Dakota Datebook

Tall Tower Two

Thursday, December 9, 2004

Yesterday, we talked about the KTHI transmission tower – now used by KVLY – near Blanchard. It was built in 1963 and holds the record of being the tallest man-made, land-based structure in the world.

What some people don’t realize is that North Dakota also has the second tallest structure in the world – the KXJB-TV mast, which is 3_ miles northeast of Galesburg. When the KTHI tower had been completed, it was 2,063 feet high – the Federal Aviation Administration ruled that enough was enough – no more structures in the United States were allowed to be that tall.

So… the KXJB mast, completed three years later, is just shy of that height – just three feet shorter, in fact. The KXJB tower was built to replace the station’s previous mast northeast of Valley City, which was sold to KOVC, an FM radio station.

Unlike the tower at Blanchard, the Galesburg structure has collapsed. Twice. The first time it fell was on the morning of Valentines Day, 1968, when the rotor of a Marine helicopter severed some of the tower’s guy wires. The accident left all four passengers dead.

The accident knocked KXJB off the air for eight days; they finally resumed broadcasts from their previous (KOVC) tower. It took four and a half months to clear the damage and rebuild the tower to its previous height.

The tower fell again on April 5, 1997, when an ice storm hit the area. At least four inches of ice built up on the steel, and it couldn’t withstand the wind, which was gusting up to 70 mph. To get KXJB back up and running, CBS4 worked, in a remarkable coordinated effort, with technicians and engineers at KVRR and CableOne in Fargo, TCI in Moorhead, KFME in Grand Forks, and West Fargo’s Harmon cable site. Cable programming was resumed within 2_ hours, and by the next afternoon, live broadcasting was back on the air as well.

Four days after the TV tower’s collapse, falling ice severed a transmission line in Grand Forks, and once again, CBS4 lost its feed, because KFME had to take it back for itself.

Engineers next tried a microwave transmitter, which they placed on top of the First Bank Building in Grand Forks. Six days later, KXJB was back on the air in Grand Forks. But disaster struck again on the 19th, when the 1997 flood broke through the dikes and inundated the bank building. Power was cut and the microwave receiver was stranded.

KXJB had a 735-foot temporary tower in place by July; it still stands next to the full-height mast, just in case. One year after the ice storm, work began on a more durably built permanent replacement; the weight of the steel in the collapsed tower was 697,000 pounds compared to 955,000 pounds in the new replacement.

The KXJB tower reached its previous height by the 30th of July. That day, members of the construction crew raised a four-foot flagpole on top, making it one foot higher than the KVLY tower. The flagpole had to be removed, of course, but the tower does still boast the world’s “highest up” flag – other than the one left on the moon.
Tune in tomorrow to learn about a spectacular North Dakota tower…that never was.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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