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The Rocky Road to DTV Build-out

Making Do With Less in a Tough Economy

By now, most television stations have discovered that the road to DTV is not anywhere near as smooth as we'd like it to be and is definitely taking longer than desired.

When I first came to Iowa Public Television (IPTV) in 1999, the economy was in great shape and our DTV plans were moving full speed. Since then, there have been setbacks and delays. I've spent a great deal of time writing about the arduous task of getting our first transmitter in Des Moines on-line. Well, we now have that transmitter installed and operational. Unfortunately, our budget was cut and among the first things to be eliminated were funds for "new services," and DTV broadcasts are not yet regular occurrences.

It kind of reminds me of my early days working in radio at low pay. I would often pull into gas stations on my way to pick up a date and put a couple of bucks in the tank. If I filled up, I wouldn't have the money to pay for the movie and popcorn. So in Des Moines, we put a couple of hundred in the utility tank and show some DTV for special events.

We're now building out two more of our DTV facilities - in Sioux City and Cedar Rapids/Waterloo. Since both these facilities are under construction, I'll spend the next few Digital Journals talking about these projects and how they are proceeding. By way of introduction, I'll describe each of the facilities as they are now and what our plans are for the facilities.

The KSIN-Sioux City site represented a significant challenge when I first started working at IPTV. In theory, IPTV had a verbal agreement with one of the owners of the new 2,000-foot tower that was under construction. There were three owners and according to the best recollections of the staff at IPTV, we were supposed to be buying a half of the one-third share, or one-sixth of the tower.

At my first meeting at the site, I knew we were in trouble when the "seller" said there never was such an agreement and that the other owners wouldn't stand for our two stations getting in for half of what they paid.

The technical plan also called for us to be the bottom of a stack array on a candelabra with the wide side of an offset side-mount stack between us and the city of license. It was also the first tall tower the company building it had constructed, and there were rumors about cracked welds and all kinds of other scary stuff.

Suffice to say that the tower was completed and is serving the owners well so the technical construction concerns were not serious problems. However, the lack of a hard agreement with the owner and the poor positioning for our DTV antenna were serious, so we looked for alternatives and wound up buying the tower and site of our analog transmitter. The previous owner was one of the owners of the new tower and was using the new site for both DTV and analog broadcast.


Iowa Public Television has eight transmitter sites which all end with IN, meaning "Iowa Network." The K is obvious because we are west of the Mississippi and the second letter represents the city of license, where possible. Thus KDIN is Des Moines; KIIN is Iowa City, etc. KSIN is Sioux City, but we have caught a little flak over the years because of the implied immorality of KSIN.

However, when considering other ways to identify the station with the city of license, we were at a loss. We did consider using the FAA three-letter local designator for the station, but in most of the cities, that call sign is already in use. It still is available in Sioux City, however; the airport there has an FAA designator of SUX. Even the airport isn't happy about that marketing problem.

The IPTV facility, KSIN, is on Channel 27 with a Channel 28 DTV assignment, so one of the first things we considered when designing the facility was combining the two stations into a new single antenna. However, the analog antenna is side-mounted on the tower and we wanted to install the DTV antenna as an omni-directional top mount. To combine the two would involve increasing the height of the analog and switching from a directional pattern, which would have caused a reduction in coverage for the analog station. Although we know that DTV is our future, we don't want to do anything to reduce our analog coverage, so we scrapped that idea.

Currently we have the transmitter, a solid-state unit, in storage and are writing the RFP for the new top-mount antenna. We're making preliminary plans to remodel the previous owner 's vacated transmitter building, and hope to be operational by this summer.


The other site under construction is KRIN, Waterloo/Cedar Rapids. Now I know I just talked about the second letter being an indicator of the city of license and in truth, the facility is licensed to Waterloo. So why isn't the station KWIN? I'm not sure, but I think that it's because it's a hyphenated market (Cedar Rapids-Waterloo) and the site serves both cities and the surrounding areas. The transmitter is actually located about midway between the two cities, so in order to not alienate either community, the "R" was selected because it is in both cities. That's all theory, however.

At KRIN, we're tenants on an existing tower, which belongs to the ABC affiliate. We have an excellent long-term relationship with them and have used DTV conversion as a way to further strengthen that relationship.

In this market we're analog Channel 32 and digital Channel 35, with a side-mount directional analog service. We initially looked at broadband antennas to replace our existing side mount to handle both signals. However, as we examined our options, we discovered we had some synergy with the ABC affiliate which has a high-band VHF analog and an out-of-core (Channel 52) DTV assignment. We were able to reach an agreement that offers both facilities a win-win situation in converting, - a substantial victory all its own.

As a result, the broadband antenna is ready to go and tower work is slated to begin this month. Our building remodeling is virtually done and our DTV transmitter, another solid-state unit, is in storage and scheduled for installation by month's end. We expect to be operational from this facility in June.

So there you have a summary of the projects under way. Over the next few months, I'll be writing and documenting our progress. The one thing I can promise is that funding to complete these projects will not be a problem since the money is already accrued and we're moving full speed ahead. It should be an exciting ride from here to spring and I hope to be a good tour guide as we make the journey.

Bill Hayes, director of engineering and technology for Iowa PBS, has been at the forefront of broadcast TV technology for 40 years, 23 of them at Iowa PBS. He’s served as president of IEEE’s Broadcast Technology Society, is a Partnership Board Member of the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) and has contributed extensively to SMPTE and ATSC.  He is a recipient of Future's 2021 Tech Leadership Award.