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Raccoon wreaks early morning havoc on WIBW-TV

A resourceful raccoon that somehow made its way into a sealed a power substation in Topeka, KS, is the culprit responsible for periodic, interrupted transmission from WIBW-TV early on the morning of June 3.

The varmint, which met its demise when it got caught up in the substation’s switching circuitry, shorted out the facility, causing Westar Energy to switch the WIBW-TV’s power source to a different, more distant substation, says WIBW chief engineer Cary Lahnum.

“I was sitting around here at work and all of a sudden our VHF transmitter goes down,” recalls Lahnum. “Westar transferred us over to a backup substation that is really remote from where we are, and it kept tripping the transmitter offline.”

According to Lahnum, due to the distance between the alternate substation and the station’s transmitter, the voltage was low and slightly out of phase. “The VHF transmitter didn’t like that, so it kept kicking itself offline.”

Lahnum says the transmitter site’s generator would kick on when the problem with Westar Energy’s power supply was detected, but the time it takes for the backup power generator and transmitter to cycle through its startup takes 30 to 45 seconds. The generator would then go off when power from the distant substation was detected, only to tip the VHF transmitter to shut off again.

“The problem is the transmitter is smarter than the changeover switch,” says Lahnum. “All it knows is: ‘I have power, I am going to turn back on our generator.’”

Lahnum says the on-and-off cycling happened about three or four times before he could travel the 14mi separating the station from the transmitter. Once there, Lahnum turned off power coming from the remote Westar Energy substation and ran the VHF transmitter off the site’s generator until the problem was resolved in the early afternoon. WIBW’s channel 44 UHF transmitter was unaffected, he adds.

“Our mild winter has made it a good year around here for raccoons,” Lahnum notes, adding wryly, “just not that raccoon.”