End of An Era: KWTV To Take Down Historic Broadcast Tower
OKLAHOMA CITY - Many people may not know, or if they did, have since forgotten, but the broadcast tower at KWTV News 9 once held a pretty impressive world record.
When Channel 9 first signed on the air in December of 1953, it transmitted from a short temporary tower in northeast Oklahoma City.
"We were using a tower that belonged to KOMA Radio," said former KWTV General Manager, Jack DeLier.
DeLier said not for long though, as owner John Griffin had bigger plans.
"The higher the tower, the more viewers we got," DeLier said.
So up they went, and so did I, to see firsthand just how massive the tower is.
The tower stands at more than 1,572 feet tall, around 300 feet higher than the Empire State Building, making it at one time the world's tallest manmade structure. So tall In fact, Griffin decided against the call letters KOMA and instead chose KWTV, standing for “world's tallest video”.
By the fall of 1954, we reached the widest coverage of any station in the southwest with the view from the top reaching a 60-mile horizon.
"It was real big deal," DeLier said. "We had a grand dedication, Johnny Carson was the master of ceremonies, and Vera Ellen who was a film actress and dancer at that time, climbed up on the elevator to the 1,300 foot level and danced on the platform."
The tower cost $650,000 to build back then, that would be just over $3M today. And here are some other facts worth noting: 100,000 pounds of bolts were used in constructing the tower with an overall weight of one million pounds, 28,690 feet of cable was used, 770 gallons of paint is needed for just one coat and 14,400 watts of power is needed to light it up. It also has a one man electric elevator for workers to use for antenna and tower maintenance.
"It was kind of overly designed," said Jack Mills, KWTV's Director of Engineering. "They never built a structure that tall before and so they had to come up with unique measures of doing it."
And at that time, unique programming. The network didn't sign on each day until 6:30 p.m., so stations were tasked with filling the airwaves, mostly with syndicated and local programs.
"Lola Hall was the first weather girl," DeLier recalls. "We had a local live show on Saturday morning called Miss Fran from Storyland. Gaylon Stacy came on later, he had an afternoon show.
From black and white to now high definition, the tower has served us well, but now it's time for it to come down. Mills is now tasked with taking down this iconic structure.
"The process will be basically a reverse process of installation," Mills said. "They'll put a gin pole on the tower which will be a small section of tower that they can dismantle pieces and lower it down. I feel privileged to take down the tower."
And I feel privileged to be one of the last people to travel up this towering piece of broadcast and Oklahoma history before it's laid to rest.
Now, this doesn't mean News 9 is going off the air. The TV business has changed and we simply don't use the tower anymore. That's why we are having the KWTV tower taken down. We've hired a company that specializes in removing broadcast towers to come in and take it down piece by piece this fall. Once it's down, a scrap metal company will take it to be recycled.
With the change to digital from analog signals our News 9 signal moved to a different tower that is a shared tower with other stations.