WCFB rebuilds after a tornado

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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

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.

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