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Open Mike

Wake-Up Calls

Editor: Isabel came calling last week and left a clear message behind. The message: a wireless, free and robust television service is a critical part of a public safety system. Today our ubiquitous local analog television stations provide that service. It works because its signals can be received in most locations by using a small, simple antenna indoors. A million people in hundreds of thousands of homes could learn from their battery-operated or generator-powered TV set what was going on both during the storm and for days afterwards.

The widespread failure of the cable system and its slow return to service demonstrates the fragile nature of such a system. The cable system cannot be relied upon to serve the public during a widespread emergency. That is one wake-up call.

The FCC and Congress continue to press for the early elimination of the analog TV service and its replacement with a digital system. Unfortunately, the current state of the art in over-the-air digital transmission has not yet reached the level where it replicates the ease of reception of an analog signal. Specifically, the reception of the ATSC digital service using a simple indoor antenna can generally be ruled out as impractical with today's technology.

If we had had only the digital TV service in place during Isabel's visit, most families in the disaster area would have been in the dark as far as visual information is concerned. Therefore, the second wake-up call is that Congress and the FCC need to focus on making DTV reception as easy as analog before mandating any turn-off of today's analog system. Anything less would mean leaving many Americans in the dark during a widespread emergency.

Nat Ostroff, vice president, new technology, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Baltimore

Lauding TV Stations

Editor: In his Washington Post review of the 2003 Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon, top TV critic Tom Shales called it "one of the greatest shows on Earth," crediting as its hero "one of the greatest American-born clowns ever."

I'd like to credit some unsung heroes whose support was also essential to the all-time record success of the Telethon: the owners and managers of the some 200 public-spirited TV stations that constitute the most powerful ad hoc network in television history.

Their dedication to community service is the bedrock of the greatest single demonstration of the power of television to serve humanitarian ends.

Robert Ross, president and Telethon, executive producer, Muscular Dystrophy Association