman installing the antenna onto the tower face. To his left is the basket that lifted him to the right place on the tower, and to his right - barely visible against the pipes and poles of the tower - is the silvery bowtie antenna array. 

Installation, especially at such extreme heights, is an arduous process. Engineers working in the higher altitudes of the tower must execute a careful tightrope act of precision and technical savvy – and do it all while tethered to a single cable in the open air. Even in the best of conditions, the job poses a major risk to workers’ safety. It was no surprise, then, that the rainstorms and blustery days of late October and early November hampered progress. Adding to the challenge of vertical mobility is the sheer mass and heaviness of each piece. To expedite the process, a gin pole was raised and anchored to serve as a pulley system for lifting the equipment. When weather prevents them from climbing the tower, the crew continues to work on the ground to accomplish as much preparation and assembly as possible.

While the project has taken longer than originally anticipated, it is still within the time allotted by the FCC.

During this time, some of our i3 Broadband, Spectrum (Charter), and antenna viewers have experienced a temporary outage, as well as our over-the-air viewers. We greatly appreciate our viewers’ patience and understanding, and we look forward to resuming our regularly-scheduled programming as soon as possible.