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Northern Michigan University’s WNMU-TV receives grant for upgrade

March 30, 2009
By KIM HOYUM Journal Staff Writer

Marquette - In August, Marquette's public television station assured its future in digital broadcasting.

WNMU-TV, at Northern Michigan University, snagged a grant which provided the rest of the money needed for an upgrade to digital signal transmission. The station had been raising funds and seeking out grants throughout the past few years for the digital upgrade.

The station was awarded $633,231 from a competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's rural development program. The station, a PBS affiliate, was one of 19 stations nationally awarded the grant.

Article Photos

Leaning over the control board ready to change programs, Katie Cox, a sophomore in Broadcasting and Communication at Northern Michigan University and Dave Bette, Chief Engineer for Public Radio and Television look forward to the new updates. Public T.V. received a grant of $1 million to help update to digital broadcasting. (Journal photo by Melissa Salagovich)

All television stations must switch to digital broadcasting by June 12, 2009, as federal law requires that all full-power television broadcast stations pull the plug on the analog format and broadcast only in digital. It's a process which left many small public stations hurting for money, said WNMU station manager Eric Smith.

"The digital transition for broadcasters has been a long and complex process, and it's one that's been very expensive," he said. "We were fortunate enough to be successful with the grant, and now our local products can be broadcast in digital as well."

He said the USDA looked at factors like how much public support a station has, and the grantors also were impressed with the potential for teaching through the university's broadcasting courses. Smith said the digital equipment will give NMU students an advantage when entering the commercial television world, since it will be in line with what major stations are using.

In total, the station has received about $2.9 million in grants to accomplish the upgrade, and they did some private fundraising as well, Smith said. The money made it possible to install video, audio, computer, processing and remote production equipment needed for the change to digital.

"The equipment part of this transition, there's just no way we could have raised that amount of money locally. We needed that help to stay on the air," Smith said.

He added the grants are separate from the station's annual operating budget, and the station still needs public support for its programs.

"We still need that public fundraising to get programs on the air, it's just that now we have the facility to get those broadcasts out to viewers," he said.

The grant was announced in mid-August by U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, who assisted WNMU with the grant. Stupak sits on the House Energy and Commerce committee, which has jurisdiction over telecommunications policy. He said in a statement that the station provides excellent educational and local programming.

"It's one thing to have the technical capacity to broadcast a national signal in digital," Stupak said. "But the ability to create local content in HD digital is another thing altogether. This grant will preserve WNMU's ability to bring local content - including news and emergency broadcasts - to viewers in the Upper Peninsula."



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