Weak WSIU signal due to digital conversion

By Gus Bode

Weak WSIU signal due to digital conversion

SIU receives $84,451 U.S. grant for digital transmission

In comparison to the picture quality of commercial television stations, WSIU-TV Channel 8 is pretty fuzzy… but not for long.


Both Carbondale and Edwardsville campus television stations are going through a federally mandated digital conversion. Digital stations will have the ability to multicast, transmit numerous programs on one channel, broadcast in hi-definition and broadcast data.

Candis Isberner, general manager and acting director for SIUC Broadcasting Services, said that the federal government is helping with the $204,000 cost to ensure that the station is meeting the Federal Communications Commission’s digital transmission standards. U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville, announced Monday that SIUC was awarded an $84,451 Public Telecommunications Facilities Program grant through the United States Department of Commerce.

“This grant furthers the mission of Southern Illinois University,” he said. “Over 1.2 million viewers receive this programming, which improves the quality of life of people in the region.”

Manjunath Pendakur, dean of the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts, said WSIU-TV provides needed educational programs that commercial broadcasters do not.

“Every bit of help we can get from the U.S. government and the public sustains our existing programs and helps us move closer to that digital communications frontier,” Pendakur said.

Unlike commercial television stations that had to broadcast in digital by May 1, 2002, public broadcasting stations were given an extra year and are approaching their May 1 deadline.

Because of the difficulty in finding contractors to install digital towers, WSIU and WUSI stations have requested a six-month extension. Jack L. Hammer, chief engineer for WSIU-TV, said that both stations would be broadcasting digital signals before the Nov. 1 extended deadline.


“We do need the six-month extension in order to complete the project,” he said. “[It was] difficult to find a contractor to do the work because of the last few years especially because all of the tower companies have been busy installing antennas not only for public television but also for commercial TV stations.”

Hammer said the reason both WSIU and WUSI pictures are of poor quality is because their signals are being transmitted through smaller antennae at 20 percent of the usual power. The lower transmission signal is better for those working on the towers because of the threat of radiation, he said.

Until the new towers are operating, WSIU will still have poor picture quality, Isberner said. Although both towers are nearing the finishing point, the conversion will not be done until after May 1.

“The low power is dramatically impacting our viewership and the lack of signal is not only noted by individual viewers but also cable companies and underwriters,” Isberner said.

Along with new antennae, WSIU-TV has a new AgileVision master control station. The new technology will allow programs to be converted from analog to digital as well as storing on a server instead of a tape, Isberner said.

Beginning Wednesday engineers, traffic operators and people from the Programming Department will be able to train on the new system, Hammer said.

“Digital will also be an added benefit to SIU students enrolled in the college,” he said. “They will benefit from hands-on experience by working with the equipment.”

Along with the federally mandated digital conversion, WSIU-TV has the option of terminating the analog signal in 2006 at the earliest or when 85 percent of its audience can receive the signal. Hammer said that digital receivers are not included in most televisions, including the new HDTVs.

“I don’t know when we’ll reach the 85 percent because we just don’t know the cost to pick up our digital signal,” he said.

Hammer said that WSIU-TV should be broadcasting in digital mid summer and WUSI-TV will broadcast digital in late summer or early fall.

Reporter Lindsey J. Mastis can be reached at [email protected]