Antenna & Tower work with John Hettish

By Kirk Harnack [TWiRT] on Dec 4, 2014 3:27:00 PM

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TWiRT 236Continuing our discussion about working on broadcast antennas way up high, John Hettish, joins us, describing some of his amazing tower work videos.  We’ll get the right story on his 10-bay ERI antenna rebuild, plus check out removal of some 900 pound microwave dishes.  And what about the wasps and vultures gathering at the top of a broadcast tower?




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Kirk: "This Week in Radio Tech," episode 236, is brought to you by Lawo and the new crystalCLEAR virtual radio console. CrystalCLEAR is the radio console with the multi-touch touchscreen interface.

By Telos, and the new ProSTREAM X/2 software audio processor and stream encoder. ProSTREAM X/2 helps you cast the perfect net. And by Axia Audio, of the Axia Radius networked IP audio console. Throw your budget a curve and meet Radius.

Well, continuing our discussion about working on broadcast antennas way up high, John Hettish [SP] joins us, describing some of his amazing tower work videos. We'll get the right story on his ten bay ERI antenna rebuild, plus check out removal of some 900 pound microwave dishes. "This Week in Radio Tech" starts now.

Hey, welcome in to "This Week in Radio Tech." I'm Kirk Harnack, your host. Glad you're here. This is the show where we talk about-well you know, it's radio tech. I always start out by saying we talk about everything from the microphone to the light bulb at the top of the tower.

Well, this week, this show, it's all about the light bulb at the top of the tower. We've got as our guest a great guy, John Hettish. We'll introduce him in just a minute. First of all I want to bring in our co-host, and that would be Chris Tobin, live somewhere in New Jersey. Hey, Chris, welcome in.

Chris: Hello, Kirk. Yes, this is a mystery theater. The view that you're seeing right now is a bunch of engineers here at the SPE15 meeting, WWOR-TV in Secaucus, New Jersey. This is the waiting area where you have some food, pizzas. You have chicken wings, and some salad for those that are healthy conscious. I don't see anybody. And a couple of chairs to sit and relax.

That's where I'm at. Let me turn the camera around, so here you go. Put your motion sickness together. Here I am.

Kirk: You're at the transmitter or the TV station main studio?

Chris: Main studio. My set-up here, I can't go wide, but my set-up is actually used for a weekly public affairs show. So I'm actually in an open-there's marks on the floor, tape markings and everything. I'm actually in a set. I'm on a set.

Kirk: I'm glad you could join us. By way of introduction, you guys know me, I'm Kirk Harnack. I work full-time for the folks at the Telos Alliance. Delighted to do that. Chris Tobin is providing consulting services to the broadcast industry with IP codecs. His contact information is Whether you're talking audio or video, if you're going to do it over IP, Chris knows the score. Be in touch with him if you need something like that.

Now let's bring in our guest. I've been waiting to get this guy on the air for so long. I'm so glad he could join us. I think he's joining us because he got a little bit injured, but he's going to be okay. He's in his office now. It's John Hettish from Middle Tennessee Two-Way. Hey, John. Welcome in.

John: Hey there, Kirk. How are you?

Kirk: I'm great. You're looking good.

John: You're talking about codecs and things like that. I am amazed at what you guys know about that stuff. All I know is that I get the right codec, whatever the device is, it'll work. That's all I know.

Kirk: Well whatever, I don't know. I just give a call to Chris Tobin and he usually answers the question for me just fine. Or one of our support guys at Telos.

Hey, speaking of Telos, I've got to tell you. Our show is brought to you in part by the folks at the Telos Alliance. Telos is maker of-what product did I have picked? Oh yeah. The new product from Telos called the Telos ProSTREAM X/2. We'll tell you about that in a few minutes.

Our show's also brought to you by the folks at Lawo, maker of the crystalCLEAR virtual radio console, at

And brought to you in part by the folks at Axia, and the whole range of small Axia consoles from the iCubed, the Radius, the Rack, and the Desk. These are some terrific little IP audio consoles. We'll tell you more about those in a few minutes.

Let's get on and get started with our show before we hear from our first sponsor. This show is about towers and climbing towers, and working on towers. What really brought this subject to a head, if you're paying attention and you watched our show and listened to our show last week, we did a little bit where we were talking about all different kind of tower antenna things.

We played a video from John Hettish. Chris Tobin and I kind of did the commentary, the running commentary with the video. I'm pretty sure we got a few things wrong. We were describing what was going on. But the video came from John Hettish and Middle Tennessee Two-Way, and his work in replacing some parts of an antenna.

I wonder if we might be able to start with that video. Andrew, our producer, if we could start with that same video that we ran last week-that's the one that's labeled "part five," I believe. Do you have that one up handy, Andrew?

Andrew: I do.

Kirk: Oh good, okay. Why don't we just-our show's going to be a little bit foreshortened today. Let's go ahead and roll that. Chris Tobin, John Hettish, jump in here and give us some commentary as to what is going on. John, if we need to fast forward to a better spot...

Video:...connection, audio right there.

Kirk: Oh, and turn the audio down, yeah, from the video. All right. John, what's going on here?

John: Let me give you a little background here. The antenna had been just about destroyed by a lightning strike. We had replaced it on the tower at this point.

