Digital TV Hiccup

The two Cleveland TV stations with the biggest over-air digital TV problems may – or may not – see those problems resolved before the February 17 digital transition date.

Gannett NBC affiliate WKYC/3 and ideastream PBS affiliate WVIZ/25 will transmit their post-transition signals from a new tower at the WKYC facility, but it’s an open question if the construction – which was reportedly set to begin this week – will now be complete in time for the transition date.

In an FCC filing, WKYC says that though it expects tower construction to take about four to six weeks, it’s filing for a special temporary permit (post-transition) for its current WKYC-DT facility on Channel 2 out of “an abundance of caution”.

WVIZ, meanwhile, says it’s being told the tower’s construction “is not likely” to be completed by February 17th.

Both stations will abandon any temporary facility when construction is complete, though if – for some reason – the construction is done before the transition date, WKYC will still have to wait until that date for analog WDLI/17 to sign off.

The problem? Directly from the WKYC filing (PDF file):

However, circumstances beyond WKYC-TV’s control have put construction of WKYC-TV’s post-transition facilities by February 17, 2009 in jeopardy. More specifically, the tower crew hired to erect the tower and install the antenna, has been unexpectedly delayed on another project and cannot commence construction of WKYC-TV’s post-transition digital facilities until mid-December at the earliest. This delay has been caused by weather.

Construction is expected to take approximately 4 to 6 weeks and WKYC-TV still anticipates that it will begin digital operation on its post-transition channel 17 after midnight on February 17, 2009.

Nevertheless, as WKYC-TV mentioned in its DTV Transition Status Reports (Form 387), in northern Ohio, tower work after November is very problematic and weather-dependent. Therefore, because the tower crew has been delayed, construction of the tower and installation of the antenna may not be completed by February 17, 2009.

WKYC’s filing does note that all the other things needed for the post-transition digital channel 17 facility are in place, including equipment.

WVIZ’s filing calls for the station to modify its current temporary signal, and to move the antenna to the main/current WKYC analog tower at a much higher level. Quoting from that WVIZ filing (PDF file):

WVIZ-DT’s current STA operation (FCC File BDSTA-20080812ABK) is at 10 kW at 374.6 meters AMSL on a tower temporarily provided by WKYC-TV, Inc. (“WKYC radar tower”) and serves 88.2% of the population historically served by WVIZ’s analog transmitter.

For this phase-in proposal, WVIZ has secured permission from WKYC-TV, Inc. to utilize its taller tower (“WKYC television tower”) at 10 kW with a radiation center of 507 meters AMSL, which would increase the proposed population served to 94.5% of the population served by WVIZ’s analog transmitter.

Moreover, based on the experience of DTV licensees across the country, WVIZ-DT understands that the higher antenna placement will benefit the people tuning into WVIZ-DT over-the-air and result in fewer instances of service loss caused by signal problems.

WVIZ’s filing notes that there’s another reason the current temporary facility needs to be modified:

Expedited processing of this STA request is requested, as the current STA operation on the WKYC radar tower relies on a transmitter that has been borrowed for that purpose.

The owner of that transmitter has been patient but the equipment must be returned. ideastream has on hand the DTV transmitter needed for the proposed phasein STA operations and can mount it within the transmitter room at the WKYC television tower for the STA operation proposed herein following ordering and delivery of a few additional pieces of equipment.

OMW has no idea if tower construction has been started at the WKYC facility, as expected, this week.

But both the WKYC and WVIZ applications note the biggest problem: Northeast Ohio’s winter weather, which has already packed a few punches even before the actual start of winter (and another such weather punch is in the forecast for late tonight into tomorrow).

Even if tower crews started the necessary process this week, there’s no guarantee they’ll be done in even six weeks due to the weather. The DTV transition date is now eight weeks away, so both stations have to be ready if the facilities aren’t completed by February 17th…even if that deadline is only missed by a few days…

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