wgtvThis past year, I had occasion by virtue of employment to visit almost all of Georgia Public Broadcasting’s radio and television transmission tower sites.  Digital broadcasting was approaching with a full head of steam, and all of the transmitter sites would require upgrades to air conditioning and electrical circuitry in order to make the new equipment hum.  Our assignment was to facilitate and oversee that work.

The first thing I learned was that, while the address sheet noted that the transmitters were located in mainly rural towns, the transmitter sites were actually wa-a-a-a-y out of the listed towns.  There is a reason for this.  It is called a broadcast antennae tower.  These are located so that, should one of these ever have occasion to topple, it is located so far from anything that, when it hits the ground, those who do happen to live in the vicinity can still say, “What the hell was that?”

These towers are generally in the neighborhood of 1000 feet tall, and of metallic construction.  This is a perfect combination to attract more than a fair share of lightning from near and far, followed less than immediately by that bones-rattling roil of excited air called thunder.  Once, in Cochran, our electrician had literally just taken his hand off of a copper tube that ran the full height of the tower from the transmitter when the tower was struck.  His relief in knowing that the tower was well grounded was only mildly tempered when the site engineer bopped into the room and excitedly announced, “Boys, now that’s what we call a direct hit to the tower!”

The second thing I learned is that, despite living here all my life and being full of pride about my State and my knowledge and travel of it, there are areas of Georgia that I never knew existed outside of interstate exit signs.  You can have no appreciation of city living until you have been to Pelham, Pembroke, or Fort Gaines, or have traveled the roads necessary to get to those places.  You have not seen Georgia’s mountains until you have been to Fort Mountain outside of Chatsworth.  My wife and I honeymooned there, and we vacationed there occasionally with and without the kids, so I already knew it well. It has only improved over time, with one possible exception – they now have television in the cabins.

img_4412On the way to Fort Mountain from Atlanta, you simply must make it a point to eat lunch at the Road Kill Café in White.  Even if you didn’t like the food (but you will), how could you possibly pass up the photo-op of having your picture taken while standing in front of their sign?

Another thing.  Despite now being full of spanking new state-of-the-art equipment, most of these facilities are really old and showing their age.  Most were built in the early 1960’s when public television was in its infancy, way back when we used to call it “Educational TV.”  With the exception of the extraordinary art deco style building at Warm Springs and one or two others, there were any number of them that I could not believe we were rehabbing, instead of running a bulldozer through them and starting over from scratch.  Something must be done about this.  I’m enough of a realist to know there’s no way that’s going to happen anytime soon, but it’s a crying shame that we can’t do better than these dilapidated structures to house facilities that are serving our State so well.

The people who staff these facilities are truly marvelous characters.  They don’t make a busload of money – any of them could be making much more in the private sector performing the same duties.  Before the digital equipment arrived, they were holding things together and keeping things up and running with a good dose of ingenuity, scavenged parts, duct tape, wire jumpers, and answered prayers.  Thanks to credit card commercials and web takeoffs on them, the word “priceless” has become overused, but I will tell you plainly that the dedication of these people is truly priceless.  So, when you’re sitting in your media room or riding Georgia’s highways enjoying a favorite GPB program, think of the people who have made it happen and whisper a little prayer of your own; “Thanks!”

John Dembowski

John Dembowski

John Dembowski is a Construction Site Manager. He grew up and lives again in Warner Robins, Georgia, after stints in Savannah, Athens, and Brunswick. He and his wife Vanessa are empty-nesters, who enjoy Georgia's beaches and mountains and the antique trail between the two.

  1. Terri Evans

    Speaking of thanks…thanks for sharing about these unsung heroes.

  2. Cable and satellite television are certainly changing the dynamic, but some people who live in urban areas or college towns might not realize what a lifeline these public broadcasting outlets are for people who live in more isolated or rural areas. I, for one, really appreciate the fact that I can pick up NPR on the radio almost anywhere as I drive around Georgia (with just slight changes of frequency on the dial now and then). In some ways, I think the state’s public broadcasting system is superior to the one in Atlanta, which is licensed by the Atlanta Public Schools and apparently remains separate from the state system, and I do wonder about how much duplication of services — and inefficient use of money — might be involved. I assume there are historic reasons for this, but if anyone can enlighten me on the reasons that Atlanta and the state maintain separate systems, I’d be interested to hear. I also wish everyone in the South had access to the public broadcasting that you can get in Boston, Washington and San Francisco. In my view, some of the best quality programming comes from these public stations.

  3. Keith Graham

    Just to clarify my earlier comment, my understanding is that WABE radio and WPBA television — Channel 30 — in Atlanta remain separate from Georgia Public Broadcasting. Metro Atlanta, as far as I know, is not served by a radio station that is part of the GPB network, but it does have a GPB television station, WGTV, Channel 8. Both the state and city broadcasting systems conduct fund-raising drives — I hear from both all the time — that I think might result in some confusion for people. Should these systems be consolidated for efficiency, or is there a good reason that they are not? I don’t know the answer but would like to hear from anyone who does.

  4. Piney Woods Pete

    I hear all the good things about educational tv, and Yea! to that. But I want to hear more about John D’s travels.

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