Now, two days later, I was going to get injured. This was two days before I destroyed my rotator cuff, and I'm trying to get that back into shape right now. The antenna itself is a ten bay ERI FM broadcasting antenna.

Kirk: It's a big [inaudible 05:43].

John: Yeah, it's 100-feet long. The only way for me to test it at this point, since we do not yet have the co-ax on it, is for me to go up the tower and tap into it with my sweep generator, which basically is what the site master is.

This particular one sweeps from 30 to, I think, 4,000 megahertz. Of course I'm looking at it right in the broadcast band. I'm trying to figure out if we did any good or not when we rebuilt the antenna.

You commented about the brand new interbay [SP]. Yes, it is a brand new interbay. I've got another video on that same YouTube channel showing all the scattered, burned parts, and we've got this thing down on the ground. Took two days to get it disassembled and off the tower. Took about two days or three days to put it back together.

The engineer in charge was a guy named Cameron Adkins [SP], and he did a fantastic job with this. Of course I helped him, personally helped him rebuild this thing. I've done a lot of this hard line stuff.

` What I've got right now, the site master has to be calibrated just like a network analyzer would have to be calibrated. You have to create a port, basically. The port is now about three feet longer than the one installed on the box. So what I'm doing is I'm using a calibrated open, which sounds kind of funny, but it is.

Kirk: Calibrated open, that is, yeah, okay.

John: I'm going to go to a calibrated short, hit another button here, and it's going to tell me when to go to the 50 ohm load. I get out a-what's the word I'm looking for? A precision 50 ohm load.

There it is right there. I'm pretty good at putting captions on the videos because of the wind noise. In a moment it'll say here we go, we're ready to go now.

Kirk: Do you have to calibrate this with the exact same piece of cable that you're going to use to connect to the device you're testing?

John: Yes, and it's a phase stable jumper. Bending it like this doesn't it.

Now I'm going to do a little quick test of the antenna. I've got already attached an adapter to it. You guys saw that in the video last week. It's a heavy thing, it's fun to carry up a tower.

I'm just going to see how it looks at that point. Then when I get through looking at that part of it, I need to get away from the antenna. What I'm going to do is I'm going to slide around to the back side of this thing called the lambda section.

This is like a smaller tower on top of a bigger tower. The whole idea of the lambda section is to prevent the tower structure itself-you can see the old, destroyed cable there in that video, by the way. It's got holes in it like you could not believe. It was really messed up. This was just a massive lightning strike that cooked everything on the tower, or everything in this antenna system. This is the top antenna system.

Kirk: John, you said that you had to swing around the back side of the tower to get away from the antenna. I take it that's not because of a high level of electromagnetic radiation? You're just using the site master to test it. Tell us why you had to move away from the antenna.

John: Well, it's mainly because my salt-filled sack is going to effect the measurement that I make. I'm too close to it. If I reach out and touch one of the bays for instance, it's going to cause the reading to get all screwy and be absolutely useless.

Kirk: I think there's mutual coupling between your body and the antenna. Now the tower's there no matter what, so you've got to measure it in the presence of the tower. Although the lambda section you're talking about here is supposed to be relatively transparent or of known characteristics, right?

John: Absolutely. Yeah, invisible to the tower. Can we pause the video on this part right here?

The lower part, you can kind of see a ragged looking line across the bottom of the screen. That's pretty much showing the resonant point on the antenna. We were looking for 102.5. We found it really well, about 1.03 to 1. That was very, very good news. That's what I wanted to know.

There's really no way to test this thing without co-ax on the tower unless I'm right up there at it. That's why I'm here.

Kirk: I wish we had a lot of time to look at every complete video. We're going to take a quick break and hear from a sponsor right now. John, of the videos you sent, which one would you like to queue up next while I'm doing the commercial break? Which ones?

John: It's hard to say. Just any of them.

Kirk: How about we do the next one that's in the line, Andrew? The one where we're moving 900 pound, 12 foot microwave dishes from a tower? That sounds nuts. Why don't we go ahead and get that one queued up.

In the meantime, let me tell you about the folks at Lawo and what they've done with audio consoles. Lawo is a maker, a German maker, of traditionally great, big consoles for television and post-production, maybe even some live sound and recording.

But Lawo's making a new console called the crystalCLEAR. It's a virtual radio mixing console, and it's virtual because the control surface is actually a PC. It's a multi-touch touchscreen PC.

Now I'm intrigued by this. Actually I dreamed of this. Not that it was my idea, but I dreamed of this years ago, back when I was a contract engineer in Memphis, Tennessee. I thought, wouldn't it be cool if we could have a touchscreen that, whatever you did on the screen, because the console surface was built in software, it could be contact sensitive.

If it's time for the traffic report, in my imagination, you'd have a helicopter hovering on the screen over the fader where the traffic reporter's going to come in. I'm not saying that the Lawo crystalCLEAR does that, but the buttons are contact sensitive.

If you need to make some adjustments on a microphone channel, you touch the button at the top of the channel and voila. You have all of the adjustments that are particular to that mic channel.

