Network Knowledge is a consortium of three Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) stations in west central Illinois. It is operated by the West Central Illinois Educational Telecommunications Corporation. The corporation previously used the brand name Convocom from 1978 until October 13, 2004.

The three stations serve as the PBS member stations for the Quincy market, as well as the western portion of the Champaign/Springfield/Decatur market.[2]The three stations serve a large and mostly rural swath of western Illinois, northeastern Missouri and southeastern Iowa. A digital translator W08DP located in Springfield broadcasts on channel 8 for full coverage in that metropolitan area.

History

Establishing an educational consortium

In 1970, the west-central region of Illinois was one of the few areas in the United States without a PBS station. Commercial broadcast television networks (CBS, NBC, ABC) and their local affiliates in the west-central Illinois region provided a few educational programming for children in the 1950s and 1960s, but this programme content disappeared by 1970. Parts of this region were served from WILL-TV in Urbana; WTVP in Peoria; and Iowa Public Television outlet KIIN-TV in Iowa City. Cable television systems in north-central Illinois and Macomb carried Iowa Public Television or WTVP, while WILL-TV was piped in by cable systems in Springfield. Notwithstanding Quincy, the second-largest city in the region, had no over-the-air coverage.

A number of meetings were held with civic organizations, businesses, elected public representatives, private and public educational institutions from 1970 to 1976. The outcome of these discussions was the establishment of the West Central Illinois Educational Telecommunications Corporation, incorporated on February 9, 1976. It was a consortium of Bradley University in Peoria, Western Illinois University in Macomb, Blackhawk Community College in Moline, and Sangamon State University in Springfield. Its mission was "to establish an educational television network, provide educational content, create local and public affairs programming to serve the residents and businesses of west-central Illinois". Bylaws for the corporation were approved on January 13, 1984.[3]

The brand name Convocom was adopted in 1978 for the corporation and its offices were established on West Bradley Avenue in Peoria. George Hall was appointed as first president that same year. He had previously served as general manager for North Carolina State University's educational television station.[4]

Initial engineering design and FCC application filings were performed in 1977 and 1978 by Gary Breed and Don Markley of D.L. Markley and Associates,[5] in Peoria, a well known broadcast engineering consulting firm. Breed was a faculty member of Bradley University's Engineering department and Markley, president and owner of the firm, grew up in Ipava, Illinois.[6]

The original television network design for Convocom would encompass 5 broadcast transmitters at: Quad Cities, Peoria, Macomb, Quincy and Springfield/Jacksonville. The master control would be located at Convocom headquarters in Peoria (at or near WTVP, Bradley University) with 3 microwave interconnections (links). A northern link to WQPT in Quad Cities; a western link to WIUM-TV in Macomb and WQEC in Quincy; and a southern link from Peoria to WJPT in Springfield/Jacksonville region.

The D. L. Markley design was a balance of engineering, economics, and the service region of the education institution members in the largely rural west-central Illinois region. Larger urban areas in the region were considered crucial for ongoing community support and sufficient financial support (grants, fund raising) to cover operational costs of the non-commercial educational network.[7]

West Central Illinois Educational TV Network (Convocom) as presented to regional representatives, educational institutions, major businesses, civic and community organisations in 1977 and 1978:

StationCity of licenseNTSC Channels
TV / RF
First air dateCall letters'
meaning
ERPHAATFacility IDConvocom educational memberTransmitter Site Coordinates
WTVPPeoria47
(UHF)
June 27, 1971Tele
Vision
Peoria
190 kW216 m28311Bradley University
WQPTMoline24
(UHF)
November 2, 1983Quad Cities
Public
Television
80 kW269 m5468Black Hawk College
WJPT1Jacksonville14
(UHF)
1979 1
August 11,1984
Jacksonville
Public
Television
490 mSangamon State University
WIUM-TVMacomb22
(UHF)
October 1, 1984Western
Illinois
University
Macomb
75 kW148 mWestern Illinois University
WQEC2Quincy27
(UHF)
March 9, 1985Quincy
Educational
Consortium
58.6 kW153 m

Notes:

  • 1. WJPT planned to use the 1,610 foot (491 m) WJJY-TV tower at Bluffs, IL. That tower collapsed on March 26, 1978 (Easter Sunday) in an ice storm. A new 800 foot (243 m) tower site west of Waverly was selected and began broadcasting August 11, 1984.
  • 2. WQEC was added after the new WJPT tower at Waverly wouldn't provide coverage to the Quincy/Hannibal market.

