Lakeshore PBS Returns to the Airwaves as Oklahoma Tower Crew Makes Needed Repairs

MERRILLVILLE— Lakeshore Public Media announced today it was finally able to get its Lakeshore PBS TV signal back on the air on a low power transmitter after finding a tower crew to perform the needed work.

“We are proud to announce a resumption of broadcast service,” said James A. Muhammad, President and CEO of Lakeshore Public Media.  “Testing is ongoing and we may have some more intermittent outages, but our hope is to be up to full power and operating at 100% very soon.”

A crew from Sky Tower LLC, out of Oklahoma City, OK, made the almost 1000’ climb earlier in the week.  The work was to replace a 10’ section of damaged transmission line near the very top of the tower, which had been blocking the public television station from broadcasting.

Initially, a violent storm damaged its TV transmitter on 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.

TV transmitters were in high demand as stations all across the country have orders in for new equipment due to the FCC spectrum auction and station repacks.   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.

Vice President of TV Operations for Lakeshore PBS Matt Franklin described the challenge as a worst case scenario that was more than a simple supply and demand issue.  While Lakeshore PBS was initially unaffected by the repack, the needed repair was delayed by the lack of certified technicians available to do the work.

“We reached out to vendors from across the Midwest and beyond to make the tower climb and do the repair,” Franklin said.   “We knew that tower crews would be hard to come by, but we never realized how difficult it would be.  The spectrum repack had tower crews tied up for months and months.”

The station worked through the fall to find an available tower crew that was licensed to work on a broadcast tower of that height.  “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.  The small windows of crew availability would close when high winds or threatening weather affected the climbs.   “Both crews cancelled days before they were to do the work, putting us in a hole once again.”

Eventually, a crew scheduled to work in Milwaukee had a last-minute opening on October 1, leading to the first 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 public television station continued to work to bring its full power broadcast transmitter up, but when cold weather hit the region in November, a new issue developed when the damaged line near the top allowed water in the line, which eventually froze.  The ice in the system caused the signal to be reflected back, keeping the system from broadcasting.

Over the winter, the engineering team went back to the phones to try and find a certified tower crew able to climb the 1000’ structure located in Cedar Lake.  Almost every company turned down the repair work due to the bitter cold of the season or with being overscheduled with repack work.

Sky Tower eventually responded with availability to perform the work. The company initially thought they could perform the repair the week of February 15 on the way back from a job in Alabama, but due to weather and work complications, it was moved to the second week in March.

“Through all of this, we heard from many viewers and members during our outage, letting us know that they missed their programming and their PBS station,” said James Muhammad, President and CEO of Lakeshore Public Media. “We want them to know that we truly apologize for the length of this outage.  It has been something that we never could have believed was possible.”

Over the last six months, Lakeshore PBS has committed over $400,000 in equipment and repairs, removing the old transmitter and accompanying equipment and purchasing a new solid-state transmitter.   Once certified, the new system should eliminate single points of failure, operate on much less power and will be ATSC 3.0 ready, so it will be equipped for the next generation of broadcasting.

“It takes a large investment in capital to operate a TV station, and this incident shows how challenging it is,” Franklin continued. “Once our full power transmitter is tested and certified, Lakeshore PBS will be fully operational and better prepared to serve our communities for years to come.”

Lakeshore PBS signed on the air November 1987 as WYIN Channel 56, a commercially licensed public television station. The non-profit organization continued to upgrade the quality of station production and broadcast equipment over the years, with revenue generated through member contributions and support from local businesses and organizations, as well as state and federal grants.

Over 30 years later, the station remains the sole televised source for local information centered on Northwest Indiana.  The station, which operates out of its Merrillville studios, broadcasts two channels: its primary Lakeshore PBS channel and a sub-channel that airs NHK World on 56.2, offering an English-language global network presented from an Asian perspective.