I got into the antenna site acquisition business late in 1979 after selling long-distance telephone service for MCI Communications in downtown Chicago and just before half of the salesforce was laid off because the company emphasis switched from B2B sales (that filled up the daytime network capacity) to consumer sales (due to excess nighttime network capacity.) One highlight of my 6-month stint selling MCI service was making Second City a customer and being an extra on Daly Plaza in the Blues Brothers movie (instead of enlisting in the Air Force Labor Day weekend.)
My site acquisition training consisted of a solo day trip down I-55 to take notice of the existing communications towers along the highway. I was further provided with some sample leases, photos, and sketches of existing MCI antenna sites. The bulk of my training however would be OJT (on the job). My base would be D.C.
My first site acquisition assignment was given to me in the first week of 1980. During the next ten weeks, I traveled to ten rural areas in New Jersey, Upstate New York, and Ohio and brought home 10 property owner-signed land leases for communications towers that were acceptable and counter-signed by MCI.
At this point, my superiors asked me to start processing local building and zoning permits for these ten sites and another 10 in the system that I was further assigned to acquire for a 20-site system that would route telephone and data traffic from New York City to Cleveland completing a figure 8 in the network between New York City and Chicago.
For me, learning this business came from a high degree of communication between myself and a seasoned RF (radio frequency) Engineer, Hal. Being heavily dependent on traveling around the countryside, meeting new people, doing research, and working with maps, this work suited me very well.
I remember getting the only high score in my class on the only geography quiz I took during six years of elementary school. I also remember planning a bicycle trip in junior high from Illinois to Wisconsin and back using maps.
On the job in Upstate New York, I remember spending time during evenings spreading out topography maps on the bed or a table in my hotel room and circling areas with the highest ground elevation that were close to roads, many of them backroads. During daylight hours on the road, I would travel the roads in each search area looking for power lines and telephone company pedestals. Before each trip, I researched and bought the topo maps I would need at the USGS (United States Geological Survey) map store in Arlington, Virginia.
My first stop when arriving in the area of a search ring would always be to go to either the search area or the county courthouse. My first task at the county courthouse was to get tax maps relevant to the search area so I could discover the character of its property ownership like parcel sizes, quantity, and owners.
Next, I’d visit the planning, zoning, or building department, either of the county or the relevant city or township with jurisdiction where I’d obtain info such as the building and or zoning regulations, application forms, and maps.
As I narrowed down the site search options, I’d spend more time at the courthouse researching current deeds for properties that looked promising so I would have them later for all of the best options and back-up alternate sites.
Early in my career in site acquisition, I developed a comfortable pattern of travel 3 days a week for short trips and 10 days every two weeks on long trips. I’d typically head out Monday night or Tuesday morning and return home on Thursday night or Friday morning, depending on the length of the trip.
Well, that’s how I got started in wireless site acquisition and development.
In my second year, my acquisition work took me to New England, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida. I started traveling to recruit, hire, train, and supervise others and received MCI’s Excellence in Service Award given to 2% of the company’s employees for outstanding customer contributions.
In my third year, we expanded the site acquisition department to 32 employees in 4 offices across the US, I started taking evening master’s degree classes in Telecom at George Washington University, and I was promoted to manager.
My fourth year was highlighted by monthly travel from DC to Seattle to secure property for a switching center in Kent, WA, and sites for a microwave route from Portland to Seattle, stopping over in Boulder for long weekends to submit draft portions of my Master’s Thesis (A Handbook for Land Agents: The Process of Developing Specialized Common Carrier Telecommunications Routes) to my thesis advisor at Colorado University, and celebrating my graduation.
After the fourth year, I moved to Colorado and started a career as a freelance site acquisition consultant for the telecommunications industry at large.
2023 represented 40 years since earning my Master’s Degree and subsequently returning to Colorado as my home base.