NYC’s Towering TV Choice: 1 WTC Or Empire

The new One World Trade Center is pitching New York City broadcasters on moving their transmitting operations to the 105-story building in 2015, promising a facility that's "future-proof" with better over-the-air coverage than the Empire State Building where most of the city's stations relocated following the 9/11 destruction of the Twin Towers.

The Durst Organization, the New York real estate powerhouse that is managing and leasing One World Trade Center, is now pitching broadcasters in the nation’s largest TV market on moving their antennas to the building, promising future-proof technology and better coverage.

Adjacent to the site of the Twin Towers that were destroyed in the 9/11 attacks, 1 WTC, at 1,776 feet, will be the tallest building in the Western hemisphere when basic construction is completed later this year.

“One World Trade Center gives broadcasters an opportunity to move to a new, upgraded facility with antennas specifically designed to handle their needs,” says John Lyons, Durst assistant VP and director of broadcast communications.

“It’s another option in the market. We just want to give them the best coverage possible. Broadcasters can have the confidence that this site will have the technology they need that’s future-proof and viable for the next 50 to 70 years.”

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 brought down the broadcast tower and transmitters of the major TV stations atop the north Twin Tower. In the aftermath, the stations worked quickly to restore their over-the-air service by using back-up facilities at the Empire State Building, 4 Times Square (4TS) and other locations. Since then, the major stations have settled on Empire State for their primary broadcasts.

Much is at stake in whether broadcasters stay on Empire State or accept Durst’s invitation to move to lower Manhattan.


In a 2012 prospectus for an IPO, the Empire State Building acknowledged that lease payments from 16 TV station and 19 radio stations produced revenue of $16.1 million in 2010 and $11.8 million in the first three quarters of 2011. The prospectus noted the average remaining years of the broadcast leases was 7.5 years and that 1 WTC represented a competitive threat.

Shane O’Donoghue, Empire director of broadcasting, declined to comment for this story.

According to Lyons, the 105-story 1 WTC will have building engineers on duty 24/7, two megawatts of back-up power dedicated to broadcasting and communications operations, 24-hour access, chilled and condensed water available for transmitter cooling, fiber and copper access lines and hydraulic lift gates at loading docks.

Broadcasters could move into 1 WTC as early as 2015 when the building begins to open up, says Lyons, adding they currently have leases with Empire stations or 4TS that end as early as 2015 and as late as 2019. Durst also manages 4TS.

“They may decide to add 1 WTC as a backup or turn Empire into their backup and have 1 World Trade as their primary — there are several options for them,” says Lyons.

The FCC’s pending spectrum incentive auction also plays into when broadcasters could start putting up antennas atop 1WTC. Lyons says he doesn’t want to install any antennas until the channel reassignments related to the auction are completed.

Lyons says he has talked with all of the major broadcasters in the city at this point and plans on having more conversations. He declined to comment on the level of interest from those broadcasters.

After 9/11, New York’s major stations formed the Metropolitan Television Alliance to work together on their transmission and tower needs. The alliance includes WABC, WCBS, WNBC, Tribune’s WPIX, Fox’s WWOR and WNYW, noncommercial WNET and others.

Jeff Birch, CBS Television Stations VP of engineering and president of the MTVA, declined to comment for this story.

“WABC, and I think all broadcasters, are listening with an open mind to what the folks at the World Trade Center are saying, but nothing is ever simple and more questions are being raised,” says Kurt Hanson, WABC chief engineer. “The analysis between Empire and WTC needs to be analyzed and vetted as to which is best for our viewers and the station.”

Hanson also wants to know more about the technology going into 1 WTC to see if it’s worth leaving Empire.

Hanson may get some of his answers at this year’s NAB Show, where Lyons is presenting a paper, “Broadcasting in New York City — The Reestablishment of Broadcasting at the World Trade Center in a Post 9/11 World,” on Tues., April 9, from 9:30 to 10 a.m. in S228 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Oded Bendov, designer of the antenna array at the original World Trade Center, serves as a consultant for the MTVA, helping spell out the technical advantages and disadvantages of moving to 1WTC.

At 1,776 feet, 1WTC is 300 feet higher than Empire, providing a platform for sending broadcast signals deep into New Jersey, Connecticut and Long Island. But that height is also a handicap, Bendov says.

“It’s so high that typical UHF antennas may deliver too little power in the first few miles,” he says. “And that’s compounded by the FCC saying you need to lower the power as you go higher.”

Additionally, maintenance becomes an issue with antennas that high up, Bendov says. “You almost need a fail-proof antenna in terms of reliability in extreme cases.”

Despite the challenges associated with broadcasting from 1WTC, stations could benefit from putting their primary antennas at the building, “especially if we have a new TV standard … and new channel packing. It’s an opportunity to build a brand new facility that has everything in it. It’s more than just symbolic value.”

Andrew Dodson is TVNewsCheck’s technology editor. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewDodson. Contact him with news tips and story ideas at 303-800-4581 or [email protected]

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Daniel Hunt says:

March 14, 2013 at 6:46 pm

I can only hope that they do move to WTC. Here in far western NJ it is hit or miss depending on the weather if we receive a good signal or not. Yes we have satellite service, but we do not get the secondary signals through the dish. Pre-digital, even after September 11th and the move back to the Empire State Bldg. the analog signal was 100%. Then after the beginnings of digital broadcast the signal was in the mid 80’s. Now at best WABC’s signal is in the mid 60’s and the other stations are weaker if available at all. The few miles south and the higher antenna will (we hope) make a great difference.

Sandy Relova says:

November 6, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease put those transmitting antennas back on the WTC building. We here in The Northwest part of NJ, Hackettstown, to be exact, are drooling for over the air TV and cannot get the once signal from the old Trade centers and cannot get them from the Empire State building. 300 ft. more and a bit more power will do it for thousands here in NJ.!!!

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