Tuesday, April 30, 2002

Local channels deep into digital

By John Kiesewetter, jkiesewetter@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Change is in the air, though few have noticed.

        Four of Cincinnati's five full-power TV stations have met the federal goverment's Wednesday deadline for broadcasting a digital TV signal.

        Actually, WKRC-TV (Channel 12), WCPO-TV (Channel 9), WLWT-TV (Channel 5) and WXIX-TV (Channel 19) have been broadcasting a digital signal for 2 1/2 years. The Federal Communications Commission deadline for Cincinnati commercial stations was Nov. 1, 1999.

   St. Elsewhere veterans Ed Begley Jr., William Daniels, Stephen Furst and Eric Laneuville check into Scrubs after getting sick at a medical convention (9:30 p.m., Channels 5, 22).
        Only WB affiliate WSTR-TV (Channel 64) has no digital capability. Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns Channel 64, has applied for an extension.

        “We expect to be on the air by November,'' says Harvey Arnold, Sinclair corporate communications officer.

        WCET-TV (Channel 48), and all PBS stations, have another year to launch digital service.

        “We'll be on the air with a digital signal by next year. I don't see any problems,” says Jack Dominic, Channel 48 executive vice president and chief operating officer.

        Covington's WCNV-TV (Channel 54), part of the statewide Kentucky Educational Television network, began digital service in January.

        Commercial stations are required to broadcast in both formats — today's “analog” signal and digital — for four years.

        The FCC wants broadcasters to convert completely to digital TV by May 1, 2006. However, some believe that deadline will not be enforced, because sales of digital sets and converter boxes have been very slow.

        TV stations won't pull the plug on their 50-year-old analog TV format until at least 85 percent of the nation is digital ready, according to the FCC.

        Leon Brown, Channel 12 chief engineer, says “somewhere between 3,000 and 10,000 digital sets” have been sold in the Tristate. “We get many conflicting reports,” he says.

        Mr. Arnold says that figure sounds high. “I would be surprised if it was more than 1,000,” he says. Some people have bought big-screen sets that are “digital ready,”but they aren't capable of picking up a DTV signal out of the air without a converter, he says.

        Mr. Arnold predicts the digital revolution will take longer than four years. “I cannot see that 85 percent of the country will convert by 2006, based on what we're seeing now,” he says.

        Stay tuned.

        Kiese-watching: Being the son of a U.S. Army veteran who was entertained by Bob Hope during World War II, I eagerly awaited Bob Hope's Funniest Out-Takes (8 p.m. today, Channels 5, 22). Was I ever disappointed.

        This Bob Hope special is painful for his loyal fans, who want to remember the good times. All they'll see are his flubs and screw-ups.

        Some of the bleeps are pretty crude for 8 p.m. — jokes about the middle finger, and Mr. Hope saying that Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson had won the “hymen trophy.” It's not a show for young viewers. (Is this the way producer Linda Hope, the comedian's daughter, wants her father remembered?)

        His longtime fans will enjoy seeing his Hollywood A-list of guest stars: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, Johnny Carson, Tom Selleck, George Burns, Ethel Merman, Milton Berle, Don Rickles and dozens more. But the nostalgia factor is far greater than the laugh factor. Were these really the “funniest” out-takes?

        Sweeps stuff: Too much good stuff today, so put a few shows on tape to watch in June:

        • JAG: Harm (David James Elliott) and Mac (Catherine Bell) prosecute an al-Qaida leader in a military tribunal for the Sept. 11 attacks (8 p.m., Channels 12, 7).

        • Dharma & Greg ends the season with Dharma (Jenna Elfman) telling Greg (Thomas Gibson) she may not want to have children after going on vacation with their parents in two episodes (8-9 p.m., Channels 9, 2).

        • Spin City concludes for the year with Caitlin (Heather Locklear) and Charlie (Charlie Sheen) making whoopee in the mayor's office in the second of back-to-back episodes (9-10 p.m., Channels 9, 2).

        • Frontier House (9-11 p.m., Channels 48, 54, 16) continues with Kristen's arrival to marry Nate Brooks in an 1883 wedding, and the families struggling to keep food on the table (which prompts the Clune family to break the rules).

        • NYPD Blue moves back to 10 p.m. for at least a month (Channels 9, 2).

        • Jay Leno celebrates 10 years as The Tonight Show host with his first prime-time special (10 p.m., Channels 5, 22).

        • Fox's 24, pre-empted by That '70s Show, resumes next Tuesday.

       E-mail: jkiesewetter@enquirer.com


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