This newsletter is long overdue. We’ve got a lot of big things going on here at the station and some of those things probably have you a little confused. I’m going to start off by borrowing a favorite quote from a mentor of mine, Michael Castengera. He now teaches at The University of Georgia and starts every writing workshop with this Mark Twain quote:
““I’m sorry this letter is so long. I didn’t have time to write a shorter one.”
I’m afraid it amply applies to today’s newsletter.
I want to start off by apologizing to those parents out there whose kids might have been watching the news on Thursday. We had a story concerning a disgusting discovery at a fraternity house at Western. While investigating a noise complaint at the Alpha Gamma Rho house, police found a malnourished chained goat standing in its own waste. During the story we mentioned that the fraternity president denied that they were going to make new members have sex with the goat. He claimed that they were going to scare the pledges into believing that was going to happen. I completely failed to recognize the need to warn viewers of the graphic nature of the story. As a result, I got several emails that the story was too graphic for the news.
I would like to share my response to these in case you had a similar response:
“I apologize for not running a disclaimer before that story ever ran telling parents to either turn off the TV or get their kids out of the room. You are 100 percent right that that story should never have been able to be seen by children. That being said, I do think the story had to be told and I think the sex aspect had to be included. I know it is incredibly graphic and incredibly sick and perverted, but there are many other less perverted ways that a goat could be factored into a “hazing activity”. Many states around the country have anti-hazing laws; Kentucky has no such law. As disgusting as this situation was, the only thing police could charge anyone with was animal cruelty. If this goat had been well fed and clean, there would have been nothing criminal at all about what the fraternity was doing. The primary role of a journalist in a democracy is to make sure that people have the information they need to make good self-governing decisions. A large percentage of our viewers have no idea what “hazing” is and many of those that do see it as a series of harmless pranks. This is a very serious issue and people need to understand the severity of it. Simply calling it “part of a hazing activity’ wouldn’t cut it. Here, we had a group of our “future leaders” who were either making their pledges have sex with a goat or were threatening to. This was not a harmless prank and any script that leaves room for it to be viewed as such fails to provide citizens with the information they need. This community should be outraged by this incident; it’s only through such outrage that social change occurs.
I know this a terrible story and I wish it had never happened, but it did. If I could have found a way to convey the seriousness of this crime without being as graphic, I would have. However, any other way falls short and leaves the possibility that the viewer will walk away thinking, “those silly college kids.” The underlying issues here are too important to risk that happening.”
I have instructed my staff to put a disclaimer before any future developments in that story.
Next, I’ve got some bad news for many of you. Kyle Rhone is going to be leaving AM-Kentucky. His last day will be March 3rd. He helped re-define AM-Kentucky. If you’ll remember, we used to have a sports segment in the show that was taped the night before. Kyle convinced me that he could do the sports live and add a nice element to the show. He was right! You’ll probably still see him around the area. He’s going into the insurance business. As most of you know, he recently got married and he’s looking for a career that would allow him to work more “normal” hours than broadcasting allows. I certainly understand that and wish him the best of luck.
Now, onto the topic that has many of you talking: the new Fox channel. As many of you have probably heard, we will soon be adding a new local TV station to South-Central Kentucky. Our goal is to have this station on the air sometime in April. It will be a Fox affiliate and air all your favorite Fox shows like 24 (my personal favorite) and American Idol. We’re hoping this will give us an opportunity down the road to expand the amount of local programming we can get on the air. The station will be a purely digital signal. That means you will be able to get it with a digital receiver or through your cable company. I know many of you are very confused about the difference between digital and cable television. There is a lot of bad information out there about this topic. A little later in this newsletter I’m going to attempt to clear it up or at least make the waters a little less muddy.
We are currently in the process of installing the new transmitter required for us to broadcast the Fox station. That’s why our digital signal is currently off the air. I apologize for any inconvenience this may be causing those of you who watch the digital signal. Believe me, I feel your pain. I watch a lot of the ABC shows in High Definition and am anxious for it to return. We’re hoping to get it back up soon. The changing of the transmitter is quite an ordeal. Part of the process involved lifting an 82 foot tall antenna to the top of our tower on Richardsville Road. I have a tremendous of respect for the folks who do this kind of work. I grew up climbing in the rafters of tobacco barns and I thought that was high. These guys work for hours (usually at night) hundreds of feet up in the air on a tower that is waving back and forth in the wind. Actually, the wind is one of the things that’s holding up the process. We have a few cables that still have to be connected to the antenna before we can test out the transmitter and the winds are preventing that from getting done. The FCC requires the transmitter to be turned off when workers are above a certain height on the tower.
