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UPDATE: WTVH Transmitter Repairs Complete

Updated 11:40pm — SYRACUSE — CBS affiliate WTVH is back in service on channel 5, after a component failure forced some over-the-air and satellite viewers to find another way to watch CBS programming for a few days this week.  The outages have been a recurring problem, and this is the first time management offered specifics on the situation.

An update appeared on CNYCentral.com, the website of WTVH, WSTM and WSTQ-LP, at about 6:43pm, stating the WTVH transmitter is back in service.  Viewers who watch WTVH over-the-air were advised it may be necessary to have their TV rescan the channels to find the signal.  The outage didn’t impact cable viewers, but some satellite viewers were affected.

Having not kept a list of the recent outages, CNYTVNews.com can’t say exactly how many times WTVH’s transmitter has been shut off due to technical problems. But by now, viewers who watch via antenna are used to switching over to sister station WSTM-DT 3.3, which seems to be the de facto “backup” for WTVH whenever the channel 5 transmitter is on the fritz. Normally, 3.3 airs 24/7 weather and news programming (formerly branded as “NBC Weather Plus”).

When the outage was first announced on CNYCentral.com on Tuesday, CNYTVNews.com shared the link on Facebook and on Twitter. One Facebook follower simply commented “Again?” On Twitter, someone else responded in a similiar fashion, “Again? This is not conducive to keeping an audience.”

During most of the previous outages, CNYCentral hasn’t provided many details — just the usual “technical difficulties” line, and promises that it’ll be fixed “as soon as possible.” When this latest outage started, CNYTVNews.com emailed CNYCentral CEO/President Chris Geiger to ask for more details on the problem, and why WTVH’s transmitter seems to crash so often. Geiger didn’t respond directly to us, but a story on CNYCentral.com has since been updated with an explanation:

We learned [Wednesday] night that the IOT tube, a very important transmitter component, failed. Inexplicably, this tube was installed just three weeks ago as a preventative measure. Typically a tube like this would last 5-8 years. We are having one sent overnight and will install it Friday. If all goes well, we will be back on the air Friday afternoon.

Customers of Time Warner Cable and Verizon FiOS haven’t been affected by any of the WTVH outages, because the station provides a direct fiber feed to the head-end units of both companies.  But Dish Network and DirecTV receive WTVH’s signal over-the-air, and neither service carries WSTM 3.3. As a result, when WTVH goes off-air, subscribers to both services are left without WTVH. In some cases, the satellite services retune to 3.3, but not always.  Even if they do, it’s not always immediate.

Because WTVH “merged” with WSTM a few years ago, with the CBS affiliate losing most of its original staff as a result, some viewers have been accusing WSTM of neglecting WTVH for the benefit of WSTM. But Geiger disputed such comments:

The interruptions to WTVH broadcasts have been frustrating to us at CNY Central as well. It is true that the number of instances have been more than what you would expect. I can tell you that they are completely unrelated to the fact that CNY Central took over operation of WTVH. Both the WSTM and WTVH transmitters are about the same age and receive the exact same amount of care and preventative maintenance. As with any high-powered machinery that operates around the clock, there are sometimes failures. WTVH has had more than its fair share. We deeply regret the disruption that these failures cause our viewers. We work around the clock to get the signal back up during an outage.

On various message boards and forums, we’ve seen some viewers suggest that CNYCentral move WTVH permanently to a subchannel of WSTM.  While that option would remove the possibility of further WTVH transmitter failures, current multicasting technology doesn’t provide enough bandwidth for two high-definition signals to share the same channel.  Even if technology wasn’t a factor, there are likely some legal barriers.

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