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Freedom Tower enters crowded New York market to lure broadcaster antennas

Before 9/11, many local TV broadcasters transmitted from the World Trade Center. Now, they are being wooed by the Freedom Tower, but there's competition from other skyscrapers.

One World Trade Center, which is popularly known as the Freedom Tower, has more than two million square feet of office space to fill on 104 floors. John Lyons is working to rent space above all that.

“Yes, all of the FM and TV in the market we can accommodate,” says Lyons, director of broadcast communications at a real estate firm called Durst Organization.

His aim is to cover the newly installed spire with broadcast antennas, like the north tower of the old World Trade Center had. The financial stakes are high, and it’s a more competitive market, as he can see from the window of his office, 740-feet above Midtown Manhattan.

“Empire State Building, One World Trade Center and 4 Times Square right from here, within my peripheral vision,” he says, pointing out the antenna-topped skyscrapers.

After 9/11, many broadcasters crowded onto the tower of the Empire State Building, bringing a windfall of $16 million in 2010, the last full year for which figures are publicly available. 4 Times Square tripled the height of its rooftop tower to fit even more antennas. That means now broadcasters don't have to rely on just one site, as many did in 2001.

“That was ‘all eggs in one basket’ at the time,” Lyons says of the old days. “You had one facility. TV was mostly at the World Trade Center and the FM was at the Empire State Building, and they didn’t have a back-up facility.”

Jazz radio station WBGO felt it couldn't afford one.

“We were a typical urban public radio station that was you know trying to get enough money to just keep our program service alive,” says CEO Cephas Bowles. The station has since opted for a second site.

Lyons is trying to capitalize on this new demand for two antennas. He says stations could have any combination of primary and secondary towers distributed among One World Trade Center and 4 Times Square, whose antenna towers are managed by Durst, and the Empire State Building. More choice means better signal coverage, not to mention better deals.

“I want to say prices probably go down,” Lyons says. "The broadcasters have a chance to negotiate better because they have more facilities to go into.”

At the newest skyscraper, One World Trade Center, Lyons hopes to lock in antenna leases worth $10 million a year.

About the author

Stan Alcorn is a multimedia journalist in New York City. He has reported for NPR and WNYC, where he has focused on business and the New York tech scene.
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