URBANA — Two-and-a-half months after DirecTV customers began having trouble getting WILL-TV clearly, the station remains stymied in its search for the problem.
"It's extremely frustrating," station manager Bob Culkeen said Thursday.
The station has enlisted the help of the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Aviation Administration, the FBI, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, the Illinois Department of Transportation and Springfield's municipal electric and water utility.
But so far, no one has been able to identify the source of the interference in Springfield.
Next week, ham operators will join the search for the signal that's interfering with WILL's transmission to DirecTV.
Since February, DirecTV viewers have seen WILL's signal break up at precisely 5:26 p.m. each day. There's a good deal of interference through the early evening, and breakups in the signal are intermittent until the next morning.
"We have no reports (of breakups) after 6 a.m.," Culkeen said.
An estimated 65,000 viewers in WILL's designated market area watch the station on DirecTV, according to the public broadcasting station.
DirecTV gets WILL's signal over the air through the satellite company's antenna in Springfield. A switch then converts the signal to a fiber network that goes to DirecTV's uplink.
At one point, a bank of electrical capacitors in Springfield was thought to be the source of the problem. But the interference continued after the capacitors were removed.
Culkeen said a company in Springfield was also thought to be a possible source after its parking lot proved to be a "hot spot." But when the company invited broadcast engineers in, they found no problems there.
At this point, the FCC has asked WILL to inform the agency of its findings and contact it if corrective action is needed.
The station still hasn't narrowed down whether the interference is from a legal signal that has drifted, an unlicensed source or a broadcast pirate, Culkeen said. While searching for the source, WILL is considering using fiber connections to deliver its signal to DirecTV.
Culkeen said the station plans to spend $15,000 for equipment and $2,000 a month to deliver the signal over fiber.
Viewers continue to ask WILL whether the station knows there's a problem or whether someone's asleep at the switch, he said.
But when they learn what the station is doing to investigate and resolve the problem, they're generally amazed and grateful, he said.
Culkeen said the station will likely need to do some "audience rebuilding" since affected viewers are likely turning to other stations.