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July 10-17, 2003

Two That Fell

"Breaking news" and "tower site" are two phrases that normally don't go together - and when they do, it's usually bad news.

So it was last weekend, when we received word that the 1360-foot tower of KETV (Channel 7) in Omaha collapsed late Friday night - and then, just hours later, that the 731-foot tower of WIFR (Channel 23) in Rockford, Illinois had come down in 80 mph winds as a fierce storm hit northern Illinois.

It's our policy here at Site of the Week to present "before" photos of downed towers whenever they exist in our collection, and it so happens that our 2001 Big Trip included stops in both Rockford and Omaha.

WIFR, then, first: Rockford's TV landscape is laid out like so many small Midwest cities (Fort Wayne comes to mind), with a cluster of tall towers and a studio/office building at the base of each one. In the case of Rockford, the cluster is west of town along Meridian Road and Auburn Street (the better to hit WIFR's actual city of license, Freeport), with four towers. WIFR's was the northernmost along Meridian, rising right behind a neat brick studio building and easily visible from the WTVO (Channel 17) site just down the street.

WTVO's Web site was the first with pictures of all the damage up the street at WIFR later on Saturday; all of Rockford's TV stations (and most of the city, for that matter) were without power after the storm hit, and it was mid-afternoon before any of the surviving stations managed to get back on the air.

WIFR put its microwave truck at the studio to restore a feed to Rockford-area cable systems by late Saturday; it looks as though cable will be the only way to see WIFR for at least a few weeks while a temporary replacement transmitter is rigged up.

As for Omaha, the KETV tower on North 72nd Street near Crown Point was a midwestern tower landmark - or rather, part of a landmark: four very tall towers (all over 1000') in close proximity in a line along 72nd Street. From a distance - say, from the nearby KOMJ (590) tower - they looked like the world's biggest AM directional array. Closer in, it was clear that the southernmost tower held three FMs, with KMTV (Channel 3) and several more FMs just to the north, then KETV's tower, then the WOWT (Channel 6) tower at the northern end of the "array."

KETV's tower was built in 1966, and held only two antennas: KETV itself and a three-bay FM, public radio KVNO (90.7). In June, KETV had removed its channel 7 antenna and was in the process of replacing it with a Harris dual-band antenna for both analog and digital service. Did that have something to do with the collapse, which nobody saw (it was 11:09 PM) but which neighbors reported sounded like fireworks going off? It's not our place to speculate.

The good news, at least, is that nobody was hurt in either collapse, and damage to the buildings appears to have been relatively minor. (You can see KETV pictures here; the tower fell right across the building.)

The even better news, for KETV at least, is that channel 7 was able to stay on the air from its old tower next to the studios at 27th and Douglas, near downtown, where the station will continue to operate for the next year or so while it works to rebuild its downed tower on 72nd Street. (KVNO was not as fortunate; it had no working auxiliary site, and is now scrambling to get back on the air.)

Barring further tower falls, we'll get back on schedule with the Carolinas trip next week, as we recount our visit to the very unusual WODI (1230) in Brookneal, Virginia. See you then!

Want to see more neat sticks all year round? Nashville's WSM (at right) is one of the more than a dozen Tower Site images featured in the 2003 Tower Site Calendar, still available from Tower Site of the Week and

If you liked last year's edition, you'll love this one: higher-quality images (in addition to WSM, this year's edition includes Providence's WHJJ; Mount Mansfield, Vermont; Buffalo's WBEN; KOMA in Oklahoma City; WTIC, Hartford; Brookmans Park, England; WPAT, Paterson; Four Times Square, New York; WIBC in Indianapolis; WWVA in Wheeling, W.V.; WGN Chicago and more), more dates in radio history, a convenient hole for hanging - and we'll even make sure all the dates fall on the right days!

This year's edition is still available in limited quantities! And this year, you can order with your Visa, MasterCard, Discover or American Express by using the handy link below!

Better yet, here's an incentive to make your 2003 NERW/Site of the Week subscription pledge right now: support NERW/ at the $60 level or higher, and you'll get this lovely calendar for free! How can you go wrong? (Click here to visit our Support page, where you can make your NERW contribution with a major credit card...)

 Click here to order your 2003 Tower Site Calendar by credit card!

You can also order by mail; just send a check for $16 per calendar (NYS residents add 8% sales tax), shipping included, to Scott Fybush, 92 Bonnie Brae Ave., Rochester NY 14618.

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