by Art Daudelin
The August 14 blackout, which affected a region of 9,300 square miles and nearly 60 million people in eight states and Canada, also represented the biggest challenge to New York-based broadcasters since 9/11.
Having backup generators at the Empire State Building was critical to stations' ability to keep broadcasting. As a result, some stations, including WCBS and WNBC, were back on the air within moments.
However, the local ABC affiliate, WABC, which is in the process of establishing a backup, took a bit longer. "We came back quickly with emergency power in the newsroom, but our transmitter at the Empire State Building was out," says Kenny Plotnick, vice president and news director. This prompted the station to look to Alpine, NJ, a 9/11 stopgap. "With the one path into Alpine we were able to bring back minimal power and do live shots and put on a newscast."
Despite the lack of ESB backups, WABC-TV was back on the air within 10-15 minutes of the outage, and stayed on the air continuously afterwards. Since there was still no power on the following morning to that area of Manhattan around the ESB, the station continued to broadcast from Alpine while continuing to work with cable operators to get their signal back up.
Other stations, such as WRNN in Kingston, N.Y. (two hours north of New York City) were forced to improvise. Off the air until 12:30 a.m. Friday morning, the station regained power for over-the-air live broadcasts from its Kingston-based control room and backup studio. Since live feeds to Kingston were not possible, reporters drove to the Rockland location, where it was possible to feed Kingston.
But the station, which has additional bureaus in Rockland County, Manhattan, Queens and Washington, D.C., wasn't out of the woods yet, since WRNN feeds multiple paths, including sending MPEG video down to New York City, where they feed cable head ends across Brooklyn, the Bronx and New Jersey, among other areas.
"We have a monitoring location in Manhattan were our feeds come in, where we have backup power," explains Christian French, director of new business ventures. "So we were on backup for five or six hours, and then had to start shutting everything down to conserve power, to the point that all we had was a few fiber units passing signals on. We were patching video straight to cable operators until we got down to the one feed to Cablevision. Then we lost power," he says, speaking Friday afternoon to TV Technology from a darkened station location in Manhattan via cell phone.
by Art Daudelin