A recently acquired Gray Television CBS affiliate seen across much of New York’s Adirondacks, Vermont, and key cities in Quebec is swiftly recovering from a transmitter fire that last week silenced its over-the-air signal.
A similar situation is taking place at its Hearst Television-owned rivals.
The repair work has been tricky, with winter weather making the situation more difficult.
Repair work started November 23 on the transmitter tower shared by Gray’s WCAX-3 and Hearst’s NBC affiliated WPTZ-5 and The CW Network-affiliated WNNE-31 in Burlington, Vt.
The tower is located atop Mount Mansfield, a 4,400-foot peak that’s also home to Stowe Mountain Resort, a popular ski center to the east of Burlington.
“A specialized crew will replace a replacement antenna,” WCAX reported on Monday. “They think it could be days until work is completed.”
That’s a welcome surprise for the stations’ management and engineering team, as such a project would normally take months to finish.
As of November 25, the WCAX signal has returned to DirecTV and Dish, as well as to Comcast Xfinity and Charter Spectrum subscribers in the vast Burlington, Vt.-Plattsburgh, N.Y. DMA. This represents 80% of the station’s audience.
The troubles for WCAX, acquired by Gray in May 2017 for $29 million, and for the Hearst duopoly began Nov. 19, when a self-contained fire began. WCAX VP/GM Jay Barton said the fire “is a unique situation, but not unheard of.”
Then, the fog rolled in. Worse, the “toll road” used to reach the top of the mountain was accessible only via snowmobile; the Stowe ski center actually transported new transmitter parts up to the tower on behalf of Gray.
According to broadcast tower expert Scott Fybush‘s NorthEast Radio Watch, the site is unattended; as recently as a few years ago, engineers resided at the top of the mountain.
Fybush reports that the fire consumed the top antenna on one of two 2008 towers — the one shared by Gray and Hearst.
It is unknown as to what started the blaze. However, Fybush notes that the fire did not damage the shared FM antenna just below that of WCAX and WPTZ used by Vox Communications‘ WEZF-FM 92.9 and Vermont Public Radio‘s WVPS-FM 107.9.
Fybush also notes that Dielectric supplied a temporary broadband antenna and arranged the crew that was rushed to Vermont to move repairs forward.
While all U.S. MVPDs in the DMA have restored WCAX and WPTZ, reports indicate that Canadian viewers seeking CBS and NBC — long available in Quebec from Burlington — have substitute feeds in place.