TV Broadcasters Keep Transmitting, Even While Sandy Raged

A roundup of media coverage from TV broadcasters shows how critical TV transmissions defied the strength of Sandy’s winds.  During Superstorm Sandy, most of New York’s TV and FM radio stations stayed on-air, thanks to the backup power supply system at The Empire State Building, according to a report from Doug Lung published in TV Technology.

“Although power stayed on at the Empire State Building in New York City, a facility engineer I spoke with reported observing many AC power fluctuations.  He added that the flywheel UPS system in use at the facility, however, was able to handle it without impacting transmitters,” Lung reported.

“TV broadcasters throughout the region provided audio to radio stations to relay emergency information to people without battery-operated TV receivers.  MetroPCS customers who were lucky enough to have one of their new Samsung Lightray phones with the ATSC Mobile DTV tuner and built-in Dyle TV service were able to get simulcasts of the live continuous news coverage from NBC, as well as programming from Fox and ION on their cellphones with no impact on the wireless carrier’s capacity,” Lung wrote.

John Eggerton, writing in Multichannel News, said cable outages averaged 25 percent by the Tuesday morning of the storm, but had dropped to substantially less than 20 percent by the next day.

Wrote editor Tom Butts in TV Technology, “in the past, broadcasters have been accused of sensationalizing their coverage of hurricanes and other natural disasters in an attempt to boost ratings…in this case, however, the threat was accurately characterized and once again our industry proved how important broadcasting is in an age of multiple media choices.”

“As for that other ubiquitous communications technology, cell service, the report card is not as positive. In addition to overwhelmed connections, towers were also damaged. Could mobile DTV play a part in improving reliability in that industry? Will the FCC take the events of the past month into account when assessing the impact of the upcoming spectrum auctions on the dependability of over-the-air broadcasting? One would hope so; let’s not rely on another event like Hurricane Sandy to drive that point home,” Butts continued in the same issue.

New Jersey stations faired reasonably well during Sandy and the winter storm that followed, with Paul Rotella of the New Jersey Broadcasters Association telling RadioWorld that some stations “were briefly out during the transition from AC to DC power, but it was a minimal disruption in services. A vast majority of our stations are still running on generators. A vast majority of our station groups are huddled in the central location. I think they’re working as efficiently as possible. But audiences don’t know that. They’re not missing a beat. By and large, whether it takes generators, gasoline, engineers, office, on-air talent, support staff, producers, GMs, everyone’s pitching in and doing what has to be done to keep the stations on the air.”

“Even though New Jersey broadcasters have always helped to preserve life and limb with catastrophes, I think this last storm helped to make our unique bond with our audiences even stronger.  It’s a massive effort that’s going on in the aftermath of Sandy, and it’s just started.  It’s going to take years,” Rotella said.

According to a report in Broadcast Engineering, Hurricane Sandy was responsible for disabling one in four cell phone towers in 10 states and many that remained working are running off generator power, setting up a race with utility companies to restore electrical service to the sites before they run out of fuel.

“Superstorms like Sandy can wipe out cellphone coverage, leaving broadcasters to rely on traditional newsgathering technologies.  Hurricane Sandy not only continues to affect millions of people along the East Coast, but the damage done to the region’s cellphone tower infrastructure underscores the vulnerability of IP newsgathering technology to circumstances beyond the control of broadcasters,” reported the publication.