Convocom

WJPT was the first new Convocom station to go on the air. It was slated to sign on in 1979 using a 1,610 foot tower near Bluffs, Illinois that had previously been used ABC affiliate WJJY-TV. Notwithstanding the tower collapsed in a massive ice storm on Easter Sunday 1978.[8] Constructing a replacement 1,000 foot tower at the Bluffs site by April 1979 would require $ 1 million, that Convocom didn't have and changed the anticipated regional coverage from that location. A survey for prospective tower sites for WJPT in the Jacksonville/Springfield market and WQEC in the Quincy/Hannibal market began in the summer of 1978.

Western Illinois University had been surveying tower sites, south of Macomb, after the late 1960s to relocate the tower for the university's FM station, WIUM. The 250 foot guyed radio tower, erected in 1956, was located next to Sallee Hall, in the middle of the university's expanding campus. In 1976, WIU selected a tower site on land bequeathed to the university by Jack Horn, regional Coca-Cola bottler. In 1977, WIU and Convocom agreed to co-locate the television station, WIUM-TV on this same tower. Construction of a new 500 foot (152 m) tower was completed in 1980 and WIUM's transmitters were relocated to the site in 1981. Two microwave relay towers were constructed between Peoria and Quincy at Cuba, Illinois[9] and Carthage, Illinois[2] and completed in 1983 for PBS programme feeds, local programme feeds, master control and TV studios at WIU in Macomb and WGEM-TV in Quincy.

By 1983, a site west of Waverly was selected for construction of an 800-foot (244 m) tower. Notwithstanding for reasons that remain unknown, the FCC only licenced WJPT for 34 kilowatts of broadcast power at that specific location. As a result, WJPT only had a fringe (grade B) signal in Springfield. A site east of Quincy owned by Blackhawk of Quincy, Inc. was selected for a new 500-foot (152 m) tower for WQEC.[2] Convocom had to raise $5.5 million to complete construction of these planned and unplanned replacement facilities.[2]

George Hall resigned as President of Convocom in 1982 to serve as Virginia's Director of Telecommunications under Gov. Charles Robb.[4] The consortium appointed Dr. Jerold Gruebel as the Executive Director of Convocom in April 1983. Dr. Grubel had previously served as the Assistant Director of IHETS (Indiana Higher Education Telecommunications System), a statewide network of video, voice and data networks connecting all 77 of Indiana's colleges and universities, with headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana.[2]

WQPT in Moline signed on November 2, 1983 serving the Quad Cities metropolitan area, east-central Iowa, and north-western Illinois through a translator (channel 48) in Sterling, Illinois. WQPT, owned and operated by Black Hawk College, elected to develop its own brand identity for the Quad Cities market and never joined the Convocom microwave network and control facilities in Peoria, as originally envisioned in the 1970s design. Ironically, under ownership of Western Illinois University-Quad Cities the master control for WQPT was migrated and centralised at WTVP in Peoria on June 30, 2014, via fibre optic cabling, as envisioned in the 1970s D.L. Markley & Associates design.[2]

WJPT in Jacksonville signed on August 11, 1984, serving the western portion of the Champaign/Springfield/Decatur market and south-central Illinois. This gave this region the distinction of being served by two separately programmed PBS stations, as WILL-TV in Urbana continued to serve as the PBS outlet for the eastern half of the market. The Champaign/Springfield/Decatur market was assigned by Nielsen Designated Market Area (DMA) and the FCC Television Market Area (TMA) in the 1950s.[2] Eight weeks later, on October 1, 1984, WIUM-TV in Macomb signed on as the primary station serving Macomb and west-central Illinois. This was followed five months later, on March 9, 1985, by WQEC in Quincy signed on serving Hannibal/Quincy, western Illinois, north-eastern Missouri and south-eastern Iowa.[2]

WTVP in Peoria, owned by the Illinois Valley Public Telecommunications Corporation, elected to keep its brand identity, ownership structure and broadcast operations in Peoria. Like WQPT, the station never joined the 3 newly built Convocom broadcast facilities in Macomb, Quincy and Jacksonville.

