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KRMU: Digital TV From the Ground Up

Colorado to get nation's first new-built DTV station

DURANGO, COLO.

Digital TV is coming to southwestern Colorado, and the effort is historic. Slated to begin broadcasting next September, KRMU-TV Ch. 20 in Durango will be the nation's first digital TV station with no prior analog assignment constructed from the ground up.

The FCC has granted a construction permit for KRMU to Rocky Mountain PBS, which now operates three stations in Colorado: KRMA-TV Ch. 6 in Denver, KTSC-TV Ch. 8 in Colorado Springs and Pueblo, and KRMJ-TV Ch. 18 in Grand Junction, with translator links statewide. According to an FCC spokesperson, the commission previously granted an all-digital license to WHDT-TV Ch. 59 in West Palm Beach, Fla. But that station was converted from an analog assignment, meaning KRMU will be nation's first standard DTV station constructed from scratch.

Once KRMU begins broadcasting, said James Morgese, president and general manager of Denver-based RMPBS, the new digital station will reach about 45,000 viewers from a 6 kW transmitter and antenna atop Smelter Mountain, about 2,000 feet above the surrounding landscape. RMPBS currently operates a 6 kW translator on the Smelter Mountain site at channel 29 for KRMJ in Grand Junction, which reaches about 25,000 viewers.

The KRMU transmitter will be co-located with the KRMJ translator during a transition period, then KRMU will take over completely. Eventually bumped up to 1.5 kW, he said, the KRMU signal will reach more than 56,000 viewers in La Plata and Archuleta counties in Colorado, San Juan County in New Mexico, and Apache County in Arizona.

A veteran of public TV stations in Florida, Idaho and Kentucky before moving to Denver 13 years ago, Morgese was the station manager of KRMA in the early '90s, founded KRMJ in 1996, then merged KTSC into the network in 1999 to form Rocky Mountain PBS. KRMU initially will rebroadcast national PBS programming along with regional content transmitted from KRMJ in Grand Junction, Morgese said.

"Hopefully, we will create partnerships in the community to enable us to produce original programming. KRMJ's alliance with Mesa State College in Grand Junction has inspired us to seek a similar partnership with another institution of higher education in Durango, San Juan Technical College. We're now in preliminary discussions."

The advantage for such a partnership, he said, is that students gain access to a live broadcast facility, and the station gains access to students, plus content the college can produce.

"It's too early to tell if this will happen," he said, "but all it takes is money."

RMPBS already has a grant application pending before the PBS Digital Distribution Fund.

"It looks like the project will be funded," he said, "but it's not approved yet. We're expecting to hear any day now."

Once the requested $550,000 are secured, KRMU intends to place equipment orders in March. Construction will start in June with on-air tests commencing in September. Jim Schoedler, director of network engineering at RMPBS, has compiled a preliminary equipment list that includes a Thales Ultimate series 1.5 kW air-cooled UHF DTV transmitter system at channel 20 with 6 kW RF handling capacity.

Schoedler anticipates using an omni-directional Dielectric antenna, but the exact model hasn't been determined. The current microwave system from Grand Junction to the Smelter Mountain translator will be replaced by MRC Digital Microwave Conversion equipment. He expects to do four or five hops because of the mountainous terrain. He also noted that the exact site on Smelter Mountain is preliminary.

"We still do not have a final agreement nailed down with the owner of the property on Smelter Mountain where the translator is now located, but we hope to have that soon."

Once the KRMU system is up and running, he said, "We may run four SDTV channels during the day with a single HDTV channel on weeknights, Monday through Friday, and perhaps weekends."

Morgese added, "wide-screen programming really depends on how much HD is out there, and the demand in our service area for HD programming. I'm not sure how much of an uptake there's been locally for HD receivers, but I doubt it's very much since there's not yet been any digital terrestrial signals in the area before. However, cable operators are now pushing digital services, and the popularity of DVD is growing. So, we may just have to wait for it to catch on."