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Planning and Preparation Enable Successful Repack Transitions

Phase 2 of the FCC’s 10-phase, broadcast spectrum repack process was officially completed on April 12, and Phase 3 is well underway. With transitions completed for broadcasters across the country, the dedicated repack team at American Tower emphasizes that planning and preparation are the keys to a successful repack transition.

“Broadcasters should aim for the best-case scenario and plan for the worst,” says Matt Hood, Site Development Project Manager at American Tower. “Timelines are tighter as we move through each phase, so broadcasters should start planning their transition well in advance and take all variables into consideration.”

As of mid-March, American Tower has 199 repack-impacted customers on 119 sites. Our dedicated repack team has provided significant capital and internal resources to support broadcasters through the transition. To date, the team has met each FCC milestone and provided timely support to enable transitions:

  • Mapped and ran a baseline structural analysis on 97 towers in advance of the repack
  • Issued 215 FCC 399-like forms to support 90-day construction permit application filing requirements
  • Processed over 200 repack collocation applications
  • Created load lists and ordered over 90 structural engineering analyses
  • Project managed and completed 15 Phase 1 and 46 Phase 2 customer transitions

Weather, equipment deliveries, and crew availability affected repacks during the first two phases. These challenges will continue through each phase and will have a significant impact on every broadcasters’ ability to meet schedules.

The weather experienced this winter was the biggest challenge. In some cases, storms and cold temperatures made it impossible for crews to work outdoors safely. The resulting delays in the schedule affected all repack assignments.

Repack transitions are also affected by the availability of antenna hardware. Suppliers in the U.S. are backlogged with orders. While antennas can be imported from overseas, extended delivery schedules, unexpected delays in transit, and inspections at customs must be taken into account.

Even with good weather and hardware at hand, there are a limited number of qualified rigging crews, utility crews, and civil work crews available to enable a repack transition. When bad weather and equipment delays affect installation schedules, these crews are booked elsewhere and have to be rebooked when good weather returns and hardware is delivered.

“We take all of this into account for our customers,” Matt says. “All our repack schedules factor in potential delays caused by bad weather. We usually build in a two-month buffer for delivery of hardware from overseas. And, we have established relationships with work crews that allow us to get personnel back on-site and keep them on-site when we need them. But, we also go a step further, as we did in Oklahoma City.”

The Phase 2 repack project at the Oklahoma City tower for three stations required a tower extension, installation of a broadband antenna, a new transmitter room, a combining system, and 1,700 feet of transmission line. Hardware deliveries were delayed, so crews were unable to start work as planned and had to be rescheduled. By the time hardware and crews were available, the weather made the ground unsafe for heavy rigging work.

“Because we had started well in advance of the transition deadline, we were able to adjust our approach from traditional rigging to a helicopter lift installation and meet the transition schedule,” Matt explains. “So, the keys to a successful repack transition are planning well in advance and preparing for the worst-case scenario.”

Our repack team is committed to providing broadcasters with the highest level of customer service. If you require any repack-related assistance, please contact or 781-926-7899.

Message From the Broadcast Team

Peter Starke

Peter Starke
Vice President, Broadcast

The American Tower broadcast team recently returned from our annual trip to the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show in Las Vegas. A number of our dedicated sales, operations, services, engineering, and marketing team members represented American Tower at the world’s largest media, entertainment, and technology convention, which attracted over 92,000 attendees and 1,600 exhibitors.

This year’s event was unlike previous shows. More than ever before, there was a consensus among broadcast leaders that ATSC 3.0, also known as Next Gen TV, is gaining momentum and quickly becoming a business reality. The FCC confirmed the ATSC 3.0 application form and process will be “open for business” by the end of second quarter this year. The station owner consortium, Pearl TV, and Sinclair Broadcast Group, in a partnership with One Media and other broadcasters, each announced their plans to deploy Next Gen TV in over 40 U.S. TV markets by the end of 2020.

