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Wilmington debuts DTV transition

The digital TV era has officially begun in the U.S. At noon Monday, Wilmington became the first place in the nation to switch completely to digital broadcast signals.

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Wilmington officials flip the big switch to convert all local television to a digital signal.
WILMINGTON, N.C. — The digital TV era is officially under way in America, and it started in Wilington.

At noon Monday, Wilmington became the first city in the United States to switch completely to digital broadcast signals.

Media from across the region and beyond gathered at Thalian Hall to cover the start of a new era, called “The Big Switch.”

Kevin Martin, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and a Waxhaw native, was on hand for the occasion. He said Wilmington was chosen as the test market for the nation because all local stations were digital-ready.

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo also made remarks, thanking the five commercial TV stations in the region for volunteering to be a digital test market for the nation.

Monday’s change affected only those who still rely on an over-the-air signal for their television sets. Officials say that's about 7 percent of TV viewers in the Wilmington market.

They're the ones who need converter boxes, unless they already have digital TV sets. Everyone else is a cable or satellite TV subscriber, and for them the switchover will be seamless.

Constance Knox, general manager of WILM-TV said the stations prepared for the switch with an extensive public education campaign. They even tested the switch on Saturday night. Knox said all local stations turned off their analog signals for one minute during prime time Saturday so viewers could see whether they’re prepared. 

“We basically blocked out all other viewing opportunities, at least on local channels, in order to have that message hammered home,” Knox said.

WILM is owned by Capitol Broadcasting Co., the parent company of WRAL.com and WRAL-TV.

Analog signals will no longer show regular programming in Wilmington. However, an analog signal will broadcast a message telling people how to get their converter boxes. Officials expect the message to be up for about a month.

FCC staffers have been in the market since May, helping to spread the word. Public service announcements and news stories have aired on local stations.

The transition is being compared to the change from black-and-white television to color TV in the 1950s. TV stations have relied on analog signals for 65 years; digital TV provides a much sharper picture and better sound.

The FCC hopes to work out any kinks in Wilmington before the entire country switches over on Feb. 17.

To find out more about the DTV transition, click here.


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