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The Dog Ate My Transmitter

The clock is ticking down to the Feb. 17, 2009, date for TV stations to transition to all-digital broadcasting.

Before that date, TV stations are required to give all their viewers shows in both digital and analog, but not all are on schedule. The FCC granted 145 stations yet another extension. Democrats running Congress have warned that the date for the switch over to full digital could be moved if not enough voters are digitally enabled by November 2008.

Why the delays?

The stations have given a range of reasons, from serious problems related to terrorism and natural disasters to wet cement, cruise ships and kids who need subsidized lunches.

The 9/11 attacks are to blame for a handful of extensions, understandably so, for such stations as WABC-DT, WNBC-DT and WNYE-DT New York and WNJU-DT Linden, N.J. Then there was hurricane damage to WPAN-DT Fort Walton Beach, Fla. But a far bigger threat to DTV is apparently lack of money.

Nexstar, for example, which is shopping its stations, gets the prize for most stations seeking extensions: a total of 18, including three that it says fall under both financial-hardship and construction-delay categories.

Nexstar did report a loss in first quarter 2007, but the group also boasted record-setting revenue.

Georgia Public Television is having a tough time, too. It has been trying to get money out of the state, but after its request to sell bonds to raise the money was granted, then rescinded, then granted again, the bond sale was put on hold pending an audit of the state’s finances, according to the FCC.

Another noncom, KEET-DT Eureka, Calif., couldn’t raise enough money from pledge drives and applied for a grant from the Department of Agriculture, which has a pool of money to help rural stations convert to digital. But one of the criteria was the number of kids in the viewing area that get subsidized school lunches, and KEET didn’t qualify, says Joel Householter, director of engineering at the station. It has since obtained a Digital Distribution Fund grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He hopes to be transmitting a full digital signal by mid July. “The unfortunate part,” he says, is that, while the USDA grant was free and clear, the CPB grant has a 25% match, which, in his case, was $60,000: “We’ll be paying for that for several years.”

KPAZ-DT Phoenix wanted to locate its tower in a city park, and trying to get the requisite approvals, has kept it behind the DTV eight ball. A local construction boom, the station adds, has caused a shortage of workers.

WELU-DT Aguadilla, P.R., complains that, because the season has been particularly rainy, construction workers have been unable to pour cement. Better yet, the station isn’t sure if the cement that was already poured is even usable.

KVOS-DT Bellingham, Wash., says its construction of new facilities was delayed because the site owner died during construction and inclement weather could further hamper construction on the mountaintop site.

Also in the weather category, WLLA-DT Kalamazoo, Mich., was two inches away from completion when a coating of ice during a tough winter storm prevented finishing construction on schedule.

And, in the “How’s that again?” department: KUBD-DT Ketchikan, Alaska, claimed not only hardship but cruise ship. The station told the FCC its DTV buildout was impeded in part because it had yet to resolve problems from interference to its signal from “radar on nearby cruise ships.”