It's contact sensitive. You're not relying on physical buttons and their physical definition to do whatever you need to do. It's all written in software on a screen. It just runs on-it's actually an HP touchscreen computer. It's running Windows 8. You're not really aware of that. The application takes the whole screen and just runs reliably in that platform.

By the way, if you ever do have to turn the computer off or move it, well, the mixing engine-the DSP engine-keeps running. The DSP engine of the crystalCLEAR virtual radio console is in a rack. It's a one rack unit tall. It's very small. You can get [inaudible 12:27] on the power supplies for it.

It's got a couple of mic inputs, some line inputs, some AES inputs. Then some outputs, line and AES outputs. As well as having inputs and outputs that are on Ravenna, which is AES 67 compatible. All of the convenient technologies that we know about for an audio studio in a radio station, you've got all those inputs and outputs there.

Plus some GPIOs are there as well. And all the usual things you expect in a console, like a couple of program buses, program one and two, and a separate record bus. While you're doing a show, you can also do an offline recording. If you need to do a quick commercial or some kind of voice track for the next show or something, you can do that.

There are programmable scene presets that you can recall every detail. Precision stereo PPM meters. Talkback buttons automatically appear on mix minus channels. If you can talk back to it, the button will appear, and you can push the button, the virtual button on the touchscreen, and talk back to that source.

Twenty-four sources are available. Eight can be simultaneously active. For most radio shows, eight faders is about as complicated a show as you'd ever do. That works out very well too.

Of course, low noise mic pre-amps, two separate amplified headphone outputs, balanced analog inputs and outputs as I mentioned. Again, the power supply redundancy is pretty good. You get two power supplies there.

That's it. Check it out if you would. It's on the web at Now that's spelled L-A-W-O. We would say "Lawo," but it's a German name. Look under the radio consoles and check out the crystalCLEAR. CrystalCLEAR radio console for broadcasters. Pretty cool. A virtual radio console.

And thanks to Lawo for sponsoring "This Week in Radio Tech."

All right, on with the show. Hey, Chris Tobin is with us from the SBE meeting at WORTV. Hey, Chris. Are you in New Jersey or New York?

Chris: It's Secaucus, New Jersey.

Kirk: Oh, okay. All right.

Chris: Yep. TV9. Now it's one of the Fox TV group.

Kirk: What's the subject of the meeting? You going to have a presentation?

Chris: Well, a presentation is on broadcast engineering, and it's being sponsored by the Telos Alliance. A gentleman by the name of Frank Foti, Jim Armstrong, and Buck Waters are here. [inaudible 14:47] It's a trio or triad of craziness I think, really.

[inaudible cross-talk 14:52]. There's a steam engine out front, I'm not sure why. [inaudible 14:56]

Kirk: Yeah, it is. Actually I was supposed to be at that meeting, and I just had too many other things to do so I bowed out of it. Well good, I'm glad they're there. Please give them my warm regards and tell them I wish I was there.

Chris: Yes, yes. Your name is on the website for SBE 15, participating as a guest. It's confused a few folks. They're looking around like, "Where's Kirk?" I'm like, "Jim Armstrong's in for Kirk, sorry."

Kirk: Playing the part of Kirk Harnack.

Chris: Late in the game change. We've got to change the name.

Kirk: Sorry for changing a pinch hitter.

Chris: Go to the bull pen sponsorship is by Telos Alliance.

Kirk: So on that video of the lightning damaged FM antenna, we got that mostly right, didn't we? On last week's show?

John: You did pretty good. Right toward the end, I think Chris noticed the resonant point on the site master stream. I remember that.

Kirk: Yes.

John: And I finally found my list of links to the videos I sent you.

Kirk: Okay, okay.

John: Which one's which or something like that.

Kirk: Hopefully Andrew's got the 900 pound, 12 foot microwave dish antennas queued up. Let's roll that one if we could, and you tell us what is-oh my goodness, those are huge.

John: Those are huge, absolutely. They're 12 feet in diameter. I underbid the job.

Kirk: Oh no. Oh no.

John: [inaudible 16:18] on it. It's cost me about 10 times what I had bid it for.

Okay, you see the little pulley up toward the top of the dish? That is what we call a trolley rig. It is just going along that piece of rope. But we're trying to get the thing to move.

Now, this thing actually-one guy says they weigh 1,500 pounds. Another guy says they weigh 900 pounds. I don't know. They're heavy. Eventually we're going to get them all off the tower. Now here's the big problem that I have with this particular job. We've removed five of the dishes. There are six dishes on the tower. The very top one is the one that has not been removed yet, and it's a bear.

This old tower was abandoned by a gas company who used it to monitor their gas pipeline. Just abandoned. Five years, no lights on it or anything. The local county government took it over, so we're trying to get it cleaned up for them.

My injury and all the stuff we did on that massive burn-out this summer just really took us away from this job and some others.

This guy named Eric right there with his foot on the dish, and that's my guy named Clay right beside him. They're about 325 feet up. I just did all this from the ground.

Kirk: Now tell me about this trolley. Are you trying to drop this dish straight down, or is it going to go out, away from the tower as it comes down?

John: It's going to ride away from the tower. Trying to find the lead that is controlling it, without maneuvering the video around, I can't. But there's another lead attached to it that is controlling its downward motion.

