Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Fire Watch: TV Stations Make Contingency Plans; After The Fire's Out, What Will Be Left?

Blogger Preschooler and I can't help it; we're drawn to our front windows, checking up on the fire in the San Gabriel Mountains (which we face) every few minutes. Sometimes, the flames are huge and the sky is a bright orange-red. Sometimes, smoke is thick and we can't see what's going on up there.

Some days, the flames are small, and we imagine things are getting better. Tonight, the flames were tall, widespread... and seemingly unbeatable. Blogger Preschooler, meanwhile, is alternately fascinated and freaked out... but on balance, he now understands that we're still too many miles away to ever be hit by the flames.

Evan is familiar with the mountains, for as you know, we hit the Angeles Crest Highway each year to play in the snow deep inside the Angeles National Forest.

Just 45 minutes away from Glendale, it's more like a world away up there. But now, I fear future trips up there will be very different, as we take in the charred remains of a forest rather than this:

On Monday I asked around, via Twitter, if Newcomb's Ranch, the restaurant and bar located on the Angeles Crest deep in the forest, had been struck by the fire -- but no one seems to know for sure.

If so, that would be another blow. As I wrote in 2008, Newcomb's is a pleasant surprise -- particularly for an isolated restaurant 27 miles from civilization.

For now, it looks like Newcomb's and the Mt. Waterman ski resort isn't impacted... but this fire is pretty unpredictable. Mt. Wilson wasn't expected at first to be hit... and now everyone is still bracing for what appears to be an inevitability.

SPEAKING OF MT. Wilson, at NBC-owned KNBC, staffers immediately began shipping in equipment from various parts of the country in order to build temporary transmitter facilities for the station and its Spanish-lingo sisters, KVEA and KWHY.

KNBC wasn't waiting for Mt. Wilson to go up in flames before taking action. A station spokesman said contingency plans hadn't been developed before the fire but were put in place once it became apparent that Mt. Wilson was in danger.

"This is a fluid situation, and the details are still being worked out," she said.

Should the Mt. Wilson transmitting towers be destroyed by fire, local stations wouldn't take as big a hit as they might have a few decades ago: Most cable, satellite and telco systems won't be affected, as stations now deliver their feeds to providers via fiber-optic lines.

In Los Angeles, 86% of the market's viewers receive station signals via one of those services. Hispanic households would be hit harder, as the number drops to 76% in that demographic.

Stations such as Tribune's KTLA have been advising viewers that they may lose their signal -- and to watch its feed via the Internet if the station is knocked off the air.

Across town at CBS' KCBS/KCAL duopoly, the stations were also streaming their newscasts on their website as execs continued to monitor the situation.

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