Back in 2001, construction began on a new transmitter facility for WSTM, TV channel 3 in Syracuse, NY. Digital TV had been mandated by the FCC, but the old analog TV tower wasn’t strong enough for the addition of a DTV antenna. It was decided that a new building and new tower would be built, strong enough to handle several large antennas. But it wasn’t just for digital; analog TV still had a number of years left. Nobody knew how many years at that time, so both analog and digital transmitters and antennas were installed, and the old analog transmitter and tower were dismantled.
The new tower is a very beefy design, designed to hold a very heavy load. It is about 850′ tall, and has a three arm “candleabra” fixture on top. It was intended that large antennas could be mounted both above and below all three candleabra arms, as well as anywhere on the sides below. In the picture to the left, note that only three antennas were installed: 1) channel 24/25, 2) channel 54, 3) channel 3. The third arm holds a counterweight. In the original configuration of 2002, WSTM (NBC) transmitted analog channel 3 on the 6-bay batwing antenna, and digital TV on channel 54. WCNY (PBS) transmitted analog 24 and digital 25 (often called an N+1 configuration), combined into a single antenna.
Fast forward to 2009, when the time came for analog TV to cease. Around that time, the FCC also decreed that any TV channel above 51 would have to be vacated. WSTM was using channel 54 for digital, meaning that a new channel would have to be chosen. One possibility would be moving the digital signal to channel 3. On the plus side, there was already an antenna in place for channel 3. On the negative side, the propagation characteristics of 60-66 MHz are not favorable for DTV, and neither the channel 54 DTV transmitter nor the analog channel 3 transmitter could be easily converted to DTV. Further, it would mean that everyone viewing the signal over the air would need larger antennas, rather than the smaller UHF only antennas they could use if everyone in the Syracuse market remained on UHF channels.
Another possibility would be to find another open UHF channel, and either replace the channel 54 antenna with a model cut for that new channel, or mount a new antenna in a different spot on the tower. Either way, this option was VERY expensive. TV broadcast antennas are custom built, and pricey. Rigging a large tower to install the antenna involves lots of equipment and many man hours, especially when you’re working at the top. It had already been done once (for the antennas pictured above), and nobody had the appetite (or $$$) to do it again. The final option, the one chosen, was to move WSTM to UHF channel 24 (the previous location of WCNY’s analog signal), and combine it with WCNY’s digital on UHF 25. The huge advantage was obvious: there would be no tower work required. It would take some work to convert the WSTM transmitter from channel 54 to 24, and to modify the combiner, but that was small potatoes in comparison to modifying the tower setup.
Refer again to the antenna picture above. All the broadcast activity is now concentrated on one antenna, with WSTM DTV 24 and WCNY DTV 25 combined into the lower part of the westward facing “spike.” The channel 3 and channel 54 antennas became “unemployed,” after only 7 years of service. Now, where some people see obsolete, abandoned hardware, a ham sees a fantastic antenna for 6 meters! Would it work? Stay tuned…