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  • Mountain Lake PBS
  • Mountain Lake Journal (newscasts)
OwnerMountain Lake Public Telecommunications Council
First air date
March 6, 1977 (46 years ago) (1977-03-06)
Former call signs
WNNE-TV (CP, 1970–1975)[1]
Former channel number(s)
  • Analog: 57 (UHF, 1977–2009)
  • Digital: 38 (UHF, 2004–2020)
Call sign meaning
Clinton, Franklin, and Essex Counties, New York (primary coverage area)
Technical information[2]
Licensing authority
Facility ID46755
ERP67 kW
HAAT741.7 m (2,433.4 ft)
Transmitter coordinates44°41′43″N 73°52′59″W / 44.69528°N 73.88306°W / 44.69528; -73.88306
Translator(s)see § Translators
Public license information

WCFE-TV (channel 57) is a PBS member television station licensed to Plattsburgh, New York, United States, serving the Champlain Valley and Greater Montreal areas. Owned by the Mountain Lake Public Telecommunications Council, the station maintains studios at One Sesame Street in Plattsburgh, and its transmitter is located atop Lyon Mountain, between Plattsburgh and nearby Malone. WCFE-TV is branded as Mountain Lake PBS; this name was adopted to reflect Plattsburgh's location between the Adirondacks and Lake Champlain.

WCFE-TV is seen in Northeastern New York, most of Vermont, Eastern Ontario (including Cornwall and parts of Ottawa), and Southern Quebec (including Montreal) on cable, and throughout most of Vermont, parts of New Hampshire and northern New York east of Massena on satellite.


WCFE-TV signed on March 6, 1977, from its studios at SUNY Plattsburgh. In 1993, it rebranded itself as "Mountain Lake PBS" to reflect its growing viewership.

From 1990 to 1996, WCFE-TV had a sister NPR station, WCFE-FM on 91.9. However, in a case of exceptionally bad timing, WCFE-FM signed on just as North Country Public Radio began building a number of satellites and repeaters in the WCFE-TV service area. It did not help matters that much of the area got a strong signal from Vermont Public Radio flagship WVPS in Burlington. It soon became apparent that Plattsburgh was too small for a standalone NPR station to be viable. Realizing that it was up against two established public radio broadcasters with more resources than it could hope to match, Mountain Lake sold WCFE-FM to Albany's WAMC in 1996, who operates 91.9 as a repeater, WCEL.

2007 transmitter tower collapse

On April 18, 2007, WCFE's 400-foot (122 m) 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's digital channel 53, mapped to channel 57.1. On August 10, 2007, WCAX-TV discontinued carriage of WCFE-TV, when interim facilities were established.

Following the collapse, cable viewers outside of the New York side of the Plattsburgh–Burlington market had to rely on distant affiliates for PBS programming. Cable systems in Vermont and some systems in Montérégie continued to have access to Vermont Public Television stations, while Videotron systems in the latter region that offered WCFE-TV substituted its signal with that of Detroit's WTVS. On April 27, WCFE-TV's signal was reestablished on Videotron, 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).

On October 9, 2007, WCFE-TV's new tower at Lyon Mountain went into service, almost six months after the collapse.[3][4] WCFE-TV's digital signal went on the air on October 23.


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, home to PBS member WPBS-TV/WNPI-DT. As a result, most of WCFE-TV's broadcast area viewers are 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 (which also owns WLIW). For example, for a number of years WCFE-TV did not broadcast PBS' Masterpiece Theatre on Sunday evenings; it would also air 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.

WCFE-TV is the second-smallest PBS member in New York state, ahead of only WPBS/WNPI. However, it reaches a potential audience of 3.9 million people. 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.[5] 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 station operates a separate fundraising arm for its Canadian viewers, Canadian Friends of Mountain Lake PBS.

WCFE-TV's American coverage area consists mostly of rural areas and small towns. The only major urban centers are Montreal and Burlington.

Technical information


The station's signal is multiplexed:

Subchannels of WCFE-TV[6]
Channel Res. Aspect Short name Programming
57.1 1080i 16:9 MLPBSHD Main WCFE programming / PBS
57.2 480i NHK-WOR NHK World
57.3 MLKIDS PBS Kids


Analog-to-digital conversion

WCFE-TV began simulcasting digital and analog transmission in early 2005.

WCFE-TV shut down its analog signal, over UHF channel 57, on February 17, 2009, the original target date on 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.[7] 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.

Until the beginning of 2010, an SD simulcast of WCFE-TV was broadcast on 57.2, while ThinkBright was broadcast on 57.3. From January to September 2010, Classic Arts Showcase was on 57.3.

As a part of the repacking process following the 2016-2017 FCC incentive auction, WCFE-TV relocated to UHF channel 36 on July 2, 2020, using PSIP to display its virtual channel number as 57.[8]

WCFE-TV is currently transmitting at 67 kW.


  1. ^ "FCC History Cards for WCFE-TV".
  2. ^ "Facility Technical Data for WCFE-TV". Licensing and Management System. Federal Communications Commission.
  3. ^ "WCAX-TV News Script for 10/9/2007". Retrieved October 12, 2007.
  4. ^ "Radio-Info: WCFE in Plattsburgh has its new transmission tower". Retrieved October 12, 2007.
  5. ^ "Mountain Lake PBS 2007 Fact Sheet". October 28, 2007. Archived from the original on October 28, 2007. Retrieved January 17, 2014.
  6. ^ RabbitEars TV Query for WCFE
  7. ^ "DTV Tentative Channel Designations for the First and the Second Rounds" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on August 29, 2013. Retrieved March 24, 2012.
  8. ^ "Searchable Clearinghouse | National Association of Broadcasters".
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