That Time the i95 Radio Tower Took a Direct Lightning Hit
Last night's thunderstorms certainly made for a lot of noise and quite the light show. It got me thinking back to 10 years ago almost to the day when our antenna took a direct hit in a particularly bad thunderstorm in 2008.
The i95 tower can be seen all over Greater Danbury, so the fact that it was belching out black smoke from way up attracted the attention of quite a few of my friends. What was, up to then, an uneventful Saturday afternoon turned very eventful, very quickly, as my phone starting blowing up with everyone I know saying, "Ummmm, have you looked up at the tower?"
I headed for our tower site and met our then-GM there. He and his son had just come from a baseball game and his kid still had his uniform on. We stood there looking up at the sky like all of the people at the beginning of "Armageddon" thinking we were probably screwed for several days.
What had happened was that our antenna was covered by a plastic sheath that kept it from freezing up during ice storms. The down side of the sheath was that it was made of plastic, which burns pretty well. A blowtorch signal like ours creates a lot of electricity, which tends to hang around in its own little clump around the antenna. (Engineering types are going to take me apart for this explanation, I'm aware. I'm oversimplifying as much as possible to avoid this turning into a long techie dissertation about flux capacitors.) Anyway, all it took was a direct lightning hit into this corona of electricity, and poof. Plastic sheath fricassee.
Luckily, thanks to some quick thinking from our engineers, we weren't even off the air that long. A backup antenna went up the next morning about halfway up the tower, and we were back on the air, although at reduced power. Folks in the immediate area probably didn't even notice, although we weren't booming from New York City to the Berkshires like we usually do. A new antenna and greatly improved lightning-suppression equipment arrived a few days later, and we were back in business. But I will never forget standing at the base of the tower watching my livelihood go up in smoke — literally. Here's our tower on a much calmer day:
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