PBS hopes community will pitch in

Doug Franklin

MERRILLVILLE — Repairing and replacing equipment that was originally damaged by a storm, followed by several months of not being able to broadcast, has put Lakeshore PBS in a financial bind.

The station spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore full broadcast service to the Chicagoland market, and is now looking to the community to help support efforts to replenish its reserves through a fundraising campaign, according to Matt Franklin, vice president of TV operations.

Over the last year, Lakeshore has committed more than $400,000 to new equipment and repairs, removing the damaged transmitter and accompanying equipment, and purchasing a new solid-state transmitter.

“It takes a large amount of capital to operate a TV station, and this incident shows how challenging it is,” Franklin said. “Through ongoing community support over the years, we were able to have the funds in reserve for this situation. This investment in infrastructure was substantial, but we are now fully equipped to serve our communities for years to come.”

The transmitter in southern Lake County was initially damaged by a violent storm in July 2018, knocking the station off the air, Franklin said. TV transmitters were in high demand because stations across the country were ordering new equipment due to the FCC spectrum auction and station repacks.

To make it even tougher, qualified tower crews were also booked for months in advance, he said. It took until late this spring for things to return to normal.

The outage impacted about 40 percent of the 3.4 million households served by Lakeshore PBS, according to Franklin.

“As a result, membership contributions dropped off significantly,” he said. “Lakeshore PBS is enormously grateful to those donors who stuck by the station, and all those that have contributed to this station over our 30-year history.  It was through their generous support that Lakeshore was able to have the funds in reserves to cover the initial costs of repair, but the huge outlay of funds has created concerns as we move forward.” 

The new system should eliminate single points of failure, operate on much less power, and will be ATSC 3.0 ready, so it will be equipped for the next generation of broadcasting, Franklin said.

But the total overall expected loss of revenue was near $720,000, he said, and insurance will cover less than half that amount. That figure includes $356,380 to return the station to full operation, and a total of $363,000 in lost contributions based on the three-year average for the months of the outage.

Now, Lakeshore PBS is asking viewers and members across Northwest Indiana and Chicagoland to help the station “Bounce Back,” Franklin said.

The goal is to raise $125,000 through a community support campaign to replenish a portion of funds used for transmitter and equipment repair. In addition, the funds would replace the loss of membership contributions and underwriter support during the extended outage.

“It has been an ordeal, but Lakeshore PBS is now back and ready to fulfill our mission to be the recognized media resource for citizens to experience lifelong learning, celebrate human diversity, and engage in civic concerns,” James Muhammad, president and CEO of Lakeshore Public Media said. “All to enrich the lives of people of all ages in the communities we serve.”

When the station went back to full power, Muhammad said, “Through all of this, we heard from many viewers and members during our outage, letting us know that they missed their programming and their PBS station. We want them to know that we truly apologize for the length of this outage. It has been something that we never could have believed was possible.”

To support the public media station’s fundraising campaign, visit lakeshorepublicmedia.org/bounceback/. Anyone donating $75 or more will receive a 12-month subscription to the station Member Guide, access to Lakeshore PBS Passport, and an exclusive Member Discount Card. Anyone giving $100 or more will also receive a Lakeshore PBS tote bag or mug.

— From staff reports

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