N.Y. Stations Lose Their Signals

Americans were glued to televisions throughout Tuesday, flipping between news broadcasts to get a full picture of the horrifying events that were unfolding. In New York, however, residents without cable could only tune in to WCBS-TV, the sole network affiliate to keep its signal during the tragedy, and the local Univision affiliate.

The majority of the city’s stations, including WCBS Channel 2, had antennas atop the World Trade Center: WABC-TV Channel 7, WNBC-TV Channel 4, WPIX-TV Channel 11, WNYW-TV Chan nel 5, WWOR-TV Channel 9, WNET-TV Channel 13 and WPXN-TV Channel 31.

Thanks to its backup antennas on the Empire State Building, where it has two analog and one digital signal, WCBS was able to bring live, over-the-air, local coverage to the 25 percent of the New York DMA that doesn’t have access to cable. The station’s coverage experienced only a one-minute interruption.

Univision’s WXTV Channel 41 was also able to retain over-the-air coverage because of a tower on the Empire State Building. The disaster hit as Univision was broadcasting its network morning show out of Miami, Ves pierta America. By 9 a.m., the station switched to local coverage, suspending all commercials. It broadcast news bulletins and advisories in English as well as Spanish.

WCBS, which has lagged in the city’s ratings race, now had a huge audience. At 9 a.m., the station had a 14 share. By 9:30, that jumped to a 28 share, and at 10 it was at 32. Instead of going to its network feed, WCBS elected to stay as local as possible. As the story progressed into the week, local news remained the focus of the station’s coverage.

“The attack on New York City is one of the most local stories in the history of the city, impacting millions of people in the tristate area,” said Joel Cheatwood, WCBS news director. “We feel we have a responsibility to provide the de tailed information which most affects the community.”

WCBS reporter Vince DeMentri led the station’s coverage. Amid layers of rubble and twisted portions of steel, he brought the shocking reality of the disaster into homes around the city.

“Vince didn’t even know precisely where he was,” said a WCBS representative. “Everyone always used the Trade Centers to get their bearings.”

On Thursday evening, DeMentri tried to get into blocked-off areas of the ruins and was issued a misdemeanor summons for falsely identifying himself. “He expresses his regrets for the unfortunate incident,” said the station representative.

As Tuesday wore on, New York’s other TV stations scrambled to get back on the air. By 4 p.m., Tribune’s WPIX-TV Channel 11 was back on, but with reduced power. The station was able to use a portable transmitter that it had acquired in the aftermath of the World Trade Center bombing in 1993.

WABC continued to deliver its signal to New York cable systems and made temporary arrangements to transmit via satellite so that other cable systems could access its coverage. It also made arrangements to have DirecTV pick up its coverage. For a period of time, WABC was carried on WHSE, a Home Shopping Network affiliate on Channel 68, and public stations WLIW and WNYE. The two public stations also picked up WNBC.

On Wednesday, WABC received shipment of a backup transmitter and antenna. On Thursday, the station was busy working to get its signal up in New Jersey, hoping that by Friday it would be able to broadcast with a reduced power signal.

In addition to making arrangements to feed cable heads and DirecTV, WNBC made arrangements to be carried by Channel 39, a low-power Spanish station that opted to carry the NBC affiliate over the air. By late Thursday, WNBC had hopes that it would soon have its low-power backup in New Jersey up and running.

Even as stations hustled to ready backup equipment, they had to seek temporary approval from the Federal Communications Commission to erect antennas. Ap proval was quickly granted.

All New York stations went commercial-free through the end of the week, alternating be tween local and network coverage. In the other two markets most affected by the disaster, Washington, D.C., and Boston, stations also did not air commercials. Stations in those three markets lost an estimated $26 million last week.

A modified programming schedule, including advertising, was ex pected to resume over the weekend.