Thursday, June 4, 2015

ME Radio: Non-Com WMEA Knocked Off-Air

Maine Public Broadcasting Network’s Portland-area radio station went off the air in much of its broadcast area Monday morning after a 30-year-old transmission line became overheated and burned itself out, according to the Press-Herald.

The outage left loyal listeners without their favorite station for three days, but repairs were completed around 5:50 p.m. Wednesday, according to Gil Maxwell, chief technology officer for MPBN, and the station was back up and running.

Maxwell said WMEA 90.1 FM will remain on the air into Thursday morning before a temporary shutdown is put into effect to finish “some cleanup work.” Thursday’s shutdown will begin around 9 a.m. and last for four to five hours, Maxwell said.  The station will continue streaming.

The episode highlights, in a harsh way, the network’s battle to maintain and replace aging equipment at a time when government funding and grant programs continue to dwindle.

Mark Vogelzang, president and CEO of MPBN, said that cuts in federal grants for equipment create a “dilemma” for the network as it tries to decide which equipment to replace first.

WMEA 90.1 FM (24.5 Kw) Red=Local
“We’re trying to prioritize (the replacement of equipment) and take care of the most urgent needs,” said Vogelzang. “But sometimes something like this surprises us. We don’t know if a line will last 25 years or 50 years.”

WMEA went off the air Monday about 1 a.m. because a 30-year-old, 1,600-foot transmission line overheated and burnt itself out. The line, which runs from a transmitter to the top of a 1,500-foot tower atop Winn Mountain in Sebago, had corroded over time, Maxwell said.

WMEA’s signal stretches from Augusta to Massachusetts, and it often shows up in radio rating surveys as Portland’s most-listened-to station. A survey by the Nielsen ratings firm in the fall of 2014 estimated WMEA has having the largest weekly audience, more than 140,000 listeners, of stations in southern Maine. Classic rock station WBLM was listed second, with 121,300 weekly listeners and pop/rock station WHOM was estimated to have 120,900 weekly listeners.

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