Ingenuity of CBC Engineers Gets ESPN Deportes Back on Air after Tornado

WCLY tower
The April 16th tornado brought down the 285′ tower which houses the antenna for WCLY-AM/ESPN Deportes.

When tornadoes ripped through North Carolina on Saturday, April 16, 2011, the tower that kept CBC radio station WCLY-AM on the air became a casualty.   1550AM/ESPN Deportes was off the air for 2.5 weeks but two wily WRAL-FM engineers worked their magic and got Spanish-speaking sports fans reunited with their daily dose of news.

WRAL-FM Director of Engineering/Network Keith Harrison and WRAL-FM Chief Engineer Will Patnaud found out the tower had fallen shortly after the tornado tore through South Raleigh.  WCLY’s tower is located on Maywood Avenue, near the N.C. Farmer’s Market. 

From the looks of things, the tornado winds severed the guy wires and the 285’ tower fell over.

Tower repair
Two Watson Electrical men observe as the auger drills a hole for placement of one of the poles.
Tower repair
One of the poles is being set into position.
Tower repair
WRAL-FM’s Keith Harrison, WSM’s David Modlin & 99.9 The Fan’s Jason Dixon are preparing to raise one end of the antenna wire.
Tower repair
The completed antenna.

Curtis Media owns the tower on which CBC leases space for WCLY.  One of their stations was also affected; the tower holds the antenna for Curtis Media’s WQDR-AM, which plays classic country music.

“The first reports were the tower was down but no damage to any buildings,” said Harrison.  “When we could, we went to the site to confirm the condition of the site.”

Thankfully no one was injured.  The tower has a satellite-delivery format and the transmitter site is monitored remotely.

“We had power and the transmitter appeared to be at least partially functioning,” he continued.  “Since then we determined all the equipment is ok.”

Harrison says that he and Patnaud are both amateur radio operators.  The pair turned to one of the basic antenna designs in the amateur world, a long wire antenna, as a temporary solution to getting WCLY back up and running.

“That is simply a wire strung between two structures or poles,” explained Harrison.  “We worked with our consulting engineer to get a best guess length of wire while we studied the site for placement of poles while trying to stay out of the way of possible construction equipment placements or access.”

Getting the poles in the aftermath of a tornado is quite another matter.

“We contacted one company to set poles for us as soon as they finished recovery work for Progress Energy and Duke Energy,” said Harrison.  “Before they could assist us they were called off to help in Alabama.  Another company came to our assistance and set the needed two wooden poles Thursday morning, Cinco de Mayo.”

The amateur radio operators saw their plan in action.

“We attached pulleys and ropes to top of both poles before they were raised into position,” explained Harrison.  “This allowed us to raise the antenna and to make some adjustments to the antenna wire from the ground.  By that afternoon we had the wire strung.

“One of the engineers who helps us with our WDNC-AM site stepped in to help with parts to tune the antenna so the transmitter would operate properly,’ he continued.  “We were operating at one quarter of our licensed 1000 watts that afternoon, which is the FCC allowed maximum under emergency conditions.” 

Keith Harrison Will Patnaud
CBC’s engineering dream team: WRAL-FM’s Keith Harrison (left) & WRAL-FM’s Will Patnaud

Harrison says they officially began regular operations as a daytime-only station that Friday morning.

They have filed to operate at full power and hope to hear soon.  Meanwhile, Harrison, Patnaud and others have started discussions about a replacement tower.  Their goal is early summer, but plans are still developing.

Kudos to these two CBC’ers for their ingenuity.  Talk about quick thinking after a storm…

Thanks to CS’ George Habel & WRAL-FM’s Keith Harrison & Will Patnaud for contributions to this capcom story. Thanks to Harrison, Patnaud & 99.9 The Fan’s Brian Maloney for these capcom photos.


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