From the broadcast perspective, tower crews and resources for the repack are getting tight. With winter approaching, experts predict they will have issues keeping the process of transitioning stations from their old channels to new ones moving. That’s based on Inside Towers’ interviews with broadcast engineers, engineering consultants, equipment suppliers and vendors at the IEEE Broadcast Technology Symposium Wednesday in Arlington, VA.
“I think there will be a handful of stations that don’t meet their Phase 1 deadline. We’ll probably see more problems as we get to Phase 2,” said Dennis Wallace, managing partner at engineering consulting firm Meintel, Sgrignoli & Wallace. “There’s just not enough resources on the tower side. Tower hands are moving from company to company based on who’s paying the most today. So you may have a tower company that bid a job based on this crew that they had at the time, and all of a sudden that labor is not available.”
By November 30, Phase 1 stations need to be off their old channel and transmitting on their new channel. The testing period for Phase 2 stations begins on December 1 and ends at the end of April. If a Phase 1 station misses its deadline and is daisy-chained with other stations, either on the same channel or adjacent channels, there’s a domino effect, explained Wallace. “If they’re still operating on their existing channel, than those other stations can’t transition until that station moves,” he said.
The FCC says winter weather was accounted for in its repack schedule. However unexpected events like natural disasters, such as Hurricane Michael, “are not ‘baked into the schedule,’” says Wallace. “How many tower crews are now going to be diverted to the Florida panhandle to fix problems that were never anticipated in the schedule?” he asked rhetorically.
GatesAir Principal Architect, DTV Division, Joe Seccia, said: “We’re delivering and backlogged at the same time. We’ve got a lot shipped. The factory is full,” until mid-year or so. He said there is a problem with lead times on obtaining some electronic components, such as “general purpose availability of capacitors and transistors.” Lead time was 30 to 60 days and is now out 120 days or more. “We’re meeting with vendors to secure components and get in front of that lead time,” he said.
Electronic Research Inc. President Tom Silliman still climbs towers at age 73. The repack “is pushing our crews. It’s pushing the limits of our tower team,” and the ability to to conduct evaluations, he said. Both the FM and TV sides of ERI’s business are being stretched, he said. “We’re making it, but it’s stressful.”
The IEEE event continues through today. Comments? Email us.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief
October 11, 2018