Work on a broadcasting tower on Madison’s Far West Side has come to a standstill, leaving some over-the-air channels still in limbo with no clear indication when those signals will be back at full power.
Matt McConnell, assistant director of facilities and asset management at University Research Park, the managing body of the broadcasting tower at 453 S. Pleasant View Road, said the power crew is scheduled to be back on the project on Dec. 2. From there, the crew needs roughly 14 working days to complete the planned antenna replacement that has seen delays since the start of the project in October.
“We still have the crew,” McConnell said. “They’re just not on site. The weather has really been the driving factor.”
The 14 working days will likely not be consecutive once the crew is back, McConnell said, because they need 14 “good weather” days. That means the crew can’t work under extremely cold, icy, wet and windy conditions.
“There’s a lot of variables, but the safety of the crew is first and foremost on our mind,” McConnell said.
Some local TV stations changed their frequencies in October as mandated by the Federal Communications Commission to make room on the airwaves for new high-speed wireless services. Channel numbers stayed the same, but viewers who get those channels on an older TV set or using an antenna had to re-scan their TVs beginning on Oct 18.
The channels have been transmitting from a temporary antenna on the tower, but the coverage will not be as strong until the project is complete, leaving many viewers in the area with little to no signal.
Aaron Olver, managing director of University Research Park, said a lot of the work at the top of the tower is done, but workers still have to run the transmission lines, which connect the antenna to the transmitter.
“Depending on the weather conditions, that is going to take several weeks at least,” Olver said. “It’s not a simple process, and it’s very much in flux right now.”
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WISC-TV (Ch. 3), WMSN-TV (Ch. 47) and WIFS (Ch. 57) are still relying on the completion of the tower work to go back to operating on full power.
WHA-TV (Ch. 21) announced Monday the channel was back to broadcasting at full power. Michael Harryman, communications director at Wisconsin Public Television, said the crew finished work on the station’s antenna and transmission line over the weekend.
“We were surprised our stuff was ready to go back online,” Harryman said. “That’s not the case for the other stations.”
Harryman said each station has its own antenna and transmission line. He said the new antennas, which each station is getting, will be “future proof” because they are compatible with the growing technology of 4K TV. The new antennas will not require viewers to reprogram their TV sets.
McConnell said Channel 21 had the advantage of reusing its existing transmission line. The crew installed all of the new antennas and now has to come back to finish installing the other stations’ transmission lines, a task McConnell said is less bothered by winter weather than the heavy antennas at the top of the tower.
“They can work on the transmission cables under a bit more challenging conditions,” McConnell said.
Kevin Ruppert, chief engineer at Channel 3, said Channel 21’s portion of the tower work was “easier and faster to finish.”
“They were fortunate in that they weren’t as involved as we are,” Ruppert said.
The power crew was looking for a break, Ruppert said, because of the record-breaking wintry weather conditions in the area.
McConnell said the crew was scheduled to start the Madison tower work in September prior to the October re-scan day, “which would have been beautiful,” but got delayed with a different tower project in Seattle.
“Typically, October is a good month to work in,” McConnell said. “We’re working on getting everything back up, but Mother Nature has to cooperate.”