LAS VEGAS - Good morning from McCarran Airport, as we wrap up our visit to the 2012 NAB Show after a whirlwind three days surveying the engineering and regulatory scenes (which are, in turn, just a couple of small pieces of the enormous NAB Show experience, something no one reporter could possibly take in over the course of just a few days.)
On the regulatory front, there's some action coming from the FCC in areas where the agency has long been dormant. If you're a TV station owner, the Commission has put you on notice that it's moving ahead with the controversial plan to "repack" the UHF spectrum, shuffling stations to new RF channels in hopes of freeing up more room for the wireless carriers and broadband that's near and dear to the heart of FCC chairman Julius Genachowski.
Genachowski says the FCC is just months away from issuing an order that would allow TV stations with separate licenses to share a single 6 MHz RF channel and retain their all-important cable must-carry rights, and he continues to believe that a significant number of TV broadcasters will be willing to double (or even triple) up in order to reap the financial reward of auctioning their excess channel capacity. FCC Media Bureau chief Bill Lake says his engineers have run a whole series of models showing how such a repacking could be accomplished (though they've yet to reveal the details publicly), but the real test will be whether enough broadcasters in congested markets like New York and Boston are willing to play along for what are as yet uncertain rewards.(Another possibility, Genachowski suggested, was for TV stations to auction off their UHF spectrum and move back down to VHF, something few broadcasters are embracing.)
The specifics of the auction system have yet to be worked out - and indeed, one of Genachowski's bigger announcements was that he's named Gary Epstein, who'd headed up the FCC's initial DTV transition effort, to oversee the auction process.
*Out on the show floor, it's been a very busy NAB so far for broadcast equipment vendors, even without much in the way of revolutionary products to show off. One welcome sign on the floor was "Dielectric," as the Maine-based antenna and transmission-systems manufacturer has reverted to its heritage branding after showing up last year under its corporate brand, "SPX." And Nova Scotia's Nautel drew attention for its VSLT line of medium-power (3.5 to 10 kW) FM transmitters, a budget-priced, analog-only version of the popular VS series.
*The uptick in the broadcast economy was reflected in an increased number of NERW-land broadcasters spotted on the show floor and in the meeting rooms. It wasn't just the big broadcasters represented out here - among others, we ran into Alan Anderson of WPLM (99.1 Plymouth MA), Syracuse's Craig Fox, Joe Vilkie from northwest Pennsylvania and even enjoyed a chance encounter with Northeast Broadcasting owner Steve Silberberg, We also surprised Tune In Broadcasting's Ron Frisch by being the first to recognize the "WKAL-AM" callsign on his badge.
WKAL? Yup - the venerable calls for AM 1450 in Rome, New York have come home to that station, which spent the last decade and then some as Bible Broadcasting's WYFY before Frisch bought the station a year ago. It's had temporary calls WRUY since then, and it's been silent while Tune In looks for a studio facility and makes format plans. (Frisch suggested we report that the revived WKAL will be going "all-polka," which seems unlikely even in Rome.)
*And that's about it for our time here in Las Vegas, as we prepare to board a flight to southern California to bring you some new Tower Site of the Week adventures. We'll be back here with our regular NERW next Monday.