Despite early reports of broadcaster reluctance to move to new spectrum, it appears the Broadcast TV Repack is off and running. With the first phase deadline of the repack slightly less than nine months away, engineering firms have seen orders jump in the last month as broadcasters prepare to move off their spectrum. But it is not just the broadcasters required to vacate in phase one (Nov. 30, 2018) that are moving. Broadcasters from all of the phases are getting in gear.
“Whether it’s phase one or phase 10, the broadcasters are all trying to get in the door so they can get the work done. They are working on it,” Madison Batt, PE, SE, president/senior structural engineer, Tower Engineering Company (TEC), said. “We are working with a company that is not scheduled to move until next year, but they want to get their ducks in a row right now. They don’t want to wait till the last minute.”
Stainless, a business division of FDH Infrastructure Services, has had more broadcast orders in the last month than it has had in all of the last year. The big push for Stainless comes from working with a single company that owns several TV stations across the nation.
“The orders generally request the removal of an antenna and either connecting to an existing transmission or the deployment of a new transmission line,” said Donald Doty, Stainless business development manager. “Some TV stations may have an old analog antenna, which wasn’t removed in the conversion to digital, that can be replaced and connected to a transmission line.
Doty is not surprised that the broadcasters are getting off the dime. “It’s common knowledge that the FCC is not going to allow extensions to the TV stations,” he said. “Even if they are not ready, the FCC will make them turn off the station.”
TEC began to receive queries from clients about a year ago and then the flow picked up about six months ago.
Engineering Companies: The Lynchpin to the TV Repack
Engineering companies are critical to the success of the Broadcast TV repack. But they are a finite resource. The FCC’s phased in approach, which created 10 deadlines from Sept. 14, 2018 to July 3, 2020, allows the industry’s tower services and engineering companies to spread out their resources over that span of time.
Beyond ordering the new antenna, they must make sure the existing tower can handle the replacement antenna and then safely execute the removal of the old antenna and the deployment of a new one. This requires highly skilled workers that many times must operate at heights of up to 2,000 feet.
To keep up with demand, Stainless plans to increase its staff up to four crews. It has 23 people right now, which equals a little more than three crews. “Four crews are enough to do everything we need to do plus a little extra,” Doty said. “We need six people on a crew unless we are doing major modifications.”
The trick was being staffed up when the orders come flooding in, according to Doty. “Thanks to the foresight of the owners, Willis Stein & Partners, we have been able to add people as we have gotten busier,” he said.
His current approach contrasts to when the firm worked with 22 crews converting the broadcasters from analog to digital.
“We are not going to do that again,” he said. “It was a nightmare because we tried to be all things to all people. We will be selective in who we do work for.”
Doty said it remains difficult to find technicians for tall tower work, so the company does training itself, when it cannot hire individuals that it knows or has worked with in the past.
TEC works directly with the broadcasters and picks up work from other engineering companies, as well as working with fabricators and contractors. Seven engineers comprise TEC’s workforce doing tower analysis, design and site observation of tower structures. Batt sends two engineers for each job to climb and observe a tower that it is doing an analysis on.
“We then get the tower modeled on a computer, run the analysis for an as-is condition and for whatever new loading situation,” he said.
J. Sharpe Smith
Senior Editor, AGL Media Group
J. Sharpe Smith joined AGL in 2007 as contributing editor to the magazine and as editor of eDigest email newsletter. He has 27 years of experience writing about industrial communications, paging, cellular, small cells, DAS and towers. Previously, he worked for the Enterprise Wireless Alliance as editor of the Enterprise Wireless Magazine. Before that, he edited the Wireless Journal for CTIA and he began his wireless journalism career with Phillips Publishing, now Access Intelligence.