WCAX Broadcast Antenna On Air - with Updates, Questions and Answers
The temporary replacement antenna and transmission system is ON AIR.
New Antenna Update:
The new, permanent antenna has been designed and is being built offsite. We are organizing the repair work and now expect to conduct construction and replacement of the antenna in August.
Since the fire destroyed the WCAX antenna on Mt. Mansfield, we have been working to get a new antenna built and installed as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic caused the helicopter company we had engaged to cancel all contracts for the season, which affected WCAX along with many other TV stations, all of whom are turning to the handful of remaining helicopter companies to complete work. Less companies serving the same demand means a longer timeline.
While we would love to move far more quickly, it is important to do this repair correctly the first time. It takes about six months to build the antenna once it is designed and ordered, and our antenna particularly will weigh six tons when assembled. Plus, it has to be assembled “in the air” on top of the tower, to preserve and be sensitive to the ecology around our site, which is dangerous, so we must go cautiously for the safety of the crews involved.
Viewer Note: If you rescanned while WCAX has been off the air, your TV tuner actually deleted WCAX from the saved channel list in its memory because there was no signal to find. With WCAX back on the air, if you don’t see WCAX on your channel list, rescanning should find the station again in most cases. At the same time, this is a temporary antenna, so it is less powerful than the permanent antenna will be. For information about rescanning, click here to visit our rescan information page. Remember, if you already can watch WCAX on your TV, whether over the air or via cable/satellite, no action is needed.
Repair Update Logs:
Sunday, 12/1/19: 4:30pm - The engineering and tower team has departed the transmitter site after sundown and successfully completing the antenna installation and commissioning. 1:30p - The replacement antenna is on air for WCAX and WPTZ. Engineers continue to dial in the power levels to provide the best signal and signal strength possible to the greatest number of viewers. At the same time, it is important to remember this is a temporary installation to meet the immediate need, and will not be as powerful or have the same exact coverage as the previous antenna. 8:30a - Tower crews are back on site and installing additional ice shielding around the antenna and the transmission lines where they are exposed to the elements and ice shedding from the structures above. RF engineers are reviewing test data from last night/overnight to determine the final power levels for the transmitter inputs/outputs for WCAX and WPTZ.
Saturday, 11/30/19: 6:42p - Radio frequency testing has begun, and viewers may see signals appear and disappear over the next few hours. Final computations for antenna output are being made. We expect to be able to be on the air Sunday. 5:00p - Transmission line sections have been installed and the line is being pressurized and checked for leaks. 8:30a - A cold but otherwise beautiful day has begun on Mt. Mansfield, and the tower crew was already climbing as of 8:30am. Today's plan includes cleaning ice off of the work areas on the tower, and finishing the remaining connections to the transmission line, then system and power testing. Progress will be determined by safety and weather conditions.
The last two days of weather and cold conditions have beautiful results - rime ice around the tower structures creating some beautiful images. The ice is about 6" thick overall and more in some places, so the 3/4" tether rope the crew left in place to allow them to raise the remaining components looks far more impressive in both shots, appearing to be about 10" thick.
Rime ice is an interesting phenomenon, and is seen a lot across our region, on Mt. Mansfield as well as other notable peaks like Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. A little more about that science is available when you click here>>
Friday, 11/29/19: high winds at the site and inclement weather make tower climbs too dangerous to attempt today. The forecast is much more favorable for Saturday, so the team is looking ahead and planning to do the final connections and testing on Saturday.
Happy Thanksgiving! On Thursday, 11/28/19, The tower crew returned to the site to continue work, but wind and snow conditions limited access so work was impossible today. Pending weather on Friday, work needs to continue 50’ up the tower to connect the antenna system to the transmission line. That connection will allow the team to move to the next portion of the repair, which involves checking the pressurized line for any leaks. From there, if the work can be done, it will allow our engineers to begin system testing. Once again, inclement weather will determine how much can be completed.
