TV competitors work together to get WCAX, WPTZ back on the air

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BURLINGTON — On the afternoon of Tuesday, November 19, 2019, the WCAX-TV and WPTZ-TV antenna on the transmission tower at the top of Mount Mansfield unexpectedly caught fire and was damaged beyond repair.

The fire damage resulted in WCAX and WPTZ losing the ability to transmit their broadcast signals.

Despite being direct competitors, local teams from CBS affiliate WCAX and NBC affiliate WPTZ as well as their national parent companies, Gray Media and Hearst Television respectively, immediately started working together in order to get a temporary antenna operational so they could get back on the air.

“When the fire first occurred, the local stations reached out to each other to offer assistance and find ways to work together,” said WCAX General Manager Jay Barton. “The response of our local broadcast community shows we place our viewers’ needs before everything else.”

WFFF tower will use a temporary antenna, while WCAX designs a permanent antenna solution to replace the damaged antenna on the WCAX tower.

Tower crews from GTI and RF engineers from Dielectric were at the tower site within a day to assess the damage.

But sub zero wind chills and inches of rime ice buildup on the structures put these two competing stations into a position where they had no choice but to ask for help from their other television competitors, Fox affiliate WFFF-TV and ABC affiliate WVNY-TV.

Fully knowing the competitive advantage this would have afforded them, WFFF-TV and WVNY-TV, as well as their national parent company Nexstar Media, chose to put the public interest first.

They immediately allowed WCAX and WPTZ to use WFFF and WVNY’s tower, also located on Mount Mansfield, to set up a temporary antenna.

“The cooperation we received from fellow broadcasters was impressive,” said Justin Antoniotti, the General Manager of WPTZ and WNNE, who had two stations off the air. “While we are often competitors, this event is a reminder as broadcasters we are united by our responsibility to serve the public.”

Despite the Thanksgiving holiday and extreme weather, the team mobilized, installed the replacement antenna and got both WCAX and WPTZ back on the air by Sunday, December 1st at 1:00 p.m. just in time for the snowstorm that pushed across the southern half of Vermont that night.

“WFFF/WVNY and Nexstar Media were glad to help WCAX & WPTZ when the antenna fire knocked them off the air, just as they cooperated and assisted us to serve our viewing community when we needed their help several years ago,” said WFFF and WVNY General Manager Alexander von Lichtenberg.

The source of the fire remains unknown, as it would require a helicopter lift to get the damaged antenna off of the tower for inspection.

“At the moment, we don’t believe we will have the opportunity to look into it for months,” Barton told VBM.