WCFE-TV is a Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) public television station in Plattsburgh, New York. It is known under an identity of Mountain Lake PBS. This name was adopted to reflect Plattsburgh's location between the Adirondacks and Lake Champlain. It broadcasts on channel 38 from transmitters on top of Lyon Mountain, between Plattsburgh and nearby Malone. WCFE-TV's over-the-air coverage reaches many communities in Northeastern New York, Eastern Ontario (including Cornwall and parts of Ottawa), Vermont, and Southern Quebec (including Montreal). WCFE-TV's signal is also carried in Quebec City and most of the Gaspé Peninsula and Saguenay on cable.
On cable, WCFE-TV can be seen on Comcast Burlington channel 14 and Charter Plattsburgh channel 7. On Vidéotron, it can be seen on channel 24 in west Montreal, channel 40 in central and east Montreal, and channel 50 on Illicodigital cable.
Its studios and offices are located at One Sesame Street in Plattsburgh.
WCFE-TV signed on in March 1977 from studios at SUNY Plattsburgh. In 1993, it rebranded itself as "Mountain Lake PBS" to reflect its growing viewership.
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|57.1||1080i||16:9||WCFE-HD||Main WCFE programming / PBS|
|57.3||WCFE-D2||Classic Arts Showcase|
WCFE-TV shut down its analog signal, over UHF channel 57, on February 17, 2009, the original target date in which full-power television stations in the United States were to transition from analog to digital broadcasts under federal mandate (which was later pushed back to June 12, 2009). The station's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 38. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former UHF analog channel 57, which was among the high band UHF channels (52-69) that were removed from broadcasting use as a result of the transition.
WCFE-TV is currently transmitting at 55 kW. There is an application before the FCC to increase its power to 200 kW.
WCFE-TV is in a unique market. Across Lake Champlain to the east lies the city of Burlington, Vermont, home to another PBS member station: Vermont PBS. To the west lies Watertown and Potsdam, New York, home to PBS member WPBS-DT/WNPI-DT. As a result, most of WCFE-TV's broadcast area viewers are actually served by two PBS members. For years, WCFE-TV has searched for a way to stand out.
One of its solutions has been to broadcast certain various signature PBS shows at different dates and times from the national PBS schedule, much as New York City's secondary PBS outlet, WLIW has done to differentiate itself from the market's primary PBS member, WNET. For example, for a number of years WCFE-TV did not broadcast PBS's Masterpiece Theatre on Sunday evenings; it would also broadcast Wall Street Week on Saturday instead of Friday, to name but two examples.
This practice has always been somewhat controversial amongst WCFE-TV's members, especially those who do not live in overlapping broadcast areas. As a result, the station has reduced the practice somewhat, and has taken to airing a number of the most popular PBS shows in pattern with the national schedule.
Although WCFE-TV is the second-smallest PBS member in New York state, it reaches a potential audience of 3.9 million people. However, the great majority of its audience lives in Canada. Montreal alone has 10 times as many people as the Burlington/Plattsburgh market. Additionally, of its 8,500 members (as of August 2007), 4,500 live in Canada. Not only must WCFE-TV take Canadian interests into account in its programming, but its large Canadian viewership has an impact in its fundraising activities. It not only includes French-language elements in its fundraising efforts, but a significant portion of the proceeds from its pledge drives is in Canadian dollars. The fluctuations in the exchange rate between the Canadian and American dollar make budgeting difficult. In addition, in the past decade the decrease in the value of the Canadian dollar compared to its American counterpart has meant a decrease in revenues for WCFE-TV. The Canadian dollar has gained ground since 2003, meaning a slight increase for WCFE-TV.
WCFE-TV's American coverage area consists mostly of rural areas and small towns. The only cities of any size are Montreal and Quebec City.
2007 transmitter tower collapse
On April 18, 2007, WCFE's 400-foot transmitter tower located on Lyon Mountain completely collapsed as a result of heavy amounts of ice and snow from the April 2007 Nor'easter, and partially damaged the transmitter building at the base. The station started rebuilding a transmitter tower. In the meantime, the direct fiber optic lines to the local Charter Communications franchise were unaffected, and the station continued to broadcast on cable. On April 23, 2007, WCFE-TV went back on the air as a temporary digital subchannel of WCAX-TV, broadcast from Mount Mansfield, Vermont. WCFE-TV was multicast on WCAX-TV (digital channel 53), mapped to channel 57.1. On August 10, 2007, WCAX-TV discontinued carriage of WCFE-TV, when interim facilities were established (see below).
Following the collapse, Vidéotron systems in Quebec that offered WCFE-TV substituted its signal with that of Detroit's WTVS. On April 27, WCFE-TV's signal was reestablished on Vidéotron, which received WCFE-TV's signal from its temporary transmitter.
In addition, WPTZ donated its internet streaming facilities to WCFE-TV, which was used for WCFE-TV's annual Art Auction, which took place as scheduled, shortly after the collapse.
The transmitter that was damaged was a Thomson TBM unit. The company was able to provide one of their Affinity transmitters on lease to the station within two weeks of getting the request from the station. This temporary transmitter was located at the station's studio location until they could get the main transmitter facility repaired (which was a very involved process due to site access issues).
WCFE-TV ceased analog transmissions on February 17, 2009 and continued to broadcast digitally on channel 38 after all stations in the Burlington/Plattsburgh market turned off their analog signals. However, with the use of PSIP, receivers list its virtual channel as 57.