MERRILLVILLE— Lakeshore Public Media announced today it was finally able to return to full power with the installation and certification of its new digital transmitter, restoring Lakeshore PBS broadcast service to the Chicagoland market.
“We are proud to announce a resumption of full broadcast service,” said James A. Muhammad, President and CEO of Lakeshore Public Media. “It has been an ordeal but we are now back, and we should be better than ever.”
A crew from Sky Tower LLC, out of Oklahoma City, OK, made the almost 1000’ climb earlier in late March to repair a damaged transmission line. With the line work repaired, it took another eight weeks before the transmitter manufacturer was available to complete the installation and certify it for broadcast, meeting the requirements of the FCC.
Initially, a violent storm damaged the Lakeshore PBS TV transmitter on July 16, 2018 knocking the station 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 had 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, 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 who were certified and available to do the work on their 990’ structure.
“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 operations 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 end of March.
Over the last six months, Lakeshore PBS has committed almost $400,000 in equipment and repairs, removing the old transmitter and accompanying equipment and purchasing a new solid-state transmitter. 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. “Now that our full power transmitter is tested and certified, Lakeshore PBS is fully operational and better prepared to serve our communities for years to come.”
“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,” Muhammad said. “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.”
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.