TV beams back into N.Y.

Collapse of WTC transmitter affected 22% of Gotham viewers

NEW YORK — It took many of them as long as eight days, but the local stations here are finally beginning to get their signals out to the New Yorkers who rely exclusively on over-the-air broadcasting for their TV viewing.

All of the six commercial VHF TV stations except WCBS got knocked off the air on Sept. 11 when two jetliners hijacked by terrorists plowed into the World Trade Center. WCBS instantly switched to a backup transmitter on the roof of the Empire State Building, a facility not available right away to the station’s competitors.

The terrorist attack affected only the 22% of TV viewers in the New York area who don’t subscribe to cable and don’t own a satellite dish. For the most part, cable and satellite subscribers continued to get the programming from all of the TV stations and cable networks, which were unaffected by the terrorist attack.

Immediately after the destruction of the World Trade Center, WNBC, WABC and WPIX got busy making deals with other over-the-air TV stations. WNBC engineered agreements with WLIW channel 21, the Long Island public TV station; WMBC channel 63, a New Jersey public TV station; and with an independent TV station using the channel 26 dial position.

Nick Frazer, program manager for WLIW channel 21, said he and his staff were cutting between WNBC and the public-TV feed, often switching to the BBC World News’ coverage of the attacks on New York and Washington.

WABC worked out deals with WNYE channel 25, a New York public TV station, and the 24-hour home-shopping TV station on channel 68.

WPIX got permission from the Federal Communications Commission to begin broadcasting on channel 64, the low-power station WPIX had agreed earlier to relinquish, as of Sept. 15.

Sources say no money changed hands with these deals because the public and indie stations were happy to get access to WNBC, WABC and WPIX, all three of which were broadcasting 24 hours a day of news on the tragedy and its aftermath. Bill Beam, director of engineering for WABC, said some of these borrowed signals picked up additional viewers due to the WABC coverage.

An official with WNYW, the Fox-owned TV station in New York, said he rejected out of hand the demand of one UHF station for cash in exchange for giving WNYW access to its signal.

As local TV stations start getting back to their normal schedules, WABC, WNBC and WPIX have made arrangements with transmission facilities in Alpine, N.Y., to get their over-the-air signals out to New Yorkers.

WNYW and its wholly owned sister station WWOR, although with no backup transmitter that could be instantly activated, kept their lease for space on top of the Empire State Building and should both be in operation before the week is out, according to Jim Clayton, general manager of the two stations.

WABC’s Beam said all of the local TV stations are cooperating with each other to formulate plans for setting up new transmission facilities, working through an existing mechanism called the TV All-Industry Committee.