Penn State Intercom......February 7, 2002

Public television
prepared to go digital


Fred Gadomski, instructor of meteorology, is on the air for the show "Weather World," one of several shows produced in the WPSX-TV studio on the University Park campus. The station is gearing up to go all-digital by May 2003.

Photo: Greg Grieco

By Celena E. Kusch
Across the nation, television is developing into a technology for the 21st century. That spells change for WPSX-TV (Channel 3), the University's public television affiliate.
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) guidelines require all television broadcasters to be ready for digital broadcasting by May 2003. Digital television (DTV), the new broadcast standard, will replace the current, 50-year-old analog television system.
Not all stations, however, will be ready to make the change. Public Broadcasting System (PBS) officials estimate that as many as one-third of the 347 PBS stations nationwide may miss the deadline and lose their broadcasting licenses.
At Penn State, WPSX-TV already has begun pilot tests of its new digital transmitter, but station equipment is just the beginning of the conversion to DTV.
Nearly $20 million will be invested in Penn State Public Broadcasting in order to meet the 2003 deadline. The station plans to raise $2 million from private donors through the two-year Campaign for Penn State Public Broadcasting. In addition, the state and federal governments have provided more than $3.3 million in funding, and the University has allotted $16.4 million, including $15.5 million for construction of a new building to house WPSX-TV, WPSU radio and the World Campus.
As WPSX-TV makes the transition to digital television, University faculty will have unprecedented opportunities for sharing their expertise via this new medium.
"Very few public television stations enjoy the support of a university and its faculty," said James H. Ryan, vice president for Outreach and Cooperative Extension. "This exciting convergence of broadcast capability and University expertise could be one of the most dramatic developments in higher education in the next decade."
Ryan noted, "Because of the unique partnership between Penn State and public broadcasting, we have a large pool of faculty expertise from which to create television content that is meaningful and important. With digital conversion, the increased demand for high-quality content will create a market for productions based on faculty research both across the state and nationwide."
According to Ted Krichels, assistant vice president for Outreach and general manager of Penn State Public Broadcasting, the transition to digital television is not just a challenge, but a new opportunity to fulfill the University's mission. Digital television will allow the University and its partners to deliver more comprehensive content designed for specific audiences on up to four channels at once.
After conversion, WPSX-TV plans to use the digital spectrum to offer additional WPSX_digital channels, focusing on children's programming, continuing education and lifelong learning, local interest programming and Penn State sports, in addition to the national PBS programs that are the hallmark of the current channel.
In late November, Krichels and Byron Knight, director of Broadcasting and Media Innovations at the University of Wisconsin-Extension, gave a presentation at the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC) meeting on the potential of forging a partnership between public television and higher education. Currently NASULGC is exploring the possibility of developing a national vision to move this agenda forward.
Drawing on the University's academic and outreach resources to create programs and partnerships, Penn State Public Broadcasting will have an even greater impact on communities, schools, businesses, citizens and the more than 500,000 households served in the WPSX-TV viewing area, Krichels said.WPSX_inncombo
Current initiatives such as the multi-year Creating Health project already build on the expertise of University faculty in several colleges and departments. Creating Health aims both to deliver health and wellness information to Central Pennsylvanians and to develop a health education model and tools that can be replicated nationwide. The program provides healthy lifestyle information in a variety of ways, including television programs, a Web site, print materials and County Extension-led community workshops and health screenings. In addition to Penn State Public Broadcasting and Cooperative Extension, Penn State Creating Health partners include the College of Health and Human Development, the College of Medicine at Hershey Medical Center, the College of Agricultural Sciences and the Outreach Office of Marketing Research.
While current programs use the Internet to provide interactive services, digital WPSX-TV will be able to transmit such data along with pictures and sound. Viewers will be able to use Web sites and other program-related information while they watch the programs. WPSX-TV also will have the capacity to transmit several television and computer signals simultaneously. Such capabilities will dramatically improve educational and informational opportunities, and they will require new collaborations and contributions from University experts and content providers.

Celena Kusch can be reached at