Milford Smith weighs in on Penn Plaza interference


NYC’s skyline is now set to sprout another skyscraper after city council approved plans for a tower only 60ft shorter (some reports say even less) than the Empire State Building. The council shrugged off objections from the owners of the 102-story Empire State Building and gave the go-ahead for the construction of 15 Penn Plaza, a 67-story building only two blocks away from the Empire State Building, which has stood largely unobstructed in midtown Manhattan since 1931.

Speaking of obstructions, there have been reports that this new building may present a major obstruction to the RF transmitted from the Empire State Building – the home of most of NYC’s FM and TV stations after the World Trade Center site was destroyed on 9/11/01. Some engineers have voiced concern the new building could create major multipath noise from signal reflections and “shadowing” – much worse than there already is in some of Manhattan’s urban corridors. It could potentially cause problems as well across the Hudson in parts of New Jersey. We asked Greater Media VP/Engineering Milford Smith what he thought:

“As you know, GMI [Greater Media] does not own stations in New York and it has been many years since I worked in that town at “Empire”. However, if the elevation numbers cited are true (and I have not independently verified that) then a good portion of the aperture of the antenna mast on Empire would definitely be obstructed by the proposed new building. That situation is very likely to result in both shadowing and reflections of signals from Empire although to what extent is not immediately clear. We ran into a somewhat similar issue, albeit involving only one FM station, in Philadelphia when the new Comcast Tower was constructed, a building taller than the former top dog One Liberty Place which was — and is –home to our WMMR’s main antenna.  In that instance, despite our initial fears, the actual impact on WMMR’s coverage and signal quality was pretty minimal.

However, I would very much hesitate to extrapolate that example to the situation developing in New York. The newly proposed building is larger and apparently closer, thus the potential for blockage and reflections appears to be greater and the number of signals and frequencies involved is massive. If I were a broadcast tenant at Empire State I would definitely be very concerned with this developing situation.

PS. A bit of background, when World Trade Center was under construction back in the late 60s and early 70s, there was great concern on the part of NY broadcasters, especially TV, that reflections from WT would create disruptions in service all over Manhattan and even the adjacent boroughs and close in NY counties. Thus the eventual move of virtually all TV’s to WT. During construction of WT many NY TV’s had lower power UHF transmitters operating from Empire with signals directed into those areas where it was feared that VHF reception would be impacted. And, as you know, WT is (was) WAY downtown from Empire.”

RBR-TVBR observation: Needless to say, the new building may end up being host to a site of its own. With cooperation between the two sites, there may be ways to minimize the signal reflections with modern engineering techniques. Let the signal studies begin…!