I'm attending the last day and a half of the National Translator Association annual meeting in Colorado, a group to which my organization has belonged for several years (we have two television translators and a dozen FM ones) but I've never attended a meeting. I missed the NAB and the PBS Technology Conference for the second year in a row, so I decided to tack this onto the return from another meeting and have discovered this a remarkably good substitute for them, at least for the topics which interest me.
The NTA is presided over by the craggy and western-garbed Byron St. Clair, a physics PhD and founder of translator manufacturer TTC (now part of LARCAN) who, if he's not the father of the translator and LPTV indusntries, would have a credible case in a paternity dispute. It may be an index of the low visibility and unhipness of the translator/LPTV world that one finds only two relevant hits when one searches Google for his legendary (within this circle) name.
Translators are small boxes that receive a TV or FM signal on one frequency and transmit it at low power on different frequency to (usually) small communities that are otherwise blocked from reception by the main station. They are relatively scarce in the East, but are hugely popular in western communities. Some 30 years ago, I did a translator survey of the state of Idaho and even found somethat were, shall we say, not in the FCC database serving an isolated ranch or two. One was installed in an old refrigerator half-buried in a hillside. This was before DBS, of course, but translators still play an important role in serving rural communities.
Translator operation is usually a shoestring affair, but these intrepid believers in over-the-air services are making plans to digitize their transmissions (even radio -- an FCC rep said yesterday that a forthcoming FCC release would "address" FM translator IBOC operation, though he didn't say how). Some already have. They are also worrying about interference from unlicensed devices in the so-called "white channels." And they're making plans to assist their viewers in making proper antenna installations. I also learned that the NTIA now has $62M to subsidize this conversion (applications begin 10/2008), which will be administered by the same folks who administer the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program.
If you scan this list I put together a few months back (massaged from Nielsen Media survey data) of over-the-air viewers by DMA, you will conclude that there are two categories of DMAs where over-the-air is particularly important: markets in which there are high numbers of recent immigrants and markets in which there are a significant number of translators. Sometimes they're the same markets. Don't be too quick to write off OTA. --Dennis