Channel 53 to become digital canary in a coal mine

Thanks to the "HD" part of its call letters, KWHD-TV, found locally at Channel 53, has a name that seems made for the post-analog era. So it makes sense that the station would become the first local broadcaster to go all digital -- something that will take place at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, January 16, according to a press release issued this morning. The switch should test the readiness of its viewers for the DTV switchover scheduled to take place next month -- unless the launch is delayed, per the desire of President-elect Barack Obama.

The information in the release isn't exactly up to date. Channel 53 general manager Dan Smith is quoted as saying, "A special coupon card is available from the federal government that can assist to cut $40 off the cost of the box." Of course, the money available from the feds for the aforementioned coupon has run out, and more than a million people nationwide are on the waiting list. Presumably, these folks will eventually be paid, but not right away.

Channel 53 isn't exactly a ratings leader. "Colorado's Family Station," as this property of LeSEA Broadcasting calls itself, features lots of Christian-oriented programming plus a handful of locally produced original shows featuring radio personalities such as KS-107.5's Kendall B and FM 104.3/The Fan's Irv Brown. As such, Denver's TV scene won't be shaken to its foundation if some Channel 53 viewers are suddenly faced with a blank screen at the end of this week -- but we'll get an early indication about what to expect from the DTV transition, whenever it actually happens.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts