For those who thought that they had a reprieve until June to get ready for the switch to digital television, you might get lost trying to find Lost next week.
Congress voted last week to delay the digital TV requirement until June 12, but stations are allowed to turn off their old analog signal as early as the original switch over date of Feb. 17. That is exactly what ABC-affiliate WTVQ-36 in Lexington plans to do.
"We did not see any reason to delay," general manager Chris Aldridge said.
He said the station has "been shooting at this date for years."
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Beginning Tuesday, those viewing WTVQ in analog will see crawls five to 10 times an hour alerting them to the change on Feb. 17, Aldridge said.
But all other Central Kentucky stations will delay, citing reasons such as the growing waiting list of people hoping for government-subsidized coupons for digital converter boxes. The boxes are necessary for older televisions that aren't hooked up to cable or satellite TV.
CBS affiliate WKYT-27 won't make the switch until April 13 because a significant number of households in its viewing area are waiting for the converter box coupons, said Mike Kanarek, vice president of operations.
About 7,400 households are on the waiting list, Kanarek said. Of those, 3,215 get their television signal only over the air, meaning they won't be able to pick up any stations that switch before the households obtain converter boxes. There are about 500,000 households in the viewing area.
One of the complications in waiting to make the conversion is the cost to run an analog transmitter, which is $7,500 to $8,500 a month at WKYT, for example, in addition to the digital signal.
Most stations budgeted for that expense to end in mid-February because of the long-standing shut-off date for analog.
For KET, the transmission costs $15,000 a month. The public television network has been in a severe budget crunch as state funding for all sorts of agencies has been reduced, but it will continue the analog broadcast until April 15 to help viewers, spokesman Tim Bischoff said.
"People, especially in the western side of the state, are just getting back up on their feet from the power outages ..." he said. "They certainly haven't been thinking about TV reception in the past couple of weeks."
KET had expected the expense to end in February, so "we're going to have to be wise with our resources and manage our way through it," he said.
Another economic consequence of delaying the switch is the FCC's requirement that stations run educational announcements about the changeover, cutting into advertising time.
WKYT estimates that the public service announcements mean about $25,000 a month in lost revenue.
Fox affiliate WDKY-56 and NBC affiliate WLEX-18 are waiting until June 12 to drop their analog signal.
WLEX general manager Tim Gilbert said the station decided "to give the viewers the longest time possible."
"There's no downside to the viewer for us to stretch this out."
WKYT also is in a unique situation in that some viewers with UHF-only antennas have had trouble picking up the station since the Federal Communications Commission moved its digital channel from UHF to the VHF range.
That, plus the delay in the converter box coupons, prompted WKYT's decision to keep transmitting analog for at least 60 more days.
WDKY also is affected by the antenna issue. WDKY, like WKYT, was moved into the VHF range, but it recently won approval from the FCC to move back up to the UHF range, to digital channel 31.
Because of that, WDKY plans to hold off on its digital conversion until June 12, so it can alert viewers to the UHF channel change. The channel change should happen before June 12, said general manager Michael Brickey. Viewers will need to rescan their digital televisions or converter boxes to be able to pick up the new frequency.