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Telling the Never-Ending DTV Story

Finding New Ways to Cover the Transition Poses a Challenge to Newsroom Staffs

Not only are stations around the country in the midst of shedding their analog signals forever, their news departments are tasked with creatively covering the drawn-out digital transition in their newscasts, too.

The massive shift from the analog world to the crisp clear digital one is a major news event, but the fact is it’s been under way for a few years now and will continue to play out until all stations flip the switch to digital on June 12. Finding innovative ways to cover the transition is increasingly a challenge.

CBS-owned Philadelphia station KYW-TV recently tried something different. It conducted a training session with local Boy Scout leaders to teach them how to hook up converter boxes, then covered that initiative as a news story in late February.

Scouts’ Honor

Philadelphia-area Boy Scout leaders will be assisting viewers who need help with going digital, particularly seniors and the disabled, explained Mike Nelson, spokesman for the 29-member CBS Television Stations group, which will flip the switch in June.

The entire group has extensively covered the transition and will continue to do so for the next few months. “All of our stations have been airing half-hour specials hosted by their local anchors and reporters,” he said, adding the stations “have been participating in soft analog shutoff tests to help viewers determine if all of their TVs are prepared for the transition to digital.”

Mr. Nelson said the CBS-owned stations have presented detailed stories about converter boxes—“who needs them, who doesn’t and how to install them”—and regular updates regarding the coupon program. Many stations also have assembled phone banks to answer viewer questions about the transition, he said.

San Francisco’s ABC-owned station KGO-TV, which will turn off its analog feed in June, has been producing “what you need to know” reports.

The station’s DTV coverage has been led by consumer reporter Michael Finney. “He’s done the stories explaining the transition and is the one who does the DTV tests that we’ve been running marketwide,” said Kevin Keeshan, the station’s news director. “We did three live tests prior to Feb. 17. We have three more live tests across three dayparts scheduled between now and June 12.”

NBC-owned KNTV in the San Francisco Bay Area has produced half-hour specials devoted to the digital transition, as have most stations in the Fox group.

The Fox station group has been including stories in its newscasts on how to hook up converter boxes, too. In addition, the group is leaning on the station’s local Web sites as resources for ongoing information and how-to content on the transition.

Broadly speaking, Fox-owned WNYW in New York has produced reports touting the benefits of switching to digital television from the station’s technology reporter Brett Larson, who also appeared on “The View” recently to discuss the transition. Sister station WWOR has run “do it yourself” pieces to show viewers how to outfit their TV sets for the digital transition.

More Information Online

On the Web, the Fox-owned New York stations feature more detail, such as the timeline of the transition, reasons for the DTV conversion, who will be affected, how to determine if you have a digital tuner, what to do if it is not ready for the conversion, how to obtain converter box coupons and what antenna is right for you. Visitors will find DTV answers in English and Spanish, links to manufacturers’ DTV sites, a countdown clock and a tutorial from Mr. Larson.

Even broadcasters that shut off their analog signals last month continue to produce reports on the transition. Fort Myers, Fla., CBS affiliate WINK-TV is still running stories on how to tune in the digital channels, said Greg Stetson, the station’s programming director. That follows months of coverage in advance of the original switch date, he said.

“Most stations went far above and beyond to lay out how it all works, and what to expect,” said Tom Petner, editor of the Web site TVSpy.com. “The question, of course, is how many people absorbed it all. Judging from what I can see in the local market, the transition so far has been pretty smooth.”

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