Washington

FCC Denies Nexstar DTV Hardship Waivers

KARD, KTVE cited operating power issues and drain on staff 4/10/2009 04:02:44 PM Eastern

The FCC has denied a hardship waiver for two stations that wanted to pull the plug on analog April 16, according to FCC sources, saying they will have to wait until June 12.

Only four stations had asked to go early despite not meeting the FCC's criteria. The commission approved two requests from stations who wanted to pull the plug in mid-to-late May, in part because that was only a few weeks before the new hard date.

That left only KARD(TV) and KTVE without a clear path to pulling the plug on analog service.

Nexstar's KARD(TV) West Monroe, LA (Fox) wanted to go on April 16, saying that it is operating at 50% power as it is because a transmission tube failed, resulting in "unstable operation" and a hardship on station personnel who had to travel 50 miles several times a week from the studio to the transmitter site.

Mission Broadcasting's KTVE(TV) El Dorado, Ark.(NBC, and in the same market as KARD), said it was at only 40% power and made similar arguments about the staff drain of maintaining the equipment.

According to an FCC source, the equipment failure argument did not trump the fact that there would no longer be any analog service in the market, and that the owners "did not offer to provide any kind of enhanced nightlight service or to provide their news to any other station that might be available to keep analog on in the area."

The source added that the commission's call center had received "lots of calls" from that area on Feb. 17, when over four hundred stations pulled the plug on analog.

Nexstar also argued that pulling the plug on one of the stations "might facilitate a PBS going to it post-transition" DTV channel assignment, said the FCC source, who added that the commission had not heard anything from that station.

In an e-mail to the Nexstar and Mission stations, the FCC gave them the bad news that they will not be able to go all-digital until the June 12 hard date.

Nexstar executives were not available for comment at press time.

So far, 637 stations pulled the plug on analog on or before Feb. 17. Of the remainder, 927 stations have said they would keep the analog light burning until the June 12 hard date, while 158 said they wanted to go early.

Of those 158, the vast majority simply had to self-certify that they were either not a Big Four network affiliate or that if they were, there would still be analog service from another Big Four affiliate through June 12, reaching at least 90% of their market. In that case, they pretty much had the green light to go between April 16 and June 12 without the FCC having to weigh in.

A handful of noncommercial stations also got waivers to pull the plug before April 16, which is the earliest the FCC said they could start pulling the plug again after the Feb. 17 date.

There were also the harship cases that got the waivers. Reiten Television's KXMB-TV Bismarck-Dickinson, ND (CBS affiliate) is allowed to end analog on May 28, only two weeks early. The station said it needed to cannibalize its analog transmitter to allow it to repurpose them in the digital equipment for a pair of its satellite stations, with which it is able to reach its sparsely populated market.

The other station, Hoak Media's KAUZ-TV Wichita Falls (also CBS), which got to pull the plug May 21, had argued it was necessary so it could move its DTV antenna to the top of its tower mast currently occupied by the analog antenna.

March