NAB is honoring The Durst Organization’s John Lyons with its 2017 Television Engineering Achievement Award on Wednesday during its technology luncheon. Lyons spoke with TVNewCheck Tech Editor Phil Kurz about what it means to receive the honor, the effort to bring TV broadcasting to One World Trade Center and what broadcasters and tower crews will face when they begin mounting new antennas to meet their TV spectrum repack obligation.
Durst’s Lyons On Bringing TV To One WTC
Next month, over-the-air TV transmission returns to lower Manhattan from One World Trade Center under the technical leadership of John Lyons.
Lyons, assistant VP and director of broadcast communications at The Durst Organization, will be honored Wednesday, April 26, with the 2017 NAB Television Engineering Achievement Award.
The 408-foot spire atop the building — constructed through a public-private partnership involving the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and The Durst Organization — wasn’t a shoe-in for TV transmission.
However, under Lyons’ leadership, The Durst Organization worked to learn precisely what broadcasters required from the site and worked to deliver it.
TVNewsCheck spoke to Lyons following a press conference April 23 jointly held at the Las Vegas Convention Center by Durst, Myat (the system integrator on the project) and Radio Frequency Systems (RFS), supplier of the antennas for One World Trade Center.
You are being honored with the 2017 NAB Television Engineering at this year’s NAB Show. What does that mean to you?
Well, when Sam Matheny, the chief technology officer of NAB called me, all I could say was “Wow.”
It was a shock. It came out of nowhere. I actually thought it was a robocall because it came on my cell phone at 5:30 at night when I was leaving the office.
I see this 202 number, and I thought it’s a politician just trying to get me to vote for or against the present administration. I thought, if it is, I would just hang up on it.
I answered the phone, and it was a call worth answering.
You started in the broadcast business more than 50 years ago. How did that happen? And when did you join The Durst Organization?
On Sept. 15, 1966, at WRFM-FM [New York]. I had just started college a few days before. I had my license because my high school required to have it as part of the course.
I was going past the station on the way home, and I asked the chief engineer if he had any jobs.
He told me yes and asked when I could start. I said, “When do you want me?” And I started that night.
I started working for Durst on July 29. 2002, shortly after 9/11. I had been doing some consulting for them before that.
They wanted to rebuild the FM-only facility they had at 4 Times Square. They brought me on board to accomplish that. We turned on in ’03.
When we got involved with co-owning One World Trade Center with the Port Authority, they decided they would go ahead with broadcasting. They got the number of TV stations [needed] to make the return on investment worthwhile.
We got that number at the end of ’15 and pulled the trigger. Now here we are and just about to turn it on.
You mentioned during the press conference that the MTVA [Metropolitan Television Alliance] was unsuccessful in working with the Port Authority in its effort to find a new combined TV transmission site. Could you summarize that and explain how this project did happen?
All the TV broadcasters formed an alliance to represent the group. And they were all equal partners. That allowed them to do a project as a group.
They were negotiating with the Port Authority. They were also looking at various sites — they even talked about a 2,000-foot tower in Central Park for a while.
Those became nonstarters. They were negotiating with the Port Authority. By 2008, they couldn’t get a deal going, and they were going to scrap the project.
We got involved in 2010. We talked to them. We negotiated a lease with the Port Authority, even though we are a joint partner with them, to manage the rooftop as a separate entity.
Like I said, we had to put in something the broadcasters wanted, or we wouldn’t have gotten them.
One World Trade Center is a unique transmission site. However, you mentioned during the press conference that dealing with the wind and the weather was tough — something many broadcasters and the tower crews they will hire must face when they put up their new TV repack antennas. Can you dive into the nitty-gritty of working at these elevations and the weather?
We started in the fall and despite everything we planned on at that height [1,776 feet at the top] was not necessarily friendly — even in September when you have 75 degrees, but you had 45 degrees up there with 35 mph winds.
You can’t hoist above 20 mph, and the guys really can’t stay on the steel and work above 25 mph.
So, when the weather really gets cold, and you are working on 3/8-inch hardware or smaller, putting flanges together, you have to take your gloves off. You can’t work with the gloves on — [because of the] tiny hardware, like washers and lock washers.
You can only work so long without gloves before you have to start worrying about windburn and everything else.
I said it tongue in cheek before [during the press conference], one of the engineers really wore an electric [heated] coat, electric pants, gloves, hardhat to do the testing.
He was sitting on one of the ice shields doing the testing. That’s after climbing up 350 feet, and then sitting there all day doing the testing as the guys moved the test cables around the antennas to make sure the lines were good, that it was in phase, pressurized.
Tell me a little more about the antenna system.
The top antenna has 40 elements, 80 cables — 40 each for horizontal and vertical [polarization]. That’s 160 ends. The bottom antenna we prepackaged at the factory.
The top had to be put up one panel at a time because we had to make adapter plates to put on the steel.
The VHF [antenna] is 16 panels with 64 cables on it. There’s four cables on each panel. The lower UHF antenna is 96 panels with 192 cables.
You mentioned during the press conference that the broadcasters who conducted tests before committing to One World Trade Center didn’t want to share the data from their transmission tests of the site out of concern they might get charged a premium if the results were good. When they finally did share the data, what did you find out?
It was spectacular. It was much better than we anticipated. We knew it was going to be good because our monitoring was showing it would be good.
It came out much better than we had even anticipated. Again, they didn’t want to share it because they were concerned by might put an add-on [price premium] to that. Not sharing the data, both sides could negotiate from a neutral position.
Read all of TVNewsCheck‘s NAB 2017 news here.