February 1, 2009 in Features

Spokane TV stations ready to switch to digital

Jim Kershner
 

You can bet your rabbit ears on it – Spokane TV stations still intend to go digital on Feb. 17.

“We’re ready,” said Patricia McRae, president and general manager of KHQ-6.

“Most of the public is prepared now,” said Tim Anderson, director of engineering at the KXLY Broadcast Group.

Even if the bill allowing stations the option to delay until June had passed Congress last week – which it didn’t – the Spokane stations still intended to stick to that Feb. 17 date.

“Going digital” is a misnomer, because every station in Spokane is already broadcasting digitally. In fact, KXLY-4 has been broadcasting digitally since 1999 – the first in the region.

Each station is sending out both broadcast signals, the old analog signal and the new digital signal.

So it would be more accurate to say: They’ll all switch off their analog signals on Feb. 17.

The consensus among Spokane broadcasters is that this market needs no deadline extension. Anderson said KXLY has been conducting periodic tests called “analog road blocks,” in which the analog signal is switched off briefly. Then a message appears on the screen asking people to call if they are not receiving the picture.

The number of calls has dropped off considerably, which tells Anderson that the public is “very, very close to ready.”

Remember, this affects only a small percentage of the Spokane TV market. Between 83 and 85 percent of area households are on cable or satellite, which means they are unaffected by the changeover.

And among those who still are getting their signals over the air via antenna, McRae estimated that 90 percent of them are ready.

Switching on Feb. 17 will save the TV stations money. It would cost plenty of extra electricity to keep both the analog and digital towers powered up into June.

Yet the broadcasters say the main reason they want to make the switch as scheduled is to avoid confusion. McRae said her station has spent lots of money and lots of time – as required by law – promoting that Feb. 17 date.

Congress intends to revisit the issue this week. Stay tuned.

A new digital station

When viewers do make the switch, they’ll discover that stations now have the capacity to add additional programming “streams” – as in, auxiliary channels.

Here’s one that launches Monday: KAYUDT2, “THIS Spokane TV,” on digital channel 28-2.

This is an extra stream from the local Fox affiliate, KAYU-28. It will feature classic movies from MGM’s THIS-TV service as well as shows like “Green Acres” and “Flipper.”

A Stilson Sundance winner

The Chris Rock-narrated documentary “Good Hair” won a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival last week.

It explores the significance of hair in African-American women’s culture. According to reviews out of Sundance, it is funny, entertaining and surprisingly informative.

We have special reason to be proud of it in Spokane. The director is our own Jeff Stilson, Ferris High School grad.

Stilson has been one of Spokane’s most successful show biz products. He has been a stand-up comic, a writer for Rock and David Letterman, and a producer of hit shows including “The Daily Show,” “The Osbournes” and “Da Ali G Show.”

And now he can add Sundance-award-winning director to that resume.

Play Mitzi for me

Talk about a classic American entertainer: Mitzi Gaynor is coming to the Northern Quest Casino at 3 p.m. on Feb. 17.

She calls her show “Razzle Dazzle: My Life Behind the Sequins.” It’ll be a retrospective of her career all the way back to the 1950s, including her famous starring role in “South Pacific,” as Nurse Forbush.

Tickets are $30 and $40, through TicketsWest outlets (509-325-SEAT, 800-325-SEAT, www.ticketswest.com).

Jazz master Goines

Victor Goines and his quintet will headline the 26th Spokane Falls Community College Jazz Festival, Saturday, 8 p.m. at SFCC’s Music Building Auditorium.

Goines is a phenomenal saxophonist who cut his teeth in New Orleans with Ellis Marsalis. He is a member of the Wynton Marsalis Septet and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, also led by Wynton Marsalis.

He and his quintet will be joined by the SFCC Jazz Ensemble, led by Dave Wakeley, and the SFCC African Drum Ensemble, led by Marty Zyskowski.

Tickets are $18 for adults, $15 for students and seniors, available in advance through TicketsWest outlets. Tickets will be an extra $3 at the door.

Piano bash

You want to hear a lot of piano? As in, 300 fingers’ worth?

Head down to the Piano Bash at the University of Idaho’s Lionel Hampton School of Music Recital Hall, Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 4:30 p.m.

Some 30 pianists will be playing in this fun, family concert that includes a lot of interactive fun. For instance, the audience can march with the “soldiers” from the “Nutcracker Suite.”

Tickets are $3 for students, $5 for adults and $12 for families, available at the door.

KHTQ rules

For the second quarter in a row, KHTQ-FM (Rock 94 1/2) stands atop the Arbitron radio rankings.

The station has forged to No. 1 with a strong morning show, featuring GA and JP, and a diet of hard rock.

The big surprise in this quarter’s ratings: KQNT-AM (NewsTalk 590), also known as the Rush Limbaugh station, is No. 2.

That’s unprecedented for an AM station, and can probably be attributed to the high interest in political talk leading up to the November elections.

Jim Kershner can be reached at (509) 459-5493 or by e-mail at jimk@spokesman.com.


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