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Lakeshore PBS hopes to be back on air this week

Lakeshore Public Media's Connor Burge works on Prep Sports Report in February last year at the television station's studio in Merrillville. The station has been off the air since July 16th because of storm damage to its transmitter.

Lakeshore PBS has been off the air for two weeks but hopes to be back on the air — in at least part of Northwest Indiana — by the end of the week.

A storm knocked the local PBS affiliate off the air July 16 after taking its transmitter on a 950-foot tower near Cedar Lake out of commission.

"Our engineering team had been trying to locate the issue that has kept us down," said Matt Franklin, Lakeshore Public Media vice president of television operations. "After many days of testing and research, working with the manufacturer, we came to the realization that the current transmitter was damaged beyond repair."

Lakeshore PBS is purchasing a new transmitter, but it will take time to arrive.

“Through all of this, we heard from many viewers and members during our outage, letting us know that they missed their programming and their PBS station,” said James Muhammad, president and CEO of Lakeshore Public Media. “We totally understand the inconvenience this outage has caused to our viewers.  We are working diligently to provide limited service on an interim basis until our new transmitter arrives."

The investment will be more than $250,000, and insurance won't cover 100 percent of the cost.

"Due to the spectrum auction repack, this was not an easy task as transmitter manufacturers are backlogged all across the country," Franklin said. "It will take 6 to 8 weeks to get a full power replacement on site, and that was one of the earliest delivery dates by any manufacturer."

The Merrillville-based broadcaster of PBS shows like "Rick Steve's Europe," "Nature, America's Test Kitchen," "Austin City Limits," "Frontline," "Masterpiece," "Nova," "Arthur" and "Curious George," as well as local programming like "Counterpoint with Garrard McClendon," hopes to get a loaner transmitter up and running by Thursday or Friday.

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"This will get us back on the air, but it will be operating at less power and will most likely leave us with some viewers who will still be unable to receive us until the replacement full power transmitter is installed," Franklin said. "I'm very sorry that we are off the air and that we are letting our viewers down. This was an incident that we did not expect and we did not understand the full extent of the damage until now."

The disruption has affected Northwest Indiana's primary Lakeshore channel WYIN 56, as well as NHK World Japan on 56.2, an English-language global network presented from an Asian perspective.

"No one can prepare for every scenario, but we are looking at our systems more closely," Franklin said. "Hindsight would have had us better prepared with a backup or transition transmitter, but those are costly investments. Moving forward, we are looking at options at our transmitter site to allow us much redundancy as we can reasonably invest in."

Lakeshore PBS officials worry the lengthy outage could have an impact on viewership in the long term.

"No station wants to be off the air for any stretch of time, let alone weeks," Franklin said. "Viewers come to rely on their programming being there when they want it, and they become frustrated when it is not there. Moreover, viewers find alternative programming while a station is down, and we run the risk that the alternative becomes their new set pattern."

Viewers have grown increasingly concerned as the outage has stretched on. 

"We do have many viewers sharing their disappointment and frustration that their channel is not on the air," Franklin said. "For the most part, they are understanding, as their biggest concern was that we were going off the air permanently like WYCC."

The disruption has not impacted Lakeshore Public Radio, which is also run by Lakeshore Public Broadcasting out of its Merrillville headquarters.

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Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.