In the beginning of radio broadcasting many of the pioneer broadcasters used a wire strung between two wooden poles as their station antenna. They quickly improved these systems through the years by building vertically guyed triangular steal towers (average height 200 feet). A lesser number of self-supporting towers ( no guy wires) were also built the majority of which still stand today. In addition, a smaller number of guyed tubular towers were erected in the early days including KTRB's towers in 1941-42 which were constructed of sections of well casing steel welded together. The casings were originally used in the oil drilling industry in the Bakersfield area.
Erecting such structures required owners to maintain the towers, particularly replacing burned-out clearance and beacon lights as required by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) and the need for periodic painting (red and white).These regulations, and others, created the need for men/women affectionately known as a "tower rats" (who were not Acrophobic) to climb the towers frequently to do the work. Unlike today's trained climbers, pioneer climbers mostly required physical strength and stamina to endure the average 200-300 foot towers.
Tubular towers like KTRB's required climbing pegs be welded to the tower to allow workers to scale the structure to perform maintenance. KTRB decided not to install the climbing pegs and instead opted to install a steel cable on each tower strung through a pulley installed at the top of the tower. Maintenance workers would attach their climbing apparatus to the cable and hoist themselves up and down the side of the tower. When the cable was not in use it was wrapped around the tower to reduce or eliminate possible problems involving the de-tuning of the antenna system. Tubular type towers were more susceptible to winds than masts with open bodies. Several collapsed through the years.
In today's cell phone/cell site environment a tower climber is a technician who performs maintenance and repair on radio masts and towers.Tower climbers perform routine inspections and tests on broadcasting towers and may also be called upon to perform repairs including replacing burned out light bulbs, painting and equipment repairs and installation. Unlike today's cell phone industry, fatalities from climbing towers have been rare while deaths associated with the cell phone industry towers are significant and the profession is considered the most dangerous in the world.
Tower Climbers (Rats)
By Bob Pinheiro
For several decades the government required radio, television and communication towers to be painted red and white for aviation safety purposes with red clearance lights spaced along the length of the tower and a red flashing beacon light on top. The only way to paint erected towers was by hand using mittens dipping alternately in red and white paint buckets and rubbing inch by inch by a painter (photo). Today tower owners opt for high intensity white flashing lights instead to meet the Federal regulations and modern day towers with the new clearance lights need not be painted the traditional red and white.
Guyed tubular towers.
Tower worker doing maintenance on a modern day triangular tower.
KTRB's eastern most tubular tower and the tuning unit at the base of the tower. The arrow points to a steal hoisting cable wrapped around the tower. The cable is attached to a pulley at the top of the the tower which is used by maintenance workers to move up and down the tower. It is wrapped around the tower when not in use in order to prevent interference the directional properties of the antennas. KTRB's antenna system included three towers constructed of steel well casings welded together. No climbing rungs (pegs) were welded to the towers as they were constructed necessitating the cable and pulley system for maintenance.
Triangular guyed tower with Tower Rat
Mother Nature and vandals are responsible for most tower failures.