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Public TV stations grapple with digital switchover

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The Message column "DTV or No TV" discusses a likely complication in the move from analog television signals to the digital kind, which is scheduled to take place on February 17. Specifically, some viewers west of the main digital tower on Lookout Mountain who have been receiving free analog signals for years will likely be cut off entirely due to a political compromise made by broadcasters years earlier.

These aren't the only challenges facing stations, however, as is demonstrated by recent press releases from Channel 6 and Channel 12, the area's main public-television outlets. Channel 6, the anchor station of Rocky Mountain PBS, discovered that its digital signal wouldn't reach significant parts of Northern Colorado -- so it had to get permission from the Federal Communications Commission to use a "fill-in translator" to boost the beam during the two or three months it will take to raise its current antenna to a higher position and increase its power. Meanwhile, Channel 12's analog antenna was knocked out by recent wind storms, and repairs might not be finished before digital takes over. For that reason, the station is urging viewers to make the analog-to-digital transition immediately.

What a mess -- and expect more problems to crop up before and after the 17th. Read the Channel 6 and Channel 12 announcements after the jump.

The Channel 6 release:

Rocky Mountain PBS to Stay on the Air in Northern Colorado

Denver -- (January 22, 2009) -- Rocky Mountain PBS has received a Station Temporary Authorization (STA) from the FCC to locate a fill-in translator on Horsetooth Mountain near Fort Collins. The approval enables the statewide PBS network to stay on the air in Northern Colorado after the digital television transition occurs on February 17.

The network has been able to take advantage of a ruling by the FCC to apply for a translator license for the Fort Collins/Greeley area. The ruling addresses coverage of analog stations' potential loss of viewership following the shutdown of high power analog transmitters on February 17. The STA enables Rocky Mountain PBS to move forward immediately with equipment purchases and installation, and to begin broadcasting while the application for a permanent license is pending approval. The target date to be operational is in early February, in time for the digital transition.

"The Northern Colorado region is essential to Rocky Mountain PBS. We are naturally pleased with this news, said Doug Price, president and CEO of Rocky Mountain PBS. "We have been working diligently on a solution to the digital transition issues in Northern Colorado."

Without the STA, most of Northern Colorado faced losing the Rocky Mountain PBS digital signal for approximately 60-90 days as the network relocates its digital antenna to a higher position and goes to full power.

An STA allows operation of a transmitter or translator for a limited amount of time while a permanent resolution to a "problem" is put in place. In the case of Fort Collins, the problem is limited signal coverage of KRMA digital to Northern Colorado. The permanent resolution is the licensing of the translator and the power increase of the main transmitter.

Rocky Mountain PBS

Each week, Rocky Mountain PBS invites the 1.6 million people we reach throughout Colorado to experience the world of award-winning local, national and international programming; hear diverse viewpoints; take front row center seats to world-class drama and performances; and enjoy lifelong learning services for children and adults.

Rocky Mountain PBS celebrates its 53rd anniversary on the air this year. The network began in Denver in 1956 as Colorado's first public television station. It is now Colorado's only statewide television network, with stations in Denver (KRMA-TV/DT), Pueblo/Colorado Springs (KTSC-TV/DT), Steamboat Springs (KRMZ-TV/DT), Grand Junction (KRMJ-TV/DT) and Durango (KRMU-DT). To learn more, visit rmpbs.org.

The Channel 12 release:

Over-the-air Television Viewers Urged to Switch to Digital as Channel 12's Analog Antenna is Off the Air Due to Extensive Wind Damage

DENVER - January 23, 2009 - KBDI-Channel 12 (PBS) is urging over-the-air television viewers to install digital converters now for digital reception. This recommendation comes after recent 100+ mile per hour winds inflicted extensive damage to the KBDI analog antenna and transmission line, taking the station's analog signal off the air.

The transmission line is currently being replaced at the KBDI transmission site atop Squaw Mountain in Clear Creek County. The antenna repair or replacement is estimated to take up to four weeks, which coincidentally is at the same time broadcast stations are currently scheduled to switch to digital transmission (February 17).

"Our current digital antenna for Channel 38 (KBDI's current digital channel allocation) is fine, but since the damaged antenna is the antenna that will be used for our digital broadcasts on our new digital frequency (Ch. 13) on February 18, getting it repaired or replaced is the station's highest priority in order to ensure a continuation of KBDI's digital broadcast services," Mark Seewald, KBDI director of technical services, said. "We are doing everything possible to expedite restoration of the signal."

KBDI's work at the 11,000 foot Squaw Mountain site has been hindered by winter weather as well as the challenges in securing equipment and work crews during the final phase of the country's digital conversion.

Digital over-the-air (DT-12.1) viewers and customers of Comcast and other cable companies as well as subscribers to DirecTV and DISH are not affected by the analog outage. Service via Colorado Springs translator channel 32 and Boulder translator channel 11 also remains uninterrupted.

KBDI is encouraging viewers receiving Channel 12's analog service over the air to hook up digital converter boxes now to receive all of the digital channels that are available today from KBDI and all other local broadcasters - rather than waiting until all broadcast stations make the switch to digital transmission.

KBDI currently distributes three digital channels on Channel 38 - the flagship station (DT-12.1) plus The Documentary Channel (DT-12.2) and MHz Worldview (DT-12.3). Consumers' on-screen channel guides will display channels as 12-1, 12-2 and 12-3 once channel 38 is acquired in a converter box or HDTV tuner.

The KBDI digital signal is strong, reaching throughout the entire Denver metro area, northern and eastern Colorado and into Wyoming and Nebraska - even though the station is not yet at full power. Viewers in those areas should be able to acquire our digital signal if they previously were able to receive the analog signal. There may be exceptions, depending primarily on the strength of a viewer's antenna and specific geographic barriers at their location.

KBDI had announced last week that the analog signal was off the air due to a transmission line break. Engineers have since discovered extensive antenna damage due to high winds and extreme cold at the station's antenna site on Squaw Mountain. At 11,480 feet, the station's tower is the highest television transmission site in North America.

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