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Work to restore on-air signal begins after WSPA-TV tower collapse

WSPA-TV, the Media General-owned CBS affiliate in Spartanburg, SC, which lost a pair of transmission towers March 1 during a winter storm, could be back on the air with an analog signal from a temporary antenna as soon as this weekend.

A trail has been bulldozed to the site and heavy construction equipment is in transit to the location so work can begin, said Media General senior VP of broadcast operations Ardell Hill.

The late season winter storm, which blasted through the area with freezing rain, snow and high winds last weekend, is the apparent cause of the damage. At about 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, the station’s 450ft primary tower located atop Hogback Mountain collapsed and crashed into a ’70s era tower used by the station. All that remains standing and usable of the primary tower, which was built in 2000, is a 60ft-75ft section. It will be used to hold the station’s temporary analog antenna. No one was injured in the incident and damage to the transmitter building was minimal, leaving the transmitter intact.

Before work can begin, mangled metal and debris must be removed from the transmission site, located at an elevation of some 3200ft. With about 20 percent of the tower’s original height, the temporary analog antenna will only be able to restore broadcast service to about 80 percent of the station’s market, Hill said.

If all goes as planned, WSPA will receive its temporary analog antenna this week, Hill said, allowing the station to get its analog signal on the air by the weekend. By the middle of next week, crews should have the station’s temporary DTV service on-air on Channel 53. Currently, the station’s over-the-air DTV signal is available on a digital multicast channel transmitted by sister station WYCW.

Media General plans to erect a new permanent tower for digital service on Hogback Mountain, Hill said. Construction of the new tower is expected to take at least six months, putting its completion beyond the newly set June 12 DTV transition deadline. When done, the tower will be used for WSPA’s full-power digital over-the-air service on Channel 7.

The station continues to be available on Charter Cable and DIRECTV, as well as offer its news online. It is working with DISH TV to provide a signal.

The storm responsible for the tower damage has left thousands of area residents without electricity. Utility crews from as far away as Kentucky have traveled to the area to help restore power.

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.