When Engineers and Riggers Neglect the Little Things

Sometimes the “little things” aren’t really so minor. Here’s a good example of a serious problem (and not a cheap repair job) which I responded to for a station which went off the air late on a Friday evening while they had a major live promotion scheduled for Saturday morning. The previous engineer had installed a microwave STL antenna about 230-240′ up on this tower with 7/8″ corrugated coaxial feedline. Problem #1 was that he neglected to go back and install the snap-in hangers to secure the feedline to the tower as he’d promised the station’s owner. The only thing supporting the entire weight of the vertical feedline run was the female N-connector on the end of the antenna’s pigtail. He had also failed to install a single coax grounding kit, which there should have been at least three of, along with a PolyPhaser lightning arrestor at the point where the feedline enters the transmitter building.

It was just a matter of time before one of two things happened first: breakage and collapse of the feedline, or a lightning hit to the STL receiver. First across the finish line was the former. Not only did the feedline break apart and fall — it managed to wrap itself around a tower guy wire (not just once, but twice.)

If you’ve ever tried to round up a tower crew for an emergency service call, you already know what an adventure that can be in and of itself. But let it be late on a Friday and you’ve got yourself a genuine exercise in frustration. While I was on the way to the site (about 120 miles away) the station owner had managed to find a tower crew, which only took him calling six different tower rigging crews before one answered and said they’d be on their way (from about three hours away.)

After a hot, sticky, overnight marathon of tower work in the dark, we got the STL working and the station on the air again with a temporary, emergency fix at around 2 a.m. Saturday. We will be scheduling a full workday to completely reinstall the entire STL antenna and feedline system, which will be done using all the correct hardware and lightning protection.

Moral of this story: it definitely pays to contract an engineer and tower rigging crew who all pay attention to details and insist on doing the job right the first time. Doing so helps prevent needless loss of advertising revenue, lost sleep, and hits to the station’s reputation.