With tremendous height and clear coverage of Manhattan, the World
Trade Center towers were home to four FM radio transmitters. On Sept.
11, 2001, WKCR, WKTU, WNYC and WPAT were not only faced with the
difficulties inherent in covering news from a city under attack, but
also they lost their transmission capabilities and equipment, just when
they were most needed. Twelve months after the World Trade Center
collapse, none of the stations have fully recovered.
The terrorist attacks have forced New York stations to re-examine
their emergency plans. There is now more variety in the mix of New York
City backup locations and fully redundant transmission systems. For the
four World Trade Center FM stations, emergency plans no longer mean
simply a low-power transmitter for equipment failures. Backup systems
were not considered of high importance before September, but “now
you're criminally negligent if you don't have backup systems in
place,” said WPAT Chief Engineer Mike Toko.
When WNYC constructed its original transmission systems, the cost of
a full-power backup system was considered excessive for its needs.
“Who thought that the World Trade Center was going to collapse?
That tells you anything can happen and you have to weigh the
‘what if’ scenarios against real world costs,” WNYC
Chief Engineer Steve Shultis said. For some stations, the cost of an
extended outage may weigh more than the initial outlay on a backup
location. “You spend a million dollars to build a backup system
but what's the ROI? For us the site has more than paid for
itself,” said Josh Hadden, Clear Channel's New York director of
The full economic consequences of the damage from Sept. 11 may never
be known, but New York broadcasters lost significant revenue while they
were off the air, in addition to transmission equipment. Long-term
solutions may be years in the making, but a review of station emergency
preparedness plans should be something every station undertakes
The site at 4 Times Square was built as
Clear Channel’s backup facility. It is now the main site for
WKTU. Photo by John Lyons.
WKTU, 103.5 FM
Clear Channel's WKTU was the first of the affected stations to
return to the air. It also was the only one of the four stations with a
backup system located elsewhere. The World Trade Center was the site of
numerous television transmissions. Between 1999 and 2001, construction
and testing of the DTV antenna system on the towers meant regular
disruptions for radio broadcasters. To cope with the ongoing outages,
Clear Channel built a backup transmission system in Times Square.
“When the TV stations at the World Trade Center were upgrading
their DTV projects, we used Times Square every night,” said Josh
Hadden, director of engineering, Clear Channel, New York. “That
meant we were best positioned of all the FMs, of the stations on the
World Trade Center, in that we already had a backup site in
Manhattan.” Within minutes of the collapse, WKTU was able to
switch to the backup site, covering 80 percent of ERP at 8kW.
Within the week, WKTU requested and received an STA from the FCC for
upgraded power from its backup site. The station now operates at 17kW
at Times Square. While WKTU plans to keep the Times Square site as a
backup, it has filed an application with the FCC for a master antenna
license at the Empire State Building. Hadden hopes to receive the
license this year but spacing issues with a class A station on Long
Island could delay the approval. The FCC is requiring all the stations
from the World Trade Center to follow normal application
Harris supplied the temporary
transmitter that WKCR used from the roof of a campus dorm. Photo by
WKCR, 89.9 FM
Next to return to the air was Columbia University's WKCR. When the
towers collapsed, WKCR lost its primary and backup systems. Shortly
after the disaster, Station Engineer Rich Koziol ordered an emergency
package from Harris for WKCR and arranged similar orders for WPAT and
WNYC. The 1kW Quest transmitter was installed on the roof of a campus
dorm by Sept. 13. Unfortunately, the station now reaches only 9 percent
of its original audience.
For five years, WKCR had operated out of nearby Riverside Church. In
September 2001, the station planned to move back to the Columbia
University campus into a brand new digital studio. “We spent a
half million dollars [on the studios] and had planned fund raising for
Sept. 28 but with 9 percent power couldn't do it, so now we owe the
university,” said Koziol.
WKCR received insurance funding and a government grant to build a
new transmitter site, but it is still trying to negotiate an
alternative location for the station. “The best site right now is
Empire, but everyone is trying to get there,” said Koziol,
“there is no electrical, no room and the mast is full, so we
chose not to do Empire, as we were such a small player.”
There is a mast on the tower of Riverside Church, where WKCR
formerly had its studios. Originally used by WRVR, the church antenna
was abandoned many years ago and Koziol is hopeful the FCC will grant
temporary authority for WKCR to transmit from the site. “With 26
stations we could interfere with in the educational band, any move
requires a major review of short spacing,” said Koziol. A study
of the impact of the move to Riverside has been sent to the FCC and
WKCR is waiting on the results. After FCC approvals are received, the
station expects to be running from the church mast within 40 days.
The WPAT installation at Times Square is
also used by sister station WSKQ. Photo by John Lyons.
WPAT 93.1 FM
Spanish-language broadcaster WPAT erected a 1kW transmitter at the
Empire State Building after losing its primary and backup equipment at
the World Trade Center. “We were down for 59 hours and 48
minutes, not that I was counting,” said Chief Engineer Mike Toko.
Though lower in height, and with less power at the Empire State
Building, WPAT was still able to reach 75 percent of its audience.
Once emergency transmissions had been established at the Empire
State Building, WPAT began constructing an alternate site in Times
Square. “At Times Square we have 90 percent coverage, we've only
been on a couple of months but it's looking good and sounding
good,” said Toko. During the next six months, the station plans
to construct a full-power main site at the Empire State Building and
use Times Square as a backup.
WNYC installed a full-power facility at
Times Square. Photo courtesy of WNYC.
WNYC 93.9 FM
The last of the four FMs to return to the air was WNYC. Immediately
after the collapse of the World Trade Center, WNYC worked to maintain
transmission on its AM facility in New Jersey. Once the AM signal was
stabilized, WNYC began restoring its FM signal, placing a 1kW signal at
the Empire State Building. “Empire was a shock,” said Chief
Engineer Steve Shultis. “With low power at Empire we got the
whole east side back, which we had lost 15 years ago when we moved to
the World Trade Center. We had so much shadow [from the World Trade
Center site] that even the 1kW [on the Empire State Building] was an
WNYC spent the next six months building a full-power facility in
Times Square. “Times Square was quicker for full power because
the combiner system was plug and play, it just took a couple overnights
to install,” Shultis said. Now in the process of building a
full-power facility at the Empire State Building, the station soon
expects to have a full-power main facility at the Empire State Building
and a full-power backup at Times Square. Shultis said, “my goal
is 9/11 this year, as that would be a fitting ending to that calendar
Snyder is an independent streaming media consultant.
Sept. 11, 2001
- WKCR, WPAT, WNYC and WKTU lose transmitters and
backup systems on World Trade Center.
- WKTU returns to air from backup transmitter in
- Harris ships three transmitters and ERI ships three
antennas to WKCR, WPAT and WNYC.
- WNYC-FM simulcasts on AM transmitter in New Jersey
and on WNYE-FM.
Sept. 13, 2001
- Transmitters arrive from Harris.
- WKCR returns to air using 1kW antenna on roof of
dorm at Columbia University.
Sept. 14, 2001
- WPAT returns to air with 1kW antenna on Empire
Sept. 16, 2001
- WNYC returns to air on 1kW antenna on Empire State