Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
For more than 20 years now, I’ve prided myself on producing a Tower Site Calendar that is as honest and factual as I can make it. I carefully research the historical dates and photo captions that go into each year’s edition, I don’t edit the images aside from cropping and color correction, and on the back cover for many years, it’s proudly boasted “No radio towers were harmed in the making of this calendar.”
Only that’s actually a lie when it comes to the 2023 edition, which I hope you’ve already ordered. When you turn to the August page, you’ll see… this:
That is, of course, a tower that was in the midst of ceasing to be vertical, and rather quickly at that. It’s also a tower near and dear to your editor’s heart, one of the four towers that have been part of the array of WXXI (1370) here in Rochester for many decades. As you might remember from earlier Site of the Week installments documenting this site on French Road in the suburb of Brighton, it’s been in use since the mid-1940s, when then-WSAY moved from 1240 to 1370 and moved from a downtown rooftop to a three-tower array out here in what was then the sticks.
In 1955, WSAY upgraded from 1000 to 5000 watts at night, relocating one tower and adding a fourth to turn what had been an in-line array into a rhombus. WXXI bought the station in 1984 and shifted the location of one tower slightly two decades later.
By the start of the 2020s, though, the aging towers were beyond repair. While many AM stations in this predicament dropped nighttime directional operation and reduced power, WXXI committed to rebuilding.
But before you can rebuild, you have to take down – and over two days at the end of July 2022, crews from the Fred Nudd tower company were on scene to drop three of the four. (The fourth, of course, had to stay up to keep the station on the air at a full 5000 watts by day and a reduced STA power of 1250 watts at night.)
I am eternally embarrassed to admit that even though it’s only about an 8-minute drive over to the site, a miscommunication meant that I missed the first of the three towers coming down. It was already stretched out on the ground when I got there, dropped northward away from the array toward the northwest corner of the property.
The still pictures are impressive, of course – but if you really want to see 200 feet of old steel coming down, you need some video!
How do you drop a tower like this? Look closely at the start of the video and you’ll see the secret: after several hours of very careful work adjusting the tension of the two sets of guys in the direction of the drop and installing quick-release cutters on the slacked guys on the release side, Nudd’s crew threads a steel cable through the quick releases near each guy anchor. The other end of the cable goes around the bucket of a front-end loader, which tugs on the cable, which triggers the quick releases, cuts the guys, and tension and gravity do the rest of the job.
(That horn you hear on the video? Completely coincidental: it was from a road crew working on a project out front of the building, but it sure did sound cool.)
It’s strange to see this four-tower site with just three towers, and even stranger to be able to walk the entire 200-foot length of the downed tower and to see how thoroughly the glass of the top beacon lights pulverized when hitting the ground. (A few of the side lights survived intact, though the more fragile glass of the bulbs inside didn’t make it.)
It was a little cloudier the next day when the crew turned to the east side of the array to drop the third of four towers, this one at the southeast corner near the transmitter building, where we were standing to capture the action.
This one didn’t drop quite as straight as the first two, instead twisting a bit as it fell toward the southeast corner of the site, not far from where the original south tower of the 1944 array had stood.
While I was positioned over by the building, I had a video camera rolling near the base of the former southwest tower, and while I didn’t quite line it up right to get the top of the tower falling straight at the camera, it was pretty close:
The towers didn’t stay out here long at all: Nudd’s crew moved quickly to cut up the steel and haul it away, leaving behind only the piers that had supported the old doghouses at each tower base and the tower bases themselves, somewhat the worse for decades of wear.
The next chapter of this site still isn’t finished. In the months since, Nudd’s crews have refurbished the tower bases, installed the new prefab doghouses, and prepared everything for the stacking of new steel on those three rebuilt bases, which should happen any day now.
After that, the last remaining tower will get dropped, too, with a fourth new tower to follow. In the meantime, we have the strange view of just a single tower in place of the four that were a landmark there – and when they all go up, they’ll be unpainted and strobe-lit instead of the old painted towers with red lights.
Want to have a photo of the tower fall on your wall, along with a dozen other tower photos from around the country and beyond? Get your 2023 Tower Site Calendar today!
CALENDARS ON CLEARANCE
If you don’t have your 2023 Tower Site Calendar yet, now is the perfect time to get it. Because we have lowered the price to just $14.
The calendar has great photos of broadcast sites near and far (everywhere from Navajo Nation on the cover to Boston to Toronto to Texas, and beyond), plus a lovely “centerfold” you can keep on your wall for 2024.
It’s still shipping regularly, and you can have yours in just a couple of days!
Order your copy and you’ll see what we mean.
If you have already ordered your calendar, make sure you check out the other items in the store, too!
And don’t miss a big batch of IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: More from the new calendar!