Marks' Monday Memo
– I am typing this while sitting inside a TV truck outside the Metropolitan Opera House. I’ve been booked for this show for months. The avenue outside is packed with noisy traffic. The sidewalks are crowded with school kids, shoppers, dog walkers, and office workers. Inside, chorus members in hoop skirts and make-up are singing. Almost everything gives the appearance of being normal. But, one block north, at a firehouse that has lost 11 of the occupants it had one week ago, there seem to be more flowers under a red tent than at a wholesale florist. Across the street, lines of volunteers are still signing up at Red Cross headquarters. Pay phones are free. Subway stops are closed. The skyline has a hole. 5,000 people in New York are missing. It is not normal.
Today’s and tomorrow’s days in a truck are the only two I’ve had booked for a while, but I have been spending and will continue to spend a lot more time in trucks last week and this. Yesterday, I helped transmit “America in Healing from the Riverside Church,” an ecumenical performance service. Thursday, I’ll be working on a special “Live From Lincoln Center” broadcast of the New York Philharmonic playing the Brahms requiem. I expect to work on three more benefit/memorial televised events before Sunday night. I am donating my services to all. I need to. I am not an ironworker, a firefighter, or a doctor. This is how I am trying to help.
I am not alone. All-Mobile Video is donating trucks and equipment. Scharff-Weisberg is donating projectors and labor. VCA and MCSi are donating videoconferencing. When I sent out a request for assistance with this coming Sunday’s event, I was soon flooded with positive responses.
My thoughts and feelings leap to the injured, the missing, and the families and friends of the injured, missing, and dead, including those I knew. I will single out Rod Coppola, transmission engineer at WNET, the big New York PBS station, only because I knew him best.
We spent many hours together — slogging through the mud at the nascent New York Teleport on Staten Island, admiring the views from the roofs of many tall Manhattan buildings, and tolerating descents into tunnels and sub-sub-basements. Rod created transmission paths for “Live From Lincoln Center” and helped establish some of the first stereo audio transmission paths to Europe.
I always found him to be smart, innovative, resourceful, and fun. That’s why I still try to convince myself that he managed to find some safe way down from the top of the north tower of the World Trade Center to some sub-sub-basement (equipped with a comfortable couch, of course), where he is waiting to smirk at his rescuers, “What kept you?”
– Television technology and the attack –
– The transmitters of nine of New York’s analog television stations, five DTV stations, four FM radio stations, and many communications channels were all located atop the World Trade Center (WTC), and many video fiber paths were located below it. When the north tower went down, so did most off-air New York TV. Of the WTC broadcasters, only WCBS-TV was able to switch to its auxiliary full-power transmitter, located on the Empire State Building (ESB). It may be worth noting that, when the WTC was bombed eight years ago and all of the stations located on it went off the air, only WCBS-TV was able to switch to its auxiliary transmitter on the Empire State Building. Univision’s WXTV, also transmitting from the ESB, served the Spanish-speaking community.
– Within hours, Sinclair/Acrodyne offered assistance and, Dielectric, Harris, and the New York broadcasters began recovery plans, which clearly do NOT include waiting for a new WTC on which to place antennas. The most likely candidate at the moment seems to be a communications tower in Alpine, New Jersey, a few miles northwest of Manhattan, which looks like a giant power pylon. It was the site of the world’s first FM broadcast and was a beloved spot of its creator, Major Edwin Armstrong.
After the television broadcasters left the ESB, other communications companies moved in. It reportedly would take years for the broadcasters to move back.
– Most area cable-TV systems continued to carry all of the New York TV stations, based on direct audio/video feeds and a microwave interconnection system. It was reported that WWOR (UPN) and WNJU (Telemundo) briefly disappeared from cable systems due to a loss of video circuits, but they were soon restored. Similarly, satellite local-TV service reportedly lost WCBS, WNYW (Fox), and WWOR when a fiber was lost but soon restored them. I’m sure no one was going to nitpick about it, but, for a time, many of the broadcasters were carried on cable without broadcasting.
– Cable systems without non-broadcast feeds from the New York stations still offered broadcast-network programming. Some Comcast subscribers received Philadelphia stations instead of the usual New York stations. And co-owned cable/satellite channels carried broadcast-network programming. Thus, ESPN viewers got to watch ABC, VH-1 viewers got CBS, Fox Sports viewers got Fox news, TNT viewers got CNN, and so on.
– There were also broadcast arrangements. At various times, WABC-TV was carried by the New Jersey Network (PBS, which has a station, WNJM-TV, just eight miles from Manhattan), Home Shopping Network’s WHSE (on ESB) and WHSI (in Middle Island on Long Island), and the New York Board of Education’s WNYE-TV (on ESB; WNYE-FM carried the programming of WNYC-FM, one of the four FM stations knocked out). WNBC-TV was reportedly carried by WMBC-TV, near Sparta, New Jersey. In a most unusual (but probably very welcome) move, after WABC-TV had established itself on the other stations, WNYE-TV switched to carrying New York One, a normally cable-only news channel. Incidentally, WNYE-DT remains on the air, too.
– WPIX-TV (WB) might have been the first station (after WCBS) to get some off-air signal going, but it seems to have been extremely weak — at least in my direction. I can pick up low-power TV stations on short buildings in the outer boroughs and New Jersey, but I was barely able to get even WPIX’s audio. At the moment, WABC-TV’s replacement transmitter is the best I can get (not counting WCBS-TV). WPIX-TV has received permission to transmit on channel 64 as well as its usual 11, a channel number that allowed the station to use the twin towers of the WTC as its logo.
– For quite a few people, WCBS-TV appeared to be their only receivable source of news. In Manhattan, few can get satellite signals directly. Aside from congestion problems, the Internet requires a connection, and I had no reliable telephone service the first day. The telephone problem also periodically knocked some radio programming off the air. Here are some comments from lower-Manhattan resident David Leitner: http://www.chattanoogan.com/articles/article_12647.asp
Outside the campaign office of a candidate for New York City public advocate (the number two executive position), a TV was set up, receiving WCBS-TV off-air via rabbit ears. Chairs were set up so people could watch, and sign-language interpreters helped the hearing-impaired.