09.07.2003 12:00 PM
Anchorage, Alaska's first DTV station shows entrepreneurial spirit

The entrepreneurial spirit that made the broadcast industry what it is today is alive and well in Anchorage, Alaska. That’s where Jeremy Lansman, president and chief engineer manager at KYES-DT, is operating a “home brewed” digital transmitter at 20 Watts on a six-month Special Temporary Authority (STA) from the FCC.

The National Association of Broadcasters announced last week that 62 stations have joined the list of television stations broadcasting in digital, bringing the total number of DTV stations now on air to 1,003. Of those new stations, Lansman’s KYES has become Anchorage Alaska's first DTV station, signing in low-power on August 25 with a total budget of $5,000.

A UPN affiliate in analog, KYES-DT is serving the roughly 310,000 households in his DMA using a TTC 100-watt analog translator and a K-Tec digital exciter he bought over the Internet on E-Bay. “It’s not the ideal way to get on in digital, but the system works and the pictures are beautiful.”

Not only is his new station on the air in digital, but Lansman is committed to full 1080i HDTV, exclusively broadcasting HDNet programming without commercials 24 hours a day. He’s set up a temporary 30-foot tower on the roof of his hillside house, held down with four ropes that supports an old antenna previously used for analog LPTV.

“My neighbor helped my put to the tower up,” Lansman said. “It was like a barn raising.”

Lansman isn’t quite sure how well the signal is propagating, but he’s tested it with a Samsung ATSC set-top box, a 13-inch Zenith portable NTSC TV with a video input and a consumer antenna driving around the area in his 2000 Volvo. He said he’s received a strong signal as far as 13 miles away.

“Broadcasters have to get over the fear of HDTV and starting doing it,” Lansman said, adding that like the early days of radio and black and white TV, it’s up to stations in remote areas like his to help stimulate the market for digital TV sets. “I think I can get the consumer electronics companies to be interested in the Alaska market if I show good faith in putting up something to watch.

“How much longer would it have taken FM radio to take hold if all early FM broadcasters sent out was low fidelity AM sound?,” he surmised. “Would people have purchased new FM radios if all they could hear on the new more expensive set was the AM fuzz they already received?”

There’s one local retail store that has a display of HDTV sets, but very few (if any) people watching at home with an antenna. “I can’t wait for people to buy sets because when they do and there’s nothing to watch on that new $5,000 set, they’ll never watch my station again and move to satellite. I’ve got to drive sales or DTV won’t be successful in Alaska.”

The reason for KYES’ STA, according to Lansman, is that he had asked its current analog site owner, Alaska Communications Systems (ACS), for permission to construct DTV facilities in 2001. Although DTV construction was provided for in the station’s 1996 lease, ACS, which is the largest telephone company in Alaska, has not yet agreed to let KYES-DT locate there. Lansman and a consortium of Anchorage stations have looked at purchasing the ACS site, as well as constructing a new tower near the ACS tower. So far, however, with ACS objecting to construction of the new tower, the proposal remains stalled at the local zoning board.

The contentious issue has led to the collapse of the DTV consortium of stations in Alaska that had planned to co-locate on a single tower. Ultimately, consortium members felt time was running out, the consortium disbanded, and each station is going its own way.

Lansman said when he gets a new channel assignment from the FCC (he’s hoping for channel 6 in VHF), he’ll develop a high-power transmission system with four 18 kW Harris analog low-band VHF transmitters built in the 1970’s that he bought at a discount.

“An amplifier is an amplifier,” he said. “Once you generate an ATSC signal and you amplify it and filter the output, you’ve got a DTV transmitter. I’ve proven that it works.”

Lansman said he could continue to get exemptions from the FCC, due to the zoning battles he’s currently engaged in, but “at some point we have to get on the air and gain experience with the technology,” he said. “I’m a small operation, but to viewers in Anchorage who want to watch HDTV programming, I’m all they have at this point. Some of the other stations here have discussed broadcasting DTV soon, but so far they have not and I’m not waiting.”

For the complete list of new DTV stations visit www.nab.org.

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