January 30, 2006

Grant helps WSIU buy key piece of equipment

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- WSIU Public Broadcasting at Southern Illinois University Carbondale will begin sending a high-definition digital signal along with its standard signals this summer thanks to a federal grant of more than a quarter million dollars that rounds out the purchase price for a critical piece of equipment.

Candis Isberner, executive director at WSIU, said the new encoder equipment will complete the transition to digital broadcasting the station began three years ago.

"We're thrilled," Isberner said. "This is a critical piece of equipment that will enable our new digital master control system to bring the high-definition and two to three standard-definition signals to our viewers."

In 2003, the station upgraded its analog transmitter and antenna operations at Tamaroa and Olney. In late 2004 it received a $998,000 grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to modernize its master control facilities.

This latest federal grant, which totals $262,116, caps off the final $400,000 needed to complete the transition. The balance of this final price came from the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts dean's office, the office of vice chancellor for research, the WSIU Fantasy Auction and the WSIU Friends Campaign, Isberner said.

"This is a great example of local, state and national funding coming together," Isberner said.

While the new encoder completes the station's signal upgrade, WSIU also intends to raise up to $9 million to upgrade its studio control, production and post-production facilities for digital broadcasting, Isberner said.

U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville, helped facilitate the grant.

"WSIU provides important services to over 1.2 million viewers throughout the region," Costello said. "This funding will help the station meet the challenges of new technologies."

The station aims to have the new equipment installed and operating by August. Isberner said viewers with high-definition televisions will notice an immediate difference in the station's picture. The current encoder does not allow high-definition broadcasting, Isberner said.

The station also is planning some additional programming around the increased versatility provided by the modern equipment, including children's shows and a "how-to" program called "Create," she said.

The Federal Communications Commission recently set a new deadline of February 2009 to end analog broadcasting in the country. Isberner said WSIU plans informational programming both on the air and the Web to help viewers prepare for the changeover.

Coordinating and expanding major cultural outreach programs is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.