State News

Two Raleigh TV stations turn off analog signals

Posted February 17, 2009 2:50 p.m. EST
Updated February 18, 2009 7:19 a.m. EST

— Some North Carolina television stations set up call centers, and others sent engineers to viewers' homes to help ease the transition from analog to digital signals that's occurring at stations nationwide this week.

In Raleigh, WRDC, a My Network station, and WLFL, a CW network station, were dropping analog. General manager Neal Davis said the stations haven't needed to send anyone to a viewer's house to set up a converter box.

"The good news is, there's a lot of volunteers from fire departments to Eagle Scouts to Meals on Wheels that are eager to help people with those issues as well," he said.

Capitol Broadcasting's WRAL-TV is among the stations delaying the move to digital-only signals until June 12, the latest date set by Congress for a mandatory change.

"It went very well, better than we planned it to go," said Jeff Long, station manager for WHKY-TV, an independent station in Hickory, which dropped the analog signal Saturday.

Feb. 17 was the original deadline for stations nationwide to switch, but the Federal Communications Commission agreed to move the deadline to June 12 because funding ran out for coupons to subsidize TV converter boxes. Congress worried that viewers wouldn't be ready and delayed the deadline, but the FCC allowed some stations to keep the Feb. 17 date.

Some people were confused because they thought all stations would wait until June 12 for the switch. However, the Federal Communications Commission said last week that 641 stations, mostly in thinly populated areas, could turn off the analog signal this week.

WHKY not only talked viewers through the process of setting up converter boxes, it also sent workers to viewers' homes to set up the boxes.

Ten other stations in North Carolina were dropping analog TV signals Tuesday or early Wednesday, including WTVI, a PBS station in Charlotte.

Broadcast engineer Mike Smith estimated the station has received about 200 calls, mostly about setting up the boxes. A few callers still needed to know where to buy the boxes, and others got the boxes set up, but they still didn't work.

Still, he's worried that other viewers are just giving up.

"For everybody who calls, I know there's a whole bunch of people who aren't calling," Smith said.

Joe Pomilla, vice president and general manager of WAXN, an independent Charlotte station that's dropping analog now, and WSOC-TV, the city's ABC affiliate that's waiting until June 12, said some viewers are still waiting on converter box coupons.

"The big issue now is just getting the coupons and getting their converters," he said. "I think it will be less of an issue for June 12."

WTVI took down its analog programming and instead is running a message about the analog switch on a continuous loop. The station set up a call center that operated 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, staffed by at least three people. The call center will remain staffed until the calls die down, Smith said.

General manager Jack Connors of WMYA in Asheville, a My Network affiliate, said he wasn't expecting a lot of calls because the station has been running advisories for a year.

"It would be difficult to find anyone who wasn't aware of this change," he said. "We've put on, I'm sure, thousands of messages over the last year."

But Ron Peeler, chief engineer for WYCW in Asheville, a CW network affiliate, said viewers were confused because the FCC required stations to run an advisory about the change on both the digital and the analog stations.

"So I'm getting people who are already fixed and ready to go, and they're calling us and saying, 'I'm seeing this crawl, but you say I'm OK,'" he said. "We should run the crawl on the analog side only."