As broadcasters nationwide make the transition from analog to digital, a local FOX affiliate will be soon be available to residents in southcentral Kentucky, now that WBKO-TV is launching WBKO-FOX, a digital broadcast station available on channel DT13-2.
WBKO-TV, which has the local ABC franchise, will be able to add FOX by dividing up the bandwidth in its digital signal, according to Rick McCue, general manager of WBKO. WBKO will continue to air ABC programming on broadcast channel 13 and Insight cable channel 9.
WBKO courted representatives with the FOX network about six months ago, McCue said.
McCue said a contractual agreement was later signed granting WBKO-TV permission to carry FOX programming.
April 3 was the target date for the signal to be sent out, but winter weather has slowed down engineers working to connect the transmitter to the antenna of WBKO's 600-foot tower. McCue doesn't expect the station to meet its target date, but says WBKO should start sending out its FOX digital signal sometime in April.
The channel will require a digital TV that can receive a digital signal with an antenna.
The Federal Communications Commission requires all TV stations to give back their analog signal and start sending out all-digital broadcast signals by Feb. 17, 2009.
McCue said the new signal is an opportunity to provide additional programming from a national network as well as more ways to provide local programs, pubic affairs shows and public service announcements.
Although the venture will generate more revenue for the station, McCue said carrying the FOX signal will give WBKO another way to serve the community.
McCue said there are about 12 cable systems representing the 18 counties currently reached by its analog signal, but most are probably with Insight Communications.
Anyone who is part of the Insight cable system will be able to receive the channel, McCue said.
WBKO and Insight are in negotiations over channel exclusivity and whether the Nashville FOX affiliate, WZTV, will be carried or dropped with the addition of WBKO's digital signal.
Rick Williams, general manager of Insight Communications in Bowling Green, says there is a chance that Insight could carry both FOX signals, but Williams said that is unlikely because of limited bandwidth space.
“Bowling Green residents would get a better signal from a local broadcaster than someone 70 miles away,” Williams said. “Insight wants to offer the programs that our customers want to see.”
Williams said the FCC gives a local station in a designated TV market the power to decide to be what is called a must-carry station with a local cable company, meaning the station wants the cable company to carry its station. Once the station decides it wants the cable company to carry its signal, the station must sign a retransmission consent contract, giving the cable company permission to carry the station's signal.
McCue says the new WBKO-FOX DT-12 will have FOX's national programming along with local weather cut-ins, severe weather updates, and its own midday show from noon to 1 p.m. that will house a news segment. But McCue said he doesn't plan on producing a separate newscast for WBKO's FOX channel until 2007. McCue said the newscast will probably have a different set and editorial content than WBKO's current news broadcast.
Most consumers will have to buy converters that will turn an analog signal into a digital signal if they want to get any TV signals after broadcasters make the transition.
There will be programs that offer funds for those who can't afford to purchase converters, McCue said.
The digital TV transition bill President Bush signed into law Feb. 8 includes up to $1.5 billion in funding to provide two $40 vouchers per household to use toward the purchase of digital-to-analog set-top converter boxes.
Williams expects the price of the converters to decrease over time.
“It's hard to say what the price will be in 2009,” Williams said.
Insight currently offers converters, available on a monthly lease, ranging from $3 to $13, depending on the type of equipment people prefer. Williams said the converters also are available at Best Buy or hhgregg stores.