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Pioneer Television hits a brand new high point

APPLETON -- Scaling a 1,200-foot tower to dismount and carefully return to earth a 74-foot-long antenna weighing 18,000 pounds -- or more than four SUVs -- is challenge enough.

But the really tough job was doing it all in reverse and that is now done: Channel 10 Pioneer Public Television in Appleton has replaced its 26-year-old analog antenna with a new digital antenna.

The digital antenna that was hoisted on Nov. 20 atop the broadcast tower outside of Appleton is 84 feet long and weighs 22,300 pounds, according to Jon Panzer, station manager and chief engineer for the public television system.

There's still some work to do. The actual switch to move the station's broadcast on to the VHF band at Channel 10 will happen sometime in December, according to Panzer. It had been planned in November, but windy conditions delayed the tower work.

The new antenna -- and the move to a VHF frequency -- will give Pioneer TV a lot more oomph for its amps. Broadcasting at the lower frequency will expand the signal range while cutting the station's monthly electric costs by anywhere from $1,500 to $2,000, according to Panzer.

The new antenna will also benefit Pioneer TV as it converts to high-definition broadcast early next year. The station is currently upgrading its control room and producing its local programming such as Prairie Sportsman in a high definition format.

Viewers will get plenty of advance notice when the switch to the new frequency occurs. Those receiving Pioneer TV over the air will need to rescan their televisions or digital convertors to recognize the station at its new frequency, Panzer explained. An estimated 30 percent of its viewers rely on the broadcast signal.

Currently, Pioneer TV has been broadcasting at Channel 31, although most over-the-air viewers do not realize it. The broadcast signal goes out with coding so that "Channel 10'' is displayed on receivers.

Viewers have experienced programming interruptions during daylight hours since workers from Precision Communications of Oklahoma began the tower project on Nov. 1. The powerful antenna has to be turned off when workers are in close proximity to it so that they are not exposed to the energy it radiates, Panzer explained.

Panzer said the Precision Communications crew is very experienced with this type of work. The workers plan and go over every detail before they ascend the tower.

The overall project, which includes new transmitting equipment along with the antenna, represents a roughly $800,000 investment, he said. The new antenna represents $350,000 of the total.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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