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.