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Media Watch

KTTU Channel 18 Unintentionally Tests Digital Transfer

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Television stations have gone out of their way to make viewers aware of the February 2009 digital-transfer date, when analog television will become obsolete--but despite repeated efforts, some are apparently slow on the uptake.

Recently, KTTU Channel 18 lost its analog signal--and the station's phone operator lost a lot of time fielding calls from folks who missed their myNetworkTV.

"What's going on in our industry is that a lot of the equipment manufacturers are not supplying parts for analog, because, obviously, it's going away in February," said Tod Smith, general manager of Belo-owned KTTU and KMSB Channel 11. "We were in a situation where we had to identify what to do: Should we ... leave it off? We decided not to do that and found a work-around that helps.

"In a week's time, I think we fielded maybe 300 calls. After we went on for a solid week, there were no calls, so we felt like we answered the problem."

In effect, the mishap acted as a transition test, answering the question: How many people are not ready for analog TV to go away?

"It was interesting from the perspective of what will happen in February," Smith said. "Theoretically, the people who weren't receiving a signal from KTTU were those who are not ready or haven't made changes for the Feb. 17 date. A lot of people--I would say most of the people we talked to--were aware of ... the (transition) date and everything. We had a number of people who already had the converter boxes, but hadn't hooked them up.

It's probably safe to assume that the overwhelming majority of viewers will have the equipment necessary to handle the transition date flawlessly, although there will be small pockets of people who will have problems. People subscribing to cable TV will be unaffected, but antennas have been an issue in some cases, while glitches in operating the converter box have also caused problems.

"I'd encourage anybody who hasn't to start planning ahead for it," Smith said. "Don't wait until (February) 17."


JOURNAL STRUGGLES TO TAKE CONTROL OF KWBA

Speaking of technological issues: It hasn't exactly been smooth sailing at Journal Broadcast Group, which recently purchased KWBA Channel 58.

Journal, which also owns KGUN Channel 9, ran into some difficulties when attempting to operate the station's signal. It got to the point where Journal had to briefly relinquish operating duties back to the station's former owner, Cascade Broadcasting, based in Louisville, Ky.

"We've sold a station in the past, and operated it for months while the new owner prepared to bring it in-house. That's what we're doing with Journal," said Cascade CEO Carol LaFever. "They've undertaken a huge build-out, and to their credit, it's gone pretty quickly. I know they've had some huge challenges the last week or two."

Part of the problem is Journal's effort to house the operation of all its Tucson television and radio holdings in one building.

"The best-laid plans never happen 99 percent of the time," LaFever said. "Our company has done a number of layouts in the last five years, and you pray for the best and prepare for the worst. There's always some little thing that comes up. ... The biggest problem they had was communication from their studio to their transmitter site, as we tried to move the operation off of our tower and onto their tower. It's a huge project. My hat's off to them."

Journal declined to comment and had also nothing to say about rumored plans to replay KGUN's 6 p.m. weeknight newscast at 9 p.m. on KWBA. Journal could hire local talent for a stand-alone KWBA newscast by early 2009.


KVOA SPORTS DESK DOWN TO ONE

Citing a desire to change careers, KVOA Channel 4's No. 2 sports reporter, Jay Campbell, left the station Tuesday, Sept. 30.

"I got out of college and went right to work, and I just decided this is probably not something I see myself doing in 10 years," said Campbell. "I can't say I actually love it. It was one of those things I thought about, put some pros and cons down on paper, and thought, 'I want to do something that really makes me happy and that I'm passionate about.' Overall, it wasn't what I see myself doing."

Overall is what KVOA has--as in 4 p.m. news anchor John Overall, who will handle sports responsibilities on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

While KVOA will be just fine--Overall has a sports-broadcaster background and gives KVOA plenty of versatility--the real issue here is the direction of sports reporting in local news. Ryan Recker is now the only on-air KVOA talent exclusive to sports, the bastard child of the local newsroom.

Just last spring, KVOA had three sports reporters: Recker, Lacee Collins and Campbell. Collins took a job with Fox Sports in April, and KVOA took its time finding a replacement. The strategy to cut back a bit and buy some time during the slower summer months is understandable--but this is October. Collins should have been replaced in August, to gear up for UA football and high school football; KVOA's prep coverage pales in comparison to the other local stations.

The Campbell resignation clearly caught KVOA off-guard, and while KVOA says it hopes to name a replacement soon, the NBC affiliate has only itself to blame.

As it stands, KOLD has three sports reporters (one part-time) while KGUN has two.

How far away could local sports news be from a CNN Headline News-style approach, with on-air talent scrapped altogether in favor of an announcer voicing-over highlights?

After all, weather is a far more significant contributor to local news success than sports. That's the reason the viewer sees the weather personality in the first news block--while the sports reporter gets three minutes at the end of the newscast.

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