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Stations Battle Their Way Back

Sep 12, 2005  •  Post A Comment

With the exception of Belo-owned CBS affiliate WWL-TV, most local broadcasters in New Orleans remained dark for the second week after Hurricane Katrina hit. Most still don’t know when they can return to their facilities and get back on the air.

Despite the difficulties, affected broadcasters moved forward with alternative plans. Emmis’ Fox station WVUE-TV was scheduled to begin a streaming newscast online Sunday, Sept. 11, while Hearst-Argyle-owned NBC station WDSU-TV made a deal last week with Paxson in Houston to carry seven hours each day of WDSU’s coverage to the many evacuees in that area. The station has been carried around the clock on Paxson’s New Orleans affiliate since a few days after the storm, and is broadcasting live on its Web site. The Paxson signals are also carried by DirecTV and on local cable systems.

The flooding knocked out the WDSU tower and transmitter in downtown New Orleans. Some employees have returned and it is in the process of being salvaged, said Tom Campo, spokesman for Hearst-Argyle. “The issue is how soon there will be an audience,” he said.

Meanwhile, the station’s staffers are working out of sister Hearst-Argyle station WAPT-TV, an ABC affiliate in Jackson, Miss.

Tribune’s New Orleans duopoly of ABC station WGNO-TV and WB affiliate WNOL-TV, located in a mall complex across the street from the Superdome, were still off the air as of late last week.

Tribune planned to relocate the master control operations for the two New Orleans stations to facilities in Indianapolis and Chicago over the weekend, enabling it to get signals up for both WGNO and WNOL for satellite viewers. Tribune expects to get an over-the-air broadcast signal up by the end of the month.

The studios and offices sustained water damage from the hurricane and from leaks in the roof, Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman said. “By and large the stations appear to be in fairly good working order,” he said. The transmitter was still underwater, though, and will need substantial repairs.

WGNO journalists relocated to ABC affiliate WBRZ-TV, owned by the Manship family, in Baton Rouge, La.

Fox affiliate WVUE in New Orleans was hit hard. “We can’t get back in. It looks to be underwater,” said Kim Montour, VP of news for Emmis.

WVUE staffers are working out of Emmis’ WALA-TV, the Fox affiliate in Mobile, Ala. They established a temporary facility there last week to begin the streaming newscast and to take over the DirecTV signal from WALA.

Ms. Montour acknowledged that the signal is likely to reach only a few people on the outskirts of the New Orleans DMA. “It’s the whole idea of getting out for the folks who are there,” she said. The station expected to have an over-the-air signal on WVUE early this week.

Belo’s WWL remained on-air throughout the hurricane and its aftermath, via an agreement with Louisiana Public Broadcasting, its Baton Rouge affiliate WLPB-DT and Louisiana State University. WWL’s New Orleans facilities were evacuated.

“It’s impossible to know at this point when the whole WWL team will be able to return to our facilities in the French Quarter,” said Carey Hendrickson, VP of investor relations for Belo. He added that Belo hoped to restore partial broadcast capability from WWL’s main studios in New Orleans over the weekend or early this week.