A Weekend Digital TV Update

We’re taking a rare Saturday opportunity to answer questions that peppered our mailbox all day Friday – about the digital TV transition, and when Ohio stations will shut off analog signals…February 17th or June 12th?

The answer, right now, is that some cases we know, and in others, we don’t believe the station has made a decision yet.

That decision must be filed with the FCC by this coming Monday night, and President Obama is now expected to sign the bill Monday – after a built-in five-day comment period that applies to all bills considered by the new administration. (Weigh in yourself here, though don’t expect to change the president’s mind on the delayed transition – his team created it in the first place.)

In this item, we’ll go station-by-station in the Cleveland/Akron market, with what we DO know, or what we guess, assume or predict if we don’t know. Since this item has gotten very long, we’ll do a separate update for markets outside Cleveland later…

WKYC/3 (NBC) – A hat tip to our blogging friend Frank Macek, WKYC senior director, for addressing the question directly in his “Director’s Cut” blog…but it wasn’t like the answer was a surprise to those who read the Mighty Blog.

From an item on “Director’s Cut” Friday:

As part of the decision by Congress to delay the digital transition date until June 12th, WKYC will continue to broadcast on both our analog and digital channels until the new date.

Frank catches up with his boss at WKYC, station VP/GM Brooke Spectorsky, who offers this reasoning:

“We want all viewers to have enough time to get their converter coupons and buy and hook up their new boxes. We think that is what Congress intended with the new June 12 legislation.”

Spectorsky also notes that some 43,000 people in the Cleveland/Akron TV market are on the current coupon waiting list…we’ll assume he got that number from mining through numbers recently released by members of Congress who were lobbying to get the bill passed.

What the veteran local broadcast executive doesn’t mention in the “Director’s Cut” item is – what we believe – the primary reason WKYC won’t turn off analog on February 17th – the fact that as last we checked a few days ago, the steel that will comprise the station’s new tower was still in pieces on the grass in front of the WKYC transmitter building on Broadview Road in Parma.

As chronicled frequently here, WKYC (and future tower mate WVIZ/25) has been the victim of bad weather and construction crew delays in putting up the tower that will carry its new digital antenna. Until that goes up, and WKYC is able to move to digital channel 17, the station’s current digital channel 2 facility is but a rumor for many Northeast Ohio viewers.

Add to the fact that unless Trinity Broadcasting turns off analog WDLI/17 Canton on the now “early” February 17th date, WKYC couldn’t move to that channel even if that tower were up by a week from next Tuesday…which, we’re pretty confident in saying, it will not be. (Not unless “Superman” flies in and starts working at Super Speed.)

Oh, and WKYC owner Gannett is one of the groups promising the FCC that “most” of its stations will keep their analog signals on through June.

The decision for WKYC is about as easy as it gets…keep analog channel 3 going until the new June 12th deadline.

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WEWS/5 (ABC) – We haven’t heard an official peep out of Cleveland’s ABC affiliate about its transition plans, and a run this morning through NewsNet5.com reveals no stories or announcements about whether Channel 5 will transition on June 12th or February 17th.

Based on the non-official rumblings we’re hearing from our sources in the building, we’d be surprised if the station filed to hold to the now-previous February 17th analog shutoff date.

We also have no evidence – yet – that other Scripps-owned stations plan to “go early” (well, “on time” if the date hadn’t been changed). And we see no evidence that WEWS wants to be out there alone in digital-only land.

We’d put WEWS in the “not confirmed, but we’re pretty confident they’ll shut off analog 5 on June 12th” category…but, we could be wrong.

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WJW/8 (Fox) – As chronicled first right here, WJW parent company Local TV filed earlier this week to hold to the February 17th date, complete with a request to transition the current digital channel 31 signal to digital channel 8 on that date.

How things can change in a few days.

OMW can now confirm six ways to Sunday (on Saturday) that WJW “Fox 8” has indeed abandoned that recent plan, and will keep its analog signal on until the new June 12th transition date.

The station has announced this on the air, and your Primary Editorial Voice(tm) may have been the only interested party who didn’t see it. (Maybe they put it on after a “Fox 8 News” segment about “American Idol”, which always gets us to turn away?)

But independently of that, we have also heard from a reliable company source that the switch date for WJW is indeed now June 12th.

We won’t go into further detail, as we covered this earlier…

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WDLI/17 (TBN) – We have no indication what religious operator Trinity Broadcasting will do in regards to an analog shutoff date, nationally or locally.

As noted above, the Canton-licensed WDLI would have to go off the air on analog 17 to make way for WKYC/3’s new digital channel 17, but the WKYC tower situation makes that pretty much the definition of a “moot point”…

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WOIO/19 (CBS) – We haven’t heard any official, or non-official, word out of Reserve Square about the analog shutoff plans for “Cleveland’s CBS 19”, or sister MyNetwork TV affiliate WUAB/43 “My 43”.

If they’ve announced that they’re going along with the new June 12th date, or will file to shut off on February 17th, we haven’t heard. (It’s no surprise, of course, that we spend very little time watching “19 Action News”.)

Like nearly every other local station, there’s also no indication on the station’s website, even in the subsection for the DTV transition.

