Flooding at Willis Tower knocks TV, radio signals off the air

Willis Tower

A power outage caused by flooding at Willis Tower wreaked havoc on the broadcast signals of several Chicago television and radio stations this week.

The South Loop skyscraper, known until 2009 as Sears Tower, was closed for a second day Tuesday after the weekend rainfall caused the Chicago River to overflow into the lower level of the building and submerge a Com Ed substation.

The resulting loss of power shut down the broadcast antennas atop the 110-story tower.

WBBM-Channel 2’s signal was disrupted by the flooding, according to Derek Dalton, president and general manager of the CBS-owned station. While the outage did not affect cable subscribers, those with DirecTV were patched into the programming of New York sister station WCBS for a time.

“We look forward to the issue at Willis Tower being resolved so our over-the-air broadcasts can resume,” Dalton said.

WTTW-Channel 11, the Window to the World Communications public TV station, remained off the air (and off some cable systems, including AT&T U-verse). The station directed viewers to watch WTTW live via Comcast and YouTube TV or to stream on-demand at wttw.com/watch and the PBS/WTTW video app.

Weigel Broadcasting lost broadcast transmission for its Chicago stations, including CW affiliate WCIU-Channel 26, The U, MeTV, Heroes & Icons, Decades and Bounce.

Radio outages included WLS 94.7-FM. The Cumulus Media classic hits station was off the air from 3 to 11:30 a.m. Monday before transmission resumed from a secondary site at the former John Hancock Center.

“Thank God we had literally just finished the construction of our backup antenna on Hancock or we’d still be off the air,” said Marv Nyren, vice president and market manager of Cumulus Chicago.

Also off the air for hours Monday was WFMT 98.7-FM, the Window to the World Communications classical music station.

“The WFMT over-the-air broadcast is now operational, although at a lower power rate,” listeners were told Tuesday. “WFMT stream and app have both remained fully functional during this time. Thank you for your patience as we work to become fully operational once more.”

Tuesday’s comment of the day: Derrick Blakley: Even as a columnist who’s paid to give his opinions, you’ve never seen [John] Kass speak at a political rally. Never. And you won’t as long as he wants to work at the Tribune. Here’s the rule and it’s pretty simple: Reporters (and columnists) observe. They don’t participate. Period.