by Steve Fluker
Daytona Beach, FL - Feb 2, 2007 - In the early morning hours of Feb. 2, severe storms associated with a passing cold front produced powerful tornados that swept across Central Florida killing at least 20 people and injuring many more. More than 1,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in a line that crossed through Sumpter, Lake, and Volusia counties. At about 3:45 a.m. an F3 or F4 tornado hit Northern Lake County which is the location for the WCFB transmitter site and tower. It's obvious from the path and downed trees that this tornado passed directly over the 1,500 foot tower, twisting it and bringing it down on top of the building.
Engineers could not get to the site until about 7 a.m. because of the dangers from downed power lines and trees. Cox Radio engineers Dennis Sloatman and Steve Fluker were the first to arrive at the scene. WCFB (Star 94.5 FM) is the only broadcaster on this tower, however, the tower was also used as a repeater site for the Lake County Fire and Sheriff emergency radios. This caused additional headaches as this lost communication was needed in the disaster relief that followed. An ENG repeater for local TV station WOFL CH 35 was also on the tower. The tower and transmitter building are a total loss. Sections of the tower crushed the building and all of the transmitters and equipment inside.
Work began immediately to move WCFB to the tower and antenna system of sister stations WHTQ and WWKA (K92 FM). Cox Tampa engineer Roz Clark brought in a low-power transmitter, RF lines and adaptors to install on the wide-band port of this combined antenna system. An emergency STL was also put in place to this tower while Cox attorneys contacted the FCC for an emergency STA. At 2:37 p.m. on that same day, WCFB returned to the air broadcasting at a reduced power, but still covering the Central Florida market.
Dielectric and ERI have shipped new antennas, and Harris is shipping a new Z16HD+ transmitter immediately so that we can move the station to yet another Cox radio tower site. This move will allow for a substantial power increase. We expect to be online at this tower in about a week. From there we have already begun the planning stages to rebuild to get the radio station back on the air at its full 100kW.
On a side note, by Saturday morning February 3rd, Lake County Fire and Sheriff had already erected a temporary tower on the property to get some of their emergency communications links restored.
A broad view of the damaged tower and transmitter building.
The damage has left a pile of twisted debris.
The tower crushed the building as it fell.
The equipment has been declared a total loss.
The Lake County Fire and Sheriff temporary transmitter site.
More photos of the damage have been posted at this link.
Fluker is director of engineering for Cox Radio Orlando. Photos by Steve Fluker.