OKLAHOMA public television faces technology upgrades

Monday, July 30th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma's public television network is working toward a federally imposed deadline to upgrade its technology so it does not risk losing its broadcast license.

The state Legislature's delay in funding the technology changes has put Oklahoma Education Television Authority in a time crunch.

``It is an engineering and technical challenge the likes of which we have never encountered,'' said OETA Executive Director Malcom Wall.

The Legislature appropriated $5.6 million this spring for the OETA to install and operate digital broadcasting equipment. The state appropriation was matched by a $5.6 million donation from the OETA Foundation.

The investment will payoff with crystal-clear, high-definition television broadcasts and movie-quality sound. The network also will have the ability to simultaneously air four different channels and deliver information that can be downloaded from television sets into personal computers, Wall said.

The Federal Communications Commission began in 1996 to set guidelines for the eventual transition of the entire television broadcasting industry from analog to digital signals. Broadcasting bandwidths were allotted to television stations to make the change.

The FCC set a May 1, 2003, deadline for all public television networks to begin digital broadcasts. Oklahoma was one of the last states to fund the changes, Wall said.

Stations that fail to meet the deadlines could risk losing their broadcast licenses, he said.

OETA officials began asking lawmakers three years ago for digital funding.

``We have no option,'' he said.

``Would we have done it this way if we had had our choices? Absolutely not. We are under enormous deadlines, but that has never fazed us before.''

He said there are only a handful of transmitter and antenna manufacturers in the country that are making the necessary equipment.

The FCC made 1,688 digital television broadcasting allotments across the nation and has granted construction permits to 1,090 stations. The manufacturing companies have increased production, but they might not be able to deliver the equipment to all of the stations in time.

Another problem is that the transmitters and antennas must be placed on tall transmission towers. Many of the present towers, which are 1,000 feet high or more, ``are maxed out in terms of their loading,'' Wall said.

In addition to the sheer weight of the equipment, factors such as wind and ice must be taken into account.

``A 1,600-foot tower is a very delicate, highly structured engineering masterpiece,'' Wall said. ``They do all kinds of studies to determine what you can hang on it and where so that it doesn't put the tower out of balance.''

The OETA broadcasts statewide from Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Eufaula and Cheyenne. The station in Tulsa is negotiating for space on a tower in Coweta. In Oklahoma City, the equipment will be put on a newly built tower.