Thursday, March 26, 2009

Go Ahead And Ask: Yeah, I Got A Diget Fer Ya by King Daevid MacKenzie

Every week, my favorite radio listening is done without the benefit of a radio. It's a great hour of NPR Sunday morning sourcasm that I used to catch on the same station in La Crosse that I did a Friday night show over; I began the weekend, and this other guy ended it. Then Wisconsin Public Radio suddenly got the idea that its content was too "political" – and replaced him with an additional hour of the BBC World Service. Nothing is as devoid of politics as a monarchist foreign government agency, I guess. Neither Arizona Public Media signal seems to find it suitable for Tucson's ears, even though the same voice has been heard on Sunday evenings over KMSB/11 for years on The Simpsons.

The voice belongs to Harry Shearer. The radio show that I now have to download a podcast of every week (go to for further details) is Le Show, originating from KCRW in Santa Monica, California.

In recent months, Harry has really been biting the hand that feeds him in his jaundiced outlook on what he calls The Digital Wonderland, the changeover from analogue broadcast TV to digital broadcast TV. God only knows how many years we have to look forward to Simpsons (and Family Guy and South Park, for that matter) reruns in any given day part. Now we gotta get ready to see our crap a lot clearer than ever before. Mind you, I'm hesitant to refer to it as crap, as crap actually serves a biological purpose. If this were actual crap, there'd be enough of it to fertilize every square inch of land from here to Albuquerque. Unfortunately, much of this is crap that serves no legitimate purpose, biological or otherwise.

Not that I haven't experienced positive viewing from the introduction of digital TV subchannels. Being disabled, SSI doesn't allow enough for subscribing to cable or satellite TV. PBS World on KUAS-DT/27.3, for reruns of Great Performances, American Masters, The American Experience and History Detectives, and LATV on KWBA-DT/58.2, for CMLL Lucha Libre (which kicks the snot out of Vince McMahon's increasingly lame product) and Mexican theatrical films with English captions, are the real must-see TV at my apartment. But this Digital Wonderland is largely created with the same lousy crap that the Analogue Wasteland has been for ages. Nobody really needs a clearer picture of bigots like Pat Buchanan and Monica Crowley on The McLaughlin Group, and the Channels 11 and 18 2:00 A.M. junk movies are just as goofy in digital as they were in analogue the first time I saw them.

Unfortunately, most of the Tucson TV broadcasters have made lousy, if any, use of whatever opportunities digital TV allows for. There are no subchannels to the digital signals of KVOA/4, KMSB/11 or KTTU/18. The only commercial station that makes use of two different subchannels, KOLD/13, has only used 13.3 for NCAA Tournament basketball; otherwise, the only thing on it is a computer-generated apology that The Tube isn't available on it anymore, and that's been up at least since I moved here in August. Face it, KOLD, all of The Tube's old viewership have gotten the message by now. And the newscasts in-between the weatherbits on 13.2 are often days old. Are you guys telling me there's not enough unused movies and TV series in the Warner Brothers, Universal, Disney, Fox and Paramount vaults to create 24/7 movie channels to offer to the affiliates of their co-owned networks? Or not enough material resides in the vaults of the news divisions of NBC, ABC and CBS to offer documentary/history subchannels to those affiliates?

Even Arizona Public Media, which has utilized digital the most on their two stations in Tucson, leaves a bit to be desired. The programming of KUAT-DT/6.1 is duplicated on KUAS-DT/27.1, although, at least at my midtown apartment, both stations are received with identical signal strength. To these folk, I have a similar, but more detailed, question: with all the currently unused material in the vaults of PBS member stations, are we to believe there isn't enough to create a 24/7 vintage PBS subchannel? PBS World makes good use of the current material the parent network has to offer. But certainly there are too many vintage tapes of Frontline, American Masters, The American Experience, Sneak Previews, Austin City Limits, Great Performances and the PBS versions of The Dick Cavett Show, The David Susskind Show and Irv Kupcinet's Kup's Show – let alone kiddie fare like Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Zoom and Carrascolendas – to simply let deteriorate in darkness. Even striking a deal with Canada's CBC and the film restoration wing of the Smithsonian Institution to open their vaults for such a subchannel should be a cost-effective way to avoid merely duplicating one channel on another.

In fact, I've noticed that, while KUAT and KUAS both use two subchannels, Phoenix's KAET uses a third subchannel for rebroadcasting K-Bach, the classical music NPR affiliate. Considering how small a signal KXCI/91.3 has compared to the two APM FM stations, why not open up 6.4 or 27.4 for KXCI's audio coupled with, say, a newstext service of some sort?

Then again, I still don't hear Harry Shearer on KUAZ. I guess multiple runs of Car Talk and Garrison Keillor are more necessary in The Analogue Wonderland.

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