The first phase of the Next Gen TV on air initiative will be deployed by simulcasting 1.0 and 3.0 signals through stations sharing frequencies in each market. This is commonly referred to as the “lighthouse” deployment method. Simply put, one station broadcasts 1.0 for each station and the other broadcasts 3.0. This method eliminates the need for additional channel deployments to simulcast both signals, which occurred during the TV analog to digital transition.

As the first phase progresses, station owners will evaluate Single Frequency Network (SFN) development and deployment to truly unlock the value of operating robust signal coverage, geotargeted content, and advertising opportunities. 3.0 transmission architecture will allow for stations to broadcast from more than one location.

There is no denying change is happening in the traditional U.S. broadcast industry. The metamorphosis of traditional broadcasting from a single content delivery platform to many platforms has kicked into high gear. More and more nontraditional media companies are distributing content over multiple delivery platforms as well. Traditional television and radio still rule the airwaves when it comes to watching in-home TV and listening to music in vehicles. However, statistics show there is an erosion of revenue for these outlets. Proof to support this was apparent with the increased presence of nontraditional media involvement at the NAB Show. Google, Amazon, Facebook, and the major cellular companies are not just attending, they are participating in sessions on new technologies. It’s all about content delivery methods over multiple platforms to consumers and businesses. At the NAB Show, I counted over 30 5G-related presentations and sessions, some mentioning a convergence and possible complementary use of 5G and ATSC 3.0 together.

The ATSC 3.0 standard content delivery platform is a game changer for traditional television broadcasters. IP-based, one-to-many robust over-the-air transmission systems will launch television stations into the 21st century. It has the opportunity to be the best platform to deliver content anywhere—with the highest quality and lowest delivery price point. Keep a watchful eye on Next Gen TV deployment, because it’s kicking into high gear!

Team Member Spotlight

Carrie Fatalo

Carrie Fatalo
Broadcast Business Manager

Chances are, when you call our broadcast team, you’ll speak to Carrie Fatalo, Broadcast Business Manager. Carrie is a proactive problem solver and has been an invaluable American Tower team member for more than 13 years.

How would you describe your role as a Broadcast Business Manager at American Tower?
Fatalo: I’m like the human Siri behind the American Tower broadcast team. I provide answers and solve problems for customers on topics ranging from site issues and billing to amendments on open projects and new collocations.

It’s nice for customers to hear a live voice when they reach out to us.
Fatalo: Although American Tower is a large company, we pride ourselves on providing a personal experience and being a helpful resource to our customers. Many of our customers have my direct number, so they’ll call if they need me to point them in the right direction. That’s what we’re here for.

Do you prefer email or phone?
Fatalo: I’m always on the phone. It’s often easier to understand peoples’ requests by talking through their questions rather than emailing. But, I’m fine with either method of outreach.

What are some of the biggest challenges you solve for customers?
Fatalo: Lately, I’ve been working with a number of low-power television amendment projects affected by the repack. Some of the biggest challenges with antenna swap-outs involve timing. We always encourage our customers to call us early in the process, rather than wait until the last minute when there is a risk the station will be off air. A lot goes into the process—engineering services, structural analysis—before the amendment is made, and our goal is to help our customers avoid downtime. We welcome customers and non-customers to contact us and find out about the standards and guidelines for amendments.

What gives you job satisfaction?
Fatalo: A good day for me is when I can solve a problem. I’m the type of person who likes to resolve an issue, so it doesn’t happen again.

What is one thing you live by each day in your work?
Fatalo: Make sure you see something through to the end. Good leadership is knowing you can go to someone, or to a company, and trust them to guide you in the right direction. This is something American Tower instills in the corporate culture, and our broadcast team strongly supports one another in this way.

Customers on Carrie Fatalo
Carrie has been an exceptionally genial person in our ongoing business relationship with American Tower. She is prompt in her responses to my many site inquiries and understands our business model as a nonprofit broadcast company. I always receive a cheerful greeting whenever I telephone or email her regarding site opportunities, and the work gets done in a timely manner.

Ray Gorney
Assistant Director, Engineering | CSN International, Inc.

