Mountain Lake PBS off air after lightning strike

UPDATE (July 31): It’s back on. See below.

If you’re wondering why you’re tuning into PBS and getting nothing, it’s because the station is off the air.

WCFE, the PBS station based in Plattsburgh, N.Y., announced on Wednesday that its transmitter was off the air after a power transformer at its transmitter site on Lyon Mountain was struck by lightning, causing it to catch fire. (This was after a separate lightning strike Tuesday night that hit the transmitter itself.)

The end result is that the transmitter isn’t running because it doesn’t have power, and the difficult-to-access transmitter site won’t be easy to repair. (UPDATE June 28: The station says the transformers were destroyed, and it could be about three weeks until repairs are complete.)

Most cable providers get the signal from Mountain Lake PBS by simply capturing it off the air with an antenna. Canadian cable companies don’t pay over-the-air American television stations for distribution (something that some U.S. TV stations have been lobbying to change recently), so they don’t really need to have a relationship at all between them.

Videotron in Montreal actually distributes two PBS stations, both of whom are near the Quebec border: WETK, the Burlington transmitter for Vermont Public Television, is the other. But WCFE is the only one distributed in high definition. (Interestingly, the HD feed of WCFE is offered for subscribers to WETK, which means if you choose WETK à la carte but not WCFE, you can have access to WCFE in HD but not SD.)

So until this situation is resolved, or Videotron decides to substitute WETK’s HD feed for that of WCFE, Montrealers wanting to watch PBS will have to settle for doing so in standard definition.

UPDATE: The Adirondack Daily Enterprise reports that the transmitter won’t be running again for some time. But service to Videotron cable will be restored in “the next couple of days” and was back on Time Warner Cable in the U.S. on Wednesday night.

UPDATE (July 2): Videotron has put WETK HD on channel 650. We’ll see if they switch it back when WCFE is back on the air.

UPDATE (July 31): The station’s transmitter went back on the air a week ago. Videotron has switched back to using WCFE HD on channel 650.

16 thoughts on “Mountain Lake PBS off air after lightning strike

  1. ATSC

    The last time WCFE-DT had trouble, it seemed that WCAX-DT offered up a sub-channel in SD so that the station was available over the air.

    Reply
  2. Michael Black

    The last time was a fairly long period. I can’t remember what happened, something like their tower was knocked down in a storm. The station knew from the start that it would be some time, raising funds and then the actual work. And it did take a long time. So just like the time CJAD took over CKGM’s transmitter in 1998, it made sense to have some help from another station.

    I’m not sure that’s the case here.

    Michael

    Reply
  3. Fr. George

    Steve wrote: “Videotron in Montreal actually distributes two PBS stations, both of whom are near the Quebec border” Shame, shame shame! Not” both of whom”, but both of which. Whom refers to people, which refers to anything else. I had expected better of a former copy editor. (LOL)

    George +

    Reply
  4. Charles Bourque

    “WETK, the Burlington transmitter for Vermont Public Television, is the other. But WCFE is the only one distributed in high definition.”

    This isn’t true for it’s over the air transmission. For the cost of antenna you can get HD PBS, unlike the old analog, digital signal reception for this station is excellent.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      This isn’t true for it’s over the air transmission.

      Which is why I said “distributed”, not “transmitted”

      For the cost of antenna you can get HD PBS, unlike the old analog, digital signal reception for this station is excellent.

      Depending on where you are. If you’re on the north side of the mountain, you can’t pick it up unless you have a really good and well-placed antenna.

      Reply
  5. Nat

    Thanks so much for this information. Great explanation which we haven’ t been able to find elsewhere. A real public service. Feel lost without our HD PBS. Should lobby videotron for WETK HD, our preferred PBS station in any case.
    Thanks again!

    Reply
  6. Marc

    nterestingly, the HD feed of WCFE is offered for subscribers to WETK, which means if you choose WETK à la carte but not WCFE, you can have access to WCFE in HD but not SD.

    So by selecting Vermont ETV you get both PBS stations. I wonder if there’s any reason why they won’t distribute WETK in HD, only SD?

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I wonder if there’s any reason why they won’t distribute WETK in HD, only SD?

      Bandwidth. HD channels take up a lot of space, and there isn’t really much demand among Videotron’s customers for TWO PBS HD channels.

      Reply
      1. Marc

        Right. But analog stations take up a hell of a lot more, yes? So once analog cable is gone, like it is in Gatineau, they’ll have much more room to play with.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          analog stations take up a hell of a lot more, yes?

          You can fit two or three HD channels in the space of an analog channel.

          So once analog cable is gone…

          But it’s not gone. It’ll still be quite a while before enough people are off of analog cable that the plug can be pulled completely. And even if that happens, there are other HD channels to add, or increased speed for cable internet.

          Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I am with Bell Fibe. I do not notice anything wrong with my PBS. It is still going strong in HD.

      Unless I missed something, Bell Fibe distributes only the Vermont Public Television station WETK in Montreal. That station is unaffected by this.

      Reply

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