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Ed Baxter questions FCC chair Kevin Martin

Ed Baxter: And the KGO news time is 5:41. Digital conversion scheduled for February 17, the day the television industry shuts down the analog and goes digital. On the KGO live-line is FCC chairman Kevin Martin. Sir, it is a pleasure.

Kevin Martin: Oh, good morning.

Baxter: There’s some talk the country may not be ready. Are you looking at any postponement of any kind?

Martin: You know, we’re not looking at any postponement. I mean the date of February 17th was picked by Congress when the passed a law. They’d have to pass a new law to move that date.

Baxter: OK and but Representative Ed Markey says that you’ve run out of coupons, that people are not able to get ’em, that the system is not working all that well. Is it working?

Martin: Well, you know, I have to agree that the coupon program did run out of money and I think Congress has to put some more money into it. I mean there has been such a demand for them that they don’t have any more resource, that they don’t have any more coupons right now. What I think Congress could do — they have to take action either way or the other anyway — but rather than choosing to delay the transition of it, that they could just put more money in the coupon program so that people can start getting those coupons again.

Baxter: All right, so that would be your solution. So what do people have to do to — as it stands right now, you’re right, February 17th is the date — what do people have to do right now if they haven’t?

Martin: Well, you know, if you subscribe to cable, you receive your signals over satellite. You don’t need to worry about doing anything. But if you use rabbit ears or a roof-top antenna to get your local television signals, you need to make sure you have a digital tuner so you can still watch television when all those signals go digital. If you got a television you bought in the last couple of years, you’re probably fine. But if you have an older television set, you need to get a converter box and hook that up so that you can continue watching TV today after the transition.

Baxter: There have been a wide number of reports on the effectiveness of digital boxes and a lot of frustration. I’m sure you’re aware of that. Is there anything you can do to help people out? I know a gentleman who e-mailed me who said I tried three different convert boxes and none of them has worked.

Martin Well, you know, part of the problem could be — and this will always be a problem until we make the switch — is that the broadcasters sometimes can’t go to full power on the digital signal because they got the old analog signal up and running. So the problem could not be the converter box but it could actually be that the digital signals can’t go to full power until we turn those analog ones off. That’s one of the reasons we’re going to have this problem as we approach the date, whatever date we pick, as we approach that final transition.

Baxter: May I ask you a question about consolidation, almost a selfish question from the radio industry … [we’ve] watched the consolidation … [of] large groups of radio stations … into very few hands. The pendulum, it looks like it is starting to change. There’s been some cracks in that. Is this the way we should be or should we get radio back into the … hands of maybe some local owners, or into more people?

Martin: You know, the broadcasters, they’re a unique asset really (because) they’re providing local news and information to people. And if they lose that local feel, that is the local service they are providing. So Congress in 1996 was the one who actually removed the caps and let people own as many radio stations as they wanted, and we saw this huge consolidation in the late 1990s. We actually haven’t changed any of the rules related to radio since then. And I think you are seeing some cracks in that. Some of the biggest radio conglomerates are trying to sell some of those stations back off. And I do think it is important to make sure radio doesn’t lose its local feel.

Baxter: Well, I’m really glad to hear you say that … So it is a concern of yours that the local community still be served.

Martin: Oh yes, absolutely.

Baxter: OK very good. Mr. Chairman thank you for the information and for joining us.

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