On Wednesday, 11/27/19, sundown has ended work for the day. The tower crew will return on Thanksgiving to continue the steps needed to get back on the air. Beginning this morning, crews were again on the WFFF tower working to finish mounting the temporary antenna and the fixed transmission line which runs to it. As weather moved in through the day, wind and rain turning to snow slowed work for safety reasons. The crew was able to successfully mount the antenna along with the connections into it, and build and mount an ice shield to protect the antenna from ice falling from other structures nearby. This is a big step, but the antenna still needs final physical connections to the transmitter, which the team is planning to build tomorrow. The system then needs to be tested before it can be used on air. At this point, the weather is the main determining factor for how much work can be done, which is why we still do not have a timeframe for when the air signal will be back up. It's a big job, especially with the conditions on Mount Mansfield, and we are working as quickly as possible and still remain safe.
On Tuesday morning, 11/26/19, crews reached the top of Mt. Mansfield at 7:15am, and prepared for a full day of work under the best conditions we have seen at the site since the fire. Today, the plan is to lift and mount the temporary antenna, and continue the preparations to connect it to the transmission line so it can be tested.
On Monday, 11/25/19, crews continued work on the transmission system and preparatory work to prepare the antenna to be ready to lift. 2”+ of rime ice has built up over the weekend on all structures at the site, making the progress slow.
Structural analyses were returned Monday evening showing that construction can proceed. The goal of these analyses is to ensure that whatever choices are made, when adding extra weight and wind resistance to the structures at the site, nothing will cause the towers themselves to fail. The direct weight, as well as the weight of any ice buildup or wind forces on the towers and antennae are taken into account, along with various other factors when creating these analyses. At this point, the work is generally waiting for positive outcomes from these models, to ensure the temporary repairs don’t lead to other problems.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: What happened to start the fire in the antenna?
A: We can’t say for certain. The damaged antenna is mounted 120’ high at the top of WCAX’s tower, and is itself 64’ tall from that point. Tower crews climbed the equivalent of a twelve-story building to the base of the antenna to investigate, but were not able to go inside the antenna housing because of the existing internal structure’s small internal cavity and the damaged components in the antenna housing. In order to investigate properly, the antenna will have to be lifted by helicopter off of the tower and brought to the ground away from the site. Until the antenna can be examined closely, no specific cause can be determined.
Q: Can the original antenna be fixed?
A: While there is a theoretical chance to repair the damaged antenna, that can’t be determined until the antenna itself is brought down and examined. While it is mounted to the tower in the extreme weather at the top of Mt. Mansfield, it is impossible work on.
Q: What is the plan to get back on the air?
A: WCAX and WPTZ are working with WFFF and WVNY to set up a temporary replacement antenna on Mt. Mansfield, located on WFFF’s tower structure. This temporary antenna will provide coverage to most of the same geography covered by the damaged antenna in the past. This solution is intended only to get the stations back on the air as quickly as possible, and will be used over the winter months while work on the main antenna system is impossible at the site.
Plans will be developed for the permanent repair or replacement of the primary antenna with the goal of beginning work when construction is possible at the site in late spring of 2020.
Q: Why does it take so long to set up a replacement antenna, and what is the priority to fix the over the air broadcast?
A: To address this challenge, the engineering department was split into two teams – one team was dedicated to restoring over the air broadcast service, the other worked on restoring service to cable and satellite systems.
The first team, working on restoring over the air broadcast service, was supplemented by a four-person tower crew, an engineer from the replacement antenna manufacturer, and engineers from WPTZ. From the first day, there have been more than 10 people working on sorting out the over the air needs at any given time. However, even with all of that support, there are many realities that can’t be avoided:
- the weather can change at any moment, and is far more adverse at the top of Mt. Mansfield
- wind speeds are higher at the site making tower climbs impossible for portions of each day at this time of year – as an example, on Thursday, 11/21/19, wind gusts topped 70 mph
- equipment, even being moved quickly, takes time to ship and deploy
- snow on the access road up the mountain renders it only passable by snow cat and snowmobile or ATV, so no cranes or other heavy equipment can be deployed
- The access road crosses several of the downhill runs at Stowe resort, so our technicians can only drive up before the first skier heads downhill and only leave after the last skier has come off the mountain for the day for safety reasons
Those are just a handful of the real-world challenges the site team faces each day as they inspected the site and have been inventing, designing and building solutions to help put the temporary antenna into service. The fact is that the antenna components are so basic to our station operation, the site is so difficult to access, and the conditions are so challenging that even with putting the station back on air as job one, and a large team working together to do the work, you can only move so quickly. Human safety is at risk in many of these environments as well, so the most important thing is to ensure you don’t create a new crisis while fixing the current problem.
