Odd Jobs: WCAX transmitter engineer - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Odd Jobs: WCAX transmitter engineer

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STOWE, Vt. -

"What makes the job really unusual is this is my office," Fred Lavenberg said.

It's a million dollar view 4,000 feet above sea level. It's also Fred's home away from home.

"This job is outdoors and it's indoors and it's different every day," Fred said.

He's the transmitter supervisor on the top of Mount Mansfield. Part of his job is ensuring the Channel 3 News reaches your living room without a hitch. And he's been doing it since, as Fred notes, the day Elvis died, Aug. 16, 1977.

"Some people go to school for nursing and end up being accountants," Fred said.

Fred studied history before discovering his passion for broadcast engineering during a stint with his college radio station. Most of his technical training was on the job. He's also licensed by the FCC to operate this equipment. But how does it all work?

"We now do HD TV. It is a tube transmitter," he said.

The signal is sent wirelessly from our control room in South Burlington to the mountain. Then the transmitter takes over.

"It takes the signal that comes up from the studio. It's received here, goes through a couple pieces of equipment," Fred explained.

The digital signal then enters the transmitter and it's broadcast to your home on channel 3.1. But if any part of that chain fails, the engineers spring into action. Fred says the adrenaline kicks in when the TV goes black.

"You've got to be back on the air as quickly as possible," he said. "It's not for everybody. We've had people who've stayed one night. One shift... they were done."

These engineers work for 24 hours straight, typically solo shifts. And there's no leaving the mountain. Channel 3 is one of the few stations in the country still staffing its transmitter around the clock.

"People here do not typically call in for sick days," Fred noted.

Bad weather doesn't scare them either. These hardy engineers often commute by snowmobile or snowshoe.

"People think we live in an alpine hut. It is a very nice alpine hut," Fred said.

The original was built in 1954 and overhauled in 2005. Today, it's more like a barracks, built to withstand bitter cold and whipping winds. But inside it's cozy and equipped with sleeping quarters.

"We're not digging ditches but we do have to sleep," Fred said.

It also has a full kitchen. Fred's co-workers tell me he's quite the cook, whipping up gourmet meals for one.

Reporter Jennifer Costa: What's your favorite thing to make?

Fred Lavenberg: Chinese.

Jennifer Costa: From scratch?

Fred Lavenberg: Of course.

A man of many talents, keeping us on the air for nearly 40 years.

Fred says salaries vary by geographic location. But here in Vermont, starting pay for broadcast engineers range from $15-$20 an hour.

Do you have an odd job or know someone who does? Jennifer wants to hear from you. Send an email to news@wcax.com.

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