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What to do about severe weather coverage in OKC?

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    The truncation of the last (and most important) 35 minutes of the LOST season finale on May 13 has once again underscored the problems with severe weather coverage in OKC, particularly for those who value high-definition pictures. But before we rant, let’s consider both the current state of the coverage and the rules that are in play. Here’s where we are today:

    1. KFOR, KOCO, and KWTV can all superimpose a weather warning map over the network HD signal, so in most cases, they don’t have to drop the signal out of HD to show the severe weather map. KFOR doesn’t always do this for KFOR’s own impenetrable reasons (cheap owners, using very old equipment, and probably something to do with Mike Morgan loving to be on camera, a combination I call the “Mike Morganizer”).
    2. KOKH and KOCB cannot impose the weather map over the HD picture, or at least have never done so in my experience.
    3. KWTV appears to be the only commercial network station that can superimpose both a weather map and a weather crawl (scrolling words) across the HD signal. KWTV’s HD weather map is also significantly better than the other two: it’s smaller and clearer. KFOR and KOCO must drop to SD to show a crawl with new text information.

    And now the unwritten rules:

    1. Every TV station with a weather department will break into normal programming when there’s a tornado warning in the broadcast area. If they’re running high-rated programs, they may resist the urge as long as it’s just watches or severe thunderstorms, but once it’s time to say “take shelter,” the staff meteorologist is going on camera. Whether we like it or not, this is as it should be, because people’s lives are then at stake.
    2. TV stations make money from their networks for showing network programs and network ads. They are foregoing revenue to interrupt programs, and also when they break in only at commercials. Even so, both KOCO and KWTV (and lately, sometimes even KFOR) have been leaving the programs up and breaking in only at commercials. This costs them money, and we should not ignore that when complaining.
    3. Other than OETA, a non-commercial station I’m not discussing today, none of the OKC stations yet has the ability to record and playback HD content, at least not that has been demonstrated outside a few random KFOR “Is this a great state or what?” news segments. When KOCO drops the end of <i>LOST</i> for severe weather coverage, they’ll usually replay it later—but the replay won’t be in high-definition, and that matters to people reading this site.
    4. KFOR, KOCO, and KOKH all have secondary digital channels they’ve used for other purposes, usually an entirely useless weather loop that doesn’t change during severe weather. (During the LOST finale, while Rick Mitchell was talking about tornadoes approaching Anadarko, channel 5-2 was showing five-hour-old forecasts and tons of ads. Because of this, cable and satellite providers typically do not carry these secondary channels, making them always available only to people with antenna reception.

    That makes it hard to propose something consistent that works for everyone:

    • Stations are not going to leave regular programming up in case of tornado warnings.
    • They’re also not going to put the severe weather on the secondary channel because most customers don’t use antennas, and those people can’t get the secondary channels.
    • They all want the ability to play back pre-recorded HD content rather than just passing the network feed through, but they don’t have that yet. KOKH/KOCB, which were so far ahead of the curve in the early days of HD, are now behind because they can’t superimpose weather maps over HD pictures. If a tornado warning comes during the American Idol finale, they’re going to have to cut in, and replays later won’t really help.
    • Nonetheless, most severe weather warnings only affect a small portion of the broadcast area. They know this, but they can’t direct one signal to Anadarko and leave everyone else on the network.

    Here’s my dream scenario:

    KWTV adds a digital 9-2 channel so that all of the OKC stations have one.

    When severe weather occurs, they can go wall-to-wall with coverage on the secondary channels (4-2, 5-2, 9-2, 25-2). To let people know this, they replace their normal station bugs (the translucent “4” or “KOCO-DT” logos in the corner) with versions outlined in red, and text that says “tune to 4-2” for more information. Those stations that can impose a weather map can do that instead with an indication of more information on the secondary channel.

    If a tornado warning is called, stations must still interrupt the main channel with wall-to-wall coverage, but then the secondary channel can show regular programming. No one’s going to start by looking at the secondary channel for regular programming. So, for example, if you’re watching LOST and aren’t in the Anadarko area, you turn to 5-2 when the warning is issued. If a new warning is added for a different area, the stations can still break in on the secondary channel to warn people and direct them back to the main channel for full details.

    I would even go so far as to say that if there’s an active tornado warning, the station bug should be outlined in flashing red to get everyone’s attention. Or perhaps solid red, since color-blind people might not notice the outline but would definitely notice a solid bug. Or just leave the weather maps up on the main programming on the secondary channel.

