Obama's request on DTV frustrates stations

You've probably heard the incessant warnings: No more analog television broadcasts after Feb. 17. But wait ... President-elect Obama's transition team asked Congress on Thursday to delay the conversion of the nation's broadcast system from analog...

You've probably heard the incessant warnings: No more analog television broadcasts after Feb. 17.

But wait ... President-elect Obama's transition team asked Congress on Thursday to delay the conversion of the nation's broadcast system from analog to entirely digital signals. Maybe Feb. 17 will come and go without analog televisions going black.

That prospect of postponement has many local broadcasters steamed, especially as they ramp up efforts to convince procrastinators to upgrade their TVs.

"We've worked hard to educate viewers about this transition to digital. They know it's coming, and most people are ready. Now to change that, I think would be foolish," said Dave Poirier, operations manager for the Twin Ports' ABC affiliate, WDIO-TV Channels 10 and 13.

The call to delay the


analog-to-digital shift has been prompted in large part by a funding shortfall at the U.S. Department of Commerce, which had been issuing $40 vouchers that consumers could use toward the purchase of digital conversion boxes. These boxes are supposed to extend the useful lives of analog televisions even after the switch to


Coupons or no, Poirier contends the shift to digital should proceed.

"Those coupons have been available for over a year now, and if you waited until the last minute, that's too bad," he said. "The conversion boxes are still out there. It's just the $40 coupons that are no longer available."

Dave Hileman, general manager of the Twin Ports Fox affiliate, KQDS-TV Channel 21, also wants to see plans stay on track, saying there will be no perfect time to switch over from analog to digital.

"I guarantee you that no matter when we go, someone will not be ready," he said.

In fact, barring a postponement of the Feb. 17 deadline, KQDS plans to discontinue its analog broadcasts on Monday, Feb. 2.

"We've been talking about this conversion for years, and we want to finally get it out of the way," Hileman said.


Poirier said that if the Federal Communications Commission requires broadcasters to maintain both analog and digital signals for months to come, it will drive up their operating expenses by thousands of dollars.

Already, some Northland residents have had to make the switch from analog to digital reception to continue pulling in local television stations.

KRII-TV, Chisholm's NBC affiliate, led the charge last week, when it ceased all analog broadcasts Tuesday, changing over solely to a digital signal. The transition made the phones ring at KRII and at its parent station in Duluth, KBJR, Channel 6. In all the stations together received about 90 phone calls and a dozen e-mails Tuesday and Wednesday, according to Dave Jensch, KBJR station manager.

All in all, however, Jensch said the transition appears to be going smoothly, largely due to a concerted effort by area broadcasters to inform viewers of the approaching end of analog television broadcasting.

Last Wednesday, Northland broadcasters joined forces to walk the public through the pending change both on-air and via a 5 1/2- hour phone bank that fielded more than 600 calls.

Jensch said he believes those efforts are paying off, but broadcasters had a long way to go in bringing viewers up to speed. A July survey of the market by Nielsen Media Research indicated that 17.9 percent of households in the region were completely unprepared for the changeover. This gave the Northland the dubious distinction of being identified as one of the 10 worst-prepared markets in the nation.

While subsequent survey results have not yet been published, Poirier said he's confident the area has made great strides toward preparedness since then.

Jensch expressed fears that postponing the digital conversion could deal a setback to recent educational efforts.


"We have poured so much time and energy into this already. My concern would be that if we delay the conversion and keep pushing the date back, people would think it's not really going to happen, and that they don't really need to do anything," he said.

For now, broadcasters are proceeding with the assumption that the deadline for conversion from analog to digital still will pass at midnight Feb.17.

Toward that end, public hearings are scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 13, in the Hibbing City Council Chambers and 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 14, at Duluth's Central Hillside Community Center, 12 E. Fourth St.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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