April 08, 2020

Hope Amid Ruins> Broadcasters; Radio stations, emergency system battle elements

The ice storm that wreaked havoc with so many best-laid plans also took a swipe at the electronic media. Maine Public Radio returned to the air Sunday night after going off Thursday.

“Everything is OK except for Waterville,” Mary Ellen Davis said Monday. Davis is the audience services assistant for Maine Public Broadcasting Corp. in Lewiston.

The Waterville transmitter is down, Davis said, “we don’t know for how long.”

In Bangor, the source of the central broadcast signal, Maine Public Television was still off the air Monday afternoon. “We’re waiting for electricity,” Davis said. “Mars Hill and Fort Kent have been doing a direct feed from PBS, but it hasn’t been local.”

In Litchfield, a transmitter for WCBB Channel 10, which also serves Sanford, has a big problem, Davis said. “The satellite dish has major damage. We may have to replace the hardware.”

The problems with public radio also interfered with the Maine Emergency Alert System, traditionally sent out from the Maine Emergency Management Agency to Maine Public Radio and on to radio and television stations.

“The system is set for them to break into our on-air signal here in Bangor to be disseminated throughout the state,” explained Dave Roy, engineer at MPBC.

The alert system can be used statewide, or even on a local level to let a community know about a sudden problem, said Joe Grimmig, communications officer for MEMA. Since people knew the storm was coming, he said, the problem with the alert system was not as bad as it might have been.

MEMA used faxes to send information to stations over the weekend, Grimmig said, and Gov. Angus King asked radio stations to augment their programming during the period.

Martha Dudman, whose Dudman Communications in Ellsworth runs WWMJ and WEZQ radio, was in California attending a board meeting of the National Association of Broadcasters when she heard the WEZQ tower was down.

She took a red-eye flight back to Maine to find that “the top 70 feet had fallen off” the WEZQ tower on Blackcap Mountain in Eddington. Many antennas also were broken.

“We think we can be back on the air soon,” she said Monday. Other stations have offered to share antennas, an offer which pleased her. The transmitter eventually will have to be rebuilt.

WWMJ’s problem is getting propane gas up Bald Mountain in Dedham. Dudman said sleds weren’t able to make the trip, and the station might have to resort to a helicopter to take the gas.

The main tower for 104.7 The Bear also came down this weekend, according to Mark Osborne in Ellsworth. Heavy icing was the culprit in the loss of the 300-foot tower on Mount Waldo in Frankfort. Sister station WKSQ is expected to provide an emergency site.

Frontiervision cable TV experienced several problems over the weekend due to power outages, according to Bruce Chamberlain. He said that once power was restored, damage would be assessed.

Local stations WLBZ, WABI and WEMT were in business, although some transmission problems cropped up intermittently.

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