    Ignoring any technical problems with doing it over the air, the next difficulty is that the cable and satellite companies don’t usually carry the secondary channels. For satellite companies, at least, the issue is bandwidth: they can only fit so many channels on a given satellite, and they don’t carry anything that people don’t demand. DirecTV doesn’t even carry OETA and KOCB in HD in Oklahoma City; you have to get them over the air to get the HD picture.

    Ideally (and I know I’m dreaming here), I’d like to see the stations and the carriers have an electronic signal such that when they start putting network programming on the alternate channel, they push a button and the satellite and cable companies automatically pick up those channels and start carrying them on predetermined channel numbers. That way, the carriers don’t waste the space for ridiculous 24/7 weather loops that no one watches, but they’ll provide their customers with valuable services during severe weather. The station owners would have to give up on this pipe dream that carriers will carry what are basically useless ad channels 24/7, but they should give up on that anyway and be happy to provide them during severe weather situations.

    I would argue that a plan like this will make more people safe than the current methods. When something like LOST gets pulled off the air for severe weather coverage that’s not going to affect you in OKC or Shawnee or Guthrie, how many viewers turn completely away, to a national cable or satellite channel, in disgust? If another storm blows up and moves into their area, they may not be warned at all because they gave up on local TV. By keeping the regular programming on a secondary channel with weather bugs, those people would stay with the local stations and get warned if a new storm developed.

    I don’t think it’s technically feasible with the equipment that the stations have today. It also doesn’t really help DVR owners, who probably wouldn’t have the foresight to record both 5-1 and 5-2 for two hours just in case severe weather came up during the LOST finale. I’m not sure that can be helped. But if the stations and the carriers can team up to provide both severe weather coverage and regular network programming, more people will watch local stations, and more people will be informed if severe weather develops quickly and heads towards them.

    I hereby disclaim and relinquish ownership of this idea and any royalties it might generate, now and in perpetuity, irrevocably, so that no station is inhibited from implementing these ideas for fear of owing me any money. (T-shirts would be nice someday but are in no way expected or required, lol.)

    So, having said all this: can you improve on it (and give your idea away)? Can we make this even better so that more people get the information they want and need without losing programming when they don’t want to? When tornadic storms are in the area, I want to see both wall-to-wall coverage and network programming if the storms aren’t affecting me. I think it’s the best way to keep everyone safe and paying attention. If I’m wrong, enlighten me. Let’s see if we can make a recommendation to the TV stations that gives everyone as much of what they want as possible.


    I think the answer is BitTorrent. Since I stopped receiving KOCO-DT on my G5, I’ve been downloading Lost episodes via BT. I have three episodes from BT and am downloading Wednesday’s finale via BT right now. I actually recorded it on my Dish DVR, but with the thunderstorms it has a lot of problems and I’d much rather watch it without the state of Oklahoma in the upper right corner. The BT version should just work if I can get all 2.3 GB downloaded. I have the whole season recorded and haven’t watched any new episodes so I can a marathon at some point this summer.

    KWTV-DT also has a lot of problems. I missed the first 10 minutes of Wednesday’s CSI: New York show due to bad signal, but at least I have most of that one and the Thursday finale seems to be OK. I guess I’ll have to watch Wednesday’s Criminal Minds on as it was unwatchable due to a poor signal.

    I’m at a point now where I rarely watch live TV, unless it’s CNN or something on satellite. I much prefer to record the network programming and watch it later. Satellite programming is more for channel surfing when I don’t care if I watch it later. The only regular shows I’m recording now off of satellite are American Chopper on TLC and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I’m also recording the early original CSI episodes from 2002 before KWTV was on the air and before I cared about the show. I also record a lot of movies, but haven’t found the time to watch them yet.

    I also record a lot from OETA and might starting recording the movies they’ve been having in HD. I record Charlie Rose and Tavis Smiley every night so I have the option of watching/listening to them with my morning coffee. In addition, I record the last 15 minutes or so of Letterman and Jimmy Fallon so I get the musical performances from the night before.



    Setting aside any piracy issues with BitTorrent (I was a good boy, I bought the last hour of ;LOST in HD from iTunes), it’s not the problem at hand: how to make sure there’s live severe weather information and keep regular programming going for the people who aren’t affected by the weather, so they don’t tune to something else and miss fast-building storm warnings for their area.


    As it turns out, I’m watching the rest of the next to last episode of CSI: New York on At about the 30 minute mark, Gary England broke in and they never finished the show.



    What I hate about severe weather coverage in Oklahoma is the stupid, “An emergency has been declared in your area.” You are watching the stupid local channel. The weather man is telling you exactly when your house is going to be wiped out then the cable company interrupts severe weather coverage to tell you to turn on a local channel.

    Cable companies should be allowed if not required to skip the emergency deceleration on local channels.

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