It's just rolling on that trolley line. Trolley lines are, because if you've got to do something like this, it doesn't matter if the wind is blowing 20, 30 miles an hour right into the tower. You can still do it.

Actually, I can see the line that's attached to the dish. It's right up there in the middle. There's a cross-beam, and you can see a piece of straight line going to the dish right there. That's the one that's actually lowering it down the tower.

Kirk: Now is the trolley line at a steel cable or an actual rope?

John: It's a piece of rope, actually.

Kirk: Huh. What kind of rope is that that would be strong enough to hold something like that?

John: It's double braid nylon. It has a mantle on the outside that's woven. Very strong bits of nylon strands inside the rope.

Kirk: How is the trolley line tied off on the ground? Is it to a winch?

John: It's running to a winch right now. What we'll do is we actually come in really hard on the winch, as hard as we can. Just to pick the load up. Actually, I winched about, oh, about 10,000 pounds that way one time back in 2004, down in Mobile, cleaning up Hurricane Ivan damage.

It's amazing how well this works, this particular rig. It takes longer to hook up, so the guys usually don't like doing it, but it is the way to go on a lot of things.

Anyway, I just wanted you guys to see how slow that is, how high up these guys are, and how heavy those dishes are. This tower is right in the middle of a woods, and to beat that, there's a 14,500 volt line that cuts catty-corner across the driveway coming into that.

Kirk: Oh, okay.

John: Right, exactly. I'm going to have the electric company remove it for this last tick. This is just some video I shot from the top of the tower right here, just for the heck of it, so.

Kirk: This is the same tower? Okay.

John: Same tower, yeah. That's about what it looked like, and that's how long that arm is the guy was sitting on it earlier.

Kirk: Beautiful view though. Nice view.

John: There you go, yeah.

Kirk: What's the biggest danger in getting an antenna down this way? What's the worst thing that could happen that you pray doesn't happen?

John: If you drop that load and it hit a guide wire, the tower would come down.

Kirk: Ah, [inaudible 20:04] people on it.

John: People on it, yeah. That is very dangerous.

Kirk: So the line that's actually holding the weight of the thing-not the trolley line, but the one that's letting it come down slowly, what do you call that line? The load line, or do you have a different name for it?

John: The load line. That was, let's see, that was I think three-eighths inch, 19 strand cable, stainless steel cable.

Kirk: Oh, okay. Okay. Is that the one that had the pulley at the bottom and then went straight up the tower?

John: Yes, yes, that was the one.

Kirk: Okay, got you.

John: Yeah. Another interesting one here is where we've got the wasps on the top of the tower.

Kirk: Yeah, yeah, let's see if we can roll that. Andrew, can you line that one up? The wasps at the top of the tower? You're going to need to describe this. Look at this. My little guy stepped in here.

John: Look who's here?

Kirk: Michael, we're talking about towers. You want to watch for a minute?

Michael: No.

Kirk: No. Sure you do.

Michael: No, I don't.

Kirk: Andrew, go ahead and roll that wasp tower video as soon as you hit it up here. I'm probably going to have to step away for a second and take care of him. Chris Tobin, if you're prepared, you step right in and chat with-actually, John doesn't need anybody to help chat. You go right ahead.

Chris: Absolutely. Absolutely.

John: Yeah, I've been told I could talk for an hour easily, so.

Kirk: All right. So here's wasps.

Chris: Is that it?

John: Okay, yeah. I'm sitting on top of an old tower. It's an old AT&T tower, okay?

Kirk: Okay.

John: I'm just waiting for some other people to get finished. You see these little things flitting around here, these are all wasps. This time of year, this was in the fall, they don't sting. They're not defending a nest. What they're doing is they're trying to find-it's like the wasp equivalent of a singles' bar. They're trying to find someone to mate with, is the best way I can put it.

Oddly enough when you sit there, they'll land on you. I've had the occasion to lay my bare hand back on a piece of steel just to push myself away from somewhere, and it would feel like I had a rock under my hand. I pull my hand up, and here's a wasp staggering around like, "What just hit me?"

It's amazing. Now in the summer, you don't want to deal with these guys. But this is just what it looks like. Now, the white stuff. I imagine you probably have an idea what that might be. You've seen the birds?

Chris: Oh yes. That's like if you're near caves with the bats.

John: Yeah, only worse. I'm a caver also, by the way. This was just a simple little thing. I was watching the wasps. People had asked me about that before, and I thought I'd just go ahead and do a little narrated video about wasps. There's not much wind noise on this particular video. It's just a little bit of fun right there. Right in middle Tennessee, right in the middle of Tennessee, essentially.

Those big open gaps are where the cornucopia horns used to be. Those were gigantic microwave dishes that AT&T used. This is all part of the old Cold War system. They thought they were going to overcome EMP and all sorts of stuff with these towers. When the Russians attacked, they were going to still have communications.

That's all there is to this particular one right here. But the main message is the wasps don't sting in the fall. They do in the summer, but not the fall.

Kirk: Really?

John: Yeah.

Kirk: I didn't know that. Why do wasps want to live so high up?

