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Lakeshore PBS back on the air after tower repairs

Lakeshore PBS transmitter repairs

Engineers have repaired Lakeshore PBS’ transmission tower, allowing the station to return to the airwaves.

UPDATE 10/02/18: After more than two months off the air, Lakeshore PBS is broadcasting again after a tower crew was able to make the necessary transmission line repairs on the station’s 950’ transmission tower.

Watch: President/CEO James A. Muhammad and VP of TV Operations Matt Franklin discuss repairs with Lakeshore PUblic Radio’s Sharon Jackson

Lakeshore PBS returned to the airwaves Monday evening, providing service to viewers over the air and on DirecTV, Dish Network and AT&T.  Over the air viewers may still be affected by a signal outage, as the lower power temporary transmitter has a smaller coverage area than the original full power transmitter.

Throughout the outage, the station maintained service on Comcast/Xfinity systems across Chicagoland as the station has a back-up fiber connection to the cable provider in place.

“We are very appreciative of the many viewers and members who’ve reached out to us during our outage, letting us know that they miss their programming and their local PBS station,” said James A. Muhammad, president and CEO of Lakeshore Public Media. “Their biggest concern was that we were going dark permanently.”

A violent storm damaged the station’s TV transmitter on Monday, July 16 knocking Lakeshore PBS off the air. After testing and repeated attempts to repair the existing system following the storm, it was determined that the 15-year-old transmitter was damaged beyond repair. Lakeshore PBS then moved forward with purchasing a new transmitter – a more than $250,000 investment.

TV transmitters are in high demand as stations all across the country have orders in for new equipment due to the FCC spectrum auction and station repack. Lakeshore PBS’ full-power transmitter took eight weeks to build and test.

A temporary low-power transmitter was delivered to the Cedar Lake site on August 3. Installation started that evening but was halted as a communication error kept the new transmitter from working with the current system. The next day, the lead engineer worked with the Quincy, Ill. manufacturer to resolve the error.

It was at this time that multiple faults were discovered in the transmission lines, preventing the temporary transmitter from operating properly. After further investigation, the damage was found which was believed to have been caused by vandalism that occurred on the overnight of August 3.

The station worked throughout September to find an available tower crew that was licensed to work on the TV tower of that height.  Vice President of TV Operations for Lakeshore PBS, Matt Franklin described the challenge as a worst case supply and demand issue.

“We were working to find a qualified tower crew who could work on the almost 1000’ tower,” Franklin said, “but the spectrum repack had tower crews tied up for months.”

Small windows of crew availability would close when high winds or threatening weather cancelled climbs.

“We reached out to vendors from across the Midwest and beyond.  We had two different crews scheduled to climb and do the work, one in early September and another the last half of the month,” Franklin said.  “Both crews cancelled days before they were to do the work, putting us in a hole once again.”

Luck worked in their favor when a crew scheduled to work in Milwaukee had a last-minute opening on Monday, leading to the repair.

“We were all so excited to hear our engineer say that a tower crew was on site and climbing,” said Muhammad.  “The whole station started to cheer.”

The new full power transmitter is in transit, and the engineers expect to install and transition to the new system by October 16.  Viewers may experience short outages as the engineering team works to power up the new transmitter, but the hope is to limit any service outage to the overnight hours.

Lakeshore PBS signed on the air November 1987 as WYIN Channel 56, a community-licensed public television station. The nonprofit organization continued to upgrade the quality of station production and broadcast equipment over the years, and added a sub-channel that airs NHK World on 56.2, offering an English-language global network presented from an Asian perspective. The station, which operates out of its studios in Merrillville, Ind., seeks to be the recognized media resource for citizens of all ages to experience lifelong learning, celebrate human diversity, and engage in civic concerns – all to enrich the lives in communities we serve.

[WATCH: 7/26/18 update from our President/CEO James Muhammad]

[LISTEN: 7/20/18 Lakeshore Public Radio host Sharon Jackson discusses the outage with our President/CEO James Muhammad and VP of TV Operations Matt Franklin]