There is one more thing I would like to address concerning the whole Fox station. Like WBKO-ABC, it will not initially be available on any of the satellite providers. Not a week goes by that I don’t get two or three emails complaining that we’re not on either Dish Network or Direct TV. A lot of people think that we are refusing to allow the satellite providers to use our signal. That could not be further from the truth; we want our station(s) to be available to people who use satellite TV. The more people who are able to see our station(s), the better off we are. The providers themselves do not allow us to be on their systems yet. Basically, they have to add stations to their systems one city at a time. They started with the largest cities and are working their way to the smaller ones. We are hoping they’ll put Bowling Green stations on their systems within the next year or so, but it’s out of our hands. What we really need is for enough of their customers to put pressure on them to hurry up the process.
Now I’m going to attempt to explain the concepts of digital television, high-definition television, and multicasting. I’m also going to try to explain how these are going to be impacting you in the next few years. If you already understand all of this, fell free to stop reading right now. You won’t miss anything else important from here on out.
Here goes…. There are two ways a television signal can be sent through the air; it can be sent as an analog signal or a digital signal. The signal that we all grew up on was an analog signal. I won’t go into the technical aspects. For this discussion, it’s not really important how it works just that it does. When you bought a television in the past, you could take it home and turn it to channel 13 and see our station.
The new digital signal works in an entirely different way. It is more like a computer signal that’s sent through the air. Traditional TV sets can not get a digital signal with a standard antenna. Digital signals have many advantages over analog ones. First, digital signals provide a much clearer picture and you never have “snow” on the screen. With a digital signal you either have it perfectly or you don’t have it all.
A digital signal also uses less bandwidth that an analog. This is where it gets confusing. Every signal that’s passing through the air has a certain “frequency”. This includes cell phones, radio stations, TV stations, police radios, wireless internet, etc. There are a limited number of available frequencies which can be used by these industries. The total collection of available frequencies is called the “spectrum”. A portion of that spectrum is called a “bandwidth”. The Federal Communication Commission regulates those signals and allots a certain amount of bandwidth to each business.
Let’s imagine that you have a rope that is 100 inches long. Let’s say that represents the total frequency spectrum. An old analog signal may take up 5 inches of that rope; in other words the bandwidth is 5 inches. On the other hand, a new digital signal might only use one inch of bandwidth. That means the FCC then has 4 more inches of rope(bandwidth) that it can sell to someone else. With more and more wireless developments, the FCC needs all the extra “rope” it can get to sell.
That why the FCC is mandating that all TV stations switch from analog to digital signals. It’s estimated that once we all get to digital, the FCC can sell about an extra $1.5 billion a year in air space. Currently, most stations (including ourselves) are broadcasting both a digital and an analog signal. By this summer, we have to have a digital signal that reaches almost everyone who currently can get our analog signal. That’s the main reason why we are currently installing a new transmitter. In February of 2009, we will be turning off our analog signal. At that point, your older televisions will no longer be able to pick up a signal from an old style antenna. If you get your signal from cable companies or from satellite providers, you won’t notice much of a difference. If you still want to get your signal from the airwaves, you’ll need to make sure that you get a digital receiver and antenna. There are some reports that the federal government will provide assistance to anyone who can’t afford a new television or antenna.
Another advantage of digital television is that it allows for high-definition television. If you’ve never seen HDTV on a good TV set, you don’t know what you are missing. An HD picture uses a 9/16 dimension (movie screen) and is incredible clear and crisp. It actually makes it look like the people you are seeing on TV are sitting in your living room. To put things in perspective… a couple of weeks ago I was watching Boston Legal on our digital channel in HD. Allen Shore, the main character, was talking to someone off screen and you could clearly see a loose hair on the shoulder of his jacket. Right now, only the major network shows and major sporting events are offered in HDTV. Each month that goes by, however, more shows will be. I think HD will ultimately have as big of an impact on television as color did in the early days.
To recap the HD issue… you can have a digital signal without it being HD, but you can’t have an HD signal without it being digital.
The last advantage of a digital signal is that it enables stations to “multicast”. This means that we can broadcast multiple stations from the same signal. That’s what we’re going to be doing with the new Fox station. It will be broadcast in the same signal as our ABC station, but the receiver will be able to separate them. I will say one downside to this at least initially is that the bandwidth prevents us from broadcasting both station in HD. For the time being, only the ABC station will provide an HD signal via the airwaves. Both stations will be broadcast with HD on Insight here in Bowling Green. Insight actually is connected to our station by a fiber link that lets them take our channel directly without going through the transmitter.
I know this is a lot of information and I hope it makes a little bit of sense. This is obviously a very important topic for those of us in the television industry. The federal government has mandated that we spend millions of dollars to make the transition from analog to digital. It is also a topic which has many American consumers confused. If you have any further questions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with them. I’ll try to answer your questions in the next newsletter.
As always if you want to see previous News Director Reports you can go to our “news” page and click on the icon in the right column.