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West Virginia Public Broadcasting Upgrades Failing WNPB-TV Tower

This map shows the new and old power strengths for the WNPB-TV transmitter located at Coopers Rock State Park.

The West Virginia Public Broadcasting engineering team has completed a major upgrade at its Coopers Rock State Park tower. This is first of several planned upgrades across the WVPB system as part of the Federal Communications Commission-mandated spectrum repack.

The $1 million project puts WNPB-TV Morgantown and its vicinity in a great position for a new broadcast standard called ATSC 3.0, and very soon, it will take just the flip of a switch to present “Next Gen Public Television” to the entire state. WVPB used the FCC-mandated spectrum re-pack as an opportunity to upgrade to the new high definition standard. In addition, the new tower will result in expanded emergency communication abilities and more pinpointed alerts for that area of the Mountain State.

WVPB Executive Director Chuck Roberts said this was “quite an undertaking for a small team.”

“They were able to take an aging, failing, patchworked transmitter from 166,000 watts to 660,000 watts. This gives WVPB the ability to reach more areas with a stronger signal,” Roberts said. “It is an impressive accomplishment, and I’m proud of their work. This is a one-small-step moment and a giant leap forward in our broadcasting capabilities.”

The Coopers Rock project team was composed of two WVPB employees, Chief Engineer Dave McClanahan and Engineer Art Austin, assisted by two contractor crews — Gates Air and Propagation Systems, Inc., both of Pennsylvania, and RIO Tower Crew of Texas. The team began work in late January and finished in late February with many delays caused by inclement weather.

“We fought ice and snow. We fought hard rain. We fought high winds. And, we fought fog,” McClanahan said. “And when it’s 40 degrees in downtown Morgantown, it’s 18 with fierce winds at Coopers Rock tower, which is high on a mountain. We had to be flexible about working on the tower to ensure the safety of our crew.”

Each day the crew worked on the upgrade, power to the tower had to be cut for safety. Both radio and television services went dark during those hours, and both Roberts and McClanahan said they appreciated the patience of the Morgantown audience.

“Our chief engineer kept saying it’s a temporary pain for a long-term gain and he was right,” Roberts said. “We thank our radio and TV audiences for their patience during this project. It feels great to bring better service to the Morgantown area. People who receive our signal over the air should see an immediate improvement,” Roberts said. “If you couldn’t see our television channels before, you should try again and discover great West Virginia and PBS programming.”

Because the old tower was dangerously close to not functioning at all, McClanahan said temporary fixes were getting harder to come by, weren’t guaranteed to work, and were costly. He worked with WVPB Purchasing Director Dale Malcomb to secure the best contracts for the project.

“So, we went full steam ahead with a modern system that puts us in FCC compliance ahead of schedule,” McClanahan said. “It should last the Mountain State another 25 years at least and our viewers can be assured that we were extremely diligent throughout the purchasing process. A million dollars is a big spend, and we made sure we got the most expertise for the best value.”

The funds to pay for the Coopers Rock tower and future tower/transmitter upgrades were provided up front by a special supplemental package from the West Virginia Legislature. Those monies will be refunded by the FCC.

Other WVPB towers/transmitters scheduled for a similar upgrade include Beckley, Charleston, Huntington, Parkersburg, Keyser, Romney, Martinsburg, Flatwoods (Cedarville) and Wheeling. Viewers who get WVPB channels via cable providers will not be affected by tower upgrades.

Viewers are invited to let the WVPB team know how they like their new service at #wvpbtowerpower.