WVIA’s Transmitter Problem Fixed

Posted by Joe Glynn on

On Friday evening, June 3, 2016 the WVIA TV transmitter went off the air. Vice President of Engineering Joe Glynn directed a nearly 3-week long team effort to solve the problem, and now that the crisis is over, he thought you might like to hear the story and see the pictures of this struggle. Here’s Joe’s report:


Our engineering team was dispatched to the site on Penobscot Mountain, overlooking Wilkes-Barre, to try to determine the problem. A TV transmitter is an intricate system of many parts and our troubleshooting indicated that perhaps the High Voltage Beam Supply unit had failed. This was hard for us to comprehend as the reliability of these units is normally very high.




Working into the wee hours of the morning, we were able to divert the output of just the solid-state portion of the transmitter to the antenna, restoring partial power (only enough to reach the greater Wilkes-Barre area and Dish Network’s local collection facility). Since DirecTV and the major cable providers in the area get a fiber feed of WVIA right from our studio, there was no interruption in service for their subscribers. But all of our over-the-air viewers outside the immediate metro area who receive TV via an antenna were unable to watch WVIA. This included some (not all) of our translators which extend coverage to the outlying areas of Mansfield, Towanda, Williamsport, Clarks Summit and Waymart as well.

Getting the transmitter back on the air was our top priority, but we needed a replacement High Voltage Beam Supply. To our dismay, no new units were available for purchase, so we launched a nationwide search to track down a used unit. Finally we found what may be the only two units available, both at a PBS station in Sacramento, California. We agreed to purchase them, but we also had to make complicated arrangements to ship these huge units to northeastern Pennsylvania.  




The logistics now became the critical piece. Although the units were not in service in Sacramento, they were still wired into the decommissioned transmitter there, so we had to engage an engineer to disconnect them. We also needed a crane on site to lift the 3700-pound units onto the flatbed truck we hired to haul them cross-country.  The whole logistics issue proved the most frustrating because of the time it took to make it all come together. Nevertheless, on Thursday, June 16th the Beam supply units started their journey to Pennsylvania, finally arriving Tuesday, June 21st around noon. 




We had a fork lift on our Penobscot Mountain transmitter site that Tuesday to remove the bad Beam Supply and unload the replacement units.  Then our team of engineers got to work and we had it about 80% connected by Tuesday night. Wednesday morning we finished the installation, and we were ready to attempt to raise the power with the transmitter manufacture representative on site. 




After thorough testing and stepping up power 10% at a time, we were able to get up to 80% (the legal minimum) power Wednesday, enough to reach most of our over-the-air viewers.  But we wanted to sure the transmitter would hold steady overnight before attempting full power.

Finally, on the morning of June 22nd, we achieved 100% of our authorized power and everything was once again back to normal.  We now have one used High Voltage Beam Supply unit in service and a second unit as a backup, so we hope never again to experience another 3-week ordeal like this!

Solving this problem took the entire WVIA engineering team, plus Sacramento engineers, a crane, cross-country truck drivers,  forklift operator, manufacturer representative, significant time and expense, and a lot of patience from WVIA over-the-air viewers.   While most watch WVIA through cable systems and satellite providers, we heard from antenna households who missed their favorite PBS and local programs. WVIA is very grateful for all the viewers who appreciate public media, and particularly for all the member donors who make it possible.

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