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  • February 10, 2003
    WOUB makes switch to digital broadcast
    By Aaron Reincheld

    The future is at hand and it's clear and in high definition. WOUB-TV is bringing digital television to Athens.

    "You can see the wrinkles in the face; fine details, such as hair, it has such good resolution," says David Wiseman, associate director for technology at WOUB, with an eager laugh.

    Quote Within a few weeks, WOUB will put out a test signal and anyone with a digital tuner will be able to see why Wiseman's excited. In the next few years, Ohio University's two public television stations will only broadcast in digital on channel 27 in Athens and channel 44 in Cambridge.

    The "new" channels will broadcast high-quality versions of "Sesame Street," "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" and other PBS programming to 1.4 million potential viewers in southeastern Ohio and western West Virginia.

    But the switch to digital will also allow stations to broadcast multiple programs on one digital signal. That means in addition to the traditional PBS programming, viewers of WOUB could see a broadcast schedule full of children's series, continuing-education programs or nothing but news as secondary programming.

    "From a service standpoint, this is a tremendous opportunity for the University," says Doug Partusch, WOUB director of development and communications. "Our challenge is coming up with innovative ways to use the technology that is now available."

    WOUB director and general manager Carolyn Bailey Lewis expressed similar sentiments. "In addition to the University, how can the community benefit from additional services? Our challenge is to figure out how best to use the additional capability," she says.

    To meet that challenge, the WOUB directors have used such efforts as discussion forums with community members to gauge what they would like to see.

    All American television stations are in the same process as WOUB, switching from an analog television signal -- which had been the standard for as long as the medium has been in existence -- to a digital one, as ordered by the Federal Communications Commission. Viewers will be able to receive the digital signals with an antenna and a digital tuner. Cable subscription will not be required.

    A firm date has not yet been set, but by the time most television viewers can receive digital signals, all television should be only broadcast digitally.

    "It means a total change-out of all our equipment," Wiseman says.

    With what Wiseman calls a little "creative engineering," WOUB saved some money and won't be forced to replace its broadcasting antenna. WOUC wasn't as lucky, and will require a new one.

    In all, Wiseman and Lewis estimate the change will cost approximately $20 million. So far, the station has raised about $6 million through state and federal grants, as well as some local matching funds.

    Getting current equipment is important, especially considering the channels are part of the University and students' needs. "You can't train tomorrow's professionals using yesterday's equipment," Partusch says. In addition to learning on modern equipment, increased programming could also create new opportunities for students.

    Because of the FCC mandate, WOUB was forced to hurry to get the technology in place before deciding what to do with the new opportunity. "Now that that is in place, mostly, mind you, we will be able to concentrate more on the application," Wiseman says.

    While the station still has a few years until it will only broadcast digitally, officials think the sooner the equipment, training and programming is there, the better.

    Or, as Partusch puts it, "We need to get there as quickly as possible."

    Aaron Reincheld is a graduate student writer with University Communications and Marketing


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