This is the War Stories Section of
The Broadcast Archive

Maintained by:
Barry Mishkind - The Eclectic Engineer

Allen Sherrill shares the following pictures of WRAL and WPTF's tower disaster in December 1989

Pictures of the 1989 Raleigh tower disaster

These are pictures taken several days after the collapse of two 2000-foot towers for WRAL-TV and WPTF-TV, near Raleigh NC, in December 1989. A third 2000-foot tower in the same vicinity, used by WTVD-TV, was damaged but did not collapse.

Both towers were brought down by uneven melting of ice coatings left by an ice storm a few days earlier. It's thought that when the sun came up after several cloudy days, it warmed the ice on the eastern guy wires of both towers. The guys began to shed the ice and as it fell off, it generated a "gallop" which resulted in guy failure, and tower collapse shortly thereafter. Both towers fell within about 30 minutes of each other, shortly after sunrise.

WRAL-TV and co-owned WRAL-FM were knocked off the air for several hours, as neither had an auxiliary tower. WRAL-TV was able to make arrangements with a Fayetteville UHF station, WKFT, to rebroadcast their signal. WRAL-FM was able to put up a temporary signal using a borrowed FM antenna and a crane, using their RPU equipment for an STL.

WPTF-TV and co-owned WQDR-FM both had auxiliary facilities at an older 1200-foot tower in the market.

The WRAL tower base fence and part of the transmitter building, which was damaged but still useable.

A close-up of the base of the WRAL tower.

A closeup of the elevator landing platform and elevator car, now lying on its side.

The remains of the TV antenna pole.
I was told by an engineer at the site that part of the pole buried itself several feet in the ground.

A closeup of the antenna pole.
 Beyond the pole in the wooded area is a small park with a lake, which WRAL used to rent for parties and weddings (NTR!).

A closeup of the lower attachment point of the TV antenna pole, which appears to have sheared off.

Picture 7 is a shot of a flattened tower section, with crumpled transmission lines visible.

The arrangement used to get WRAL-FM back on the air. An FM antenna was borrowed from WHKY, Hickory, NC, and suspended from a crane a few hundred feet in the air. One of the dual RCA FM transmitters was connected to it and operated at reduced output power. The antenna was not tuned for WRAL's frequency, but it was close enough to work for the purpose. A Marti RPU system was pressed into use as an emergency mono STL.

Tom Long of WHKY says: "The antenna (a 4 bay Andrew (1958 make) H pole only antenna, rated for 10 kW) and line were pulled from the basement at WHKY and driven in a Ryder truck to the site. I slug tuned the antenna from 102.9 to 101.5 on site, mounted to a 40 foot section of 18" face tower and picked up be the crane. Feed line was hung from the bottom of the tower. Three guys were tied to the bottom of the tower section, and tied at the ground on what ever we could find in the dark to use (broken tower parts, trees).

10 kW was sent from one of the 20 kW FM transmitters to the 1 5/8 line to the antenna. Also I was the one that hung the FM and TV antennas from the crane to get back on the air. This was a RCA 40 kW transmitter (2 20 kW amps) Only one of the power amps was still usable after the tower fell. The site was also run on the generator during the time the antennas were on the crane. Commercial power was never restored to the site until the new building was done. 

WRAL FM was back on the air at 3:50 AM on Monday morning less that 24 hours after the tower fell.

This operation was done with 5 people. The FM studio engineer, the two transmitter engineers, one tower guy, and myself. I think we were all in shock. All of this took several days to sink in. The idea of the crane came from a FM station in Houston, TX, after their tower fell in the mid 80's. Worked well; my thought at the time was I will use this again.


A shot of one of the piles of debris, including what appears to be parts of the WPTF-TV antenna pole.

A shot of another pile of the broken WPTF tower, with the surviving WTVD tower in the left background.

A shot of the debris surrounding the WPTF transmitter building, which was mostly destroyed. 
It appears that some work had begun to clear the site before I took these pictures.

One more picture of the WRAL tower, before it fell! This picture was taken in spring of 1984, I'm installing a two-way antenna at about the thousand-foot level.


Many thanks to Allen Sherrill for sharing!