*It's been a very busy start to the week in NERW-land, especially for the TV engineers in Boston. On Sunday evening just before 8, the upper master antenna at the Richland Towers facility (the old WBZ-TV tower in Needham) failed, taking the four stations that use the antenna off the air.
Only one of those stations, Hearst's WCVB (Channel 5/RF 20) has an auxiliary DTV antenna, side-mounted lower on that same tower, and it was back on the air a little after 8 at reduced power, reaching viewers in the western suburbs and parts of Boston. But the other three - CBS' WBZ-TV (Channel 4/RF 30) and WSBK (Channel 38/RF 39) and WGBH's WGBX (Channel 44/RF 43) had no backups, which meant they effectively ceased to exist for two days for viewers who didn't get direct feeds via cable or satellite. (Even some cable providers in outlying areas lost the signal, as did Canadian satellite viewers, who received temporary backup feeds from other U.S. markets in the interim.)
What happened? Some background, first: when WBZ rebuilt the tower for digital TV, it installed a pair of stacked broadband UHF antennas at the top. The upper antenna carried DTV signals for WBZ, WCVB, WSBK and WGBX, while the lower antenna carried WGBX's analog channel 44 signal and the DTV signal for WGBH (Channel 2/RF 19), thus avoiding the need to try to combine adjacent-channel signal pairs on 19/20 and 43/44 into the same antenna. The analog WBZ and WCVB signals were combined into a panel antenna mounted just below the master UHF antennas, and the analog WGBH signal was on another panel just below that. Those panels are still on the tower but are no longer in use; neither is an old WBZ-TV analog backup on a shorter tower elsewhere on the Needham property, which CBS sold to Richland Towers a few years ago.
From what we're hearing, the problem appears to have been in the transmission line going up to the upper antenna; in any event, crews finally fixed the issue early Tuesday afternoon, restoring the stations to full power some 42 hours after they'd gone dark. (WGBH's channel 2/RF 19 facility was dark for part of Tuesday afternoon to allow the crews to work near the lower antenna.)
UPDATE: The stations are back on the air, but the problem is far from fixed - and it will be a complex repair indeed. Here's what we now know: it's the power divider in the upper antenna that has failed, and to get everyone back on the air, the stations that normally use the upper broadband antenna have temporarily been moved to the lower broadband antenna. Since WCVB on channel 20 and WGBH on channel 19 can't coexist on that antenna, WGBH's channel 19 RF signal has been moved to the WCVB backup antenna lower on the tower for now.
That buys some time for a fix to the upper antenna - but depending on how bad the damage is up there, it may be necessary to remove the upper antenna from the tower entirely to repair it. We'll continue to update this story as we learn more.
In next Monday's NERW, we'll take a deeper look at the status of backup DTV facilities around the region, and how that might start changing.
*The other big news to start the week comes from Philadelphia, where Rush Limbaugh is about to change stations. After decades on CBS Radio's WPHT (1210), Limbaugh is moving to the FM dial as the start personality on Merlin Media's new purchase, WKDN (106.9 Camden).
What's going on here? WPHT was one of only a handful of CBS Radio properties carrying Limbaugh (others include Hartford's WTIC, KMOX in St. Louis and KXNT in Las Vegas), and the recent furor over Limbaugh's Sandra Fluke remarks probably wasn't sitting too well with a company more comfortable with less controversial spoken-word programming like the all-news of WCBS, WINS and KYW or the sports talk of WFAN or WIP. And as the AM flagship for Phillies baseball, WPHT's frequent preemptions of Limbaugh for Phillies' day games probably didn't sit well with Premiere, either.
CBS, of course, isn't publicly saying that it made the decision to drop Limbaugh; its statement puts the onus on Premiere, saying the Clear Channel-owned syndicator "recently notified WPHT they will be syndicating Rush on a new station in Philadelphia." Would Premiere have pulled Rush unilaterally if CBS wanted to keep the show, especially with clearances in other CBS markets potentially at stake? It seems unlikely - but in any event, CBS is using the opportunity to promote what will be a new all-local daytime lineup on "The Big Talker," anchored by Philadelphia's own Michael Smerconish. He's now heard on delay on WPHT after Limbaugh, but he'll shift to a live noon-3 PM clearance as the station adjusts its schedule.
As for WKDN, adding Limbaugh suggests a change in strategy for Merlin, which has struggled mightily to establish its "FM News" outlets in Chicago and New York. With Limbaugh on board, apparently as the keystone of a format that will include other syndicated talkers, it appears 106.9 won't pursue the same all-news strategy in Philadelphia. (And NERW wonders: might CBS have been more willing to let Limbaugh go because it knew that a move to 106.9 would keep Merlin from launching a Philadelphia all-news competitor to CBS' own top-rated KYW?)
Much more on this story, too, in next Monday's NERW - and here are some of the other stories we're following for next week:
-In Binghamton, Clear Channel has returned WMRV (Star 105.7) to its top-40 roots, and it's looking to add some local voices.
-New morning man in western New York.
-Remembering Steve Fredericks, veteran Philadelphia and Baltimore talker.
-The NAB show gets underway in Las Vegas, and we'll be there with all the details.
...and much more!
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