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Digital Transition Could Affect Some Local News Stations

Kim Hart

Another aspect about the transition to digital television that hasn't been talked about much is how it will affect some of the smaller stations that often provide local news over analog signals.

Full-powered stations, like the major networks that get picked up by cable and satellite operators, are required to stop broadcasting over analog signals and move to digital programming on Feb. 17, 2009. But low-powered stations aren't required by the FCC to make the switch to digital, largely because they do not have the resources to do so. Congress has allocated $65 million to assist them in the process, but that money won't be available until 2010--a year after the scheduled transition. (Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, has proposed moving the funding date up to 2009 to address this problem.)

Low-powered stations in the D.C. area include WMDO-TV, a Univision affiliate, and W28BY-TV, which airs C-SPAN-like programming.

These stations--there's about 4,700 of them around the country-- typically aren't carried by cable and satellite operators, so they use over-the-air signals to reach people that don't subscribe to cable or satellite service. But many models of new converter boxes turning up in stores now aren't capable of receiving their signals. So these community stations, which typically air hyper-local content, like high-school sports, city council meetings, religious services, weather information and other news, are worried they'll lose their audience.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said this morning he's encouraging cable and satellite operators to carry these low-powered stations, at least until the community channels can make the digital transition. (Right now, there's no hard deadline for them to make the transition). Some cable operators aren't too thrilled by that prospect, since it will cost them extra resources to carry the channels at a time when they're trying to use their capacity to roll out more high-definition channels, on-demand features and new programming.

Martin also said he's encouraging consumer electronics to give converter boxes the capacity to receive the analog signals from these community stations. And he's allowing the stations to apply for additional capacity in order to become full-powered stations, a move he hopes will help give them the resources they need to make the transition. But that could create new competition for the commercial networks, which could spark some resentment from the broadcasters.

It's a complicated situation, but if you want to read more, here's a link to an FCC Web site with more information.

By Kim Hart  |  February 8, 2008; 5:39 PM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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Converter boxes do not need to receive analog signals since analog tuners are already present in TV sets. Switching between digital and analog channels is as simple as switching between a TV's built in tuner and the converter box.

Posted by: Brian | February 9, 2008 1:00 AM

Maybe, but there is still the education component of making people aware that the fancy new box that they are plugging in won't get them that local low-power station and that they will need to keep their rabbit ears, etc. to get it.

Considering how successful we've been at penetrating the minds of most Americans about the DTV transition and what it is, I'm not thinking that is a plan that's gonna go well. I'm theorizing that the viewership for these stations may not be the most sophisticated, either.

So actually, it may work out. They'll blow the DTV transition, but these people will still be able to watch Pastor Bozo's Get Right With Jesus channel.

Posted by: Bob | February 9, 2008 7:34 AM


Posted by: GERALD H. MAURICE | February 9, 2008 11:03 AM

A "battery powered" converter box would be pretty USELESS if the power is out unless your TV runs on batteries...which most don't. You should THINK before you post! Especially when you post in ALL CAPS.

Posted by: To Gerald | February 11, 2008 4:17 PM

I thought these stations wouldn't have a frequency after the transition. Wasn't the whole point of this process to free up the frequency range for resale?

Posted by: kevin | February 12, 2008 12:52 PM

LPTV stations will continue to have frequencies. However, they are considered a secondary service by the FCC, which means they could be bumped by a primary service (like full-power DTV.) This happened to WMDO-LP a few years ago when WRC-TV got channel 48 for its DTV broadcast - they moved to channel 30, then 47. Most of the local LPTVs have applied for a digital channel, by the way (WMDO's will be 8.)

Posted by: dave | February 12, 2008 1:27 PM

A "battery powered" converter box would be pretty USELESS if the power is out unless your TV runs on batteries...which most don't. You should THINK before you post! Especially when you post in ALL CAPS.

Posted by: To Gerald | February 11, 2008 04:17 PM


Don't chastise him for using internet conventions. Whack posts should always be posted in all caps so they can either be skipped entirely or enjoyed for their kitsch value.

Posted by: Robert17 | February 13, 2008 3:59 AM

Before you totally discredit Mr. Maurice's post, think about it for a moment. I know i've seen stacks of boxes of portable B&W TVs at Walmart, Radio Shack, Target; and I'm sure they are also available at Walgreen's, Cosco and who know's where else. Add to that, the number of these that have been given away at car dealerships, Time Share presentations, etc. So don't be too dismissive of his point of view. There will be many people that, during a storm or something, will pull out their portable TVs, put fresh batteries in them, and be greeted with nothing but static. Some of the lucky ones will flip a switch and listen to the included radio, others won't be so lucky...

Posted by: James | February 13, 2008 1:08 PM

On a related note , here in greater Detroit, MI Comcast attempted to move these "low-powered" stations to a higher channel (ie. channel 11 to 900 - beyond the acceptance of standard televisions). While offering individuals a free cable-box for one year. The muni's brought suit agains Comcast and won. The court ordered a stay since it violated the purpose of carrying the channels to the communitties.

Posted by: lsl | February 13, 2008 2:21 PM

Funny thing !
The forced move to digital, which will probably financially destroy local stations, coincides with the increasing monopolization of the media.
There will be no local independent news to counter the corporate distortions and pablum we now get.
The FCC had previously tried to dictate the content of the PBS. The FCC is an arm of corporate broadcasring and corporations, just like the Fed, Congress and our Pres who are bailing out Wall street banks who perpetrated one of the greatest frauds in history with the supposedly AAA rated mortgage backed securities ( which essentially contained "junk bonds" in their tranches.

What happened to the long-adored "free market". Now we have Corporate Socialism".

Better pay attention !

Posted by: DJim | February 13, 2008 5:06 PM


Posted by: jorge | March 7, 2008 5:49 AM

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