You don't have to look far into the television industry to see signs of stress. Commercial stations, after a bumper crop of political advertising in 2004, are now dealing head-on with the completion of the DTV transition. Many are still unsure of their tower's load capacity, and most are still searching for a way to make a profit out of the mandate the FCC has handed them.
PBS member stations, not surprisingly, have been diligently working toward the transition, but even here, life in the slow lane isn't necessarily safe from stress.
But when you take a look at the challenges facing the religious stations, you understand how the stress levels can zoom off the charts. It takes a dedicated staff these days to work through the stress and deal on a daily basis with need to attract funding dollars from an audience that includes no major advertisers or government funding.
Such is life at WLMB, channel 40, Dominion Broadcasting in Perrysburg, OH.
Staff shoes filled with sweat when the station went from full power during a fund-raising movie marathon down to just 5% of its licensed power. The amplifier tube had suddenly self destructed in their Acrodyne transmitter.
Instead of shutting the station down, the chief engineer bypassed the amplifier and fired up the exciter, leaving WLMB to limp along through their fundraiser.
Couldn't be worse, right? Wrong!
While attempting to install a new tube, they discovered the final amplifier cavity had been severely cracked.
Having a new tube ready to go means nothing when the cavity is compromised.
As GM and CEO of WLMB Jamey Schmitz explained, "It couldn't have happened at a worse time. Our goal was to hit $185,000. But now over the air viewers were calling in saying that all they could see was a snowy picture.
"Fortunately, about 70% of our viewers are tied to local cable TV systems, and their pictures were just fine."
With their website (www.wlmb.com) and through other means, Schmitz and his team did all they could to let viewers know what happened and that they would be back to full power in early May.
"Obviously the word was heard, because despite our low power for over the air viewers, we managed to bring in $125,000." That's not what they originally had hoped for, but considering the circumstances, it was a miracle.
Unfortunately, WLMB has been operating without a backup transmitter, and their Acrodyne rig is a single cabinet rig. What's more, like all other stations, they're confronted with the DTV transition.
"All those prayers were appreciated," continued Schmitz, but there's more work to be done."
Fortunately for WLMB, the station had a chief engineer who understood the situation and came to a quick, if short lived, resolution. No doubt prayers helped, but there's no substitute for a chief engineer who understands how to make RF and get it up the tower to the antenna.
At the recent NAB convention in Las Vegas, many technologies were touted and spotlighted. Many won awards. But behind every station is that unglamorous power hog that puts all the glitzy stuff on the air. As WLMB will attest, without RF, lots of viewers become non-viewers.
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