In this week’s issue… Mansfield TVs recover from fire – CNY TV station signing off – Remembering NY’s Dague, PA’s Mace – Morning show changes in Philly, LI – Cutbacks claim Bell talkers in Canada
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*The pictures from VERMONT‘s tallest peak Tuesday morning were terrifying: the TV/FM tower complex that Burlington-market broadcasters had spent decades and millions of dollars building and rebuilding was on fire.
It’s a different era up on Mount Mansfield these days, of course. As recently as a few years ago, a fire there would have had an immediate response from the WCAX-TV (Channel 3) engineers who were still living up on the mountain 24/7. But these days, the site runs unattended most of the time – and so it was mostly shaky telephoto images that gave us our first looks at what was burning.
What was burning, it turns out, was the top antenna on one of the two 2008-vintage towers up there, the one that is shared by WCAX (RF 20) and WPTZ (Channel 5/RF 14, plus channel-share WNNE 31.) Almost a week later, we still don’t really know what set the antenna on fire, but we know that the other stations on the towers got lucky, because the fire didn’t damage the shared FM antenna just below the WCAX/WPTZ antenna, used by Vox’s WEZF (92.9) and Vermont Public Radio’s WVPS (107.9). Nor was there any damage to the antenna on the other tower just a few yards away, used by WVNY (Channel 22) and WFFF (Channel 44).
That was cold comfort to Gray’s WCAX and Hearst’s WPTZ, though, because once the fire took out their antenna on Tuesday, their signals vanished from the sets of over-the-air viewers and anyone watching a cable or satellite signal that depended on the OTA signals from those stations. In the aftermath, WCAX and WPTZ restored their signals fairly quickly to some cable providers as well as to DirecTV and Dish; other smaller cable companies had to wait a little longer, and then there’s Canada, where cable systems in Montreal and around Quebec that normally get CBS and NBC from WCAX and WPTZ ended up with alternate feeds from Boston and other US markets.
What happens now? A permanent replacement for the damaged antenna will take a while, especially with winter already firmly setting in up on Mount Mansfield. Instead, WCAX and WPTZ quickly secured a temporary broadband antenna from Dielectric and arranged for a crew (no easy feat during the repack!) to be rushed up to the site to get it installed. (“Physically, this effort is like trying to hang a school bus in the sky and making sure it doesn’t fall. But we have to build the school bus, too,” is the way WCAX explained it in their note to viewers.)
Work on the temporary antenna started Friday and is expected to wrap up in the next few days, which should restore the stations to nearly all their viewers for the winter as they await a full-power permanent fix next spring.
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