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Published: Sunday, 2/20/2000

Plenty of changes in store for local TV and radio

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The future of Toledo media should arrive in a few years.

Right now, though, there are some weight problems. And hair problems. And make-up problems. And money problems. And lots of questions.

The future of Toledo TV is digital. By 2002, Toledo's television stations are expected to be broadcasting a digital signal, which means a crystal-clear picture and a TV tube that is rectangular. (Yes, you'll have to buy a new TV.)

Television stations will also be able to split the signal and broadcast different programming on different channels.

It's a revolution, some say, on a par with the switch from black and white to color TV.

For the television stations, however, this means expanding newscast sets (since the picture will be wider), paying more attention to the hair and make-up of their anchors and reporters (since digital is so clear you'll be able to see pores in their faces), and even strengthening their transmitter towers (since many will have to carry additional electronic equipment).

And then there's the money involved - that's the biggest question.

"We figure it's going to cost us between $5 million and $7 million to go digital," said Mel Stebbins, general manager of WTOL, Channel 11. "But we really have far more questions than answers when it comes to digital."

"For one," he went on, "there aren't many [digital TVs] out there. For a period we will be simulcasting our digital signal and our analog [regular] signal. Then the FCC will make a determination what the penetration of digital TVs is in the country. When that penetration reaches 85 per cent, we will relinquish the analog channel.

"The big questions: How many years will that take? And how fast will the price of digital TVs come down?"

If you're the impulsive sort and need a digital TV right now, here's what you should do. Head to an area television dealer and ask to see their selection of high-definition televisions, or HDTVs. Then expect to pay between $2,000 and $10,000.

Of course, after you have an HDTV, according to Shirley Timonere, general manager of Toledo's public broadcasting station, WGTE-TV, the question will become: "What's on?"

"The time when you can truly broadcast - that is, program to everyone - will decrease," she said. "I think the big, important thing that is happening in both the print and electronic media is that people will only want what they want. More and more they want very targeted information, and they want it when they want it."

For example, WGTE has tentative far-future plans to become five separate TV channels, including one perhaps just for educational programming, one for children's programming, one for senior citizens, and one regular PBS station.

Programming-on-demand should filter into even local newscasts, said WTVG anchor Greg Johans. "Sometime in the next 10 years, you should be able to get on the Web and punch up a newscast and then get a list of stories with titles, 'Jeep' or 'East Toledo,' and click one and just get the stories you want."

The future of local radio is somewhat less clear - if that's possible.

The two prime players, at least for the meantime, seem to have been chosen - Cumulus Media and Clear Channel Communications, both of which own the majority of Toledo's radio holdings.

"Radio is probably not going to be too different in the foreseeable future," said Andy Stuart, market manager for Toledo's Clear Channel stations, "except that you'll hear it over the Internet a lot more."

Web broadcasting is being heralded as the future of radio - for the moment.

Of course, hundreds of stations are currently broadcasting on the Internet, but those are mainly accessible only through a standard computer.

True web broadcasting will need technology to catch up before it happens. And the idea here is that the Internet itself will be so infused into so many common consumer goods that radio stations from around the world will be available on demand in your car or through your television set.

"Digital radio will not be a mass consumer choice for many more years," Stuart said.

"The most popular radio formats [like rock and country and talk] have been with us for the last 15 to 20 years and I think they will probably be with us for another 15 or 20 years. Of course, some of that has to do with what record company's produce."

And what you are willing to tune, watch, or listen to.

"When the dust finally settles, I think the success of local radio - local media in general - will depend on localization," said Mark Standriff, the morning-show host on WSPD-AM (1370).

"I know that sounds obvious, but that will be the key, and not just local reporting but reporters and anchors taking part in their community. People feel like they own the radio stations that they listen to. Broadcasters have to keep finding ways, despite the technology, to reach out and make those connections with their audiences."

 

 


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