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Crew climbs to 'death zone' to work on WRAL tower

Posted December 29, 2008
Updated March 9, 2009

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— Shane Best considers himself part of a "special breed of people.” Perched high in the air, his job as a tower rigger regularly puts him 2,000 feet off the ground.

Best is part of the crew of Tower King II, a company that works on big towers. They spent Christmas week at the WRAL transmitter tower near Clayton installing a new digital antenna.

'Death zone' work on WRAL tower takes guts 'Death zone' work on WRAL tower takes guts

“There (are) very few people who can do what we do,” Best said. “A lot of people say they've got the gumption and the guts and the backbone, but when they get up there, they're white-knuckled and they can't move."

WRAL’s tower has six antennas at the top, making the work a little tricky. Clouds and howling winds stopped work for a few days, but crews eventually lowered the old antenna and hoisted the new one.

“This job's a little more difficult than a normal antenna change,” Best said.

He and the crew said they get a thrill from working at extreme heights.

“Once you pass 50 feet, it's the death zone. I'm an adrenaline junkie,” Best said. “We don't really care if it's 2,000 or 10,000 feet. It's the same to us."

Some WRAL viewers might have noticed some problems receiving the station’s digital channels while crews worked on the equipment. The signal will be stronger than ever on Feb. 17 when the nation converts to digital television.

The crew's work on WRAL’s tower will allow the station to use new technologies in the future, including mobile television.


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  • RD28327 Dec 30, 2008

    Well, that explains the weak or non-reception of channels 5 & 50. I can receive all the other digital TV signals that broadcast from Auburn (11,17,22 & 28) just using a set of rabbit ears down here in Carthage. I live closer (though not much compared to Auburn) to the TV towers in Randleman and can pick up the digital TV signals from the Triad (2, 8, 20, 45, 48 & 61). Can also pick up UNC-TV and TV 40.

    Hope those guys get the work done soon but I also hope they do stay safe. I sure wouldn't want to do their job! I have a heart condition and I'm also afraid of heights!

  • nc_climber Dec 29, 2008

    No, rock faces don't generally move at all unless you break something off, which is uncommon, but happens. They don't sway.

    I don't know how many single points of failure tower hands deal with. For climbers, the single points of failure are generally the rope and the harness, with conventional wisdom being any fall hard enough to break a harness (which I think has never happened) will kill you anyway. Ropes don't break in practice, but can be cut on sharp edges. Falling rocks/equipment/tourists can also be a hazard depending on where you climb.

  • thx1138 Dec 29, 2008

    Greetings to the recreational climbers - rockfaces don't sway like these towers do (3-4 feet from what I understand) and have as many single points of failure, do they?

    My hats off to your hobby, and to the tower riggers, and the Burj Dubai height record holders.

  • illegals--GO HOME Dec 29, 2008

    I admire them because I just can't do the extreme height stuff. Rappelled off of a 50 and 65 foot buildings and that was scary enough!! Went off a 100 foot water tower too but drew the line on a 135 foot building!! Even tied off I just could not step off!!

    So, my hat is off to them. Do you know what people on the ground look like at 2000 feet? Nope, they are like ants!!!! I get dizzy just thinking about being that high....

  • jfc4419 Dec 29, 2008

    I lived about a mile from the channel 7 tower in Grifton N.C. and remember them erecting the first tower and then replacing it with the taller new one. It was amazing to watch them do it. I also remember them erecting the channel 9 tower in Greenville which was Eastern N.C.'s first tv station.

  • meh2 Dec 29, 2008

    Heights never bothered me, but those guys are not paid much, considering the risks they take and the importance of what they do. Pay better and I will be right there.

  • ses12067 Dec 29, 2008

    I could not imagine going up a tower that high. There's a 320 meter free fall ride near Tokyo that I wouldn't even get on. Do the math, it's just over half the height of this tower!! No thanks!

  • Nothing Finer Dec 29, 2008

    “We don't really care if it's 2,000 or 10,000 feet. It's the same to us."

    Okay, I see the point that you'll be dead from a fall at either height. However, I figure that difference of an extra 8,000 feet is worth approx. 25 extra seconds of falling. GAH! That's a lot of hang time, friends! I'd like enough time to let loose a Hail Mary, but not enough to say the whole rosary, thanks!

  • ghimmy51 Dec 29, 2008

    Since you asked I'm in construction. I've been higher than 60 feet many times and walked beams 4" wide before OSHA regulations were enforced ... no safety harness.

  • nc_climber Dec 29, 2008

    As a climber, I'm with Froggy on this one. :) There are many, many recreational climbers in the world, and as the story correctly states, you don't have to get very high before it doesn't matter how high you are.

    You probably don't get resumes from climbers because climbing a tower, or taking an elevator to the top of a tower, wouldn't be any fun (nor would it be scary). It's just part of the job, not unlike riding the bus or subway. The safety equipment never thrilled me, either. Compare recreational climbing, with hundreds of thousands of people doing it (if not more), and IIRC something like 50 fatalities/year.