KTBS Preps for HD Transition

As part of an ambitious project expand its HD productions, Shreveport, La., stations KTBS and KPXJ have started to upgrade their master control operations, a process they hope to complete sometime this summer. The stations will then begin to upgrade production services and eventually launch an HD local newscast.

“We’ve been transmitting the HD signal from our network for four years,” said general manager George Sirven. “We did that early on and we always knew that the next phase would be to take the heart and soul of these stations and prepare for full HD.”

Sirven and chief engineer Dale Cassidy said the first phase of the transition will be the upgrade of the switchers and master control area, a process that will be completed late this summer. For that project, they will be working with Utah Scientific on their master control and have acquired SeaChange’s Broadcast MediaLibrary/MediaClient digital video platform. Designed to support a wide range of automation systems, the SeaChange platform is working in conjunction with KTBS’s existing Sundance equipment.

Once the master control area is upgraded, the station will begin broadcasting in 16 by 9, Sirven said.

Timetables for the next two phases -- the upgrade of their production facilities and then the launch of a local newscast in HD -- are still somewhat fuzzy but those moves will most likely take place in 2009.

The ABC affiliate KTBS is locally owned by KTBS Inc. It operates CW affiliate KPXJ under a joint services and time brokerage agreement, Sirven said.

The move to HD by a locally owned station that doesn’t have the resources of a large broadcasting station group can be challenging, both in terms of costs and demands it places on their staff, but it also has made it easier for the station to quickly embrace newer technologies.

“It is a very significant investment, on top of the very significant investment we’ve already made in transmitters and towers to prepare for HD,” Sirven said. “But we are locally owned and operated and the owners have always believed in investing back in this area. We’ve been the first to provide many new technologies and innovations in the market and we felt it was important to continue to set the standard in terms of new technologies when it comes to HD.”

Cassidy adds that KTBS has been planning for the digital switchover in February of 2009 for some time, and its plant is already fully digital. “That has been a big help,” in the transition to HD, he said.

And, KPXJ, which is operated under a joint services agreement, has already made the transition, Two years ago “we turned off the analog signal for KPXJ and we’ve learned a lot from that,” Sirven added.

Still, keeping on up to date on rapidly changing technologies can be overwhelming. “The pace of technological change can be daunting,” Cassidy said. “I was at IBM for 13 years and I thought the pace of change in the computer industry was fast. Now I see it is nothing like broadcasting.”

That has made longstanding relations with vendors that have provided excellent service particularly important.

Sirven said the relationship with SeaChange began in the late 1990s, when KTBS was handling ad sales for the local Comcast cable system, which was using SeaChange ad insertion equipment.

Pleased with that product, the stations turned to SeaChange for broadcast automation equipment in 2002. “They’ve been very supportive,” said Cassidy, who added that choosing their Broadcast MediaLibrary/MediaClient was a logical extension of what “has been a very good relationship.”