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Prairie Public antenna installation nearing end

FARGO - All that's left to do on the installation project - which has caused 16 daytime outages for Prairie Public's local TV and radio signals since January - is an inspection by the manufacturer of the $200,000 antenna, said Jack Anderson, director of engineering for Prairie Public.

The stretches of dead air have been maddening for some regular listeners to KDSU 91.9 FM, the public radio network's Fargo station. One listener who'd been a KDSU fan for decades wrote in an unsigned e-mail to the network on Saturday, "I am writing to say goodbye to Prairie Public. I have had it."

That sort of exasperation is to be expected, said Bill Thomas, Prairie Public's director of radio.

"We're on one day. Then we're not. I understand. It's really aggravating," he said. "It's frustrating even if you know (the cause)."

KDSU and KFME, the local public TV station, had to go silent when workers were on the 1,100-foot tower near Amenia, N.D., because the transmitters had to be turned off, Anderson said. Bob Dambach, director of television for Prairie Public, said it was a bigger issue for KDSU because the signals could be turned on again by dark, before TV's prime time starts at 7 p.m.

The $150,000 installation of the five-ton VHF antenna was done on contract by Midwest Steeplejacks, a Fargo firm, Anderson said.

It will allow Prairie Public to move KFME back to the VHF band, which will increase its coverage area to even larger than it was before the switch to all-digital broadcasting last month, Anderson said.

The move from UHF will require over-the-air antenna users to rescan for channels. Dambach said KFME will run advisories at least three days before it switches back to the heartier VHF band, and the earliest it would happen is March 26. The UHF digital signal now airing comes from a $100,000 antenna placed on the tower in 2002, when KFME first began airing both a digital and an analog signal.

Initially, the hope was to have the new antenna on the tower by the original digital-TV transition date, Feb. 17, Anderson said.

But a variety of problems slowed down workers. In the fall, the ground was too soft, Thomas said. When work began in January, conditions were often too cold or too windy, he said.

Anderson said the metal cable used for hoisting the antennas had to be replaced twice - once because cords were severed after it slipped off a pulley and another time because of an apparent lightning strike.

"Hopefully, (today) will go smoothly," he said.