Maybe I pick on WQCW (formerly WHCP) too much. I mean, somebody there got all bent out of shape when I remarked on their general incompetence back in the early days of this blog. And they really weren’t happy with my coverage of their attempt at a local newscast almost a year ago. So I don’t want my readers to think I’m piling on, but last weekend, I witnessed what may have been the most inept example of cheap-o programming ever pulled off by a local television station. And that’s saying something–I lived through the Curtis Butler era at WCHS.
I’m talking about the movies that WQCW showed over the weekend. Now I know that the station operates on the flimsiest of shoestring budgets, and that the merger of UPN and The WB into one network left them with a serious shortage of programming, but last weekend they did something so desperate that I was stunned. It appears that they are now showing public domain movies, purchased on DVDs which retail for a buck apiece at Dollar Tree, and they’re playing them on a consumer-model DVD player.
I did not come to this conclusion lightly. Sure, the movies they were showing, “The Great Rupert” and “Santa Claus Conquers The Martians” are both widely available on public domain DVDs that cost a buck, but that doesn’t mean that WQCW got their prints that way. Many public domain movies are available from various video syndicators. That’s how the Friday Night Freakshow on Network West Virginia obtains their prints.
It’s possible that WQCW went through legitimate avenues to obtain their prints of these movies. However, when they were showing these films, the picture would freeze every few seconds. I knew what that meant, but I called a few TV engineer buddies who could see the channel to confirm what I suspected: It sure looked like they were playing back these DVDs with a consumer DVD player–one that wasn’t being fed through a time-base corrector.
A time-base corrector, or “TBC” is a key part of any television studio. Its job is to send out a synchronized pulse that allows all the various video signals to be operating on the same wavelength. Without it, the picture will freeze every few seconds. It’s really hard to watch, and the effect is really hard to duplicate. My buddies were hard-pressed to come up with any other explanation for the unwatchable mess that WQCW was broadcasting.
It is possible that there was some other cause for the glitch that made those two movies unwatchable over the weekend. There could be a malfunctioning piece of equipment, or a computer snafu, but it sure looked like they were running video without time-base correction to me and my buddies. The fact that the freeze-frames only happened during those movies, and not during the commercials or other programming they aired last weekend tends to back up that theory.
Now, hypothetically, some very uninformed television engineers, laboring for low pay in a backwoods TV station perhaps, may think that since DVD is a digital format, and TBC is only needed for analog video, that you wouldn’t need a TBC for a DVD player. They would be totally wrong. A consumer DVD player converts the video signal to analog before sending it out via the connection cables. So if they’re cheap enough to use a consumer DVD player, then it must be fed through a TBC before the signal can be synced up with other video signals. Otherwise, you don’t wind up with a broadcast-standard signal.
Call it an educated guess, but I’d say maybe the folks at WQCW decided that a good cheap way to fill up airtime would be to go to Dollar Tree and grab a stack of public domain films, and run by Wal Mart or Kroger for a thirty-dollar DVD player, and BOOM, they’re in business. Whether or not their engineer warned them about the time-base correction problem is unknown.
This is a new low in shabbiness from a television station that has already plumbed the depths of technical ineptitude. They claim to broadcast in stereo, but both channels are crammed into the left channel, leaving the right channel noisily buzzing along with no sound. They botch their satellite feeds repeatedly, cutting off the ends or beginnings of their network programming. Their picture still looks like crap, but they blame the cable companies instead of properly calibrating their equipment.
What’s more alarming is that WQCW didn’t just fill the airtime with infomercials. It’s what the local Ion station does. They show infomercials 20 hours a day. Could it be that WQCW is doing so poorly that they can’t even attract infomercials to their weekend timeslots?
Guys, it’s a new year. How about you make a resolution that in 2007, you will try to upgrade your television station to at least the bare minimum of competence that a broadcast entity should have. That way more people will watch, and you might be able to sell more airtime.
If you have to fill up your schedule with public domain movies, go out and get some of the good ones, like “The Man With The Golden Arm,” “Suddenly,” or “Dementia 13.” I produce Radio Free Charleston with no budget, and I use plenty of public domain footage in doing so. There’s no reason you guys can’t be a little more imaginative and have fun with your lack of finances. But please, feed the signal through a TBC.