June 18, 2015 — Don’t expect the status quo from the two veteran broadcast industry executives who were appointed recently by Vertical Bridge to oversee development of the firm’s broadcast towers. Mark Stennett, with 30 years of engineering roles in broadcast radio, was named senior broadcast engineer, and Gary Hess, previously with iHeartRadio and American Tower, was appointed vice president of broadcast towers leasing; they are open to the possibilities.
Broadcast towers may not be the subject of a lot of hype, but they represent prime vertical real estate. Hess and Stennett are clearly excited about the prospects of creatively putting that space to work. The two will manage the portfolio of 411 broadcast towers Vertical Bridge purchased from iHeartRadio in December 2014.
In particular, Hess is looking to unlock the additional value in these towers through innovative methods such as diplexing and aggregating AM towers, which he was not allowed to do at his previous jobs leasing for the broadcast tower industry.
“I am finding that diplexing and aggregating AM towers, moving an AM radio station to another site and freeing up the first site for real estate use is quite an attractive offer,” Hess said. “This is the first time that I have had all of these assets and all of these opportunities in a job. These towers are open to all opportunities.”
Vertical Bridge’s diverse portfolio of towers with FM, AM and television antennas represents a challenge, according to Stennett. “It is one of very intense engineering,” he said. “It is not uncommon to have multiple FM carriers running through a combiner to share a common antenna.”
Vertical Bridge will be charting new territory with respect to adding tenants to AM towers, where the tower is the antenna and it represents a challenge adding additional antennas.
“It is not impossible, but it is tedious. It involves installing equipment to avoid shorting out the AM antenna,” Stennett said. With respect to the high power levels used, Vertical Bridge enforces different climbing procedures to cope with concerns about RF exposure levels.
Vertical Bridge Preparing for TV Repack
Vertical Bridge is gearing up for the FCC’s incentive auction of television broadcast spectrum, which will permit TV broadcasters to either voluntarily go off the air, share their spectrum or move to other channels in exchange for part of the proceeds from auctioning their spectrum to wireless providers.
Vertical Bridge’s portfolio includes full-power television stations with towers up to 2,000 feet in height, and Hess said he is looking forward to the process of reassigning broadcast TV channels to free up contiguous blocks of spectrum for wireless broadband, known as TV repack. Vertical Bridge has committed capital to it and possibly master antennas, according to Hess.
“[TV repack] is going to completely rebuild this industry. It’s a big job. I think you are going to see new efficiencies, lighter antennas, and more stations combining and operating in a single system that is provided by the tower owner. We want our share of that activity,” he said.