For 30 years, the Wisconsin Educational Communications Board (ECB) has been serving approximately 2.3 million people via five licensed television stations, six translators and selected affiliates.
The ECB technical operations center (TOC) in Madison, WI, serves as a programming hub where instructional and general audience broadcast signals originate, including programming for educational access channels on cable TV systems.
This tower-top photo was taken at the 1499 foot level of the WLEF-TV Park Falls tower during DTV-related tower strengthening.
Statewide digital conversion
ECB applied for a grant to complete its digital conversion project in 2000, but didn't receive funding until 2001. The ECB will cover 75 percent of project costs, with help in part from matching state funds allocated contingent on ECB receiving the PTFP grant. The organization is currently in the second year of its two-year, statewide conversion to digital.
ECB is planning the purchase of Harris Diamond solid-state DTV transmitters, dual exciters, bandpass filters, remote control, power protection and test equipment for each of its five licensed stations. ECB formed partnerships with commercial stations in Wausau and Green Bay to share transmission equipment and tower space.
In conjunction, the ECB is also updating its technical operations center (TOC) in Madison, WI, to create a new combined master control for the five stations. The updated operations center will be able to program as many as 16 channels and transmit in high definition. A new statewide interconnect utilizing a SONET ring has also been implemented, bringing the five transmission sites together.
The need is pressing for new equipment to replace obsolete items that have been in service since the operations center opened in 1988. ECB is looking at Saturn master control and Jupiter routing systems from Thomson to maintain existing service and to provide for later expansion of its digital capability. To this end, funds will also be allocated for encoder/multiplexer equipment that can be activated later for multichannel transmission.
In the new TOC, ECB will be implementing a server-to-air concept to streamline program processing. A new ATSC encoder will be the heart of the system, converting incoming signals to digital. The new routing systems will allow incoming digital feeds to remain in digital format throughout the processing chain rather than being converted to analog for processing and then back to digital for output. All signals for air will be stored on and delivered from ECB's digital video file server. WHA-TV in Madison will also switch programming through the combined digital master control.