At a time when most organizations were preparing to manage the holidays, WMRA scrambled to address an almost catastrophic failure on the main signal serving Charlottesville and surrounding areas.
On December 16, 2020, a winter storm blanketed the area with snow and ice. Not an unusual event in and of itself, but that's where this tale begins. Sometime in the following 36 hours, as melting began, a large chunk of ice fell from an upper structure on our Castle Rock tower and struck the WMRY 103.5fm antenna with enough force to bend it out of shape.
We didn't know it at that exact moment, but this caused the end of a 25-year run for that antenna and an unexpected 10K expense for WMRA.
Monday, December 21, 2020, our engineers were able to investigate on site, and after a few attempts to bend the antenna back into shape, it became clear that this was not possible. Later that afternoon, we made the decision to replace the antenna as soon as possible.
One side note, broadcast antennas are custom made to very specific specs which allow them to produce the necessary FCC licensed contour patterns at the frequency required. A new antenna would not be something we could buy off the shelf.
Tuesday, Dec 22, 2020, we contacted ERI Inc, the company that built the original antenna which was installed in 1996. After explaining the situation and our dire need, ERI committed to immediate construction just days before the Christmas holiday. Amazingly, they were able to ship the new antenna at the end of the next day, Wednesday, Dec 23. This year’s holiday shipping season being what it was, we received the new antenna January 2, 2021.
The next step was to schedule the tower crew needed to replace the failing antenna and Shenandoah Tower Service came through.
On Thursday, January 7, 2021, we met a crew from Shenandoah Tower at our Crozet transmitter site at 9am and began to set the stage for a full antenna replacement. Luckily it was a gorgeous January day, no clouds, little wind, and not bitterly cold. A team of three managed the tower work, with two on the tower and one on the ground. At about 10:30am, the climbers loaded up the necessary tools and safety devices, which amounted to about 20lbs each, and headed up the tower.
The antenna is located 80 feet up the tower and the crew climbs a ladder in the center of the tower. Once each crew member was secure in place, every piece of the failing antenna was carefully removed and lowered by rope. A video of the old antenna coming down is available here.
Then after a brief break, the new antenna was hoisted up and an assembled. It was careful, deliberate work and thankfully, there were no major issues. We resumed full power transmission at 4:30pm that day.
It's not every day that you replace a broadcast antenna and with some luck, this new antenna will serve central Virginia for another quarter century!