After the Incentive Auction - Radio Magazine

After the Incentive Auction

Doug Irwin explains what really happened to some radio stations affected by the spectrum repack
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The author is vice president of engineering for iHeartMedia's Los Angeles region and a regular contributor to Radio. This is the first in a series about how Doug and his colleagues are handling the repack.

Not long after the incentive auction came to a close last year it started to become obvious that we — iHeartMedia Los Angeles cluster — would be adversely affected by changes occurring in our immediate area on Video Rd (on Mt Wilson). 

We have three stations in the Post Office building, making use of three towers that surround the building. These include:

  • The KIIS-FM main, auxiliary and an aux used by our HD Radio transmitter
  • The KRRL main and its aux (also used for HD)
  • The KOST main antenna and its aux antenna

Additionally, immediately next door, to the west at the Poole building (now owned and operated by Insite), we have KBIG’s main and aux, and our auxiliary site for KYSR.

In the immediate neighborhood to our four stations on Mt Wilson are various FM stations, including Entercom’s 97.1 (Amp) and KRTH at 101.1. Cumulus’ KLOS (95.5) is also close by.

The TV stations directly affected by the incentive auction results are:

  • KDOC, which is moving down the road to Deer Park, to the new DTV site on the tall tower
  • KOCE, which is going off-air
  • KJLA, which is going off-air
  • KXLA, which is staying
  • KCBS-TV, which is moving from RF channel 43 to channel 31, and thus changing antennas
  • KTLA, which is going from RF channel 31 to channel 35, and likely changing antennas (full plan not known at this time, at least by me)

As time went by late last year, we asked the TV engineers for more details on their plans, but for the most part, they were not forthcoming. The reality is that not all of the plans were in place, so they couldn’t tell us what they were. We knew something was going to happen, we just didn’t know exactly what or when.

WOULD THE TYPICAL POWER REDUCTION BE ENOUGH TO SEE US THROUGH?

The group of stations that I’ve discussed has been very cooperative, among the ad-hoc group, with power reductions when the need arises. Many times one of the stations needed scheduled maintenance, which was usually preceded by an announcement one or two weeks in advance. Everyone prepared for it ahead of time. Occasionally, some sort of failure would necessitate an immediate repair, again accommodated well by the group, with everyone in the neighborhood going down in power by 50%. (Radio stations insisted that power reductions not occur prior to 10 a.m., and if at all possible, end by 3 p.m.)

Our corporate engineering asked about the possibility of power reductions, or worse, in the near future, to satisfy the needs of TV stations making substantial changes. I responded that the 50% power reduction had, up to that point, been good enough, and “likely” would continue to be. After all, everyone had an ox to be gored — so everyone was incentivized not to change the way we’ve been doing things. But clearly, I couldn’t guarantee the same process would always work.

Eventually, in the fall of last year (and especially after the infamous article about the repack that specifically mentioned KIIS-FM and KOST) the corporation decided that we needed to take a far more proactive approach and to build an entirely different site, in order to minimize the impact of the upcoming work. 

I was tasked with finding the site.

THE DISCOVERY TRIP

Every year (almost without fail) the Southern California Frequency Coordinating Committee puts on the Christmas party at Mt Wilson, during July. Yes, a bit early, but it’s a real tradition. 

Naturally, the weather is great (as opposed to Christmas time), and in 2017, representatives from American Tower Corp were on site to update the Mt Wilson crowd on what was coming up with respect to the repack. 

At the same time, a couple of their guys were going to show us two sites, either of which they thought would work for our repack site: Mt Harvard, and Deer Park. Having not been to either, I very much looked forward to the opportunity.

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MT HARVARD

This site is about two miles southeast of Mt Wilson at about 5,000 feet of elevation, so it covers the greater Los Angeles and Orange county area similarly. It’s not a popular site for FM, though. The major tenant is KUSC radio.

In my “discovery trip” email, I wrote the following: “This tower and antenna [shown at right] belong to KUSC radio, even though KUSC’s transmitter is up in the ATC building. It’s a curious arrangement. The building directly below this tower (which we believe belongs to ION media) has the space I mentioned above. As you can see, there’s an old transmission line running up the tower; some station removed a TV antenna evidently.” It’s a great looking tower, and there is physical space directly below that of KUSC; however, being that low to the ground could present a problem with NIER levels.

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Another tower at Mt Harvard looked good but had little-to-no available space (left):

At that time I wrote: “This is the tower currently with the ION antenna. Below that you can see a 4-bay dielectric, the KLOS aux. Below that, a channel 6 basket; and below that, the old FLO antenna, which could be removed. Unfortunately this space isn’t that large or high AGL. The tower is triangular, and the most favorable leg is the one that the FLO antenna is on. So, for us, the best aperture is unfortunately adjacent to the ION antenna.” The tower looks great but there’s no space on it.

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There’s also a very large candelabra-type tower on Mt Harvard (right):

I wrote: “This picture shows the structure for all the various TV antennas. Some of these are going, but it’s pretty clear that using any available space on this tower would subject us to repack work at this site.”

So, while Mt Harvard had some potential, the reality is that antenna space was at a premium (at the time) and, just like our situation on Video Rd., the TV stations didn’t have their plans in place.

DEER PARK

The ATC guys were very interested in showing us what ATC had available at Deer Park, which is a site they bought out from CBS TV.

Formerly known as “123 CBS Lane,” Deer Park at that time was really only hosting its main tenant: KCBS-FM. It’s about .6 miles west of the main grouping of antennas on Mt Wilson; there’s an 800-ft tower there, along with a shorter one, which at one point was used by KCBS-TV for their aux antenna on channel 2, and was still in place.

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At the time, I wrote: “The short tower [right] is ASR 1229046...It’s 245 feet to the very top. The last section of the tower is a pylon which is currently holding an old channel 2 batwing, obviously abandoned. What we’re thinking is that the batwing would come down, and we’d re-use the space for at least one of our antennas. Now, notice the 2-bay Jampro; that belongs to KCBS-FM.

“There’s a virtually empty building near the base of this tower — so space is abundant. The building doesn’t look great but evidently isn’t suffering too much for leaks. The roof actually looks new. There’s a generator available as well, but it appears to be only a 50 KVA set.

“If I had to pick between Deer Park and Mt Harvard, I would definitely pick Deer Park. Coverage considerations aside (since I can’t study them), I would say it would be easier, cheaper and faster to make use of this (relatively) small tower. I would also gauge that the ATC guys would prefer this solution as well, for what that’s worth.”

Next time: How I designed our new site.

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39-Month Repack Clock to Start After March 30

The assignment phase of the TV spectrum incentive auction will commence March 6 and run through March 30, which will signal the start of the TV station repack process, beginning with a public notice announcing the end of the auction.