Storms, flooding knock out local stations’ signals

A past photo of Willis Tower getting struck by lightning. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

CBS 2, CW 26, others lose signals for the day; WLS-FM, WFMT also forced off air 

(Editor’s Note: This post was updated at 12:37 a.m. on May 20.) 

A massive rainstorm Sunday evening wrecked havoc in the Chicago area, flooding numerous streets, including Lower Wacker Drive and the already-closed riverwalk. Nearly four inches fell at O’Hare while over eight inches were tabulated in west suburban River Forest. 

The flooding also forced the closure of Willis Tower, as it knocked out a ComEd substation – including power to the transmitter, forcing several local over-the-air TV stations and their respective digital subchannels off the air. 

Stations affected were CBS-owned WBBM-TV, WTTW, WYCC, WWME (MeTV), WCIU (CW 26), WCPX (Ion), WMEU (The U), and WJYS. Other TV and radio stations weren’t affected as they switched to backups at either the formerly-named John Hancock Center or at the Prudential Building. 

There reportedly was no interruption for Comcast or WOW! cable subscribers, but there was for DirecTV and Dish customers. While a few local stations were knocked off of DirecTV, WBBM was replaced by their sister flagship station WCBS-TV from New York City, syndicated programming and New York ads included. For example, CBS Television Distribution’s Inside Edition – which usually airs at 7 p.m. ET on WCBS, aired at 6 p.m. over DirecTV’s Channel 2 here (Inside generally airs at 3 p.m. on ABC-owned WLS-TV, but has been pre-empted for the last two months by Gov. Pritzker’s daily coronavirus press briefings.) 

There was no luck for fans of CW programming, whose WCIU on the channel 26 position on DirecTV was still blacked out. As of this writing, none of the stations have been able to restore their over-the-air signal as Willis Tower remains without power. 

The floods also knocked out the signal for Cumulus’ WLS-FM and classical music WFMT, but WLS-FM’s signal have since been restored. Both stations have facilities at Willis. 

Already, posters of a local message board are reporting the signals of WBBM and WCIU have landed on other over-the-air stations. WBBM has temporarily replaced Light TV on WFLD-Ch. 32.4 (albeit with messed-up sound mixing.) WBBM’s digital channel on WMEU’s 48.3 was also knocked out by the flood. 

WTTW returned to DirecTV Tuesday afternoon but with a national PBS feed in standard definition with no local content. WTTW and other stations are still off the air as of Tuesday evening. 

Late Tuesday, Weigel’s CW 26 and MeTV returned to the air on DirecTV. 

There is no word on when power would return to Willis Tower. 

Check back here or @tdogmedia on Twitter for updates. 

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4 responses to Storms, flooding knock out local stations’ signals


  1. Gilbert Sebenste

    WCIU made a quick arrangement to get their own transmitter on Hancock as a backup. As of last night, WCIU is now on rf 23 again from Hancock, but at 15 kilowatts, versus 1 million watts on Willis. But that still gets them out 40 miles, and even more with a preamplifier.

    A friend of mine who works in the tower was told that it would be “early next week, best case scenario” before power and normal operations were to commence at Willis.

  2. Jean Fletcher

    Many thanks for being the only resource responding to the outage, as I am affected by losing my dependable WTTW. There has not been any message on TV, or Radio alerting the public as to the TV stations being affected.
    Thank you and I will be patient. After all, the folks in the Willis building have far more reason to be upset.

  3. Mjo

    I have att uverse.we had wttw Sunday night but as of Tuesday and this morning, we don’t have channel 11 or channel 38.

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