Carrie Fatalo has been great to work with! Very resourceful and helpful and most willing to 'go the extra mile' to find a solution to a problem or locate the appropriate person to help with the issue. Carrie has been proactive with assisting with lease extensions when leases come due. She has been a pleasure to work with.

Allan Brace
Corporate Director, Engineering | Bott Radio Network

Customer Feature

Kim Allison

“We’re in the communications business, so the most important thing is to communicate.”

Kim Allison, Senior Manager of Signal Development, K-LOVE and Air1

After 15 years at K-LOVE and Air1, a contemporary Christian music radio programming service, innovations in radio continue to energize Kim Allison. Today, as Senior Manager of Signal Development, Kim’s focus is on keeping the radio networks connected with listeners through K-LOVE and Air1’s 921 signals across the country. Lately, her efforts have included managing the TV spectrum repack, while minimizing broadcast disruptions.

It’s a busy, but exciting time to be in radio

It’s an exciting times at K-LOVE and Air1 and for radio broadcasting. With our recent acquisition of six stations from Cumulus Media, 2019 is turning out to be a busy year for our parent company, Educational Media Foundation (EMF), and for broadcasters, as we prepare for industry evolution.

I’ve been with EMF for 15 years and have been fortunate enough to witness our growth, while working in a variety of positions. I started by answering phones in the Listener Services department, then worked in Finance, before moving into the Engineering department. Today, I manage all construction projects, which add or modify our signals.

Communication and collaboration are crucial to success

EMF is constantly looking for ways to improve its radio signals by, for example, increasing power or increasing the height of our equipment on broadcast towers. The TV repack has impacted a few of our full-power FM signals, but we’ve been able to make the adjustments needed and avoid major impacts to our development plans. Instead of letting the repack dictate our daily work, our team has included repack tasks as part of build plans to ensure we engage all required parties early in the process.

Many people overlook the importance of establishing open lines of communication up front. With my unique background, I often find myself acting as a bridge between complex technical implementations and our business partners. My role is to bring the necessary expertise into the conversation and manage interests of all parties, so we can achieve our shared goal of improving EMF’s signals across markets nationwide. My team and I interact with several of our business partners, including landlords, zoning and permitting officials, finance experts, contract engineers, and tower providers.

Helicopter installation

Our Oklahoma City repack experience is a prime example

Our collaborative approach worked well when we had to make adjustments at an American Tower site in Oklahoma City. Two of our full-power signals—KYLV (K-LOVE) and KOKF (Air1)—were going to be affected by repack moves, and we were initially anticipating two to four weeks of downtime. In order to reduce this downtime, we built an auxiliary site in a different location prior to the repack work.

Our chief operator and my team remained in regular contact with the American Tower broadcast team, who kept us informed—down to the level of telling us about site walks with tower crews and other broadcasters on the tower. American Tower even called in a helicopter to install a new broadband TV antenna on the tower, which helped reduce our disruption time to only three days! Since then, we’ve been back on-air at full power with no issues.

We’re happy to share lessons learned

My team and I learned important lessons from the Oklahoma City repack experience, and we would like to share them with other broadcasters who are managing major projects:

1. Be flexible. Factors such as weather can never be controlled, so it’s important to have backup plans and be proactive.
2. Be prepared for delays. To build on the last lesson, expect the worst and hope for the best. Make sure to cushion plans for potential delays.

In the end, it’s all for our listeners

Getting the right people to the table from the start is the best thing any broadcaster can do to avoid issues later in the projects. My manager, Sam Wallington, Vice President of Operations and Engineering, always taught me to “do the right thing for the right reason in the right way.” I constantly live by his words when I make management decisions.

I’m thankful to work with a great team of project managers, who offer a variety of technical expertise, and I’m equally thankful I can trust external partners, such as American Tower.

We never feel like we’re ‘just customers’ to the American Tower team, because they don’t treat us like we’re a business transaction. It feels like a family that communicates well.

We’re in the communications business, so the most important thing is to communicate. Our smooth collaboration behind the scenes with American Tower translates to a smooth listening experience for our audience. After all, as a listener-supported radio station, it’s all about our audience experience!
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