The second engineering team, meanwhile, was working to restore service to cable and satellite providers, and, because of the nearby location for many connection points for providers around the Champlain Valley, the two-person engineering team was able to connect with representatives for those providers and devise short-term connections system by system. They received significant help from engineers from WFFF and Vermont PBS, as well. The key is that the connections were physically easy to access and technically straightforward to complete, which allowed many connections with providers to be set up or restored in a short period of time.
Q: Would having a person on site at the transmitter have made a difference?
A: No. Any personnel would not have known about the issues occurring inside the antenna any more quickly than the live remote monitoring, because the first sign of the issue was when the fire triggered the transmitter to shut itself down and cut power off from the antenna. This safety mechanism engaged because of the fire. At that point, with the fire already burning inside the antenna structure before any alerts could be triggered and more than 140’ off of the ground, there was nothing else that could be done by anyone.
Q: Do I need to rescan, or will rescanning help?
A: You should not rescan your channels while the signals are off the air. The reason is that the rescan function is designed to look for signals present in your tuner, and save only those, while deleting all the “empty” channels. Right now, because our broadcast antenna is off the air, the channel is “empty,” so a rescan would actually delete our channels from the tuner’s memory.
If you have already done a rescan since WCAX went off the air on 11/19/19, then most likely your tuner currently has deleted the channel information for WCAX. This is not a problem – we will post on our website and social media when the stations are back on the air, and when you rescan at that point, you should see our station reappear in your channel list.
Q: While the station is off the air, what other ways can I watch?
A: WCAX has built many different avenues for viewers to watch our news on every device. WCAX news is available for free, everywhere in the world with internet access.
For viewers looking for CBS entertainment and sports programming in addition to our local news coverage, there are pay options across a variety of providers. Most interesting for the short term may be providers like CBS All Access, which allows you to pay month-by-month with no long term contract.
Watch WCAX Channel 3 News Free by Live Streaming Over the Internet
WCAX makes all locally-produced newscasts and TV shows available for streaming via our website and apps for free. Note that this does not include CBS or other syndicated programming from the TV station, because copyright laws prevent those shows from being streamed by WCAX. However, this allows anyone in the world with an internet connection access to WCAX Channel 3 News on any web-enabled device.
WCAX.com live streams the latest edition of the news 24/7 at https://wcax.com/livestream. This is available on:
- Gaming Systems with a web browser
Depending upon your connection speed, the picture will be in HD.
Other free streaming options include the WCAX app for devices using Android and iOS operating systems, like an iPhone or iPad, Samsung Galaxy, or certain Amazon Kindle products. We also have custom apps for Roku and Amazon Fire. Each can be found by searching “WCAX” in the app store on those devices.
An alternate third-party website and app available across web browsers and all smart devices is the SBTV app. SBTV aggregates local news streams from TV stations across the country, including WCAX’s. One key feature in this application is an “On Demand” option, allowing you to review newscasts aired up to one week ago. This is a helpful feature for people who might have missed a specific newscast and want to view it even after the next live newscast has aired.
All of these methods for viewing WCAX are available wherever the user is in the world, and require only an active internet connection.
Watch with Alternative Streaming Options (Fees Apply)
While we are not promoting any one service, this listing is designed to make you aware of the options available should you want to investigate further. For many, a little additional convenience can be worth a small fee, and WCAX is available on most fee-based programming providers as well. This can become somewhat complex, because the device creating the stream and putting it on your screen might be any of a number of devices. For TV-connected devices, the most popular are Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast and Amazon Fire, as well as the built-in Smart TV options that may be included with current internet-enabled TVs.
Services available across these devices which also charge a fee to see local programming are:
- CBS All Access
- YouTube TV
- Hulu Plus Live TV
- AT&T TV Now
Prices and service options vary by provider, but these services are generally available on Smart TVs, smart TV-connected devices (like Apple TV), and mobile devices. These services are geographically limited for these applications as well, with WCAX only appearing when the user is in the physical geographic market area, and changing to show other CBS affiliates based on the user’s geographic location, should they have travelled to another TV market.
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WCAX Broadcast Antenna On Air - with Updates, Questions and Answers