John: Well, they don't. Actually what they're doing is they're just gathering, because it's a place where they can meet a mate. That's the whole idea. The male wasps will probably die during the winter, but the females won't. They'll go to ground so to speak. The next year, you'll have another generation of males and females and so on and so forth.

Just animal behavior. That's what I said, it was the wasps' equivalent of a singles' bar. They were trying to meet and greet.

Kirk: Now wasps may use this line on women, but I bet you never have. "Hey, baby. Meet you at the top of the tower."

John: I never have, no.

Kirk: Oh my goodness.

John: Did I ever tell you why I climb towers?

Kirk: No, go ahead.

John: It's because I have a political science degree.

Kirk: Oh my goodness. I think you have a lot more fun climbing towers, though.

John: Well, probably so. I came back from Vietnam and couldn't find a job, so I took a temporary job 42 years ago, and essentially I still have it, even though I've been in business for myself now 31 years.

Kirk: Well, I sure am glad you are. I know from the stories that you've told and the good things that engineers at RSPE meetings have said about you and your work, we are absolutely blessed to have you here in middle Tennessee, taking care of people's towers.

Folks, you are watching "This Week in Radio Tech," episode number 236 with Kirk Harnack and Chris Tobin. Chris is live at the WOR station in Secaucus, New Jersey, where they're getting ready to do an SBE meeting there. It's a great place to have a meeting, it looks like.

Our show is brought to you in part by the folks at Telos. I want to tell you about a brand spanking new product from Telos that's just been announced. It's called the ProSTREAM X/2. You might be familiar with-in fact, here on the show we actually gave away some copies of the software program called Omnia AXE.

You might remember; some of you viewing or listening right now, may have won one of those. Well, we're taking our whole streaming product line and moving it to its own category. It's called ProSTREAM.

The hardware and the software products will both be under this name, ProSTREAM. That's new. We have a new product called the ProSTREAM X/2. It has got some really incredible features. As stations, broadcasters are getting more and more serious about their streaming, the ProSTREAM X/2 of course has all the usual high quality audio codecs like mp3, AAC low complexity, high efficiency AAC, both V1 and V2.

This is cool. This may not be ready for prime time yet, although you can get this done, but this is the way people are going with adaptive streaming technology. It'll automatically compensate for variations in listeners' connection bandwidth. Essentially the ProSTREAM X/2 will generate multi-rates that are time aligned.

You use a content distribution network, that's a CDN, that can send this out. Can send out the proper stream for any given connection. IP video's going this way, and IP audio's going this way as well.

If you want to make sure that people on a cell phone connection can hear your audio at a reliable rate, and people listening on WiFi or maybe wired at home can hear your audio at the highest possible, highest quality rate, multi-rate streaming, adaptive streaming as we're calling it, is the way to go with that.

You can process and encode audio for multiple platforms and bit rates all at the same time. The way ProSTREAM X/2 works, it's software. Runs on your computer. Audio comes in, you can make numerous different outputs with that. And you can process each one independently.

You can have different processing for a low bit rate stream than you have for a high bit rate stream. Also, each streaming encoder can feed multiple locations. If you have geodiversity in your streaming encoders, or your content distribution networks I should say, then you can send it to different places. The exact same stream to different places.

Each encoder also can do a confidence streamer. I use this myself at our radio stations in Mississippi, so that we're not streaming live on the net yet, but we are streaming with this software, and we're making a confidence stream. We can privately go and access.

A huge level of control is available. HTML5 is what the whole user GUI is written in. You can fine tune it. You can use the rest API, which is becoming very popular with programmers, if you need to make changes with rest API. Of course it does SNMP, that's built in. And it can even-you've got email built in. You can even have it send you an email if there's a problem with the stream.

Here's something else cool. ProSTREAM X/2 is designed to be run in a cloud-based server, and it will also use an RTP stream as its input. If for some reason you want to run this in a dedicated, high reliability location, a data center for example, you can absolutely do that. It's designed to run on cloud instances of Windows.

It is just amazing. Check this software out. We'll have a link to it in the show notes. If you get the Telos Alliance newsletter, it just came out in that a few hours ago. It's the ProSTREAM X/2. Watch for it. You'll be hearing more about it.

I think you're really going to like it. I've been playing with it here for the last week, and it's just amazing stuff.

All right. "This Week in Radio Tech," episode number 236. John Hettish is our guest. John, let's see. Which video are we going to look at next here? What would be your choice?

John: Descending from 1,280 feet, let's look at that one.

Kirk: Ah, that's good. Okay, all right. We'll chit-chat for a second while it's getting queued up, if it's not already. Descending from like-oh, here we go. I'll shut up. John, you tell us about it.

John: This is in a high wind. It's about 30 miles an hour wind. It was in October, believe it or not, and fairly warm day, thank heavens. The wind was really something. We use a two hook method to climb things like this in order to meet the... little slow connection there, meet the OHSA requirements of being 100% connected to the tower.

I could not use my left fall lanyard because the wind was blowing so hard, it was blowing it under my tool bag. I ended up, I used the positioning hook, and then the fall lanyard on the leeward side, in order to be able to do this.

My best-you can't really see the time lead on here right now. But my favorite part of this video is when I actually get down... this is the lambda section by the way, which we talked about a moment ago. This is on a different tower, obviously.

