WCFB rebuilds after a tornado

June 1, 2009


A major tornado takes WCFB off the air and sets off a nearly two-year rebuild.

Before tornado

Before tornado

You never know when a disaster will strike. On Thursday night, Feb. 1, 2007, I went to sleep looking forward to a three-day weekend and spending a day at one of Orlando's famous theme parks. The weather forecast called for a cold front to move through during the night, then clearing and turning cooler by morning. You can't ask for anything better.

The front did move through, and around 4 a.m. the next day, I received a phone call that Star 94.5 FM was off the air. I dialed the tower site's remote control but the phone rang with no answer, so I turned on my computer and tried to connect with another wireless link, and again no luck. Doppler radar was showing a severe storm rapidly moving through with winds in excess of 70 MPH. There was also a signature of circulation right at our tower so I called another engineer and we mobilized. As we neared the site we found trees down and power lines blocking the roads and lying across deep puddles. We were not able to see the tower or its lights, but it was dark and the rains were still very heavy so we still held some hope.

After tornado

After tornado

The hope that this was just a generator failure faded fast as the skies brightened and it became obvious there was no longer a tower standing. Soon we were able to see enough to safely get around the power lines and walk the last half mile to the site. We were met with a scene that is permanently etched in my mind. A borderline F3/F4 tornado had cut a path across our property, directly hitting the building and our 1,500' tower, bringing it to the ground. The twister continued its path through a neighborhood less than a mile away where 13 people lost their lives. Looking through the rubble we quickly realized that the building and everything in it was a total loss and we needed to get started on the long recovery process.

Back on the air in about 10 hours

The first step was to get back on the air as quickly as possible. Cox owns another tall tower across town where I have two FM stations on a combiner system, so that was the obvious place to move to first. Our Atlanta engineer got on the phone with consultants and attorneys to work with the FCC for the necessary STAs. Our Tampa engineer hit I-4 with coaxial line pieces and transitions to get a low-power transmitter tied into the combiner's wide-band port. At 2:37 p.m. the same day, we had received FCC approval, set up the temporary transmitter and STL, and had the station back on the air, but that was just the beginning of the process.

New construction

New construction

This site worked to get us on the air, but its location restricted our power so we needed to keep working. Fortunately, we owned yet another tower right in the middle of the market and began working to build a better site capable of covering the full metro area. ERI rushed us a four-bay antenna, which arrived on Saturday night. A tower crew arrived from Texas on Sunday and we had a Heliax cable complete with hangers delivered on Monday. Because this tower site also houses a 50kW DA2 AM station, we had to run a partial proof before we could begin hanging the antenna. Electricians installed the power for a Z16 transmitter that Harris was working around the clock to provide. The transmitter arrived on Friday on a Fedex Custom Critical truck. All the crews were in place and knew their jobs, and 1 hour 15 minutes after the transmitter was taken off the truck's lift gate, we were on the air with an ERP of 18kW right in the middle of the market. This was still only a temporary solution because the signal did not cover Daytona Beach — the actual city of license — very well.

Even during this week of installation, we had our local and corporate offices working on a lease with American Tower and licensing with the FCC to relocate to a 1,600' tower located about 9 miles away from our original site. ERI had a tower crew available who had to remove a platform from the tower for our antenna to fit just below the 1,500' level. Dielectric provided us with an eight-bay antenna and Harris shipped a 35kW transmitter. The station was fully spaced as a C0 from this location, so the FCC allowed us to file for a new license and at the same time also granted another construction permit so that we could rebuild and return to the original site as a full Class C station again. One month after the tornado we were back on the air at full power and height covering the entire original area. This took some of the pressure off and allowed us to focus on the new construction the right way, but we still didn't slow down.



A major tornado takes WCFB off the air and sets off a nearly two-year rebuild.

The clean up begins

Back at the disaster site, work continued even while we were putting up the temporary sites. Twisted steel had to be removed, an environmental company was hired to clean up a spill from our diesel generator fuel tank, and the rubble from the building was removed. A salvage company was sent in by the insurance company to recover anything possible from the remains of the building. Blueprints for a new building and tower were already in the works so that the proper permits could be applied for. We also had an engineering firm conduct extensive testing complete with sonograms on the old tower and guy wire foundations to certify that they were structurally sound for a new tower. The foundations passed, however the main tower foundation had to be upgraded to meet the latest tower REV G codes.

