ORLANDO, Fla. – For many, people going to work means driving to the office and logging into their computer. But for News 6 Maintenance Supervisor Ben Vaughn, the day starts 1,300 feet up in the air.
Vaughn has worked as an engineer at News 6 in Orlando since 2018.
When he first accepted the gig, he said he didn’t know it would involve going hundreds of feet up into the air to make repairs to a TV news tower.
“I was in video post-production in New York for 20 years. When I took this job, I was like, ‘Oh, I can work on machines and computers,’” he said.
Not long after he was hired, he said there was an issue at the tower. He said he was nervous the first time he had to make a repair so high above the ground.
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“I actually never stood up the entire time I was up there. I was on my hands and knees. Absolutely terrified,” Vaughn said.
Over time, despite the swaying, clanking and vibrating, Vaugh said he has gotten a lot more comfortable working on a 1,300-foot-high platform, but he knows he has to be careful.
He said crews always go up the tower in pairs, just in case one of them has trouble getting down.
“One guy has to be able to get the other person off the tower, get them into the elevator,” he said.
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But, when you think of an elevator, it’s not one of those fancy ones you see in a hotel. It looks more like a small metal cage and when two men are riding in it together for 26 minutes up and 26 minutes down, things can get tight.
Vaughn said he often rides “belly to belly” and that “Larry and I have spent a lot of close time together.”
Most recently the duo went up the tower to fix an antenna that allows viewers at home to see the signal from the Sky 6 helicopter live. Vaughn said he and the engineering department go up twice a year just to repair, replace or inspect those antennas.
When they go up Vaughn said, it’s important to make sure you don’t go up too high.
“You’d die... you’re talking about an enormous amount of RF energy. I mean, we oftentimes, around the base of the tower, you’ll see dead birds and whatnot. I mean, it’s like being in a microwave,” he said. “If you were to go any higher than, say 1,500 feet, then you would have to wear an RF alarm, similar to a radiation alarm.”
As with everything else in Florida, Vaughn said weather also plays a factor in when engineers can go up the tower to make repairs.
“In Florida, you’re off that tower by one o’clock. If it’s done or not, you’re off,” he said.
The reason? The high risk of lightning strikes.
When you are trying to get down, if for some reason, the elevator doesn’t work, Vaugh said, that’s where your safety harness comes into play.
“There’s a ladder” and you would have to lock and unlock your harness the whole way down.
“You better have nice boots on. Otherwise, the insides of your feet are going to be destroyed,” he said.
Despite the inherent risk involved, Vaughn said he and the whole engineering team at News 6 is committed to doing whatever it takes.
“We all have a common goal, and that goal is to make sure that the station stays on the air,” Vaughn said.
To learn more, check out Florida’s Fourth Estate. You can download it from wherever you listen to podcasts or watch it anytime on News 6+.
For questions, you can reach out to Florida’s Fourth Estate producer Tiffany Browne.