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Fire damages KSPS-7 antenna

September 26, 2002

Viewers over traditional airwaves must continue to wait for clear public TV picture

By Dan Webster
The Spokesman-Review

Television viewers who watch KSPS-7, Spokane Public Television, over the traditional airwaves have been doing without their favorite shows for more than a week now.

And because of a fire Monday that damaged the station’s newly installed digital antenna, those viewers will be waiting at least a few days longer.

“It’s a nasty situation to be in,” station manager William Stanley said Wednesday.

KSPS had planned to be off the air just three to five days last week so that engineers could install the new antenna, which is phase one of the station’s transition to digital as dictated by the Federal Communications Commission.

High winds and rain delayed the installation, Stanley said, and the project wasn’t completed until Monday. The broadcast signal was finally restored at 5:57 p.m., he said, but was shut down shortly afterward when a member of the crew noticed the antenna glowing where it shouldn’t have been.

“One of the guys working on it looked up and thought maybe it was one of our clearance lights for airplanes,” Stanley said. “Then he looked at it closer and said, `No. It looks like a fire to me.’” Damage to the antenna is being blamed on an “arc fire.” According to Stanley, eight of the 18 cables in the antenna’s midsection were burned. New parts and the engineers to install them were being flown in from England, but they weren’t expected to arrive until today.

“Optimistically, probably by Monday is the earliest we could get back on the air,” Stanley said.

Viewers who receive KSPS through cable or satellite-television service won’t notice any difference in their reception. But Stanley estimates that maybe 20 percent of the KSPS audience receives the signal the old way – through the airwaves. Those viewers, he said, see “only snow.”

The station has received more than 1,500 calls about the problem, says KSPS spokeswoman Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter.

Wheatley-Billeter was especially concerned about those viewers who hadn’t received word about the installation in the first place.

“What’s gut-wrenching is that PBS has an older audience,” she said, “and they’re calling up and saying, `Well, I had the repair guy in, and he told me it wasn’t my set.’ They’re paying for a service that isn’t needed.”

Thursday, September 26, 2002

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