In Austin, construction had to be halted for several months
the nesting season of the golden-cheeked warbler.
In Dallas, a construction accident killed three people because
workers had not been properly trained.
And in New York, even the city's tallest skyscrapers may not be
to the task.
For the few companies in the business of building television
towers, the prospect of bizarre complications, bureaucratic delays
and even fatal mistakes only serve to compound the extraordinary
challenge now facing them. Under a federally mandated schedule to
usher in digital high-definition television -- a timetable that the
construction industry says may be impossible to meet -- the tower
builders are embarking on a crash program across the country to
hundreds of new television towers, at heights up to 2,049 feet,
taller than the world's tallest buildings.
The trouble is, across the United States only about a half-dozen
crews have the experience and training to put up these towers that
can reach nearly a half-mile into the sky.
Together, all of the nation's tower building teams may be able to
put up as many as 20 towers a year. But each year for the next four
or five years, the broadcast industry is going to call on them to
build 100 or more. Broadcasters and tower builders call it a
Sisyphean mission. And if they do not succeed, many of the new
digital stations will be years late going on the air.
"I don't see how we can get it done," said J.C. Kline, president
of Kline Towers, one of only three companies in the United States
that build television towers. "We just don't have the capacity for
Scores of engineers, politicians, lobbyists and bureaucrats spent
more than a decade in a tortured, government-run program to devise
the standard for the new generation of television. Now that the
standard is set, and the Federal Communications Commission has lent
every television station a second channel for the transition to this
new service, 1,600 stations have to find places for the antennas
will beam the new programming to their viewers.
Nearly all of them had chosen to defer even thinking about this
problem until now, in part because a new tower costs at least $1,000
a foot, or $2 million for a 2,000-foot structure.
Digital television does not demand a tower any different from what
conventional broadcasting requires. So in many cases, existing
towers may suffice. But as many as one-third of the nation's
television stations may have to put up new towers because their
existing ones are loaded to capacity with antennas for television
radio stations, cellular phone providers and other communications
systems. For these fully loaded towers, even one more antenna --
along with up to 2,000 feet of fat copper cable leading to it --
would add more weight than the tower could bear.
Different stations have different height requirements for their
towers, depending on terrain and the distance to the city's farthest
suburbs. The higher the tower, the farther the signal's reach. But
2,049 feet is the tallest tower allowed by federal law.
The National Association of Broadcasters and Tom Vaughan, an
industry consultant who specializes in towers, say their recent
surveys of the nation's television stations indicate that 500 to 700
of them will need new towers. And while some broadcast executives
think those numbers may be a bit too high, most of the stations have
hired engineering firms to determine whether their existing towers
can be reinforced or modified or whether entirely new structures are
But whatever the final number of new towers turns out to be,
broadcast executives know the sheer national scope of the task will
"It's something the world has never had to face up to before,"
said Bob O. Niles, who is in charge of the tower-building program
ABC, which owns 10 stations and expects to erect new spires for two
of them. …