My 2/15/09 Missoulian column
KMMF Update: Max Media Montana (KTMF) will begin broadcasting some Fox programming mid-July on digital channel 23.2, as KMMF has gone out of business and is off the air as the station’s parent company went bankrupt was unable to make the transition to digital.
The digital TV deadline is here, kind of …
Even with the delay until June 12 for the mandated change to digital TV broadcasts, some things will be different on the original deadline of Feb. 17, according to local TV stations.
KTMF will be going digital with their over-the-air broadcasts on Tuesday; KECI, KMMF and KUFM will remain analog until June. KPAX may switch to digital before June, depending on other stations in the area, but will stay analog until they change. And KSKC is remaining analog as long as possible until later this spring.
Around the state, over-the-air stations in Bozeman, Helena, Great Falls and Butte are going digital, while some are remaining analog until June. Nationwide, according to the Federal Communications Commission, 41 percent of public TV stations will transition to digital on Feb. 17, while 37 percent of commercial stations have a mix.
There is a difference in stations changing from analog to digital because written into the June delay legislation is the option for some stations to ask the FCC for permission to go ahead with change this month. The FCC received about 700 requests from stations seeking permission to drop their analog signals, according to Bloomberg News.
And in the interest of getting the story straight, station managers and executives of stations in Missoula and in Pablo responded to my questions about the digital TV change.
Most Missoula-area stations agree that the delay has resulted in needless confusion, and all they have been doing public service announcements regarding the change in the deadline. Some have done “soft tests” over the last few months, where they switch to digital to test transmitters.
All Missoula-area stations are continuing, and will be increasing, educational outreach to inform viewers of the change between now and the new deadline of June 12.
Power requirements have become an issue for stations that are deciding whether or not to switch to digital early. Digital transmitters save lots of electricity over analog and while some stations are willing to absorb costs until June, others can’t or don’t want to in order to save possible layoffs and other budget problems.
Several stations quoted electricity numbers in the thousands of dollars per month. So they have to decide to either pay the extra costs to stay analog until June or save those costs by going digital next week.
Some stations have run into technical problems keeping old analog transmitters operating reliably into the spring. For KSKC, this means staff snowmobile trips to patch together 20-year-old mountaintop transmitters, This is one of the reasons KSKC will transition to digital later this spring.
KSKC is a low-power station, so they don’t fall under the same rules as full-power stations in the Missoula Valley and can switch when they need to. For viewers in the Mission Valley, KSKC has a video on their Web site about the kind of antenna you will need to get reliable digital TV signals and how to hook it up. The video also includes instructions on how to hook up a TV converter box with an analog pass through and how to switch between digital and analog broadcasts. See it at kskctv.skc.edu
Montana PBS/KUFM decided locally to retain analog until June, and according to William Marcus it’s not a technical or economic hardship. KUFM also has educational materials on their Web site and has a toll-free number available to help viewers. Montana PBS has been advising viewers to rescan with their TV converter boxes when they have reception problems. Montana PBS/KUFM
A spokesman for the local Fox affiliate, KMMF, said that they will remain analog until the mandated changeover date of June so as to not further confuse viewers who would suddenly find themselves without a signal. KMMF was also concerned with the added cost of TV converter boxes and antennas for the elderly.
Here’s what local stations are planning:
• KTMF has decided to go ahead and change to digital on Feb. 17.
• KUFM will retain analog until June; they are already broadcasting in digital, with some programs in HD.
• KMMF will stay analog until June 12.
• KECI will continue with analog until June 12, alongside their digital broadcasts.
• KPAX, already broadcasting in digital, will retain analog broadcasts but could transition to digital earlier than if all other stations in the area become ready.
• KSKC will continue with analog into the spring, but will be switching to digital before June, as they are low power and can change when needed.
So, what do you need to do to make sure you’re ready? Check your TV.
If it says “digital” or “digital tuner,” you have a digital TV and don’t need a converter box.
If your TV says “digital ready,” it might not be fully digital; check the owner’s manual or manufacturers web site.
If you find nothing that says digital, or find “NTSC,” you will need a converter, because your TV is analog.
If you want to get KTMF after Feb. 17 and you have an analog TV, you will need a TV converter box in order to convert the new digital signal back to analog for your TV. When other stations go digital, you will need the same digital TV or converter box. Most big box stores and other appliance and electronic stores are stocking TV converters.
If you buy a TV converter box, get one with an analog pass through, such as the Apex at Best Buy, so you will be able to still watch local analog stations without having to plug and unplug cables.
You may also need an outdoor antenna for digital TV. KSKC has tested digital TV reception with rabbit ears and other indoor antennas and found the reception isn’t that great. And remember that digital TV signals don’t gracefully degrade. You either have a picture, or you don’t. There isn’t a “snowy” picture on the ragged edge of a reception area.
Radio Shack told me they have had many calls for outdoor antennas and have several types in stock. Many people have had good luck with an outdoor antenna in their attic, but be ready to move it around for the best reception.
With either a digital TV or a TV converter box, be sure to rescan for channels on Feb. 18, especially for KTMF, as they are changing from Channel 23.1 to 23 for full-power digital.
Call these stations with your digital TV questions:
• KTMF will have a special phone bank ready from Feb. 18-22 for digital TV questions at 542-8900.
• Call KECI with questions about converter boxes and hooking them up at 721-2063.
• KPAX is at 542-4400.
• KUFM has a toll free number for digital TV questions at (800)-426-8243.
• In the Mission Valley, you can reach KSKC on the Salish Kootenai College campus at (406)-275-4878.
And check dtv2009.gov for lots of info about digital TV.