I was doing strobe light work on this particular tower a couple of years ago. I was much younger then. I was only 67. As I stepped down here on this top plate, man, that is not downloading very fast, is it?

This is only going to occur one minute and 59 seconds into the video. I love it. Left fall lanyard's on right now. In order to get things organized, and I'm going to start using the right one here again a moment. I'm going to hook on with that positioning hook.

This is a very vulnerable situation. You see that ladder is actually attached to the face of the tower.

Kirk: Yeah, it's way over there.

John: Yeah, but it's not the main climbing ladder that gets you to the lambda section. The other one's down inside the tower. You've got to negotiate this thing also. If everybody's seeing this, it's coming up, pay attention. Okay?

Now here it is, right here. There you go. People like stuff like that.

Kirk: I like it, actually. But that's me.

John: I fly airplanes also, and I've been lower over cities than in airplanes than I am on this tower.

Kirk: Now you threw that safety lanyard over the ladder. Because you've done this enough, you know what to anticipate, where your lines need to go so they'll be in the right place as you move.

John: Yeah, something about 42 years of doing this stuff. Now there was one thing here, there was a guy who was watching this video who is in the tower business also. He said, "Oh, at such and such a time, you almost messed up." It's coming up right here, but this thing's not really running in normal speed.

What happened, as you can see, I almost took it off, then I didn't take it off, then I put it back on. That sort of thing. The one guy kind of caught that, and that was kind of funny. The way he was watching it.

Now, I'm going to step inside the tower here. That's difficult even. On the way up, you can actually see my assistant's, Clay [inaudible 32:48], you can see his clothes whipping in the wind. The wind is just ripping on this particular day. It really is. Very, very windy day.

After a number of years of doing this stuff, you become accustomed to the wind. Sometimes the wind's your friend. Sometimes the wind will keep a load away from the tower. It's just the way you look at it.

I know of another two-way radio company; their climber would not climb if the wind was blowing faster than three miles an hour.

Okay, there's the endless lap right there. That's the part [inaudible 33:26].

Kirk: And your graphic there answered the question I was going to ask, why doesn't this tower have an elevator in it? Talk to me about when elevators are in towers and when they're not.

John: Well, there's only one tower in Nashville, in the Nashville area, in the middle Tennessee area, that has an elevator. It's the one formerly known as the Richland Tower. I say "formerly known" because American Tower Corporation has just now bought that thing, and they call it [inaudible 33:52]. I think everybody else is going to call it Richland for a long, long time.

Kirk: Richland Tower for a long, long time, yeah.

John: That one does have an elevator, and it's really nice in that if you've got two hours' worth of work to do, you don't have to worry about the six hours it's going to take to prepare and break back down again.

What I'm doing here is I'm getting ready to make that climb down the endless ladder. This is the end of the video, so it's no big deal.

That last one I've got on the list, the main thing I wanted show though is the height that I'm at, and...


Kirk: Tell me more about what you're doing with the rope there. What are you doing to prepare for the long climb down?

John: Try to keep this thing from blowing under my feet [inaudible 34:36].

Kirk: Ah, okay.

John: You wear so much stuff, you tend to trip over the stuff you're wearing. And these fall lanyards get in the way a lot of the times. You just start down the ladder, and all of a sudden something's tugging at the dorsal D-ring on the harness, and it's like, "I'm still connected."

Kirk: That tower doesn't look like it has a really big face for a 1,200 foot tower.

John: I think it's about a six foot face. It may be. I'm not sure. I forgot. It could be five, four, five, six. It's not a real big face, no. It's guide well. It doesn't wiggle. It's a pretty good tower.

The people that own it, I think they wish they didn't, but they do. That's the way it is in broadcasting.

By the way, you talked about Middle Tennessee Two-Way. The temporary job I took was with a two-way radio shop. I had a first class license, and I was being interviewed by Channel Five, and I was being interviewed by the two-way shop. They just offered me some money first, and I took it.

I got lucky, because in two-way radio, you get to do different things all the time. The TV station that was interviewing me, they would want me to do one thing at that time. Pat Patterson was the engineer at that time, the local CBS affiliate in Nashville.

I got into something that I really loved and had a lot of freedom to do what I needed to do. Tower work was something I did because I knew how to climb things. My training consisted of my original boss saying, "Here's my lanyard. I need you to change that antenna up there."

That was my training.

Kirk: Oh no. Gosh.

John: For whatever that was worth. Little by little, I gained a little more training. I really trained my guys.

You know in 42 years, I have never come close to falling from a tower. Not even close. None of the people I've trained have either. It's kind of a neat thing, but it's also just another form of income for my company. Because we don't do tower work every day. That's how we can afford to do it, by not doing it every day.

I get to design public safety radio systems and install them, and sell the equipment for them and like that also. I have a lot of fun. I get to do a lot of different things.

Now I do want to show you something right here, okay?

Kirk: Okay, yeah.

John: There it is. Can you see all the orange paint on the helmet?

Kirk: Yeah.

John: I don't paint. Where did that come from?

Kirk: Well, that...

John: I tend to bash my head. Now sometimes you'll hear me in a video, and you'll hear this scrunching sound?

