Combined Efforts Paid Off in N.C.

Sep 14, 2008  •  Post A Comment

WILM-TV station manager Constance Knox was three pages into her post-mortem of the early digital television transition that took place Sept. 8 in her market of Wilmington, N.C., when she took a short break last week to offer advice to broadcasters in the rest of the country.
Stations elsewhere in the U.S. will make their mass farewell to analog signals Feb. 17 without the same intimate involvement of the Federal Communications Commission, which maintained a constant presence in the five-county Wilmington Designated Market Area, No. 135 in the country, and the National Association of Broadcasters.
“They’re going to have to work together,” Ms. Knox told TelevisionWeek last week. “They’re going to have to get the community involved. They’re going to have to get their local government involved. They’re going to have to drench the market with information. And then [consumers] are still not all going to get it.”
Problems caused by the end of analog signals in Wilmington produced calls from less than one-half of 1% of the 180,000 TV homes in the DMA, 14,000 of which relied solely on free over-the-air broadcasting for their TV programming.
Only 23 of the 797 calls received by the FCC helpline the first day were from people who had been unaware of the Sept. 8 DTV switch.
Ms. Knox’s take on the “unawares,” including one lone clueless caller among the 226 who phoned Wilmington stations on the day of the switch?
“We can’t control what people decide to pay attention to and what they choose not to pay attention to. There’s going to be a certain amount of people out there who just don’t pay attention,” the WILM executive said. “They’re not news-minded people. They’re just plain not news-minded.”
Most of the other callers to the FCC helpline and the four commercial Wilmington stations taking part in the early switch—Capital Communications-owned CBS affiliate WILM, Raycom-owned NBC affiliate WECT-TV and Fox affiliate WSFX-TV, and Morris Multimedia-owned ABC affiliate WWAY-TV—were aware and had their converter boxes, but had troubles that ranged from not having the boxes hooked up properly to not having the antenna high enough.
The volume of calls had decreased by half by day two of the digital era.
The Wilmington experience, which all participants agree went very well, and what was learned from it will be among the subjects discussed Tuesday at a hearing, “Status of the DTV Transition: 154 Days and Counting,” held by the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications & the Internet.
FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin is among those scheduled to testify before the subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass.
Meanwhile, one of the vexing questions raised in Wilmington, which was brushed by Tropical Storm Hanna two days before the transition, had been the prospect of digital box users being left without access to televised emergency information if a storm had knocked out power. That appears to have been answered.
Winegard Co., a well-known maker of TV reception products, is in production on a battery pack for use with its government-approved converter box. It uses 6 D-cell batteries and lasts for 18 hours.
Winegard national sales manager Grant Whipple said the battery pack is making its way to shelves in smaller electronics specialty stores now. In the meantime, it can be purchased from winegarddirect.com for $14.99.
Mr. Whipple participated in a DTV show produced by WECT on Sept. 4.
“We probably sold 35 to 40 in the show,” he said.
One final note: On the morning of the switch, the sound was all out of whack on NBC’s “Today” show in Wilmington. Any sound from a video clip, such as from the MTV Music Video Awards or “The Big Shill,” drowned out the voices of co-anchors Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira.
Numerous e-mails to NBC and conversations with WECT personnel and executives revealed that the problem had nothing to do with the DTV switch. Instead, the station’s Dolby sound equipment had been damaged, perhaps as a result of the storm. By the beginning of the third hour of “Today,” the station switched to SD audio.
Problem solved.


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