Damage to the racks

Damage to the racks

Because we were starting from scratch, we had a unique opportunity to design the top section of the tower to perfectly match the antenna, to provide the optimum signal coverage. For this task we brought together the design teams from Stainless and Dielectric along with our consultant, Dean Sargent. An initial pattern study was completed with a scaled model and the results were used to design and construct the top tower section. The completed top section was then shipped to Dielectric for a full-scale pattern study complete with all eight bays. The steel, transmission lines and antennas arrived on property in late September, only seven months after the storm. For security reasons we stored the copper in locked trailers and hired off-duty Lake County Sheriff's deputies for protection.

We chose to replace the building with a Precast model from Oldcastle. This allowed the construction to take place offsite while the tower was being erected. The 30' × 40' building was then shipped in six sections to be set in place (see install on page 43). Unfortunately this is where we hit major delays. It was necessary to locate the new building slightly farther away from the tower than the old one. Also, to make better use of the inside area of the building, I had it rotated 90 degrees from the original building's orientation. This raised red flags with the county who then required new site plans to be developed and all the construction to be scrutinized, which created a delay in the permitting process of more than seven months.

The tornado left mounds of debris in its wake.

The tornado left mounds of debris in its wake.

To compensate for this delay, I had the equipment racks shipped to our studio. There we were able to mount all the equipment and complete about 80 percent of the pre-wiring while waiting out the delay. Harris built the new HT25/Z32HD+ transmitters tied together with a Dielectric Dibrid combiner in a Split-Level configuration and waited for the green light to ship. The building arrived in September and was assembled. Next we installed the transmission lines and equipment. Everything came together and at 5:30 a.m. on Oct. 25, 2008, we went on the air from the new reconstructed tower site, but the work was still not over.

I operated the radio station on the new antenna for a week to ensure there were no initial problems, and then we went to work moving the transmitter and antennas from the temporary location to the new site. That transmitter is now our back-up transmitter and the eight-bay antenna was mounted on the tower at 1,200' as an aux antenna. The entire system was designed with the capability to increase the HD Radio power levels to the new -10dB standard if and when it's approved by the FCC.

During April 2009 we were finalizing the claims with the insurance company. We have also installed an emergency back-up transmitter at our studio location to eliminate the down time should we suffer another disaster in the future. It's been a long road but very rewarding in the end, and the best part, our ratings never suffered during the disaster.


Equipment List

APC UPS
Bird BPM
Burk ARC Plus, Auto Pilot Plus
Dielectric coax switches, Dibrid, DCR-M
ERI FM antenna, Heliax
Harris CD Link, Flexstar HDX, HT 35, HT25, HT25/Z32HD+, Z16, Z32
Intraplex STL Plus
Mark STL antennas
Moseley Starlink
Oldcastle Precast building
Onan 125kW generator
Orban 8500HD
Stainless G-8
Tsunami 5.8GHz dual E-1


Fluker is the director of engineering for Cox Radio, Orlando.




A major tornado takes WCFB off the air and sets off a nearly two-year rebuild.

Additional Photos

More images from the WCFB rebuilding project

Assembling the prefabricated transmitter building

Assembling the prefabricated transmitter building

Assembling the prefabricated transmitter building

Assembling the prefabricated transmitter building

Outside the new transmitter site

Outside the new transmitter site

Outside the new transmitter site

Outside the new transmitter site

Outside the new transmitter site

Outside the new transmitter site

Outside the new transmitter site

Outside the new transmitter site

The new transmitter line-up

The new transmitter line-up

Inside the new transmitter building

Inside the new transmitter building

Inside the new transmitter building

Inside the new transmitter building

Full-scale antenna testing at Dielectric

Full-scale antenna testing at Dielectric

Full-scale antenna testing at Dielectric

Full-scale antenna testing at Dielectric

Turntable used to test pattern

Turntable used to test pattern


Comments