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Making The Switch

St. Louis' Gannett-owned local affiliate KSDK upgrades its technology to become one of the first stations to broadcast local news telecasts in high definition.

This, of course, all had to be completed without affecting the SD newscasts that were taking place while the build-out was taking place. The fact that the signal was never affected is a source of pride for Hummert.

“Obviously, when you're wiring up a new router and you're making a lot of infrastructure changes, the chances of some cable getting misplaced or unplugged greatly increases,” he says. “You're in areas of your building or your racks that you don't get into unless there's a serious problem.”

The hardest part, Hummert says, was the day of the switch. Because he had to maintain the old system until the 6 p.m. news wrapped — the switch would take place for the 10 p.m. broadcast — he took his Philips DD-35 analog production switcher out of its position and put it on a cart modified to hold it. The new Sony switcher was installed in the control room two days before the switch to high-definition was made. The analog switcher was then rolled behind the new switcher.

“So in our control room, we had two switchers,” Hummert says. “We had the hi-def switcher where it was going to go live and where it is right now, and we had our old switcher positioned directly behind it. And then at 6:30 — literally as soon as the 6:00 news was over — we disconnected and carried out the old switcher, and then we had to start wiring up all of the camera tallies to the new switcher and be ready for the 10:00 news.”

It went off without a hitch. The project was responsible for depriving Hummert of plenty of sleep — and more than a few weekends, but as far as the station was concerned, the time investment was well worth it.

“We felt it was important to be first,” says Jeff Winget, KSDK's public relations manager. “I think being second in something like this doesn't quite cut it. We were the first in color and the first in stereo. That's important to us as a station. We wanted to lead the way, and I'll be darned if we weren't one of the first in the country to do it.”

THE DTV TRANSITION

Of course, HDTV wouldn't be possible without DTV. Congress' original deadline for the analog-to-digital-television-transition was the end of 2006, but hardware delays (particularly the set-top boxes that would allow homeowners with analog sets to downconvert a DTV signal to analog) have made that deadline unattainable. The new deadline, which was set by Congress last February, is Feb. 17, 2009.

Delays in the transition have little effect on end-users or the television stations themselves; each station was allotted an additional broadcast channel for simultaneously transmitting analog and DTV signals. Public safety operations are feeling the pinch, as they wait for the additional spectrum to be freed up.

As of March, 887 stations had converted to DTV. KSDK converted in 1999 — yet another example of the station operating well ahead of the curve.

Greg Matthews is a freelance writer based in Kansas City, MO. He can be reached at gmatthewswriter@hotmail.com.



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