KTUU-TV has vanished from GCI cable boxes, but fans of Anchorage’s NBC affiliate can still watch their nightly news courtesy of a vestige of Alaska’s telecommunications past.

Each night, the Alaska Rural Communications Service broadcasts KTUU’s news show — and all you need is an antenna.

“It’s not a complete solution,” cautions Mike Wall, general manager of Kodiak Public Broadcasting, but for those in Kodiak without satellite TV, it may be the best solution.

ARCS was created in the early 1980s as RATNET, or the Rural Alaska Television Network. At that time, television signals in Alaska were few and far between. Cable TV was a dream, and satellite TV was exorbitantly expensive.

To meet the entertainment and news needs of rural Alaskans, the state created a network of low-powered broadcast transmitters and satellite uplinks.

More than 180 communities across the state have a satellite dish linked to a low-power TV transmitter. The dish collects a stream of programming beamed from Anchorage, and the TV transmitter spreads the signal to nearby homes.

Alaska Public Broadcasting Inc. operates the system on behalf of the state.

“In most of the communities, it’s the only source they have,” said ARCS administrative manager Kim Pigg.

ARCS is intended for Bush communities without cheap alternatives, but it can be picked up with an antenna in Kodiak, where the equipment is monitored by Kodiak Public Broadcasting.

Tune in to the Kodiak station (the exact channel will vary, depending on whether you’re in the Flats or in town), and you’ll see a stream of programming scraped from public television, NBC, CBS and FOX.

The networks’ shows are intermixed: “The Price is Right” follows “Sesame Street,” and “Sleepy Hollow” precedes “The Blacklist.”

Not every popular show is included — while CBS’ Sunday football games are shown, NBC’s Sunday Night Football game is not. ABC, present in the early years of ARCS, no longer appears.

ARCS isn’t about to replace GCI or satellite TV, but it may work as a backup until GCI and KTUU resolve the contractual dispute that has eliminated NBC from GCI’s signal.

ARCS’ backup status may not last forever, however. The Federal Communications Commission has ruled that low-power TV transmitters (including ARCS) must switch to digital broadcasts by 2015. Unless ARCS can make the switch in time, this relic of pre-Internet communication will finally go dark.

Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at editor@kodiakdailymirror.com.

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