PTFP helps public TV stations go digital, piece by piece
Originally published in Current, Oct. 12, 1998
By Steve Behrens
Pubcasting's major source of equipment subsidy, the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program (PTFP), is spending nearly two-thirds of its fiscal-year 1998 purse on equipment that can be used for digital TV. But major DTV money went to only a few stations moving rapidly to activate digital channels, including KCTS in Seattle, KQED in San Francisco and KERA in Dallas.
PTFP is helping stations acquire DTV equipment piece by piece as old gear is replaced, said Dennis Connors, director of the program, but doesn't have enough money to underwrite the wholesale conversion of the public TV system.
The grants, announced Sept. 30 by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), will also help put more than 453,000 people in range of public radio, adding transmitters in California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, Nevada, Ohio and Utah.
Radio Bilingue, a chain of five Hispanic-audience stations based in Fresno, Calif., received a planning grant for its first out-of-state outlet, in southwestern Texas. Hugo Morales, executive director, said he'd prefer to see a local initiative and had tried to encourage one in the low-income triangle between Laredo, San Antonio and El Paso, but finally had to begin work to acquire a frequency.
Three stations got help recovering from severe damage to their facilities. This year's largest grant, $978,033, will assist Mississippi ETV in erecting a tower in Jackson, replacing a rented tower that collapsed last October. PTFP also okayed small grants to help restore full service at KBSA-FM, the storm-damaged El Dorado, Ark., repeater of KDAQ-FM, Sheveport, La., and to replace the ice-storm-damaged antenna of KBSU-FM in Boise, Idaho.
Two grants assist consolidation projects in Colorado, where Denver's KRMA has taken over operation of Pueblo's KTSC and will share master-control facilities with the other Denver station, KBDI. PTFP awarded $360,000 to KBDI, for the automated master control system that would serve both Denver stations (story, page 1), and $125,014 to KRMA, for a two-way microwave link with Pueblo.
Some $12.5 million of PTFP's total $19.5 million outlays went to equipment that's DTV-ready or DTV-compatible, but much of that is the usual replacement of obsolete or decaying cameras, recorders and control-room equipment, which won't directly put any DTV stations on the air.
Several large grants cover half the cost of certain DTV equipment for big-city stations that are moving quickly to start their DTV service:
$967,400 to KCTS, Seattle, for conversion of its microwave link to carry both its analog and DTV feeds to the transmitter site, purchase of encoders, combiner and spliter, antenna and transmission line;
$850,176 to KQED, San Francisco, for transmitter, STL, compression and multiplexing system and master control switcher, completing the station's digital conversion; and
$475,487 to KERA, Dallas, for a new analog antenna and part of the cost of a new DTV antenna that will be shared with a commercial broadcaster.
Also, KPBS in San Diego, received $475,152 for a new tower and DTV antenna; Maryland PTV got $300,000 for digital master control equipment, including tape machines and a audio/video server; and WETA, Washington, won $156,250 for a DTV encoder for testing of DTV multicasting on its experimental station.
Houston public radio station KUHF-FM is getting help with a DTV-related project: buying a new transmitter and related equipment for its move to a new tower. The owner of KUHF's present tower is displacing the radio station to add DTV transmission.
Extending pubradio's reach
Forty-seven grants went to public radio stations, including six that would put new stations and repeaters on the air: in Manahawkin, N.J., north of Atlantic City (New Jersey Public Radio, Trenton); in Defiance, Ohio (WGTE-FM, Toledo); in Lund, Nev., with a translator in Ely, Nev. (KNPR-FM, Las Vegas); in western Oklahoma (KGOU, Norman); in Leonardtown, Md. (WETA-FM, Washington); and on the island of Kauai, Hawaii (a booster station for KAQA-FM, Princeville).
Smaller planning grants were awarded for new radio stations in Round Valley, Calif., (Round Valley Unified School District, Covelo, Calif.); on the Yakama Reservation, Wash. (Yakama Indian Nation, Toppenish, Wash.); and in Lame Deer, Mont. (Northern Cheyenne Tribe), as well as the Radio Bilinque outlet in Texas.
PTFP also awarded grants to activate translators for existing stations in these areas: Santa Rosa, Calif. (KRCB-FM, Rohnert Park); three Outer Banks towns in North Carolina, Manteo, Buxton and Waves (WUNC-FM, Chapel Hill); Vernal/Uintah, Utah (KUSU-FM, Logan); and Ashland, Wis. (Wisconsin Public Radio, Madison).
PTFP also approved a dozen grants to schools and universities to start or expand distance-learning networks. Large grants will help equip a new 13-site distance-learning system based at California State University, Fresno ($594,936); extend the Kern Educational Telecommunications Consortium microwave system based at Bakersfield, Calif. ($579,540); establish Montrose (S.D.) School District's system interconnecting 10 rural high schools and the state's Rural Development Telecommunications Network ($565,653); start a 14-site system based at the St. Clair County Intermediate School District (Port Huron, Mich.); and extend the Northern Arizona University Network to three new sites ($434,715).
A pubcasting licensee, Wisconsin Educational Communications Board, received a $55,452 distance-learning planning grant to study the best way to deliver ITV material to classrooms on-demand.
To Current's home page
Earlier news: States reward some other pubcasters making early plans for DTV transition.
Current Briefing on public TV's digital transition.
Outside link: NTIA's web site, including full list of PTFP grantees.
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