Interview Digital transition Expert – Mike Kanarek
Last week I went on a rant about delaying the Digital transition. This week I am interviewing WKYT’s resident expert on the Digital Transition, Mike Kanarek. Mike happened to read my blog post from last week and he corrected some on the language I used so I thought why not lay it all out on the table and talk about what our viewers are facing. As most of you know the digital transition has been delayed until June 12th.
I call Mike the expert because he has been at WKYT for over 30 years and he has seen this station transition through many phases and the biggest being the upcoming digital transition. His responsibilities include educating the public and our viewers about the digital transition along with ensuring we comply with all the rules Big Brother the FCC is requiring us to do to make sure we get the message out that the transition is coming. Mike has spoken at many venues about the transition as well as answering many emails and calls from our viewers. With that said let’s get started with the first question:
1) Now that the transition has been delayed what is the biggest challenge for WKYT?
WKYT will remain on the air with our analog signal until April 13th, at which time we will discontinue broadcasting with our analog transmitter. Because some of the Lexington stations will be turning off their analog transmitters on February 17th, the original transition date, and others will be remaining on, it will cause an increased educational effort to make sure all the viewers are aware of what is happening and how the change will affect them.
2) What’s the biggest challenge for our viewers?
For our viewers who have are on cable or satellite, they will not have to worry about which stations are making the transition on February 17th and which are not. The cable or satellite provider will make sure they continue to receive all of the local stations. For viewers who watch the Lexington stations over the air and have either a digital converter or a digital receiver in their television, and are already watching our digital programming, they will not need to make any changes. Our challenge is to make sure that the people who do not receive our digital programming know that they will not have until June 12th to get the digital converter boxes to be able to continue to watch WKYT. There will be mixed messages on the various television stations as to when which station will be making the transition.
3) Why are some stations on UHF and others on VHF?
When the FCC assigned all the new digital channels 5-6 years ago, they assigned them based on the projected interference that each station might have on adjoining markets and possible signal overlaps. The FCC tried to minimize potential interference as much as possible and therefore assigned channels and moved stations to channels that, in many cases, were completely different than in the past. Because there were other stations on channel 27 in nearby states, WKYT was assigned a VHF channel that would not pose any interference problems. Lexington is now a “mixed” market with both UHF and VHF stations. That same scenario has unfolded in many other markets across the nation.
4) We have had many discussions about our viewers getting the right antenna, can you expand on that?
For more than 60 years, Lexington has always been a UHF market. All of the stations broadcast their analog signals in the UHF band. Since WKYT is now broadcasting our digital signal in the VHF band, the older UHF only antennas that have always worked in this market will not pick up VHF stations. In order to receive all of the Lexington stations, it will be necessary to have an antenna that is designed to receive both UHF and VHF channels. Also, because digital signals appear to be more susceptible to interference, such as buildings, terrain, and sometimes even trees, it might be necessary to get an amplified antenna that will help boost the signal.
5) How many people in our viewing area going to be effected by the digital transition? What is the percentage of viewers without cable or satellite?
It is estimated that between 10% and 12% or the households in the Lexington market only receive an over the air signal. They do not use or have access to either cable or satellite. One thing to keep in mind is that many homes have satellite or cable that is connected to 1 or 2 or the televisions in their home, but they may have an older television in a guest bedroom, a home office, or a workshop, that is not connected to satellite or cable. Those televisions will need to have a digital converter box in order to continue to receive the Lexington stations. There is really no way to estimate how many of those types of televisions are in the market.
6) What are your thoughts on the delay?
I have mixed feelings about the delay. On one side, the delay will give us additional time to continue to educate our viewers about the need for the proper antenna to pick up our VHF signal. On the other side, I think it will just give some people to feeling that they now have more time to prepare, and the urgency for them to get prepared no longer exists. No matter how far down the road the transition is pushed, those people will always wait until the last minute to prepare for it.
7) Since you have been in this industry as long as you have, give me your thoughts on what the digital transition means to you and why it’s important to transition over to digital;
I think the most important thing about the transition to digital television is the improved picture and sound that is available to our viewers, not to mention the increased number of programming choices that the viewers will have. With digital television, WKYT is able to actually provide 3 separate program streams for our viewers. This is known as Multicasting. Channel 27.1 is our regular WKYT and CBS programming, but much of it is in High Definition. Channel 27.2 is our CWkyt channel. That channel provides programming from The CW Network as well as some of our viewer’s favorite syndicated shows. In addition, we broadcast a lot of University of Kentucky sports on that channel, such as UK baseball, volleyball, and women’s basketball. Often when there is a conflict between the NCAA football or basketball games that are being broadcast by CBS and Raycom Sports at the same time, we are able to put the games on both channels allowing our viewers to watch the game that is of the most interest to them. Prior to digital television, that would not have been possible. We also broadcast several local and regional high school football and basketball games each season on CWkyt. Channel 27.3 is our Doppler radar which is on that channel 24 hours a day so people can check to see when rain is moving into their area.
8) What questions do you get most via email and phone from our viewers?
The main question that I get almost every day is “why can’t I get channel 27’s digital signal….I can get all the other stations…?” The reason for this, as mentioned above, is the fact that WKYT broadcasts its digital signal in the VHF channel band, and most people are still trying to use an older, non-amplified, UHF antenna which is fine for the UHF channels. A lot of times it turns out that the caller does have a UHF/VHF capable antenna, but they live too far away to be able to use an indoor antenna. For some people, the only way they will be able to receive WKYT’s digital signal is with an outdoor antenna. During the “analog days” of television people got used to watching a picture that might have been a little “snowy” or had “wavy” lines. Those problems were usually caused by a weak signal, but television was still able to produce a picture, although it might not have been the greatest. People would just say “…that’s the way that station comes in”. With digital television there is no such thing as a “snowy” picture. If the signal is too weak to produce a crystal clear picture, then there is no picture at all. There is no such thing as a “snowy” digital picture. So, in the past when a viewer lived in a marginal signal area and got a snowy picture, they are now not able to get any picture. That is why they will very often need to install an outdoor amplified antenna to be able to get WKYT.
9) Looking back at the buildup to the digital transition if you could change anything, what would it be?
In a perfect world, I would have allowed all stations to remain on the same channel in the digital world as they were on in the analog world. This would have eliminated much of the confusion the viewers are experiencing and it would have eliminated the antenna issues that stations changing from UHF to VHF and vice versa are facing with their viewers. I would have also made the converter boxes available to consumers much earlier than barely a year before the transition, and I would have made television manufactures start putting digital receivers in all new televisions more than 3 years ago. This would have eliminated a lot of the “last minute” confusion that viewers are going through.
10.) Do you have any parting thoughts you would like to leave our viewers with?
Viewers should understand that this is a brand new digital world and that television broadcasters don’t completely understand everything about digital broadcasting either. The FCC rushed to get into the digital television world, and although there are a lot of benefits to digital, there are still a lot of unknowns because of the lack of thorough testing before implementing it. Viewers should bear with broadcaster as we all try to work out some of the kinks. In the end, we will all be much better off with digital television and all it will have to offer.
If you have any questions for Mike you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear your thoughts.