More U.S. stations sign on with digital

The NAB added 13 stations to its list of broadcasters now transmitting a digital signal over the air, bringing the total to 1,037. That number includes public stations, of which there are approximately 195.

Of the 13 new DTV stations, ABC affiliate KTVO-TV, in Kirksville, Mo., is the first in its market on-air in digital.

KTVO's chief engineer, John Wise, said the station's been on and off the air since May, because their Thales Broadcast solid-state transmitter (operating at approximately 61 ERP) keeps blowing power modules. His power bill to run the entry-level digital transmitter runs about $1,000 per month.

“DTV has been a nightmare for us so far, sometimes we’re on the air and sometimes we’re not,” he said, adding that to date they have gone through about 40 power modules. “It’s been a real problem. We’re experiencing catastrophic failures about every three weeks.”

Thales engineers have been very helpful, Wise said, installing a new series of modules just last week. He said the transmitter is running on 24v power supplies, while newer Thales models operate on 12volts “and they seem to be a bit more stable.”

Construction work on a new tower has also been problematic, located 20 miles north of Kirksville, where the station is based. An aging analog tower was knocked down and a new one was erected in its place, to hold both its existing analog antenna and a new Dielectric rig for digital. The work, completed in August of last year and finished in March 2003, took longer than expected, causing the station to run its analog signal at low-power for several months.

Unexpectedly, the station received a fringe benefit. “We had the best November [ratings] book we ever had and we were running at low-power,” Wise said, only half-jokingly, “so we considered shutting off the transmitter completely, but we couldn’t get management to agree with us.”

Raycom Media, parent to KTVO, has spent about $2 million on the DTV build out thus far, and said there are no provisions for HDTV at this point. “The cost has not been an issue for us, it’s just been one technical snafu after another.”

The station’s DTV signal is propagating “very well,” Wise said, reaching a 60-mile radius. He’s even corresponded with an engineer some 100 miles away in Columbia, Mo., who reports receiving a good signal--albeit with a 30-foot outdoor antenna. Several of the local cable companies, located about 60 miles away, have called Wise to request carrying his DTV signal instead of the analog because they say it looks so much better. No final agreement has been reached.

Operating in a rural market, Wise said he predicts there are a paltry “four or five” SD digital sets in his DMA (#198) or about 1 percent of the viewing audience, while cable has about 60 percent and satellite TV enjoys about 30 percent penetration. “I have a feeling that until consumers are pushed to do it, they are not going to buy digital sets here in Missouri.”

Wise has been frustrated by the satellite TV companies -particularly Echostar’s DISH network- which thus far have refused to carry KTVO’s local signal. “I fight that every day because we’re not up on any satellite at this point,” he said. “I don’t get to compete with these folks, yet I spend more time on waivers and challenges than I care to.”

The NAB said that DTV is now available in 202 markets that serve 99.35 percent of the more than 106 million U.S. TV households. Also, 81.41 percent are in markets with five or more broadcasters airing DTV and 55.83 percent are in markets with eight or more broadcasters broadcasting digital signals.

The “new” commercial DTV stations include: WTBY, in New York, NY (DMA #1); WTVJ, in Miami, Fla. (DMA #17); WAGT, in Augusta, Ga. (DMA #115); WLBT, in Jackson, Miss. (DMA #89); WFTE, in Salem, Ind. (DMA#50); WWCP, in Johnstown, Penn. (DMA#96); KMVT, in Twin Falls, Idaho (DMA #191); WDSI, in Chattanooga, Tenn. (DMA#85); WOLF, in Wilkes Barre, Penn. (DMA#53).

The latest PBS member stations now on-the-air are: WSIU, in Paducah, Kent. (DMA#75); KEDT, in Corpus Christi, Texas (DMA #128); KBDI, in Broomfield, Colo. (DMA #18); and WDCQ, in University Center, Mich. (DMA #64).

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