Smaller network and change in mission

By the late 1980s, Convocom's service region was smaller than the original 1970s D.L. Markley & Associates design. Over the next ten years, regional, political and consortium membership change led to revisions in financial support, and a different mission statement. In 1989, Jerold Gruebel argued that access to the Illinois Board of Higher Education and state representatives in Springfield would further a revised mission statement for Convocom. The new mission statement: "To collaborate with people and enterprises in the communities we serve to bring quality programs, learning opportunities and economic development to our region."

He began the relocation of offices from Peoria to Springfield. Western Illinois University's participation was reduced with these changes. The FCC call signs for two of the three Convocom broadcast facilities, for this new marketing and brand consistency, were additionally changed: WIUM-TV became WMEC and WJPT became WSEC.

On July 1, 1995 Governor Jim Edgar signed a bill which realigned the public higher educational structure in Illinois. The Board of Regents and Board of Governors were abolished. Sangamon State University was merged with the University of Illinois system as the University of Illinois at Springfield. Western Illinois University was expanded to a dual campus, single university structure with the creation of a new Western Illinois University-Quad Cities campus. John Deere Corporation, Moline Foundation, IBM Corporation, and the Rock Island County Board provided land grants, facilities support, and resources for this new Riverfront campus in Moline, IL. Before 1995, the Quad Cities was the largest metropolitan region in the US without a public four-year university.

In 1997, Convocom purchased 30 acres of land southeast of Colchester, near Fandon was purchased for a new 430' (131 m) tower. The WMEC transmitter was moved to this new tower. This relocation ended WIU's co-location financial support for WMEC at the WIUM-FM tower location (1983-1997) on WIU's Horn Campus, south of Macomb.

In 1998, in order to address reception problems in Springfield from WSEC at Waverly, a 1,400 watt translator was built in the city originally broadcasting on channel 65 as W65BV. Previously, Springfield viewers could only get an acceptable signal via cable and satellite. This translator was moved to VHF channel 8 in 2001 and became W08DP.[2]

On July 21, 2000 Convocom filed with the FCC a request for a Waiver of Section 73.1125. This waiver request was for the relocation of the master control and technical/engineering facilities from Peoria to Chatham, southwest of Springfield. This eventual approval by FCC effectively ended the original 1970s design, and would have financial consequences for the next decade.[2] Since WILL is recognised as the PBS affliate station for Springfield, after 1954, Macomb continues to be recognised by FCC, Nielsen, and PBS as the network's flagship station.

Transition to digital television

In 1998, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandated that broadcast stations migrate from analogue (NTSC) to digital (ATSC) television transmission in United States.[19] This had the effect of imposing an unfunded federal mandate on public television stations. Digital television transition. Since 1993, auctions of former television spectrum to the wireless (cellular) telephone and broadband service companies by the FCC generated $52 billion.[3] That revenue wasn't used to mitigate the digital transition costs for the non-commercial, educational television stations.

For comparison, Iowa Public Television, which operates a state-wide television and telecommunications network with 9 high-power digital transmitters and 8 translators spent $47,000,000 to complete the digital television conversion. That capital expenditure was financially supported by the State of Iowa, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. More than 1,000,000 viewers watch IPTV each week. Contributing membership to the IPTV Foundation (Friends of Iowa Public TV) consists of approximately 55,000 households.[3]

This required Convocom to review its engineering design, equipment, and operations in order to continue broadcasting to the West-Central Illinois service region, after the digital television transition.

In March 2002, Convocom's technical support, engineering office and network master control were moved from Peoria to Chatham with the completion of a new digital master control facility and interconnection system. The WSEC transmitter site was moved from Waverly to a new 976' (295 m) tower in Franklin.

