January 21, 2009

WSIU sets digital conversion for later this month

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- WSIU Public Television takes a historic leap forward later this month when the public broadcasting arm of Southern Illinois University Carbondale makes the federally mandated switch from analog to digital-only broadcasting.

The Federal Communications Commission and Congress set Tuesday, Feb. 17, as the date for full-power televisions to move to digital-only broadcasting. But installation of new digital equipment at WSIU’s Tamaroa transmitter site is enabling WSIU TV 8 to make the conversion earlier.

WSIU TV 8 will cease broadcasting analog programming at midnight, Tuesday, Jan. 27, and run instructional messages the next two days directing over-the-air analog television viewers to prepare for the transition. WSIU TV 8’s analog signal ends at 10 a.m., Thursday, Jan. 29.

On Tuesday, Feb. 3, due to technical improvements to the WSIU digital transmitter, TV 8 viewers will need to run a rescan for WSIU’s digital channels on their digital TVs or converter boxes.

WUSI TV 16 viewers in the Olney area make the digital television switch on Feb. 17, and need to rescan their channels then.

Robert Henderson, WSIU TV’s operations/production manager and digital coordinator, said a hope is the conversion solves reception problems, particularly south of Carbondale and in some areas of southeast Missouri, due to topography issues. The digital signal, combined with an increase in power, should improve the station’s reception tremendously, he said.

“It’s not a boring time to be involved in broadcasting,” Henderson said. “This is the most significant change in broadcasting that has occurred since cable television started up. We’re all learning. The viewers are frustrated, and a lot of people involved in the broadcasting industry are being challenged by all the technical issues that have arisen.”

To improve its signal coverage, WSIU is moving its broadcasts from the UHF to VHF frequency band. After Feb. 3, WSIU TV 8 viewers will need a VHF antenna to view digital channels 8.1, 8.2 and 8.3. WUSI TV’s digital channels, 16.1, 16.2 and 16.3 will remain on the current UHF band. Most antennas sold today are dual-purpose UHF and VHF.

Viewers with digital televisions do not need to do anything to prepare for the DTV switch other than install a quality set-top or rooftop antenna to enjoy the over-the-air reception of available digital channels. Viewers with analog TV sets who subscribe to cable or satellite television services also do not need to be concerned because providers will ensure their broadcast reception continues.

Current analog TV viewers who do not subscribe to a cable or satellite service, however, will not be able to tune in unless they purchase a digital television set, or buy and install a digital-to-analog set-top converter box.

Converter boxes are available at most electronic retail outlet stores for $40 to $70. A federal government incentive of two $40 coupons per household to offset converter box and supplies costs is awaiting an increase in funding. Viewers should call 1-888-DTV-2009 for the coupon waiting list.

Over-the-air-only viewers who have not ordered or received coupons and who want to be able to watch television after Feb. 17 need to buy a converter box now, and not wait, Henderson said.

In order to pick up weaker digital TV signals, over-the-air viewers who use rabbit ears may also need to buy a different model of antenna. A larger disc-shaped outdoor antenna, which can receive signals from all directions, is preferable. A V-shaped outdoor antenna pointed directly at a signal tower is another option. Viewers also may need an amplifier if the viewer lives in a weak signal area, such as a valley in a rural area. Viewers may visit AntennaWeb online at http://www.antennaweb.org/aw/welcome.aspx to receive antenna recommendations based on their specific location and needs.

There are concerns that many rural, low-income and elderly viewers are not prepared for the conversion. Henderson has met with numerous community groups recently to explain the conversion. He continues to receive many calls from people who are having problems receiving WSIU’s digital signals or who have yet to prepare for the change to digital-only broadcasting.

Reports indicate the proposed $825 billion federal stimulus package includes $650 million to continue the coupon program assisting conversion from analog to digital transmission. There are also reports of Congress considering delaying the conversion to June 12.

But Henderson emphasizes WSIU TV cannot delay its conversion due to next month’s scheduled transmitter tower work in Tamaroa, even if the federal government approves a nationwide postponement.

For more information or assistance in preparing for WSIU’s DTV switch, contact Henderson at 618/453-6156 or via email at robert.henderson@wsiu.org. Viewers may also visit WSIU TV’s blog at http://wsiutv.blogspot.com, or DTV Web pages at http://www.wsiu.org/dtv to find additional details and materials, including step-by-step instructions for installing a set-top converter box and an email form for assistance.

(Monica Tichenor, the public information and promotion coordinator for WSIU Public Broadcasting, contributed information for this news release.)