Technicians with the Pitkin County department that manages TV/FM over-the-air broadcasting say it will take awhile to repair the broken power line that feeds the Lower Red Mountain translator site.
Because of the damaged line, the county cannot rebroadcast several Grand Junction television stations to city of Aspen residents and businesses that use antennas to get TV signals. It’s not known how many city TV watchers rely on standard antennas in lieu of cable or satellite systems.
“In a nutshell, the power line that runs to the Lower Red site is bad. No power, no broadcast,” Drew Peterson, communications project engineer for the county, said last week.
“We are working to assess the cause of the outage and come up with solutions,” said the county’s communications site manager, Jeff Krueger.
“Unfortunately, there is no quick fix,” Krueger added in a news release. “We expect electric power to Pitkin County’s translator on Lower Red to be out indefinitely. We are working diligently to find a long-term solution.”
Peterson said Thursday that Krueger and a contracted technician visited the site this week and found multiple problem spots in the line, which is buried. The power line runs up the mountain, on U.S. Forest Service land, from a transformer in the Starwood neighborhood.
Repairs are difficult because of strict Forest Service rules related to digging and utility repairs, and also because of the terrain, Peterson said. The translator site, a small structure with two towers, is only accessible via helicopter or a 45-minute hike along the Sunnyside Trail.
The county shares the site with radio station KSPN-FM. To ensure that KSPN is still accessible to listeners in the Aspen area, technicians rigged a temporary transmitter at the county’s Jackrabbit Hill translator site near Snowmass.
Problem is, the signal from Jackrabbit isn’t as strong, so motorists tuning into 103.1 FM to receive KSPN in Aspen would find that the transmission fades out if they are traveling downvalley. A stronger signal can be picked back up in the Basalt area on 100.1 FM, Peterson said.
“We just don’t have the broadcast power at Jackrabbit that we did at Lower Red,” he said.
The county has several translator sites in the valley that broadcast TV signals to those who prefer to get their TV stations free-of-charge via rooftop antennas or their smaller indoor cousins known as “rabbit ears.” TV watchers in other parts of the county who use antennas are still able to get the Grand Junction channels through the other translator sites.
However, no one in the county or just outside of it who is dependent on antennas for TV signals can access Aspen channels 11 and 12 — Community Government and Grassroots TV. That’s because the main feed for those channels goes directly to the Lower Red translator site. Subscribers to cable or satellite TV systems are still able to receive the CGTV broadcasts.
Peterson said the department hasn’t gotten a lot of complaints from the Aspen antenna-user crowd since the issue popped up on June 11.
“Surprisingly, we haven’t gotten a lot of calls,” he said. “We have the usual people who call and let us know right away. But it’s a lot quieter than I expected.”
The power issue at the Lower Red translator site was discussed informally at Tuesday’s work session of Pitkin County commissioners. No direction was provided to county staff.