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November 6-13, 2003

Empire State Building, January 2001

(We're still on the road this week, collecting exciting Tower Sites of Future Weeks all over the midwest - so we'll dip into the archives for another encore presentation. This one originally ran February 21, 2001, a few months before New York's FM and TV landscape changed dramatically with the destruction of the World Trade Center. Next week, we'll bring the ESB's story up to date and chronicle some of the changes there in the last two years.)

The building to your left should require no introduction. Rising from the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street in lower midtown Manhattan, this is, of course, the Empire State Building, the gem of Manhattan's skyline since the 1930s.

When it wasn't busy being climbed by giant apes, playing backdrop to romantic movies or having B-25s flown into its upper stories, the Empire State was from its earliest days a natural spot for VHF and UHF broadcasting. Before World War II, CBS and NBC used the building for early TV and FM broadcasts, and when the war ended, the building quickly became the home to most of New York's TV and FM stations.

In fact, until the completion of the World Trade Center ("the box the Empire State was delivered in") in the seventies, the Empire State carried just about everything on TV and FM in the Big Apple.

When the WTC took over most of the city's TV transmitters (it's home to channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 31 and 47), most of the FM stations stayed behind at Empire. Of the New York area's high-powered FM stations, the only ones not on Empire are WBGO 88.3 (on an office building in downtown Newark), WFUV 90.7 (whose tower in the Bronx is a story in and of itself),WNYE 91.5 (on a city schools building in Brooklyn), WFME 94.7 (on First Mountain in West Orange, N.J.) and the handful of stations on World Trade (WKCR 89.9, WPAT-FM 93.1, WNYC-FM 93.9 and WKTU 103.5).

That leaves a lot of FM on the Empire State, and we'll get there in a moment. First, look at the top of the close-up view of the top of the building to see the TVs that still use Empire. All the way up at the top, 442 meters above Fifth Avenue, sits WHSE Channel 68, with WXTV Channel 41 side-mounted just below. Soon, both will be sister stations under the Univision banner. Not easily visible here is WNYE Channel 25, just twenty meters or so above the 102nd floor observation deck. (I suspect readers of this feature are the ones standing on the observation deck looking up!)

But we've all had the chance to see Empire from the outside, right? It's time to ride the elevator up to floors 81 through 85 and see what lurks within.

Behind the door to the left sits what has to be the single most valuable room in American radio. Inside this otherwise nondescript space sits the combiner that takes thirteen FM signals and feeds them to the building's original master antenna (now an auxiliary) and to the current ERI master antenna just above the 400-meter level.

The stations in question are: WXRK 92.3, WQXR 96.3, WSKQ 97.9, WRKS 98.7, WBAI 99.5, WHTZ 100.3, WQCD 101.9, WNEW 102.7, WAXQ 104.3, WTJM 105.1, WCAA 105.9, WLTW 106.7 and WBLS 107.5. Think about that for a minute: hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue every year passing behind that anonymous green door. It's enough to make your head spin (or maybe that's just all the RF!)

The combiner itself appears at the far right; two parallel rows of big tank filters matching each station's input to the antennas and preventing any of the output from finding its way back to the individual transmitters.

A computerized control panel (not seen here) keeps tabs on the combiner's performance and handles the switching needed to use the old auxiliary master.

Three more FMs have their own antennas just below the ERI master: WQHT 97.1, WPLJ 95.5 and WCBS-FM 101.1. A handful of the FMs also maintain their own auxiliary antennas on Empire. There's also one remnant of the old TV days: WCBS-TV, channel 2, has a backup antenna at Empire that kept it on the air when everyone else was forced off by the World Trade Center bombing.

Each station has its own individual transmitter room on one of these five floors. I'm told that in the old days, these floors were divided into much larger rooms that were occupied mainly by the TV stations. Today, they're much smaller rooms hiding behind unmarked doors, with the feedlines above the hallways the only indication of what's to be found within.

To the left is a good example of an ESB transmitter room, the main transmitter of WAXQ 104.3. This room was recently rebuilt with two BE FM10B transmitters (remember, all these stations end up with just over 6 kW ERP thanks to the height of the tower!) and a small room that could be fitted out as an emergency studio but is currently used largely for storage.

(When we bring you up to date next week, we'll show you the innards of several other ESB transmitter rooms, including Emmis' three-station facility, the Z100/WKTU renovated facility, the changes in the combiner room and even a couple of TV stations. Don't miss it!)

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