NEWS AND VIEWS March 2, 2009
Mike and Laurel Kohl
S-9141 State Road 23
Plain, Wisconsin 53577-9612
March 2, 2009
We're changing from purple to green, in anticipation of Spring! The past weekend has been bitterly cold for early March, although not impossible. Temperatures are expected to rebound into the 40s later in the week; not exactly ideal conditions for working outside, but much better than the poor souls that had to do tower work in conjunction with the planned turn-off of full powered analog TV stations on February 17th. That situation was a total fiasco, interrupted by politics and confusion. The Fox network affiliate in Wausau, Wisconsin first removed their analog antenna, and damaged the new digital antenna while attempting to install. The result was that they are not transmitting in digital or analog, awaiting a new antenna and much warmer weather. Interim solution was to make a deal with the local ABC affiliate to transmit their signal in standard definition via one of their subchannels. The CBS affiliate in northeastern South Dakota (one of the rare TV channels to be assigned channel 3 as a permanent digital channel) was taken aback by the sudden change in plan that forced them to wait until June 12th to turn off their analog. Digital was temporarily on VHF channel 2, and analog was on VHF channel 3, with a planned switch to channel 3 permanently for digital on February 17th. Because things were already in place to do things assuming a February 17th transition, and the rules were changed, the station was forced to turn OFF their digital signal, and will not be turning it back on until June, when analog channel 3 is turned off. Not exactly what most could call progress!
Page 2 (another reminder...Paul Harvey died at age 90 over the weekend). Back to the shutoff of analog TV... the original plans were upset by politics, when Congress moved that cast-in-stone date of February 17, 2009 to June 12, 2009. Full-powered television stations must now turn off their analog signals by that day in June this coming summer. Nobody wanted to be blamed for the approaching train wreck left by the Bush administration's FCC and others. Therefore caution said to delay things nearly four more months. Of course, the nuts and bolts and other mechanics of the situation as well as unintended consequences never entered into serious discussion. As mentioned in the first paragraph, many TV stations had tower crews on site, or planning to be in time for the February 17th deadline. The political process took until late in the previous week (Friday night, for a following Tuesday deadline) to become finalized. Early in that week, stations that wanted to shut off by February 17th were given some roadblocks. About 125 of the 490 stations that planned on turning off analog were told that they would not be able to do so unless a number of conditions were met. This situation came up in a number of markets where ALL stations had planned to turn off on that day, with nobody volunteering to wait until June 12th. At the last minute, those markets had to make agreement for at least ONE station to stay on the air until the new national deadline, and everyone jump a bunch of hoops involving public education and notification. And were warned that while nobody was going to check on things directly, the whole digital transition process would be later reviewed and that any station violating the new guidelines and rules could be financially penalized by the FCC. In the end, about 36% of full power stations across the country turned off their analog transmitters by February 17th, with the rest staying on until June 12th, unless individually approved by the FCC to do so before June 12th. The majority of the stations pulling the analog plug early were in smaller mostly rural markets, leaving the big cities to deal with the confusion when they make their transition in June.
I got a call on the 17th from a local concern, which had an SMATV system using direct off-air pickup for local TV reception, and channel processors to feed their complex. They were about to lose all but two local signals within hours. My answer was to come up with an immediate solution that I would not otherwise recommend. Take out each channel processor and throw in a coupon-grade ATSC converter, feeding audio and video to an existing modulator. My feeling was that it would be unreliable, but would serve at least as a temporary fix to keep pictures going. My answer came within 24 hours, when 3 channels were not working the next morning. Considerable investigative time might have been saved if they had listened to previous advice about putting a TV set in the headend room to monitor signals. Believe it or not, analog TV sets are becoming difficult to locate! The best guess is that something within the headend area (maybe an impulse from a Pay-Per-View piece of equipment) caused these converters to change channels. Short of pasting electrical tape over the infrared input of each converter box, the only solution is to consider processing these channels digitally with commercial tuners. This exercise caused me to find at least one cost-effective source of such ATSC digital tuners, and we are now offering them. The DAC-860 is an agile ATSC digital channel processor which is used to tune an individual digital channel. Audio and video are patched to a normal TV modulator, and you have a device which can be trusted. They fit in a miniature equipment rack which has a common power supply, and itself can be bolted into normal 19-inch rack mount cabinets. We would recommend that one invest in a UPS (uninterrupted power supply) as well as a small TV monitor (15 inch screen or less), which tunes analog TV channels. ATSC abilities would also be useful as a test instrument separate from these new ATSC digital tuners. The bonus is that you now have a number of new locally transmitted TV signals that were never there before. In Madison, Wisconsin alone, we started with ABC-NBC-FOX-CBS-PBS and an independent CW network channel, all in analog. They are now in digital, with the ABC station having a subchannel for RTN-Retro TV Network, and plans to add THIS TV on another channel. NBC has a second channel for 24-hour weather and news headlines. Fox and CW are not doing anything extra YET, but the local CBS affiliate has added a subchannel for MY NETWORK TV, and the PBS station has the state WISCONSIN CHANNEL and CREATE channels, in addition to its own transmission. Similar increases are happening across the United States, so with the addition of digital tuners such as these, and a few modulators for added new services, you can create a very attractive Off-Air package for your complex, which does not require monthly fees. Existing SMATV systems that might have DISH Network or DirecTV could use this as the off-air solution, rather than spend extra monthly fees for local programming. Those two national providers will no doubt carry a little more than half of what you can pick up off the air for free. SMATV systems in many locations can also consider putting in antenna systems to get channels from adjacent television markets, which are presently not allow in many cases, when delivered by satellite or cable companies.
In any case, if you have a local or regional private cable or other SMATV system that requires upgrading to receive new digital signals, please contact Global Communications. We can provide advice as well as hardware to extract these new channels for your use, and will consider installation work if you need on-site technical assistance. Contact MIKE at (608) 546-2523, or drop an Email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Further work during the
month of February was devoted to increasing the amount of information on
Off-Air reception across the United States. We not only have links
to FCC Maps showing protected coverage areas of all Full-Power TV
stations, but decided it would be prudent to add temporary digital channel
numbers within our individual state charts, to minimize confusion. A
number of stations that will be shutting off analog signals in June are
transmitting on temporary digital channel frequencies, which will change
in June. Some may be going back to use digital on their historic
analog channel number, while others may choose still another digital
channel for technical reasons that usually involve greater geographic
Equity Broadcasting was
able to secure financing for nearly $58 million, working with their
creditor in Connecticut, to continue normal operations. Logic
dictates that too much money had already been invested, and enough people
see the concept as a viable one that could make a profit if properly
managed. There is also the probability that a number of broadcast
properties will be sold to reduce existing debt. Little Rock's
Channel 42 (formerly KWBF) is now going by the call letters KARZ, with
added programming choices inserted by their new owner. You might see
a shuffling of former Equity affiliates on Galaxy 18 (123 West-Ku band),
should some stations be sold off, but the overall trend looks like there
will still be a lot of free television for the foreseeable future.