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SAP: It sounds like another language

Feel like a sap because you don't know what the SAP indicator on your VCR stands for? You're not alone. What most people don't know is that the latest broadcast innovation is SAP _ Secondary Audio Programming _ and it's probably the most underused feature on modern television sets.

According to the latest issue of Video Magazine, multichannel television sound (MTS) was approved back in 1984. It then became possible not only for stations to broadcast stereo sound, but to add a completely separate sound channel _ in addition to, and simultaneously with, the stereo soundtrack. Thus, SAP was born.

Have a friend who speaks something other than to English? One possible SAP use that comes immediately to mind is bilingual television. A few stations are already broadcasting simultaneously in two languages _ most notably KTLA in Los Angeles, which carries live Spanish translations of its newscasts.

Now SAP may be poised to fulfill its true potential. About 25 percent of American homes are now equipped with MTS receivers. Of the approximately 600 MTS-capable TV stations, more than 100 can also generate the SAP signal. The others aren't using SAP yet. But it won't be long before they do because it doesn't cost much for stations to add SAP equipment _ about $5,000, depending on how the station is set up.

Best of all, someone is taking the initiative. WNET, the New York PBS flagship, has ambitious plans that could lead it to full-time around-the-clock SAP. The station's first dual-audio broadcast was the musical Show Boat on PBS' Great Performances series. The SAP channel carried a complete description of the onscreen action to enable the sight-impaired to more fully enjoy the program. The first program slated for regularly scheduled SAP broadcasts will be simultaneous Spanish translations of The MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour.

You can tape SAP programs on a stereo VCR with the secondary channel intact. The tapes may then be viewed with or without the SAP channel.