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Towers Tumble in Lake Charles

Mar 15, 2004  •  Post A Comment

In a bizarre and still unexplained occurrence earlier this month, KPLC-TV’s two 1,600-foot television towers came down.
On the evening of March 4, employees of the Liberty-owned NBC affiliate in Lake Charles, La., discovered the towers in a crumpled heap in their location 30 miles from the station.
Within about 48 hours, the broadcaster had jerry-rigged a temporary transmitter next to its downtown main building to begin to restore its over-the-air signal. The station expected to reach the vast majority of its viewers by late last week.
The station and Liberty still don’t know what triggered the collapse, but they are investigating. There was a light wind that evening.
The timing was particularly unfortunate because the old analog tower-one of the two that fell-was about to be taken down, and the newly installed digital/analog tower was about to become operational.
Installation of a new tower should be completed by summer. A new tower will cost $1.5 million to $2 million, said Steve Smith, VP of engineering/technology with Liberty Corp. The equipment is insured, but Liberty does not yet know how much will be covered.
The broadcaster scrambled to get its signal up and running again. Thanks to a previous technical installation with Cox Cable, some help from a nearby Hearst-Argyle station, a local low-power station, a satellite truck, and about 10 additional engineers from Liberty stations and vendors, KPLC was on track to transmit its programming to most of its viewing audience by the end of last week.
Cable customers in the area weren’t impacted since the station had struck a previous agreement with Cox in Lake Charles and Lafayette, La., to transmit the station’s programming via fiber, said Jim Serra, VP and general manager of the station.
Getting the signal back to over-the-air customers took a little more elbow grease. By the evening of March 6, KPLC had hoisted a temporary antenna hauled in from Atlanta on top of a shorter, 400-foot transmitting tower located adjacent to KPLC.
“It’s not like going to Wal-Mart and getting a gallon of milk,” Mr. Serra said. “You have to find the antenna, get the antenna and make a deal on it. It’s a big thing. It had to come in on a flatbed.”
Liberty’s ABC affiliate KLTV in Tyler, Texas, loaned KPLC its auxiliary transmitter, which a KLTV engineer drove in from Texas.
KPLC also struck a deal with a low-power station in Jennings, La., to carry the KPLC signal to reach even more viewers. In addition, KPLC is using a Ku-band satellite truck uplink to reach cable systems in Southwest Louisiana.
Finally, Hearst-Argyle-owned ABC affiliate KOAT-TV in Albuquerque, N.M., diverted to KPLC a Harris transmitter it had planned to take delivery of last week. The Lake Charles station expected to receive it late last week.
KPLC relied extensively on its Web site, www.kplctv.com, to notify viewers about the progress in restoring the signal. Local media also spread the word.