1,000 foot Tower Stories & Comments

[ Editor's note: A variety of comments about 31's 1,000 foot tower building in 1976 or falling in 2003 ]

Don Roden remembers construction

My main job during the WAAY-TV 1,000 foot tower construction project was to be at the tower crew's motel at 7Am each moning for a "head-count" . If they were there, I was to get them headed toward the mountain..... If not, I was to go to the city jail and bail them out. I don't know if anyone remembers, but there was a bar called "Fat Harry's" west of the Governers Drive Post Office. The tower company was World-Wide Towers, and the owner's son was a large kid named John. He was from Texas ( University of Texas degree in plant horticulture ) and he stood about six feet six inches tall. One of the other tower crew was named Corky , and he was just under six feet, but built like a fireplug. They were at Fat Harrys to celebrate John's 21st birthday. Some of the locals got offended by John's "Texas" stories, and a fight started. There were around 30 locals and four of the tower crew. The tower crew fought their way to the front door ( there was no rear door ) and once they got outside, they decided that they were having so much fun, that they went in again. The police said when they arrived, the four tower guys had all thirty locals bunched up in a corner and were hitting the ones on the outside edges with folding chairs. I believe MD and WAAY-TV had to pay around $500 to the owner to keep the tower crew out of jail. John married one of the girls that worked at the TV station, and I think they still live in Huntsville.

Angie Parks (Conville) Married one of tower crew

My name has probably thrown you. I was Angie Conville. I got a divorce in February 1999 and changed my name back to my maiden name in 2000. I was at WAAY-TV in the Sales Department from May of 1990 until the sale of the station in September 1999. I am currently co-owner of Summit Media Productions with Toni Lowrey former with Redge Swing.

My first ex-husband was John Webernick. He, his Father and Gunter Olsen owned "Worldwide Tower Service". They erected WAAY-TV's tower in 1976 or 1977. I married him in 1982 and we divorced in 1989. Worldwide went out of business in 1984 after they had a tower fall in Houston Texas killing 5 employees. John and I started another tower company: Global Tower Service after that. He has since sold Global Tower Service to Kuwiat. He went over there after "Desert Storm" and rebuilt their communication towers. Now he has retired and lives in Texas. [Editor's note: One of Worldwide Tower crew died during construction - I believe it was a heart attack ]

[ Don's reply to tower crew member dying in Huntsville. ]

He was the winch operator....

Not only did he have a heart attack, but he was driving the crew down Fern Avenue in a crew-cab truck and missed the sharp hair-pin right-hander half way between Lookout Drive and Bankhead Pkwy. The crew were pretty banged up and cut, but no broken bones. They didn't realize anything was wrong until they were already off the road and crashing into trees . They did all go to Buffalo, New York for the funeral and to heal. I can't remember his name, but he camped behind the TV Station in his pickup camper during the build. He was older ( late 50s-early 60s ) than the rest of the crew and didnt go drinking with them every night. Sylvia thought it was terrible for him to have to eat alone, so she invited him over to our house for several home cooked meals during the tower build. We built that tower in February, and I recall the crew being lifted up 1000 feet with ice still on the tower and the winch elevator. I always wondered what would have happened if he had suffered his heart attack during one of those crew lifts or during the antenna lift....

Michael Sheffer - other towers that have fallen

Good Lord, I had to catch my breath when I heard the news. While I'm thankful that no one from the station was hurt, but I can't help but think about the three men who perished, and their families.

A couple of years ago, a tower in Texas ( I believe ) came down while the crew was installing a reinforcing structure. What happened is that a temporary "gusset" was to have been installed, which either failed or was improperly attached. What the gusset does is to keep the legs of the tower from spreading out under the weight of the structure above. ( think of squeezing a balloon from top to bottom - the sides bulge out ) If the geometry of a tower becomes distorted in any way, it could collapse in a similar fashion to what happened at WAAY. Another tower in North Carolina came down a couple of years ago when an airplane clipped a guy wire. It partially came down on itself, but another portion fell laterally, along the missing guy wire's path. From what I can see from the pictures, it looks like the top folded over, and fell towards the building while the rest of the tower came down on top of itself. The photos I've seen lead me to believe that something happened to compromise the integrity of the structure about 2/3's of the way up.

Replacing hogrods and diagonals is tricky business, and it's vital to make sure that the temporary supports are properly installed before anything is removed.

I can't say that this is what happened for sure, but that's what my instinct is telling me.

Thanks -

[ Editor's footnote: These stories are going to be added to as comments come in about either building the tower or something related to its fall ]

© 2003 Smith Broadcasting, Inc. [update 9-11-2003]