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Filling in the digital gaps

It may happen only once in a lifetime for someone at Capitol Broadcasting Vice President John Greene Jr.'s level, but this year's NAB conference will be less about walking so much that he needs new soles for his shoes and more about discovering new ideas. "We're not really looking for much of anything," he says.

That's a shocking comment for someone whose station group has been a leader in the HDTV transition, but maybe that's the point.

"We spent a bundle last year doing the HD conversion," he says. "Our two Charlotte stations are lined up, and everything is ordered, so we'll make the May 1 deadline. I filed extensions just in case we have weather delays, but I don't think we'll need them."

So this year's NAB will be a bit of a well-earned break after last year's, which Greene best describes as "appointment after appointment and just run, run, run." This year, "we'll walk around, kick some tires and attend some sessions that we usually miss."

There are some odds and ends on his shopping list, including weather graphics. "We're always looking at graphics for HD use, like weather graphics."

He doesn't think the show will be less enjoyable without the added kick of looking for equipment to buy. "I like to walk around and see what's new. There might be things we'll see that we haven't thought about, and it's good to see where the industry is going. In fact," he suggests, "it might be more interesting. Last year, I never had a casual stroll around the exhibit halls."

Actually, Greene will have the leisure to focus on what many wish they could: making the existing product better.

For example, WRAL-TV Raleigh-Durham, N.C., is using its digital spectrum to broadcast a 24-hour news channel alongside its other digital services. The channel is also picked up on Time Warner's local digital cable system. In a few weeks, there will be another 24-hour news channel in town when Time Warner Cable flips the switch on its latest local-news network. And it will be carried on ch. 14, with WRAL-TV's bounced up to ch. 256.

The potential face-off has Greene, WRAL-TV and Capitol gearing up to maintain their reputation as the leader in local news.

"We have the news name and news leadership," Greene says. "The great thing is, because it's a separate entity, we can break away for stories that are interesting enough for intense local interest."

Any products that help improve the quality of local news coverage will no doubt be of interest.

Last year, he spent much of his time at NAB looking for HDTV gear with NTSC functionality, especially in the graphics area. Those needs have been met.

"Now you can find almost anything that you need for HD," he says. "Eighteen months ago, we were still pushing for graphics equipment. But you can find everything now, and the prices have come down."

There is little doubt that Capitol Broadcasting is on a hunt to come up with the winning DTV business model first. Its DTV Plus service has the group involved in datacasting. WRAL-DT, for example, crams its DTV spectrum with as much programming as it can.

Vice President of Engineering Tom Beauchamp also is looking forward to a fairly shopping-free NAB. He will focus on future technology and asset management.

"We're in the process of trying to originate everything in 1080i and downconvert the whole signal," he explains.

"The only thing holding us back right now," he continues, "is commercials. We've even offered to do them for free so our advertisers can see the visual benefit, even when the HD signal is converted to SD, but there is a reluctance to change from what they've always known."