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Most SF Bay-area channels will delay digital switch
Submitted by jonathan on Fri, 2009-02-06 09:00
by David Baker, San Francisco Chronicle
Most Bay Area television stations will delay until June the switch to all-digital broadcasts, now that Congress has given them the option.
Like stations nationwide, they had been scrambling to meet a Feb. 17 deadline for dropping their old analog broadcasts and transmitting only in digital signals, which don't work with older televisions that aren't hooked to cable or satellite dishes. But both the House and Senate have now approved an extension to June 12, and President Obama is expected to sign it. Stations can still meet the earlier deadline if they choose, or they can make the transition later.
Representatives of Bay Area television stations met Thursday to discuss the switch, and most plan to wait, said Valari Staab, president and general manager of KGO-TV in San Francisco.
"We're trying to get as many stations that broadcast from Sutro Tower to go at the same time," she said. "It looks like most people are going to go June 12."
Eleven stations broadcast from Sutro Tower, the 977-foot-tall landmark rising above central San Francisco. While each station already has a digital transmitter on the tower, they don't have backup digital transmitters. If the stations switch early, they run a greater risk of going dark due to equipment failure.
"The back-up digital has to be built out," said Staab, who this year also holds the presidency of the joint venture that owns Sutro Tower. "It's a lot of work."
Some might not wait.
Two Bay Area stations appear poised to make the digital transition later this month, according to a list compiled by Staab. KICU-TV Channel 36, which broadcasts a mix of news and syndicated shows, plans to switch on Feb. 17. And KOFY-TV Channel 20, which also relies on syndicated shows, may make the transition on Feb. 21, although Staab said she has not confirmed that with the station.
The general managers of both KICU and KOFY were unavailable for comment Thursday. Delay poses its own problems.
Right now, stations are paying to broadcast their programs in both analog and digital signals. After the switch they will only have to pay for one of those broadcasts, drastically cutting their electrical bills. For some stations, that could add up to $15,000 or $20,000 a month, Staab said.
Yet people in the industry don't want to confuse consumers, either. They'd just as soon avoid a situation in which some stations appear on old, rabbit-eared television sets while others don't.
Consumers who rely on traditional over-the-air broadcasts will need to upgrade to a pay TV service such as cable or satellite, buy a TV with a digital tuner, or install a converter box on their older analog set.
"We're prepared and ready to go whenever, but we understand if some people haven't got the equipment yet," said Scott Walton, communications director for public broadcasting station KQED-TV. "There's a consensus that it would be better if everyone in the Bay Area did it at the same time."article originally published at http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/02/05/BULQ15OEPK.DTL.