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TV static to be continued

Janet Urquhart

Federal authorities have denied a request to expedite the licensing of Pitkin County’s TV translators in order to more quickly restore television reception for local residents.

“The earliest we can expect to get anything at all is in the spring or summer of 2001,” said Stan Berryman, the county’s director of public works. “There’s no guarantee it will be even that soon.”

In the meantime, he said, the county hopes to juggle the use of its remaining translators in order to provide TV viewers with at least some of their favorite programming.

The county shut down 19 translators on July 22 after discovering they were not licensed with the Federal Communications Commission. The move wiped out television reception, at least on some channels, for viewers who do not have cable TV or a satellite dish.

The county has applied with the FCC to license the translators and had hoped the agency would be amenable to expediting that process or issuing temporary permits so the county could restore service. The FCC, however, wasn’t interested in granting any special consideration, according to Berryman.

With no way of knowing when the translators might be licensed, the county plans to use the remaining 46 translators in its system, which are licensed, to get some networks back on the air for viewers, Berryman said.

“We’re looking at the feasibility of using those translators to rebroadcast different channels than they’re currently carrying,” he said.

First, the county will hold public meetings in various areas and, perhaps, survey residents to find out what channels they would most like to see restored.

“We’ve seen a lot of calls from people missing PBS, for example,” Berryman said. “Hopefully by spring, people will have the channels that they want.”

Making everyone happy, though, will likely be impossible, as readjusting a translator to broadcast a different network means losing whatever signal the translator is currently transmitting. Lovers of NBC’s “The West Wing” may find themselves pitted against loyal “Masterpiece Theatre” viewers.

The translator system rebroadcasts television signals off mountaintops, facilitating TV reception in the county’s mountainous terrain. In outlying areas, like Redstone and the upper Fryingpan Valley, cable TV is not available and residents must either rely on the translator system or purchase a satellite dish.

Many residents do use satellite dishes to receive TV reception, and that number has probably grown in the wake of the translator shutdown, Berryman speculated. The county doesn’t know exactly how many individuals are affected by the translator outage, but has received about 200 calls from viewers about the problem, he said.

With the shutdown of the 19 translators, viewers lost reception of a combination of networks, depending on where they live. The system rebroadcasts ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS and the WB. Most viewers lost two of those networks; some lost three, Berryman said.

On a brighter note, WWFM, a popular classical music station, has been restored for local radio listeners. The station has been back on the air for about a month and an upcoming antenna replacement should improve the quality of the reception, according to Berryman.


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