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Some Missouri viewers still without PBS one month after tower collapse

Thousands of people are still without a local PBS affiliate nearly one month after a television broadcast tower collapsed in Missouri. And it could remain that way for the next several years as the affection station considers its options for returning the station’s over-the-air signal to normal.

On April 19, the 1,980-feet tall transmission tower used by Missouri public television station KOZK-TV (Channel 21) collapsed during an attempted upgrade to the station’s broadcast antennas. The collapsed killed one man, identified in media reports as 56-year-old Stephen Lemay, and injured three other crew members.

Investigators with the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration are still looking into the cause of the collapse and a final report on the incident is still a few months away, the website reported this week. The investigation prevents KOZK from rebuilding the tower at the site of the collapse.

Suzanne Shaw, an executive with KOZK, told Current the station is waiting for OSHA to release the site back to the broadcaster before it can consider whether or not to rebuild at the same location.

“Our primary focus was the tower crew, providing them with support and helping them get back home,” Shaw told the website. “We’ll review the site once OSHA exits and releases the area. It’s not going to be a fast process.”

The collapse left tens of thousands of people without access to the station for days. Pay TV companies including Dish Network, DirecTV, AT&T U-Verse and most cable systems have since restored KOZK for their customers. But despite KOZK launching a lower-power over-the-air signal as a temporary fix, more than 40,000 people still find themselves without a PBS station.

The upgrade work involved “repacking” KOZK’s signal from one radio channel to another as part of the FCC’s redistribution of spectrum following last year’s auction, Current said. Stations have less than two years to repack their signals, and with transmission towers ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 feet, some in the industry are worried about worker safety.

“Even a small error when you’re up on a tower can be catastrophic,” engineer Bill Hayes told Current, noting that the man killed in the collapsed was considered an expert tower climber and had been working in dangerous conditions for more than 20 years without incident.

The collapse of the Missouri tower caused more than a headache for an over-the-air TV channel: The same tower was used by public safety broadcaster NOAA for its station WXL46 (Channel 162.40 MHz). The station was knocked off the air for weeks, leaving many counties without access to NOAA weather reports via radio. The station resumed broadcasting this week after NOAA moved its antennas to a tower serving a local Christian music station.

Current: Missouri tower collapse investigation continues as stations seek to restore services

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that several Missouri counties were still without a NOAA weather radio signal. NOAA’s weather radio station, WXL46, stopped broadcasting after the collapse, but the station relocated its antennas and has since resumed broadcasting.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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