Kirk: Yeah.

John: That's it. When I'm adjusting the position of the camera to look at my hands or something else. I just wanted you to see this. This is the [inaudible 37:23] rock climbing harness. I started wearing one in the '90s, and all the tower guys that would come onto my job site would make fun of me for wearing a hard hat.

Do you see a tower guy these days that doesn't wear a hard hat?

Kirk: No, they all wear them. They all wear them.

John: [inaudible 37:40]. Okay, the famous shot of Tom Sellerman [SP] on the Empire State Building, right on the face of one of his panel antennas. You can climb those panels, by the way. They're very well built. But he does not have a helmet on. I think it's just an older shot or something like this.

Kirk: Sure, sure.

John: Go ahead.

Kirk: We've just got a few minutes left. Let's hit one more video if we could. Can we hit that video that got the 23,000 views already? Of the strobe?

John: Yeah, and I don't understand this at all, but go ahead.

Kirk: Let's take a look at it. Andrew, if you could roll that one, there we go. All right, John, what's happening here?

John: I'm repairing a strobe light, that's all I'm doing. I'm on top of a TV antenna, 300 feet above the ground. No big deal. Actually there's not much wind, so you could probably turn the audio up on this one.

Kirk: Okay. So that's the inside of a strobe light.

John: Yeah, it's just the inside of a white strobe light, is all it is.

Kirk: So that strobe that's in there, the tube on the lower left, that's dead, right?

John: Actually what it turned out to be is one of the transformers. I got the thing repaired. What I don't get is, this is just a boring video to me. I mean, I've got the one about working in the 30 mile an hour wind on 1,280 foot tower, and I got about 13,000 views I think. This one gets 22,398 or something like that? I don't get it. I don't understand it.

I've got something like 75 videos on that channel now. I just haven't done many lately because of the injury. We're missing our bipod, and that's me. I'm the bipod. I hold up the camera.

Kirk: Chris, is this the kind of work that you'd like to do, Chris Tobin? Maybe not.

Chris: Sorry about that, I was talking with Jim Armstrong from Telos Alliance, that small company out in Cleveland. But the larger group is with [inaudible 39:46] General Store in Brook Waters [SP], I'm talking to.

Kirk: Ah, good, good.

Chris: But yes, that is the kind of stuff I love to do. Tower climbing.

Kirk: I love to climb towers. I just don't feel like I could do it full-time. But John, you said you don't do it full-time?

John: I don't really, no. The workers' comp is the big deal on that stuff. Our experience rating is so low that our workers' comp is $11 per 100, which is very low for antenna work. But we don't do stacking.

Stacking towers, the workers' comp goes way up. The whole deal is that when we're not doing towers, we're doing work in a much lower category. People say "we don't climb towers because we can't afford the insurance." Well, if you account for the time that you're doing the actual work, yeah, you can. You can afford it.

We get refunds. Doing okay. I can't complain, but sometimes I still do. Oh man, there I go, [inaudible 40:43] one of the Eagles. Can't remember who that was.

Kirk: Just to put the end of that story about the changing of a strobe light, what happened? You said it was a transformer? How'd you discover that was the problem?

John: What I do is I carry up a rebuilt... it'd be like a hatch plate or something like this. That was a flash technology strobe.

The hatch plate is like a little chassis the whole thing sits on. I've found that it's much easier to replace a rebuilt chassis than it is to try to replace one of the transformers up there. That's why I did that thing. The only reason I know the component is bad is because I took the one you saw in the video and repaired it later.

Just trying to stay ahead of the game. That's all it amounts to. It's definitely a game, that's for sure. Life is a game.

Kirk: We're going to have a few final words with John Hettish and Chris Tobin in just a minute. We're going to ask John Hettish to finalize his thoughts on the tower business and life on a tower. And also he's going to tell you about his YouTube channel.

So there's a whole ton of these videos. I just love this stuff. To me, this is just great stuff. Chris Tobin will have a final thought too in just a minute.

Our show is being brought to you also by the folks at Axia. Axia Audio. I've got to tell you, Axia of course started with this big Element console. It can be little or big. So many folks are loving these little consoles from Axia. They're just great in today's modern studios where you have the possibility of a whole lot of inputs, but you only use eight of them or 12 of them at a time.

That's where the iQ, or the Radius, or even the Rack or the Desk audio consoles come into place. Now they're fully networkable with the rest of the Axia system. In fact, these consoles, they have a portion that goes into the rack. It's called the core, the core 16 or the core 32, depending on the size.

This is where your local audio inputs and outputs are. But here's something magic. In this core 16 or core 32, there is a built-in Ethernet switch. You don't have to buy another one. It's part of the system. And it's got a couple of trunk ports that you can trunk off to another studio, or a big Cisco core switch if you need to tie a whole lot of studios together.

It's also got some local ports there for things like a phone. If you want to plug in one of these Telos v-set phones into it, you can. It even supplies power over Ethernet. If you need more inputs or outputs from some extra X-nodes from Axia, well, you've got that too. You plug them right in.

