Lights get noticed near Seaton

Cathy Decker/Staff reporter
Philippa Brown, one of the seven-member crew installing a television tower north of Seaton, stands near the final section that holds the television antenna for a Fox affiliate out of the Quad Cities.

Not having a fear of heights is probably a prerequisite for the seven-member crew working for an Ontario, Canada based company called Radian. The crew has been working steadily since June 12, 2008 installing a 1,400-foot television antenna just north of Seaton. It may have slipped by people's attention for a while, but on Wednesday, Aug. 20, the lights went on and every second of the day strobe lights pulse in all directions off the tower that today can be seen from even as far away as Davenport, Iowa.

This is especially noticeable after dark. The tower belongs to a Fox affiliate out of the Quad Cities (KGCW). "We work most days," says site supervisor Rob Thibideau (Tibbs). "Thunderstorms shut us down."

Rob said they should be finished by the end of September. As of Wednesday, Sept. 10, there were four, 30-foot sections left to bring to the top, including the antenna.

The land the tower is located on belongs to Gladys and Dick Carson of Seaton. "They tried two or (other) three places but couldn't get it approved," said Dick Carson.

The Carsons were approached 10 years ago about placing a television tower on the Greer property. Dick said he had almost given up on it. The media company has gone through a number of ownership changes. Ted Turner was involved, then Warren Buffett and finally a man from Florida got it and shortly after that his son decided to go forward," Dick said. He said that they were initially talking about installing a 2,200-foot tower.

"They had to have quite a few acres," he said. The acreage used was primarily a wooded area, which was cleared out, a road installed and a lot of gravel hauled in.

This is a massive structure that rises as a long vertical triangle that is seven feet wide on each face of the triangular structure, with 46, 7,000 to 8,000-pound, solid steel, 30-foot sections linked together and tied down with guy wires every 90 feet.

The company installing the tower is Canadian, but the members of the crew hail from all over the United States, including a husband-wife team of Philippa and Ralph Brown, who live in West Virginia. Other team members are Richard Carrelli, from Ind., Daniel Cuervo from Harlington, Texas, Carl Tucker from Florida, Jeff Rhoades from Suffolk, Va. and Tibbs, the crew chief, who lives in Alabama.

During this three-month stint the crew is living in New Windsor at Shady Lakes Campground. "We do get Sundays off," said Philippa. She said she met her husband in Sri Lanka in 2000. She was working inside the building at the time, testing transmitters. She said that camping is usually the way the crews live while doing this work.

The tower has three levels, each ranging from six to seven, 30-foot sections and six levels of guy wires. She said erecting a tower takes from three to four months, depending on the size and height. "They're not actually having an antenna on top," she said. "It's a side mount."

One interesting thing about tower construction is the triangular structure is never put on a true North and South direction. When completed there will be four sets of blinking lights on the tower.

Philippa met her husband met while refurbishing a relay station for Voice of America in Sri Lanka. "I used to work inside the transmitter building testing transmitters," she said. "You know the sad thing is, all those relay stations are shut down."

She is in charge of keeping the daily diary, a log of what work is accomplished each day. She and her husband have worked on crews in 46 of the states and all over the world -- "in Thailand and most of Europe," she said. "I don't mind doing this."

She said one of the highlights of her career was when a North Carolina TV station did a five-minute spot about her and her husband. "We wore microphones all day long and they put it together for the evening news."

"Ralph and I assemble the towers," she said. " Sometimes we're asked to stay and help the ground  crew," she said.

"Tibbs asked us to stay."


"We have been renting that same piece of land from Mr. Carson since 1999," said Don Bargmann, Jr., chief engineer for KGCW-TV. "That station is actually is on the air in Burlington, with a digital signal."

Everything right now, is digital. All the analog transmitters will be shut off on Feb 17, 2009.

One of the best benefits is we can multi channel - per frequency. If you get a good signal. You get great pictures. High definition is another benefit. "We can broadcast high definition with Digital television. Not everything on digital television is high def," he added.

He said the tower's height is in the neighborhood of 1370 feet. Burlington Television Acquisition Licensing LLC applied for a license to build the digital signal tower in the Seaton area.

"We tried for an analog, but it was denied," said Bargmann. "We were able to build our digital out there."

The brand name for the station is Quad Cities CW. The station is a subsidiary of Grant Broadcasting Systems II, Inc. Its sister station is KLJB-TV, a Fox affiliate.

It is anticipated that the digital transmitter near Aledo will finally give the station full over-the-air digital television coverage of the Quad Cities television market, including its city of license Burlington to the southwest and the larger Quad Cities Metropolitan Area to the northeast. Bargmann said the signal will be received from as far away as Iowa City.

KGCW-TV signed on the air in 1988 as KJMH, a Fox affiliate, but in the years that followed KJMH suffered interference and duplication from nearby Fox affiliate KLJB-TV. Eventually, the two stations began to simulcast, an arrangement that lasted from 1996 until 2001, when KJMH became The WB affiliate for the Quad Cities, adopting the KGWB-TV call sign. In 2006, the station was picked as The CW Television Network affiliate for the area. To reflect this affiliation, KGWB changed its call letters to KGCW-TV on June 30, 2006. The current CW logo is not in the standard CW logo color, which is green.

Bargmann said that switching off analog  will probably be confusing to people up front. But just as all TVs eventually came with a cable capability, all future TVs will be digital.

On Monday, Sept. 15, Bargmann went to the Seaton site to meet with Frontier to have Internet and a phone line installed in the transmission building. "We have to have control of the transmitter through the Internet."

The signal being transmitted is a half megawatt.

"We are not the tower owner," he added. "We're a tenant of the tower. The tower owner is Richland Tower, out of Florida."

He said the tower is being built as a multi-use tower. "If a radio station or cell phone company wants to build here,  it's built for more more tenants than ours."

A man holding cage brings these workers down from the top of a television transmitter tower near Seaton.