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FCC Denies Nexstar DTV Hardship Waivers: Sources

The FCC has denied a hardship waiver for two stations that wanted to pull the plug on analog April 16,

according to FCC sources, telling them they will have to wait until June 12.

Only four stations had asked to go early despite not meeting the FCC's criteria. The commission approved two requests from stations that wanted to pull the plug in mid-to-late May, in part because that was only a few weeks before the new hard date.

That left only KARD-TV and KTVE without a clear path to pulling the plug on analog service. Nexstar's KARD, the Fox affiliat in West Monroe, La., wanted to go on April 16, saying that it is currently operating at 50% power because a transmission tube failed, resulting in "unstable operation" and a hardship on station personnel who have had to travel 50 miles several times a week from the studio to the transmitter site.

Mission Broadcasting's KTVE, the NBC affiliate in El Dorado, Ark., which competes in the same market as KARD, said it was at only 40% power and made similar arguments about the staff drain of maintaining the equipment.

According to an FCC source, the equipment failure argument did not trump the fact that there would not be any analog service in the market, and that the owners "did not offer to provide any kind of enhanced nightlight service or to provide their news to any other station that might be available to keep analog on in the area. We denied the waiver because we did not think that was a good basis."

The source added that the commission's call center had received "lots of calls" from that area on Feb. 17, when over 400 stations pulled the plug on analog.

Nexstar also argued that pulling the plug on one of the stations "might facilitate PBS going to a post-transition" DTV channel assignment, said the FCC source, who added that the agency had not heard anything from that station.

The FCC gave the Nexstar and Mission stations the bad news via e-mail.

Nexstar executives were not available for comment at press time.

Thus far, the tale of the analog tape shows that 637 stations pulled the plug on analog on or before Feb. 17. Of the remainder, 927 stations have said they would keep the analog light burning until the June 12 hard date, while 158 said they wanted to go early.

Of those 158, the vast majority simply had to self-certify that they were either not a Big Four network affiliate or that if they were, there would still be analog service from another CBS, ABC, Fox or NBC affiliate through June 12. They also had to certify that that they reach at least 90% of their market. In that case, they pretty much given the green light to transition between April 16 and June 12, without the FCC having to weigh in.

A handful of noncommercial stations also got waivers to pull the plug before April 16, which is the earliest the FCC said they could start pulling the plug again after the Feb. 17 date.

Then there were the four hardship cases. The two stations receiving the waivers were Reiten Television's KXMB-TV, tghe CBS affiliate in Bismarck-Dickinson, N.D. to end analog on May 28. The station said it needed to cannibalize its analog transmitter to allow it to repurpose them in the digital equipment for a pair of its satellite stations, with which it is able to reach its sparsely populated market.

The other station was Hoak Media's KAUZ-TV in Wichita Falls, also CBS, which got to pull the plug May 21. Hoak had argued that it was necessary so it could move its DTV antenna to the top of its tower mast, currently occupied by the analog antenna.

John Eggerton
John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.