If you have a computer that has an Axia IP audio driver, you just plug it right there into the switch that's built into the back of the console. Easy peasy, and I really mean that. Folks, I've installed a number of these, including some at my own radio stations in American Samoa. It was just easy peasy to put these things together, plug them in, set the IP addresses, and configure the inputs. Really, couple days, three studios, done. Just amazing stuff.

In fact, the Radius console is what Andrew Zarian uses here at the GFQ network. One of the things that Andrew loves about this-I'm putting words in his mouth, but I know it's true-is the automatic mix minus. You get that with these consoles.

Even during the show right here, Chris Tobin, he doesn't hear himself back delayed. He's getting fed a mix minus automatically. So is John Hettish. So am I. All the guests that are remote get their own mix minus feed, and you don't have to think about it.

Andrew has to think zero about setting up mixed minuses because they happen just automatically. So I want you to check out these consoles. I heartily recommend them and endorse these things, use them myself. From Axia, the iQ, the Radius, the Rack-that's a rack mount little console with six faders-and the Desk, which is a desk mount little console with six faders.

They're great for news rooms and little production suites too. Check them out at, and thanks, Axia, for sponsoring "This Week in Radio Tech." Sure appreciate it.

All right. Chris Tobin, you've got to go. Any final thoughts?

Chris: Sorry about that. Final thoughts is just if somebody wants to do tower work, is doing tower work, where does the training come from? As a broadcast engineer, you have SBE and other organizations. Audio, you have Audio Engineering Society. How does it work for tower climbers? I'm just curious about that. Because I know, but for the audience. [inaudible 45:11]

John: Right. There are several companies that specialize in tower safety. Really, what they do is they relieve the employer of the responsibility of having to teach the same thing. You send your people off for a couple days, they learn the rules, and then you put them to work.

I am really hands-on. I know I can't be hands-on forever. I will be 70 years old at my next birthday. Of course, the cool part about that is I get to start my 71st year at that point.

The safety companies will give you a couple of techniques. Matter of fact, I've got a couple of training videos on my YouTube channel. They give you a couple of techniques for rescue. They tell you what you're supposed to do, they tell you what you're not supposed to do. That gets you into this point where you can get on a tower and start doing some work.

Now it takes, I think, a culture of awareness in order to cause that thing I described a little while ago, where I haven't come close to falling from a tower in 42 years. Awareness is the real key to it as I see it.

I'm seeing things fly past my eyes here. Wow. Anyway. That doesn't say a whole lot. The employer is responsible for training his people. There are companies that teach the rules, the basic rules, and give you a couple of things where you can rescue an injured climber or something like this. That's about as far as that goes.

I don't know if that answers the question adequately or not. Come to work for me, I'll send you [somewhere]. That's what it amounts to. Plus I will probably hover over you for a couple of years, because I do that.

In the cell business, it's a lot more complicated. They have a lot more to do in a short period of time, and most of those people are going to be out of a job when the build out is done.

My people, okay, I've got... People in my company, there's nine of us total. Don't count me though, so make that eight. There's one person with a year and a half, there's one person with six and a half years, and then everybody else has double digits. In other words, they are statutory employees, they've been here a long time.

I am very concerned with these people being able to go home at night, and do everything I can to make sure that they're safe in that respect.

The incident that hurt me was the first one in 42 years also. But I can't describe that now because it will take too much time. Did that help?

Kirk: But you didn't fall off a tower to get that accident, did you?

John: No, actually. I was standing beside a tower and I tripped over the weaves [SP].

Kirk: Oh no.

John: I probably threw out my right arm to mitigate the fall, and all I knew, I was sitting there, I was bleeding from my wrist, and the arm hurt far more than I thought it should have for that little bit of a fall. There were some other things going on at the time too, so.

By the way, let me show you something here.

Kirk: Okay.

John: This little tiny battery is a lithium ion. It's the reason this camera can do three hours of video. Absolutely amazing. It charges in a USB port. I love it, love it.

Kirk: With that, we've got to go. There's my little boy, just came in here. We've used up all our time. I want to thank our sponsors, Lawo and the crystalCLEAR audio console. Also Telos and the new ProSTREAM X/2 streaming software. You'll be hearing more about that; it's amazing.

And also the folks at Axia with the small consoles, the iQ, Radius, Desk, and Rack consoles. Thanks to all these fine sponsors for taking care of us and sponsoring "This Week in Radio Tech."

Chris Tobin, thank you if you're still around. Appreciate, and say hi to everybody at the SBE meeting in Secaucus, New Jersey. John Hettish, I appreciate, after badgering you for quite a while. Thank you for coming on the show. I hope you'll come back again sometime and talk more about your tower videos.

I'll put a link to your YouTube channel in the show notes so people will know where to go to see your videos. Okay?

John: Did you notice that they were feeding the members? They had food.

Chris: Yes, there is food. [inaudible 49:34] got a quick shot of.

John: We always have to pay for our food.

Kirk: Not always. Sometimes Telos pays for your food.

John: That's right, that's true. You [inaudible 49:44].

Kirk: That's right. Actually whenever we have a speaker from a corporation, they often pay for our food. But you're right, too often we have to pay for our own.

Hey, thanks to Andrew Zarian for being our producer. Appreciate that very much. John, thank you again. We'll see you guys next week on "This Week in Radio Tech." Bye-bye everybody.

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