Huge helicopter swaps out Channel 4 antenna on Southside

Precautions taken as Skycrane helicopter changes out equipment

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A massive Erickson A-64 Skycrane helicopter, often used in logging and to fight forest fires, worked on Channel 4's tower on the Southside Tuesday morning, removing an old antenna and replacing it with a new one.

Several men were on the ground putting the parts together before the chopper transported the mount and antenna to the top of the tower, where a crew of six men secured the antenna in place. 

The new antenna on the 1,000-foot Anders Boulevard tower will accommodate a change in frequency spectrum mandated by the Federal Communications Commission and will allow the station to broadcast channels 4 and 17 simultaneously. 

The old analog antenna removed from the tower was about 80 feet long and weighed more than 12,000 pounds. The new antenna is smaller and lighter and is capable of broadcasting in a new spectrum, but viewers won't notice a change until 2020, when the new system is integrated.

The chopper had "significant rotor wash" that, at low altitude, could rip shingles off roofs and blow down small outbuildings, or any small items not strapped down. To avoid problems for the neighbors, a helipad was built on-site so it will not need to fly over the surrounding neighborhoods while removing and replacing the antennas.

Last week, a crew began dismantling WCWJ's 996-foot red and white tower on Hogan Road, on the other side of Southside Boulevard.

That tower was the tallest man-made structure in Northeast Florida when it went up in 1966, when the Channel 17 station signed on as WJKS. Over a half-century, the tower has deteriorated, and it wasn't up to holding the weight of a new digital antenna. In fact, structural upgrades were needed before it could be safely be taken down.

Having transitioned in the 2000s to become WJWB, then WCWJ, the station was acquired last year by Graham Media, the owner of WJXT. The Channel 17 transmitter is moving to Channel 4's tower and the 51-year-old tower is no longer needed.

WJXT/WCWJ chief engineer James Lowery said that tower was being taken down in 20-foot sections using a crane and cable system.

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