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Delays in tower work mean some over-the-air TV channels might not come back online until December
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Delays in tower work mean some over-the-air TV channels might not come back online until December

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Broadcast tower

Work to upgrade the antennas atop this broadcast tower on Madison's Far West Side is behind schedule, leaving many viewers in limbo.

Many over-the-air TV viewers who rescanned their sets for local stations as they were instructed to do last week are finding they’re unable to view some of the channels after an upgrade did not go as planned.

Due to a late start and wet, windy weather, a planned antenna replacement on top of the broadcast tower that hosts several of Madison’s TV stations is still underway and could not be completed before the scheduled rescan that took place Friday.

WISC-TV (Ch. 3), WHA-TV (Ch. 21), WMSN-TV (Ch. 47) and WIFS (Ch. 57) are all affected by the antenna replacement on the tower at 453 S. Pleasant View Road, said Kevin Ruppert, chief engineer at Channel 3.

“We were supposed to have this done in September, but because of some power crew delays, we weren’t able to get started until a couple of days ago,” Ruppert said.

Channel 3 and Channel 47 are the only ones that had to change their frequencies, but the other channels have had to operate at a lower power level in order for the tower work to be done.

Ruppert said technicians did not anticipate all of the problems people are having accessing the station but would have been “better prepared to inform everyone” had there not been a delay at the beginning of the project. The problem does not affect viewers who get their local stations over cable, streaming or dish.

“We’re still working on it,” Ruppert said. “We’ve been telling people that it will improve.”

Ruppert said the antenna replacement is now scheduled to be completed on Dec. 9 barring any more bad weather. Tower Consultants Inc., the company that was hired to work on the project, will install the new antennas at the end of October, Ruppert said, and then take about a week to install the transmission line, which connects the antennas and the transmitter.

“They’re working to get it done as quickly as possible,” Ruppert said. “Hopefully, it’ll be done by the middle of November if everything goes well.”

A representative for Tower Consultants could not be reached Tuesday.

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Michael Harryman, communications director at Wisconsin Public Television, said the upgrade, while inconvenient, has an upside: The new antennas will be “future proof” because they are compatible with the growing technology of 4K TV and will not require viewers to reprogram their TV sets again.

The TV stations are transmitting over a temporary antenna on the side of the tower, but the coverage isn’t as good as the permanent antennas, Ruppert said, and “we knew it wouldn’t be.”

TV viewers who live farther from the tower, where the signal is weaker, are most affected, Harryman said.

‘In the dark’

Jim Doherty, a resident of Spring Green, said the stations did a poor job of informing the public about the whole process.

“Clearly they didn’t do what management is supposed to do before undertaking a major project, which is to foresee all eventualities,” Doherty said. “It was obviously out of their control before the project got underway.”

He said he has also had a hard time getting answers from the stations.

“We were literally in the dark,” Doherty said. “It’s frustrating. I would like to turn on my television set and watch these channels.”

Channel 3 suggested on Saturday that viewers contact the Federal Communications Commission for more information, but Doherty said calling the FCC “doesn’t get the channels back online.”

DeForest resident Jack Pearson was also frustrated. He said Channel 3 did give a 30-day notice prior to the rescan but did not say anything about the antenna replacement or that it would take several weeks to complete.

“It’s unprofessional,” Pearson said. “They could have planned better.”

Pearson said he signed up for a seven-day free trial of fuboTV, a television streaming service, just to watch the Packers game on Sunday.

Ruppert said some of the newer antennas that viewers may be using actually don’t work as well as the old-fashioned rabbit ear antennas, especially if they are mounted indoors.

“The rabbit ears are some of the least expensive you could buy,” Ruppert said.

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