Super Bowl Sunday almost became a super bust for many football fans on the Kenai Peninsula when microwave translators conked out leaving the game's over-the-air signal somewhere in limbo.
Home antennae in Kenai, Soldotna, Kasilof and Ninilchik certainly weren't picking it up as members of the Anchorage Broadcast Television Consortium had so carefully planned.
The ABC network carried the contest between the Oakland Raiders and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which many fans hoped would be a hard-fought battle like those they'd enjoyed during the playoffs.
Because the signal from ABC's Anchorage affiliate, KIMO Channel 13, cannot reach portions of the peninsula around Kasilof and Ninilchik, Al Bramstedt Jr., head of NBC's affiliate KTUU Channel 2, agreed to route KIMO's signal along the KTUU path. Everything was set to go, said George Heacock, director of engineering for KIMO.
"Somewhere along the line in the changeover, we lost the feed pathing for Channel 2 into Soldotna, Ninilchik, Kasilof and other areas," he said.
Other translators also went on the fritz.
Jeremy Lansman, president of Fireweed Communications Corp., which operates KYES Channel 5, did most of the technical work setting up the alternate routing for the Super Bowl signal.
"I did the switch and the instructions for the switch. Somehow, everything conspired to be wrong," Lansman said.
He still doesn't know exactly what went wrong, he said, but sometime during the hours before the game, signals for several stations in the central peninsula simply "went away." Gone were channels 6, 8, 9 and 10.
Lansman said he started getting calls alerting him that the there were no signals in the central peninsula. He said he drove to the microwave collecting station at Glen Alps in Anchorage to learn if the problem was originating there.
"When those on-air signals go, the failure propagates down the chain," he said. "Having 8, 9 and 10 not working eliminated any chance of the game being seen" in areas where ABC's signal was unavailable.
Well, almost eliminated.
KAKM Channel 7's signal, picked up as Channel 12 in the central peninsula area, was still operating.
"I made an executive decision," Lansman said.
Just before kickoff, he switched the game to KAKM's microwave channel. He said he's heard some peninsula Public Broadcasting System viewers weren't happy.
"The Super Bowl has such a special meaning to a lot of people," he said. "I plugged it in and said, 'I'll take the heat later.'"
Shortly after that move, he heard by phone that some of the stations that had been on the blink were now back on the air in the central peninsula.
"We don't know why it failed or why it came back," he admitted, but he thanked KAKM, KTUU and the other members of the consortium, including KYES, KIMO and KTBY (Fox), who have all cooperated with each other from time to time to overcome such problems.
"Bramstedt was willing to give up his coverage" to give the game to viewers in Kasilof and Ninilchik, Lansman said. "He's really a nice guy."
Heacock said it was gracious of KAKM to allow the signal to go down their path. But exactly why the expected rerouting through KTUU didn't work or even if the problems had anything to do with the attempt is still a mystery.
"We'll sit down with the major parties and figure out where we lost it," he said.
Lansman said his Soldotna translator was still off the air Monday, leaving some viewers without access to KYES programming. He said he would be driving down from Anchorage to fix the problem.
The problems faced by central peninsula viewers apparently did not impact Anchor Point and Homer viewers, who get their signals from other translators.
But the translator equipment feeding signals to the peninsula are largely made up of aging gear acquired by the consortium a few years ago under a transfer agreement with the state, which had owned and operated the microwave translator system.
Heacock said keeping the equipment operating and the signal strong is a constant challenge.
Paul Stankavich, general manager of KAKM, said he heard about the switch over only after the fact.
"I would have preferred it didn't happen, but I wouldn't second-guess Jeremy," he said. "He had to make a decision on the spot. He had to make a tough decision."
Stankavich said consortium members try to support each other as much as possible.
And just in case you've been out of touch, Tampa Bay clearly had little difficulties with their signals as they dumped all over Oakland, 48-21, in a game that essentially was over by the half.
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