On the roof of the 104-floor World Trade Center is a massive 408-foot broadcast tower outfitted with two UHF and one VHF antennas. It brings the total height of the building to a symbolic 1,776 feet. In the not-too-distant future WCBS, WNBC, Telemundo’s WNJU, Fox’s WNYW and WWOR, Ion’s WPXN and noncommercial WNET will all be broadcasting from there. The facility is designed for unmanned operation.
What’s most surprising in touring the sparkling new broadcast transmission facility on the 90th floor of New York’s One World Trade Center is the quiet.
Take away the fans of a few servers and the whirring cooling pumps keeping the WCBS transmitter from overheating and the 17,000-square-foot facility is no noisier than the lobby of an uptown law firm.
On this day (yesterday), a couple of electricians are connecting the transmitter of Fox’s WNYW to one of the two matching UHF combiners. That’s making a little racket.
But normally there will be no sounds of human activity. According to John Lyons, the one-time broadcast engineer in charge of leasing and managing the facility for the Durst Organization, the facility is designed for unmanned operation.
Each broadcaster is responsible for monitoring its equipment from their offices elsewhere in the city, he says. Other than that, the only attention all the transmitters, combiners and other hardware will get is a visit from a general building engineer three times a day, just once per shift. “They make sure nothing is leaking.”
The true test of any broadcast facility is home reception, and, Lyons says, his facility is getting high marks. “What I’m hearing from everybody is the signal strength and in-building penetration has increased considerably from what they previously had.”
The building penetration is particularly important in New York, he says. “A lot of people are in apartments with rabbit ears again.”
The soaring 104-floor World Trade Center is the principal structure to arise from the rubble of the Twin Towers and the 9/11 attacks.
On its roof is a massive 408-foot broadcast tower outfitted with two UHF and one VHF antenna. It brings the total height of the building to a symbolic 1,776 feet.
When the North Tower fell on 9/11, it brought down with it the rooftop broadcast tower and other transmission facilities. Killed that day were six broadcast engineers manning the facilities.
For the most part, the city’s major broadcasters migrated to the Empire State Building in the wake of the attacks, their home before the loftier Twin Tower came along in the early 1970s.
But as the new One World Trade Center began rising into the sky, Durst began trying to lure them back.
It was partially successful.
Over the past year, WCBS, WNBC, Telemundo’s WNJU, Fox’s WNYW and WWOR, Ion’s WPXN and noncommercial WNET have moved into the World Trade. All are up and running except WNET and WNYW and they should be online in the coming weeks.
However, ABC, Tribune (soon to be Sinclair) and Univision have decided to stick with the Empire State Building.
Lyons would not discuss how much the broadcasters are paying, but said the leases fall in the 10-15-year range.
The rooftop tower sports three broadcast antennas, all made by Radio Frequency Systems, an international company with offices in Meriden, Conn.
The two UHF antennas are mosaics of panels that wrap around the center axis of the tower.
The PEP 40 is eight panels high and five around, while the PEP 96, lower on the tower, is eight panels high and 12 panels around.
As of yesterday, only the PEP 40 was online and so was handling all the stations. When the PEP 96 is up, some of the stations will be shifted to it.
Currently, all the transmitters in the facility are Rohde & Schwarz except that of WCBS. It’s using a unit made by GatesAir.
They all are modular, meaning that the power comes from stacking many low-power amps in side-by-side racks. With both the Rohde and Gates Air units, malfunctioning amps can be pulled and replaced without turning off the entire transmitter.
Each transmitter array has an accompanying bank of cooling pumps that send a water-glycol mix in and around the transmitter, through various heat exchanges and on to a rooftop cooling tower.
To keep the broadcasters on the air in the event of the power outage in the city, the building maintains a two-megawatt generator dedicated to the broadcast plant on the sixth floor.
A separate, much smaller room on the 104th floor houses the broadcast communications gear, which includes ENG, GPS, two-way radio and STL.
As part of the FCC repack of the TV band, most New York stations will have to move to new channels in August 2019. That should be no problem at One World Trade because the facility has two UHF antennas and two combiners — essentially two parallel transmission chains, Lyons says.
The trick will be to move all the stations to one combiner where they can continue broadcasting at reduced power, alerting over-the-air viewers about the need to rescan the tuners in their sets.
While that’s happening, he says, they will take the other combiner off line and retune the modules on it to the new permanent channels. Just before the repack deadline, the stations will be able to be shifted to their permanent channels and combiners.
The so-called flash cut will involve throwing some switches and should take only a few seconds, Lyons says.
According to Lyons, the facility could also easily handle a change-over to ATSC 3.0 if the broadcasters give the word. “The system is designed to handle the higher voltages the new standard demands.”
The tour reveals that One World Trade has a lot going for it. And it’s not just the cool and the quiet. It’s also the views. From 90 floors up, they are spectacular.