KOLO first in Nevada to shut off analog

On Monday, Jan. 12, the commercial stations in Nevada staged a series of soft tests to judge the effect on the viewing area of shutting off their analog signal and moving to all-digital broadcasting.

While most were dipping their toe in the heretofore untested digital waters to gauge the temperature until the government-mandated Feb. 17 analog spectrum giveback date, one station there, ABC affiliate KOLO-DT, dove in head first and shut its analog transmitter off for good. More than just participating in the test, it became the first station in Nevada to go all-digital.

KOLO-DT, which began digital broadcasting in 2003, shut off its analog signal early to preserve its location (channel 8) on the VHF frequency band, according to Mac McShane, chief engineer at KOLO.

“We got about 100 calls and e-mails, but it went a lot better than I thought it was going to,” McShane said of the switchover. “Most of the calls are about antenna issues. I also got a few calls saying ‘why didn’t you tell us you were shutting off analog early?’”

Many of the calls were also related to the more than 55 translators that KOLO-DT uses (it owns two and shares the rest with others) to get its signal to viewers across the state’s expansive, rural landscape.

“We shut off analog early because we’re going back to channel 8 in digital and it became necessary to reconfigure our transmitter for full digital operation,” McShane said, adding that the station is on the air with a Harris digital solid-state transmitter operating at a power level of 15.6 kW.

Discussing the possibility of an extension of the Feb. 17 deadline previously mandated by the government and now being discussed by the incoming administration, McShane said he sees little point in extending the deadline. It will only prolong the inevitable.

“I don’t think [a delay] is going to happen,” he said. “It would be wrong because everyone involved with the broadcast industry has put in a lot of time and effort to meet the February 17 deadline. I believe that there is such a minimal amount of people who would really need the extra time to get ready for digital. If they won’t be ready for the Feb 17 date, they might never be.”

KOLO-DT produces its local programs in SD and upconverts to a 720p HD signal during the broadcast of its prime-time ABC network shows in high definition.

“So far the switch has been a success,” McShane said. “This is going to one of those situations where we have to make the move and take care of viewer problems one at a time. The money’s been spent, the technology is in place. It’s time to get on with it.”

FCC commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Robert McDowell recently met with television station general managers and representatives from the Nevada Broadcasters Association (NBA) to discuss the state’s DTV readiness.

Thom Porterfield, NBA chairman-elect, said “I think they left with a very solid impression on the commitment and work being done here.”

For the other stations in Nevada, they broadcast the first two-minute test at 5:30 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 12, with other tests throughout scheduled for 10:30 a.m., 7:30 p.m., 11:30 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 13. All of the tests reportedly went well, with a flurry of viewer complaints handled accordingly.

The NBA is sponsoring a statewide, automated call center that is fielding calls from confused viewers. Last month, during a similar series of soft tests, the center received more than 3500 calls.