In our opinion, that is a sin that should be fixed as soon as possible by WOIO and everyone else in the market. Even WKYC’s “Director’s Cut” item should be linked directly from both the station’s front page and from its DTV subsection.

Our guess/gut feeling is that WOIO/WUAB will reluctantly go along with staying on the air in analog form until June 12th, based on market conditions. But that is not fact, or even rumor – it’s just a semi-educated guess on our part that could be wrong.

We say “reluctantly” because Raycom is a group that you’d expect would be sensitive to the cost of running those analog transmitters another four months. In the current economic state of the TV business, you could say that about just about all TV owners – but Raycom isn’t known for extravagance even in flush economic times. They’re not quite a Sinclair, but it’d still be an issue.

And given the horrible economy, in general and in the TV business, we wouldn’t blame any station that cited those costs.

But we don’t recall any Raycom stations filing earlier this week for a February 17th analog shutoff…even before the FCC rules were floated out there.

Again, just a guess here, and not fact or even rumor – we think WOIO/WUAB will stay the course with analog through June 12th. But we have no official answer…

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WVPX/23 (Ion) – The Akron-licensed O&O of the Ion Television Network will have to flash cut from analog 23 to digital 23, since its assigned pre-transition facility (digital channel 59) never lit up…and channel 59 is out of the digital TV “core” anyway.

We have no word at this time what Ion will do in regards to February vs. June. The network’s local outlet will not have a digital signal at all until the transition, whenever Ion plans to do it…

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WVIZ/25 (PBS) – See WKYC above for much of WVIZ’s story.

Though we haven’t heard any official announcement or confirmation, we’d be surprised if WVIZ wouldn’t stay in analog until June 12th.

The current WVIZ-DT temporary signal, on an auxiliary tower at the WKYC site, is just 10 kW – and even that’s an improvement over their original 1 kW temporary signal from a small tower behind the former WVIZ studios on Broadview Road.

And going through FCC records, it looks like WVIZ has won FCC approval for a new THIRD temporary site on the current WKYC analog tower, described below from the filing:

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.

Like WKYC’s pre-transition digital channel 2 facility, even the higher 10 kW operation is just not a good enough signal to serve as the ONLY over-air signal for a major broadcast station, so we’d feel confident tabbing WVIZ in the “June 12th” category.

(And yes, we’re aware that the second WVIZ-DT temporary antenna is not actually on the WKYC “radar tower” but on a nearby auxiliary tower…we didn’t make the filing, so we can’t correct it.)

The station’s website and its DTV section now carry links to an NPR story on the June 12th date change, so that’s another data point – even if the DTV page itself still carries references to the February 17th date. It looks like that information just hasn’t been changed yet.

And back before all the date change talk, WVIZ requested (for obvious reasons) a phased transition, and an extension to the construction permit for its final digital facility. You do the math…

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WUAB/43 (MyNetwork TV) – See WOIO above.

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WEAO/49 (PBS) – As previously reported on OMW, Western Reserve PBS’ Akron outlet has already announced that it’ll stay on analog channel 49 through the June 12th transition date.

That doesn’t come without a cost to the Kent-based PBS affiliate. In addition to the costs of electricity to run the analog transmitter four more months, the station will also continue to host its DTV Help Desk and hotline…

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WBNX/55 (CW) – OMW has heard no official or rumored indication that the Winston Broadcasting Akron-licensed CW affiliate will go on February 17th or June 12th.

We haven’t seen anything on the air in occasional checks of the station, and there’s no word on the station’s website or on its Digital TV web page.

As a locally-owned station – Winston Broadcasting is the broadcasting arm of Grace Cathedral’s Rev. Ernest Angley – there’s no “group precedent” to follow.

But one factor that may or may not play a role in this – Channel 55 is in the analog spectrum claimed by Qualcomm’s “MediaFLO”, a service which powers cell phone providers’ mobile TV needs.

Qualcomm is itchy to start using that spectrum, and has paid some stations in other markets to move off analog 55 early. Will that happen here?

We do not know if Qualcomm has approached WBNX yet, but WBNX’s current digital channel 30 facility is more than adequate to stand alone as is, if Rev. Angley gets some Qualcomm cash waived in front of him…

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WQHS/61 (Univision) – No one on the OMW Editorial Staff speaks Spanish, so we couldn’t figure this one out even if we watched the local Univision owned-and-operated station.

Of note could be competitive issues in other markets.

Univision’s number one competitor, NBC Universal’s Telemundo, is among those network groups announcing that its stations will stay on in analog until June 12th.

Though Telemundo doesn’t even have a low-power outlet in the Cleveland market, this news could nudge Univision as a group owner into staying with analog until June, even here…

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WOAC/67 (Ind.) – The situation is somewhat murky for the Canton-licensed station.

If you really care about losing infomercials on analog channel 67, you may be the only one who wants to know here – but we’ll include WOAC for completeness-sake.

OMW hears that WOAC parent Multicultural Broadcasting has filed to move its stations into a trust, as Multicultural (owned by brokered ethnic radio king Arthur Liu) is in a bit of a financial bind right now.

Will that financial bind prompt the group to shutter its analog stations early? We’ll see.

For now, you can watch all those fascinating (yawn) infomercials on both analog 67 and digital 67-1…

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