September 12-19, 2001

One World Trade Center: A Look Back

It's still jarring, a few days after the attacks, to realize that the skyline you see above no longer exists. This was the view from the Staten Island Ferry back in February, on the way to Manhattan to pay a visit to Four Times Square and the Empire State Building.

At the time, of course, we thought that "someday" we'd get back to New York to visit the other major rooftop site, the mast atop One World Trade Center.

We never got there, of course.

Here's what we missed, with some visual help from the "Transmitter Sites from Hell" Web site (what an unintentionally apt name this week, in light of the disaster there.)

One World Trade was home to:

  • WCBS-TV 2
  • WNBC 4
  • WNYW-TV 5
  • WABC-TV 7
  • WWOR-TV 9
  • WPIX-TV 11
  • WNET 13
  • WPXN 31
  • WNJU 47
  • WKCR 89.9
  • WPAT-FM 93.1
  • WNYC-FM 93.9
  • WKTU 103.5

As we've learned, most of these stations had no backup facilities, and many remain dark as we write this. (For daily updates, please visit NorthEast Radio Watch here at, where we're keeping tabs on the situation.)

There's not really too much more we can add as we share these pictures, beyond a bit of history:

Most of the stations that ended up on One WTC had moved from the Empire State Building once the twin towers went up in the early seventies, and they really didn't have a choice.

After all, the construction of these two huge structures at the edge of Manhattan was bound to have an impact on the TV signals from Empire, and indeed, the residents of lower Manhattan apparently experienced some severe multipath in the years before all the TV transmitters were moved to the top of the World Trade Center. To assist them in the meantime, most of the VHF stations were allowed to put UHF translators in Manhattan, several of which stayed on the air into the 1980s.

The World Trade Center never became a very popular FM site, thanks in part to the construction of the new ERI master antenna that made Empire the natural spot for almost all of New York's big FM signals. In addition to the stations that used WTC at the end, Tribune's WQCD (101.9) had occupied space there in the 80s, moving to Empire when the ERI master antenna was completed.

In the last two years, the TV stations at WTC were busy with a new project: digital TV. When the tower came down, it was home to DTV signals for WNBC, WNYW, WWOR and WNET, with more scheduled to arrive shortly. As you can see in the photo above, WTC was also a natural spot for TV stations' ENG (electronic news gathering) microwave receivers, as well as for studio-transmitter links and other point-to-point uses (WPIX, for instance, used WTC as a relay point in its microwave link to its satellite uplink in New Jersey).

As I write this, nobody knows where all these signals will go. Nor, as yet, do we know the fate of at least five engineers who were up in the transmitter rooms on the 109th and 110th floors when the building was attacked. Keep them in your thoughts in the weeks ahead, won't you?