Friday, January 9, 2009

What's a "deadline"?

As a former broadcaster, I have a pretty solid idea of what a deadline is. For thirty-some years of my professional life, I lived by the clock. When you have a newscast that starts at 6:05:00, that's when it starts...ready or not. Young broadcasters learn quite quickly that when a network newscast starts at the "top of the hour", it doesn't mean AROUND the top of the hour. It means X:00:00, as defined by that famous atomic clock at the Naval Observatory.
So, it is with disdain that I view the Obama soon-to-be-administration's request to congress that it change the "deadline" for digital conversion of TV stations. I have a huge number of friends involved in television broadcasting, chief among them my wife, who was an on-camera TV reporter for 15 years. When TV stations were given a DEADLINE for digital conversion by the FCC, they knew exactly when they had to "make the switch". The TV stations here in Madison have invested millions and millions of dollars in making the switch from analog to digital. That's money they won't recover through ad sales or in any other way. They were simply mandated by the FCC to buy the equipment and make the change, which is a little over a month away.
The Obamian view is that not enough people will be able to avail themselves of the federal "cheese" to get a debit card to help them buy an analog-to-digital converter, because the federal program to help them is out of money. Please note that the broadcasters did not ask the feds for any bailout money to buy the new transmitters, and in many cases, erect the towers necessary to meet the digital deadline.
I saw an interview on the local CBS affiliate last night with the head of the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and she said no matter when you establish a deadline, there will always be people who don't know about it, aren't aware of it, or for some reason will "miss" the deadline. This, from a woman who really knows what the word "deadline" means.
Rather than "move the deadline back", the Obama soon-to-be-administration should urge congress to dip into that 715-billion-dollar slush fund, and make the "cheese" available to the people (estimated to be 7% of the national TV audience) who will wake up the morning of February 17th and wonder why they can't get their TV to work.
You see, to a broadcaster....a deadline is a deadline. And I'm pretty sure my many friends in the print media have just as clear an understanding of the word.


  1. How, I wonder, did it become the federal government's business to make sure everyone can watch broadcast commercial TV? Indeed, the feds have undertaken to subsidize folks to make sure their rabbit ears still work. What the... What are the broadcasters bringing to this party? If the oh-so-flexible deadline is stretched again, and some people still can't watch "Days of Our Lives" because they are too indolent or willfully uninformed to act, what then? Stretch it some more?

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