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TUCSON TV STATIONS REPORT SMOOTH DTV TRANSITION

It's safe to say the folks on the front line of the digital transition are happy that June 12 has come and gone.

"You think back to when this was decided years and years ago. We never thought we'd see this day," said Belo Tucson general manager Tod Smith.

"Thank goodness," proclaimed KOLD Channel 13 GM Jim Arnold.

Tucson's television outlets did get some extra phone calls from stragglers who weren't prepared or had equipment issues, but the complaint volume was nowhere near as bad as some had feared. KOLD received in the neighborhood of 100 calls on Friday, a figure that significantly declined over the weekend and into Monday.

The number was 86 on Friday for KVOA Channel 4, with another 20 or so over the weekend, and about that many before noon Monday. KGUN Channel 9 and KWBA Channel 58 got 51 calls; KMSB Channel 11 received a similar amount. KTTU Channel 18 and KUAT Channel 6 turned off their analog signals prior to the transition deadline.

"We got fewer calls than I expected and a lot less anger than I expected," Arnold said. "Most of (the calls concerned) rescanning issues. There were some antenna issues; folks in Tucson, in some of the mountainous regions, were still trying to use the indoor antenna, or maybe they couldn't (use) anything but an indoor antenna if they were in an apartment complex or something. It was a lot smoother than I had anticipated, which is a relief."

Station engineers logged significant hours over the weekend checking the signal strength along potential problem spots, most notably in the Oro Valley and foothills areas, where Mount Bigelow's antennas can't reach. In KVOA's case, a translator on Tumamoc Hill paid dividends.

"We helped a whole lot of folks when we got them to turn the antenna toward Tumamoc Hill," said KVOA operations manager Dave Kerrigan. "I did testing over the weekend and got a great signal all the way out to Avra Valley Road, across Tangerine (Road) to Oracle (Road). (Monday) morning, I went to River (Road) and Stone (Avenue) in the shadow of the Catalinas and followed River all the way out to Sabino Canyon. I got a signal down there and all the way to Sunrise (Drive). We now have a transmitter that should serve the folks at the base of the Catalinas and northwest Tucson, and all they have to do is turn their antenna toward Tumamoc Hill."

Kerrigan also recommends outside antennas when possible, which is especially pertinent for some apartment-dwellers who have inside antennas that might struggle through a slew of other structures within close proximity.

At KGUN, its translator "continues to broadcast a down-converted digital signal on analog, so anyone who received their signal on that translator in the northwest corridor continues to do so," said KGUN GM Julie Brinks via e-mail. "If they have a converter box that included analog pass-through—which the most basic units would have—they are good to go as well."

Belo's KMSB reports issues in the same general area—they've also received calls from Nogales—and Smith is awaiting budget approvals to enhance translator reach for those trouble spots.

Due to frequency changes, KMSB was allotted the responsibility of broadcasting a message in analog for viewers who missed the deadline.

"A lot of the other stations were having to change positions, so we thought we'd be the one who was most accessible to people," Smith said. "The (Federal Communications Commission) asked for one of the major four affiliates to do it, and as a whole, we decided it made sense for us to do it."

KMSB will stop running the analog-feed changeover message on June 26.

Much of the feared anger and frustration has been tempered—the sledgehammer approach of incessant reminders apparently accomplished the goal of getting the message out—but there were still some moments of irritation.

"I just had a message from a gentleman who asked whose stupid idea this was that everyone went digital," Arnold said. "We'll refer that to the congressmen. We did have some calls about the law, and (we) asked if they wanted (Gabrielle) Giffords, (Raúl) Grijalva, (Jon) Kyl's or (John) McCain's number. They make the law. We just have to live with it."


FORMER 'DOWNTOWN TUCSONAN' STAFFERS LAUNCH 'ZÓCALO'

Former Downtown Tucsonan employees Dave Olsen and Jamie Manser (both former Tucson Weekly employees) have teamed up to begin publication of Zócalo, a magazine dedicated to arts and entertainment.

"Our goal is to be a family-friendly publication that highlights the town's thriving arts, music and entertainment offerings," said Manser via e-mail. "There is a lot going on in this burg, and we'd like to be what people pick up for a snapshot of monthly activities, along with coverage of local news and features."

Zócalo's first "summer" issue recently hit the streets. A monthly printing cycle is slated to begin in September.

"It is with optimism in the strength of Tucson's populace that we embark on this endeavor. We are taking the summer to introduce the publication to the community and have received great feedback thus far," e-mailed Manser. "Starting an independent publication in this economy is certainly a challenge, but we are both known for hard work and tenacity. Between us and our contributors, we collectively wear the many hats it takes to publish a magazine—which includes design, writing, editing, photography, circulation and advertising sales."

Whereas the Downtown Tucsonan garners a subsidy from the Downtown Tucson Partnership, Zócalo's survival will hinge on a traditional private advertising model. Zócalo is also in the process of creating a Web site, zocalotucson.com, "that will feature daily updates and an online calendar of local happenings." As of press time, the site remained in its infant stages.

"Our passion for publishing has always been based on promoting the Old Pueblo's amazing artists and fabulous events—specifically those in the urban area," said Manser.

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