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Give me just a little more time

With the exception of the always outspoken Bud Paxson, broadcasters are generally afraid to say publicly what most will acknowledge in private. They have gotten so much grief over their "$70 billion worth of spectrum" that they fear that asking for an extension of the deadline for the construction of DTV stations would make them look like fat cats hogging the dinner dish. As a group, broadcasters have been dancing around the issue like Fred and Ginger (Astair and Rogers for you youngsters) or remaining as silent as Harpo (the Marx brother, not Oprah's production company). OK, enough dancing already. We'll say it: Paxson is right. Broadcasters aren't going to make the 2002 deadline. There are good reasons: The transmission system in flawed, cable operators won't carry digital signals, no one has come up with a viable business plan, stations in small and medium markets haven't figured out a way to pay for it, and there are simply not enough tower crews.

So no one should be surprised. Broadcasters will need an extension of those deadlines and ought to get it. Fortunately, they are likely to get some kind of relief, or at least a sympathetic ear, from an FCC run by Michael Powell, who suggested last week that Congress also might need to get into the picture. "I'm no fan of these expectations about the time frame in which this transition is going to occur," Powell preached to the choir at an ALTV meeting in Las Vegas last week. Neither are we.

Powell to the people

You already know how we feel about new FCC chief Michael Powell (B&C, Dec. 18). For those of you who missed it, we think he's no rubber stamp for deregulation. As a veteran debunker of the myth of scarcity and an advocate for full First Amendment rights for broadcasters, he brings a lot to the table. He did nothing to tarnish his image in a talk at NATPE last week. Powell declared himself a true believer in the marketplace-"I'm hesitant to interfere in what in essence is a dialogue between producers and consumers"-and no fan of content regulation-"I have some issue with three of five unelected officials, unaccountable in any direct manner to the citizens, making judgments about what their thoughts, energies and family time should be directed to."

So do we. He suggested he would be sympathetic to broadcaster requests for extensions on the conversion to digital (see above), would look to review the agency's application of its public-interest authority, try to rein in its merger-oversight activities if they duplicated those of the Justice Department, and favor minority tax credits.

Welcome aboard.

Long arm of TV

When those escaped Texas convicts were caught last week, our first thought was, "Thanks to whoever was responsible." Our second: "We wonder whether America's Most Wanted
had something to do with it." Turns out AMW
did. A viewer helped place the fugitives in a Colorado trailer park, resulting in the capture of four and the suicide of a fifth. Soon after, the two remaining gave themselves up to a local TV station.

We have always been fans of America's Most Wanted.
First, its usefulness in aiding law enforcement was obvious from the outset as tip after tip paid off. Then there was the credibility of its host, John Walsh, who turned personal tragedy into a crusade for justice. On the local side, KKTV Colorado Springs became the mediator for a surrender (see story, page 16). Ethicists will debate the issue of a journalism outlet becoming part of the story. We will leave that for another day, however, and just say, "Thanks to whoever was responsible."