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Lakeshore PBS returns to airwaves after nine months

The Lakeshore PBS transmitter has been restored by a crew from Oklahoma.

Eight months after a storm first knocked it off the air, Lakeshore PBS will finally go back on the air across Northwest Indiana and greater Chicagoland.

The Merrillville-based Public Broadcasting Service affiliate, which has broadcast for the last 32 years as WYIN Channel 56, went off the air after a violent storm on July 16 damaged its transmitter beyond repair. Its signal was briefly restored in the fall, only to be taken offline by an ice storm. Lakeshore PBS has since only been available to Comcast subscribers.

“We are proud to announce a resumption of broadcast service,” Lakeshore Public Media President and CEO James Muhammad said. “Testing is ongoing and we may have some more intermittent outages, but our hope is to be up to full power and operating at 100 percent very soon.”

Lakeshore Public Media had difficulty scheduling a crew of certified technicians to repair its transmitter because television stations across the country were installing new equipment as a result of a Federal Communications Commission spectrum auction and station repacking.

A crew from Sky Tower, of Oklahoma City, climbed nearly 1,000 feet this week to replace a 10-foot section of damaged line near the top of Lakeshore's transmission tower in Cedar Lake.

“We reached out to vendors from across the Midwest and beyond to make the tower climb and do the repair,” Lakeshore PBS Vice President of TV Operations Matt Franklin said. “We knew that tower crews would be hard to come by, but we never realized how difficult it would be. The spectrum repack had tower crews tied up for months and months.”

Bad weather also delayed the work.

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“We had two different crews scheduled to climb and do the work, one in early September and another the last half of the month,” Franklin said. “Both crews canceled days before they were to do the work, putting us in a hole once again.”

Lakeshore PBS was as surprised as everyone else the technical issues took this long to resolve.

“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,” Muhammad said. “We want them to know that we truly apologize for the length of this outage. It has been something that we never could have believed was possible.” 

The station has invested $400,000 in equipment and repairs over the last six months. The new transmitter system will use less power, eliminate single points of failure and be equipped for the next generation of broadcasting so it doesn't have to be soon switched out again. 

“It takes a large investment in capital to operate a TV station, and this incident shows how challenging it is,” Franklin continued. “Once our full power transmitter is tested and certified, Lakeshore PBS will be fully operational and better prepared to serve our communities for years to come.”

Lakeshore PBS airs shows like "Nova," "Nature," "Curious George," "Dinosaur Train," "Mexico: One Plate at a Time with Rick Bayless" and "Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Television." The station is broadcast over the air on channel 56, on Comcast on 17 or 21 or HD Channel 239, on RCN Cable on 44, on Dish Network as HD Channel 6320, on AT&T U-verse as HD Channel 1056 and DirecTV on 56.

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Business Reporter

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.