Last month, I received a letter from Dan Knight, a lecturer at The University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Radio-Television-Film and an advisor to KVR-TV and KVRX-FM. The letter shook me to my bones.

It was about my mobile TV commentary in the May 2006 issue and how many in the industry think that wireless TV is something new, although it’s been around since the beginning of television. Knight’s fear was that this showed how broadcasters have abdicated their business.

But that wasn’t the scary part (we’ll, it wasn’t the real scary part). Knight was telling me about one of his students. A student who got into The University of Texas at Austin, with their high admission standards. A student who, like all the others, talks about “broadcasting.”

I’ll turn the conversation over to Knight...hold on to your hats:

“We were talking about the television station and television in general. A student said that she could only afford the lowest tier of cable...15 or so channels. So I told her that soon she could buy a converter box or a small digital TV and get close to that many channels free over the air. She was pleased, but said [hold it comes]: I don’t know what you mean by ‘over-the-air.’”

(That sound you’re hearing is your brain seizing up.)

“She also said that the only reason she had cable was because she had to have high speed Internet. She didn’t really watch that much TV.

“These students all talk about broadcasting, but the last thing they generally mean is what I think of.”

Me too.

Now some folks know about over-the-air TV. The folks at USDTV come to mind. (But they just filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection—so what do I know?) But with cable and satellite penetration, who really cares about over-the-air?

Almost no one. And that’s a BIG problem.

These students, who will someday work in our industry, may have never seen a real TV antenna, whether it be on the roof of a house or a simple pair of rabbit ears. They may have seen pictures in a history of telecommunications textbook, maybe they’ve even seen one...but did they realize what it was that they saw and what it means?

Remember that editorial on mobile TV? To the majority of students, the term “mobile TV” means something they can get on their cell phones. To both Knight and myself, this is a problem.

Broadcasters (the over-the-air type) will fight to the death for their spectrum bandwidth and their multicasting business models. (Did I mention that the FCC pulled DTV multicast must-carry from their June meeting? No? Well, they did. Not a good sign.).

But those same broadcasters want and need all of their programming carried on cable and satellite. They just seem to forget about the over-the-air signal. You know, the FREE one. The one that could provide a community with 10, 20 or even 30 channels of free TV depending on how many stations are in a market.

It’s no surprise that I feel this way. I’ve said before in this same space how stations should take advantage of what they can provide for free to their viewers without them having to pay the cable or satellite company.

But what has the industry done? Not much. Some educational set-ups in a shopping mall here and there. But not much.

Promotion costs money, and there’s not money to be had.

While Congress set aside $1.5 billion for converting the homes that rely on over-the-air TV to DTV, they only earmarked $5 million of that for education. Do you know what $5 million buys? Not much.

As my colleagues at TV Technology pointed out online, “$5 million would not cover the cost of regular postage stamps to mail a letter to each of the roughly 15 million U.S. homes that rely on over-the-air TV.” That’s brilliant.

In April 2006, the Consumer Electronics Association and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association announced that they were teaming up to inform consumers about the transition to digital television with public-service announcements, enhanced retailer sales-force education, outreach via on-demand services, bilingual education and comprehensive cable-customer communication.

Somehow, I don’t think over-the-air will play a big part in their education plans.

So I pose this question to you, my readers: where are the broadcasters...and what are they doing?

Michael Silbergleid is the editor and associate publisher of Television Broadcast. He can be reached at