A new interconnection system composed of digital microwave (90 Mbs) and fiber-optic cabling was designed and implemented with the relocation of master control. It extends from Chatham through Franklin (WSEC's transmitter site) to Golden where it splits and sends a fibre signal to Quincy for WQEC and a microwave signal to Macomb for WMEC. There are additionally linkages to television studios in Quincy at WGEM (NBC affiliate) and in Macomb at Western Illinois University. The television tower for WQEC in Quincy, erected in 1984 by Convocom, was sold by Network Knowledge to Clearview Tower on January 5, 2011[3] On February 14, 2014 Clearview Tower sold this tower site to K2 Tower.[3]

In 2004, after completion of system changes and migration to digital broadcasting, the corporation adopted the brand name Network Knowledge and retired the Convocom brand name after 27 years of use.

The network's geographic service region is now defined by the 3 broadcast facilities at Franklin (Springfield/Jacksonville), Macomb, and Quincy.

Financial challenges

The smaller geographical service region of 3 broadcast facilities presented financial challenges, as predicted in the 1970s, for all participants.

In May 2001, the State of Illinois granted Convocom almost $1 million for the digital conversion.[3] Despite the early success, Dr. Jerold Gruebel, president and CEO of Network Knowledge said, "the organisation first ran into financial trouble in 2002, due to unfunded federal mandates to convert to digital television". Network Knowledge raised more than $15 million to fund the conversion, but was forced to borrow nearly $5 million to pay the rest of the bill.[19]
In January 2008, WTVP in Peoria faced financial difficulties after their digital television upgrade and studio relocation from Bradley University, an original member of the Convocom consortium, to a new Peoria Riverfront studio and offices. A special campaign, Save Our Station, generated thousands of special contributions and led to an agreement with the bank.[3]

In 2013, an experimental collaboration involving joint management and operational cooperation of WTVP with WILL-TV and the University of Illinois worked well enough that the WTVP Board of Directors voted on December 2013 to extend this cooperative agreement for an additional three years. The overall purpose of the agreement is to help both public broadcasting stations operate more cost effectively in serving eastern and central Illinois.[3]

In July 2008, WQPT, owned by Black Hawk College, an original member of the Convocom consortium, lost financial support when the station was removed from the college's FY2009 fiscal budget.[3]
In May 2010, WQPT was sold to Western Illinois University-Quad Cities, with the primary objective to return WQPT to its original mission of creating more local and public affairs programming. The station moved from its longtime home on Black Hawk's campus to new studios and offices in Riverfront Hall on the WIU-QC Campus on July 1, 2014.[3]
WQPT-TV was added cable television systems serving Macomb and McDonough County after the WQPT transmitter was relocated to Orion, IL in 2002 and later 2010 ownership change to WIU-QC. The Macomb and McDonough County cable television systems have carried KIIN', Iowa Public TV and WTVP in Peoria after 1969.
On June 30, 2014 WQPT centralised its master control at WTVP, in Peoria, as planned by D. L. Markley and Associates in the original Convocom network plan.

The smaller, three station Network Knowledge network relies heavily on corporate and government grant funding, instead of membership support (only six percent of the viewing audience donates to the three stations).
In contrast, Friends of Iowa Public Television (Iowa Public Television Foundation Board) was created in 1970 for the development, growth and support through building a strong statewide (Iowa) membership base. Its 65,000 member households across Iowa and bordering states contribute nearly ninety percent of the out-of-pocket costs for acquiring and producing general audience programming. The foundation's board with its 65,000 households continue their support of IPTV's mission to educate, enlighten and entertain.[3]

In 2009, Network Knowledge additionally lost its grant support. The organisation received an annual average of $750,000 from three foundations in Quincy and one foundation in Decatur. Due to their own economic shortfalls, Gruebel said, none of these organisations gave grants to the network.[19] In 2009, Network Knowledge applied for assistance from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's financial distress program. Mark Erstling, senior vice president for CPB System Development and Media Strategy and CPB Chief Operating Officer Vincent Curren travelled to Springfield to start talks with the organization.

