Arkansas PBS toasted the commissioning of a new transmission tower near Forrest City on Tuesday, part of a $6.4 million COVID-relief-funded program to extend the public telecommunication network’s broadcast reach to 95% of state residences.
The new tower, broadcasting as Channel 9, is the second of four transmitters added to extend broadcast coverage to 31 counties that previously had a weak signal or none at all. The money came from an allocation by the Arkansas CARES Act Steering Committee, which allotted federal COVID funding for projects in the state.
The Forrest City tower, now at full power, will broadcast to Crittenden, Cross, Lee, Phillips, St. Francis, Monroe and Woodruff counties, a region that includes West Memphis, Forrest City, Helena-West Helena, Wynne, Marianna and Brinkley. A public reception with elected officials and dignitaries was held in West Memphis.
The transmitter was placed on an existing tower operated by the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, and the partnership saved taxpayer money, officials said, while preparing the state “for a next-generation emergency management communications system.” The transmitter is a “repeater,” amplifying the signal of Arkansas PBS’ primary transmitter in Little Rock and relaying it to more than 115,000 Arkansans who had lacked it.
“It’s huge,” Arkansas PBS CEO Courtney Pledger told Arkansas Business, describing the scope and the impact of the broadened service. “We serve Arkansas who don’t have cable, satellite or broadband, many who need our educational programs like ‘Rise and Shine’ for summer learning.”
In a statement, Pledger said the network informs “our Arkansas community with in-depth public affairs coverage and important statewide tools for public safety.” The transmitter will also deliver Arkansas-specific programming into the delta, including history documentaries and high school sports championships.
The broadcast expansion began after a technical study found that Arkansas PBS’ signal reached just 76% of Arkansans. The COVID pandemic made a priority out of reaching everyone. Formerly known as the Arkansas Educational Television Network, Arkansas PBS worked with the state Department of Education to conceive and produce “Arkansas AMI,” alternative methods of instruction, classes that Arkansas PBS delivers on TV.
The four transmitters funded by the panel were Lee Mountain, near Russellville, now fully operational; Forrest City, now operational; Yancy, near Texarkana, in testing and commissioning; and Gaither, near Harrison, also in testing and commissioning.