Winter Racks Up Repack Delays

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Experts say the TV channel repack is getting more complicated as winter drags on and delays are inevitable, coming into spring and summer.

Phase 1 ended in late November with 143 stations moving without much delay, Inside Towers reported. However winter weather has caused headaches for tower crews and delays in Phase 2, with about 114 station moves due to be completed by April 12, reports TVNewsCheck.

In addition, many of the stations in the middle phases have interference dependencies, meaning if a station in Phase 3 moves late, that delays a move for another station in Phase 4. By contrast, there were no interference dependencies in Phase 1. Stations facing delays were simply moved to a later phase, said Dennis Wallace, Managing Partner of RF consulting firm Meintel, Sgrignoli & Wallace, LLC.

“You had a year and a half to move 150 stations,” says Wallace. “Now you’re going to move 150 every 30 to 60 days, which I think is pretty unrealistic. I think the wheels come off the wagon here in Phases 3 and 4,” he tells TVNewsCheck.

Some delays may be solved by the FCC granting certain stations STAs to operate at lower power, according to Wallace, “But at some point, they reach a scenario where a station can’t transition, and operating with an interim facility is not an option.”

Vendors prepared for the spike in equipment demand, but winter weather and the tower crew shortage, limits how much work gets accomplished. Jampro Antenna President Alex Perchevitch said, “People are looking around for crews, and when they’ve found them, the weather has not been very accommodating.”

Only between 15 to 20 tower crews are qualified to work on tall broadcast TV towers which can range from about 1,000 to 2,000 feet. Stainless, the prime tower contractor for Sinclair Broadcast Group and other large television groups, has five crews. It’s bringing in additional crews from Europe, for a total of eight crews by summer, according to the account.

Stainless normally loses 20 percent of its work days in a year to weather issues like rain, snow, ice and high winds. But it’s lost roughly double that so far this year nationally, according to Stainless Business Development Manager Don Doty. “All of the top-tier tower contractors are being impacted; we’re all having to deal with this,” says Doty. “It’s beyond anybody’s forecast. In some places, we’re only working two days out of the week for weeks and months at a time.”

The company’s equipment takes days to set up and take down. “And it’s not like we can leave a project and come back when the weather breaks; we have to finish a job before we can go to the next one,” Doty explains.

“In Phases 4, 5 and 6 there is not much wiggle room,” Doty says. “We wanted to go in ahead of the curve; we wanted some flexibility. Now we’re being pressed.”

Dielectric Sales Director Jay Martin, says broadcasters are working to meet the repack deadlines, even hiring special helicopter construction companies in some cases to help remove and install antennas. But bad weather has been delaying many Phase 2 projects, he says. Martin fears further issues this summer in Phases 4 through 6.

“I think that’s when it begins to fall apart, between August 2 and October 18,” Martin emphasizes. “In that period, you either go on the air or you go dark.” Comments? Email Us.

March 19, 2019      

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