In May 6, 2016, the network announced major cutbacks in broadcasting times over-the-air to save money due to the Illinois state budget stand-off, along with additional further cuts in donors and production contracts. The network currently broadcasts weekdays from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. and 10 a.m.-11 p.m. weekends, a broadcast schedule not seen for most stations after the 1960's and 1970's, when low popularity independent stations and a few public television stations broadcast for limited hours. The station continues to maintain 24/7 service over local cable providers and AT&T U-verse through a direct fibre optic link to Comcast (the major satellite services take the signal over-the-air), though as programmes like Sesame Street and Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood air before the daily over-the-air sign-on, this effectively makes half of the network's schedule cable-only. Depending on how the June 2016 fundraising cycle and pledge drive goes, further hours can be cut from the schedule.[30]

Programming

Local programming

Network Knowledge produces a number of regularly scheduled programmes each month, including:

  • Cardia (monthly; hosted by Mark McDonald & Dr. Gregory Mishkel; produced by Mark McDonald)
  • CapitolView (weekly; hosted by Bernie Schoenburg and John Patterson (rotating); produced by Scott Troehler)
  • Illinois Stories (3x/week; produced & hosted by Mark McDonald)
  • InLife: Stories from Western Illinois (monthly; hosted by Becky Cramblit; produced by Scott Troehler & Becky Cramblit)
  • Lawmakers (monthly; hosted by Mark McDonald; produced by Scott Troehler)

Special programming has included

  • Expedition United Kingdom (2005)(hosted by Becky Cramblit, produced by Scott Troehler)
  • Expedition Scotland (2006)(hosted by Becky Cramblit, produced by Scott Troehler)
  • Expedition United Kingdom (2007)(hosted by Becky Cramblit, produced by Scott Troehler)
  • Building Stories (hosted by Dave Leonatti with Anthony Rubano, produced by Scott Troehler)
  • Making Conversation; Downtown Springfield Inc. Annual Awards; Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce Annual Gala

Stations

Network Knowledge has three full-power television stations, each of which provide the same three digital subchannels.

All numbers given are for the digital television signal. Virtual channel prefixes are the same as the analogue channel was for each station before the digital transition.

CallsignOld[1]Ch.
(virtual)
Air dateCity of LicenseERP
(kW)
HAAT
(m)
Facility IDAntenna coordinates
WMECWIUM-TV21 (22)October 1, 1984Macomb75.015370537
WQECWQEC34 (27)March 9, 1985[2]Quincy58.615371561
WSECWJPT15 (14)[3]August 11, 1984[4]Jacksonville75.029770536
  1. WMEC and WSEC were given their current callsigns in 1989.
  2. The Broadcasting and Cable Yearbook says WQEC signed on March 11, while the Television and Cable Factbook says it signed on March 9.
  3. As of 16 June 2009, the FCC still shows an analogue record for WSEC on channel 14 with 34 kW ERP at 271 metres HAAT.
  4. The Broadcasting and Cable Yearbook says WSEC signed on August 21, while the Television and Cable Factbook says it signed on August 11.

Digital television

Digital channels

The stations' digital signals are multiplexed:

ChannelVideoAspectPSIP Short NameProgramming[31][32][33]
x.1720p16:9WMEC-DT
WQEC-DT
WSEC-DT
Main programming / PBS
x.2480i4:3WMEC-D2
WQEC-D2
WSEC-D2
PBS World (prime time) and additional programming
x.3WMEC-D3
WQEC-D3
WSEC-D3
Create

Analog-to-digital conversion

During 2009, in the lead-up to the analog-to-digital television transition that would ultimately occur on June 12, Network Knowledge shut down the analogue transmitters of its stations on a staggered basis. Listed below are the dates each analogue transmitter ceased operation as well as their post-transition channel allocations:[34]

  • WMEC shut down its analogue signal, over UHF channel 22, on February 17, 2009, the original target date in which full-power television in the United States were to transition from analogue to digital broadcasts under federal mandate (which was later pushed back to June 12, 2009). The station's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 21. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former UHF analogue channel 22.
  • WQEC shut down its analogue signal, over UHF channel 27, on February 17, 2009. The station's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 34. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former UHF analogue channel 27.
  • WSEC shut down its analogue signal, over UHF channel 14, on June 12, 2009, the official date in which full-power television stations in the United States transitioned from analogue to digital broadcasts under federal mandate. The station's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 15. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former UHF analogue channel 14.