Medford affiliates oppose digital delay

The much-anticipated changeover to digital television might be delayed by Capitol Hill lawmakers.

Nonetheless, several Rogue Valley network affiliates are pushing ahead with the transition as planned.

Despite months of relentless messages on and off the airwaves reminding viewers they would need special converter boxes to receive digital signals beginning Feb. 17, millions of viewers still have not bought the gear they'll need. Many broadcast stations are in a holding pattern, and Congress moved this week toward pushing the change to digital back to June 12.

Late Monday, the Senate unanimously approved a bill to delay the transition date, and the House was expected to act sometime today.

Although the transition from analog transmission has been scheduled for nearly a decade, 6.5 million households have yet to buy converters for their old sets, according to a Nielsen Co. survey. Cable and satellite viewers and owners of sets with digital tuners are not affected. Three of Medford's four major network affiliates indicated they would seek Federal Communications Commission approval to stay the course and change over on Feb. 17.

"Any delay confuses the public, delays the inevitable and increases our expenses," said Bob Wise, vice president and general manager of NBC affiliate KOBI in Medford, in an e-mail.

He said KOBI and its sister station in Klamath Falls are moving forward. So are KDRV and KMVU, but KTVL isn't quite ready to commit.

"The government mandated the transition to digital, and we are executing it," Wise said. "We are running announcements that explain to our viewers that we will have what the government is now calling an 'early transition.' We requested permission from the FCC to do so Feb. 17."

Although CBS affiliate KTVL is still weighing its options, Kingsley Kelley, vice president and general manager, said the long run-up to the transition has been grueling.

"Nothing about this digital transition has been easy," Kelley said. "For over a year we've been running a combination of graphics over our programming and announcements during commercial breaks to try to get the word to everyone who watches TV that this change is coming. We've also spent a lot of staff time presenting news stories and coverage, doing in-person talks in the community, and answering calls and e-mails. We think that's the best way to get the word out, and we'll keep doing all of that until after the changeover occurs — whenever that may be."

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration ran out of money in recent weeks for the $40 coupons to help viewers buy converters for analog TVs. That forced the NTIA to put 2 million people on its waiting list, prompting Democratic lawmakers to call for a delay. Republicans introduced a bill last week that would authorize $250 million to allow the NTIA to immediately begin distributing coupons.

"We have some viewers that might want a delay," Wise said. "Those viewers need to call us or e-mail us right away with their questions or concerns. Our engineers are ready to take their calls."

KOBI has scheduled an "Engineers On Call" special during its 6 p.m. newscast on Feb. 11. Viewers can call 541-779-5555 or e-mail:

KTVL's parent company, Freedom Communications, is taking a wait-and-see stance, Kelley said. "We want to see what the president signs into law and understand the full intent of it before we decide. At this point, we're leaning toward Feb. 17, but we're waiting to commit."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail

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