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DTV plans level off in Chicago

Funding disappears for Windy City's mega-skyscraper 9/10/2000 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Chicago's hopes of transmitting the world's tallest DTV signals (terrestrial, at least) appear to be dead for now.

Windy City broadcasters confirm that funding for a new 2,000-foot mega-skyscraper in downtown Chicago, which was to include a community DTV antenna, has evaporated. "The funding did fall through," says Chuck DeCourt, CDBC Chairman and WBBM-TV director of broadcast operations and engineering, echoing statements made by Chicago planning chief Christopher Hill late last month.

DeCourt adds that it wasn't the fault of developer European American Realty but was simply a case of outside investors not coming through with the money.

European American president Scott Toberman didn't return a call for comment.

The validity of the $500 million project has been questioned by local officials and real estate developers for more than a year. However, the Chicago Digital Broadcast Committee (CDBC) was optimistic enough to sign a nonbinding agreement with European American Realty for antenna space on the building.

The CDBC also commissioned antenna manufacturer Dielectric to design an elaborate DTV antenna system for the proposed building at 7 S. Dearborn St.

DeCourt says he is unaware "of any other opportunity at this time" for a community tower in Chicago. But he says the CDBC will continue to pursue a unified DTV solution.

In the meantime, NBC O & O WMAQ-TV and ABC O & O WLS-TV are progressing with their DTV antenna installation on Sears Tower, which is also being done by Dielectric [Broadcasting & Cable, Jun. 12]. Dielectric Senior Vice President Dr. Oded Bendov says work is going slowly, but the antenna should be installed this month.

WMAQ-TV Director of Operations and Engineering Tom Powers says his station hopes to begin broadcasting DTV in early October. "We're still shooting for that," he notes. "Sears has a tremendous [number] of transmission lines to be installed for a lot of TV stations that hope to begin broadcasting digital. But we hope to have it finished in two or three weeks."

WBBM-TV, in the meantime, has a digital antenna that lies dormant atop the John Hancock Building. The CBS O & O launched a DTV signal last year but had to turn it off when its ch. 3 DTV assignment created interference with local cable systems. Industry sources have indicated that WBBM-TV is negotiating to switch places with ch. 21, an educational channel operated by the City of Chicago. DeCourt says only that his station is "actively pursuing an alternative channel in the marketplace" and hopes to have a resolution in the next few months.

Currently, only FOX O & O WFLD-DT, Paxson station WCPX-DT and Telemundo station WSNS-DT are broadcasting DTV in the Windy City.

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