October 15, 2010

KFI, Los Angeles, 2010

After many years and many tens of thousands of images of towers, even the most dedicated tower photographer eventually wants to try something a little different - and that's where this week's photo, showing the new tower at KFI (640 Los Angeles), came from.

(Well, that and a longer-than-planned day of tours in the Valley that kept us from getting down to the KFI site on the LA/Orange County border until past sunset...)

In any case, the combination of a starry southern California evening, a belly full of burgers and fries from the In 'n' Out Burger just down the street, a well-lit parking lot and a tripod yielded up a nifty image of KFI's rebuilt tower - an image you'll find, in fact, as the "centerfold" adorning the inside back cover of the newly-released Tower Site Calendar 2011. (Did we mention you can buy copies at the Fybush.com store?)

But as lovely as the new KFI tower is in the dark, we still wanted to see the new tower in full daylight, and so it was a given that on our next visit to Los Angeles, we'd get back to KFI for a long-overdue full tour.

That came in April 2010, and it's those pictures we share with you this week.

KFI, of course, has had a rough few years: in December 2004, a small plane hit its 760-foot tower, killing the pilot and passengers and taking down the tower in the process. For several years, KFI operated at reduced power (25 kW) from its short auxiliary tower while Clear Channel worked to overcome local zoning objections and protests from pilots at the nearby Fullerton Airport.

Eventually, KFI received permission to rebuild at the La Mirada site, though with a slightly shorter tower to satisfy the FAA: 684 feet instead of 760 feet, topped by a capacitance hat to maintain the tower's electrical height. Construction of the new tower began in 2008 - and then halted when a turnbuckle on an elevated guy anchor gave way while the tower was being stacked, causing the partially-completed new tower to collapse after reaching the 300-foot level.

The tower finally rose again for good, but not without more tragedy: just a few weeks after the new tower went into service on Sept. 25, 2008, John Paoli, the KFI chief engineer who'd overseen much of the reconstruction, suffered a fatal heart attack. He had just turned 50.

In a 2006 installment of Tower Site of the Week, we looked rather extensively at the history of the site, including a comprehensive interior tour of the building.

Go take a look at that installment if you're not familiar with the legacy of KFI - and then come back here as we bring you up to date with what's changed.


We start with a new paint job: for many decades, the KFI transmitter building on Trojan Way was a drab, unpainted concrete structure. While suffering through the years of hearings and lawyers that surrounded the tower reconstruction, John Paoli decided to do something about the building, giving it a new paint job.

The Southwest tones of the paint weren't picked by accident: John took great pride (attested to by an ongoing series of e-mail updates, complete with paint-color samples) in matching the beige, taupe and red to the 1930s-vintage Deco tilework around the transmitter building's front door, and it really did come out looking nice. (The "front door" isn't, at least not now that the spiral staircase to the right of the building has decayed past usability; today, visitors to KFI come in a side door through the ground-floor storage room, then up an inside staircase.)

Inside the building, there's one big change from our 2005 visit: a new main transmitter. The Continental and Harris transmitters we saw then still sit across from each other, but where there was a blank wall next to the DX50 back then, there's now a new rack of STL and processing gear and an even newer Nautel NX50 transmitter. (And yes, it's reading "52.5 kW" on the screen - 50 kW of analog RF and another 2500 watts of digital...)

Outside, our first stop is the newly-stuccoed wall around the tower base, where we stop for a moment to pay our respects to John's memory, honored here by a nice plaque proclaiming this the "John A. Paoli Memorial Tower," complete with an image of John based on a photo taken by another Southern California engineer, Burt Weiner.

Instead of the concrete-block doghouse that sat next to the old tower, there's a new ATU sitting out in the open, next to the new tower base sporting a much smaller insulator than the old one. (The original insulator was saved, and now sits behind the transmitter building, as shown above.)

If there was a bright side to the tower disaster at KFI, it's this: rebuilding the site gave Clear Channel an opportunity to upgrade just about everything here in La Mirada, from the pit where the buried transmission line emerges at the tower base, all the way to the guy anchors.

And oh, those guy anchors!

After the failure of the second tower during construction, KFI's engineers took no chances when it came time to try again: with eight levels of guy wires on the new tower and massive new guy anchors, the new tower isn't going anywhere any time soon.

(The guy anchor shown at left is especially impressive: it had to be elevated to allow trucks to move in and out of the industrial park that surrounds the KFI tower without snagging any guy wires.)

So that's KFI, ready for another 75 years in La Mirada - and if you'd like that lovely night shot at the top of the page hanging on your wall, Tower Site Calendar 2011 is now shipping, ready for your home or office (or for a wonderful holiday gift for your colleagues or clients!)

Special thanks to KFI's Tony Dinkel for making an unscheduled trip to La Mirada for our 2010 tour!

- Find out when the new Tower Site is posted, and much more! Follow us on Twitter @NERadioWatch - and don't miss your chance to order the all-new Tower Site Calendar 2011 at the Fybush.com store!