Digital Television Transition Comes Early to Wilmington, N.C

Article excerpt

While the national digital television (DTV) transition will occur on February 17, 2009, the Wilmington, N.C., region permanently switched off their analog signals and began broadcasting in an all-digital format several months ahead of the rest of the nation on September 8.

This experiment, conducted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), was designed to test the impacts of the transition on the affected viewing public prior to the national deadline. The four commercial television stations in the five-county Wilmington area volunteered to participate in the test.

At 12 noon on September 8, an eight foot-switch, flipped from "analog" to "digital" by FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin and Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, was the centerpiece of a ceremony marking the moment that Wilmington became first in digital.

By mid-afternoon Monday, approximately 74 calls were made to WSFX and WECT, Wilmington's Fox and NBC affiliates, respectively. Most were from people who needed help hooking up or programming their new converter boxes.

In a statement commending the Wilmington transition, US. Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez said, "The success of the digital switch in Wilmington shows that word is getting out and that combined private-public partnerships can effectively work. Fewer than six months remain until the entire country makes the transition to digital television. Now, more than ever, it is crucial that people act to ensure they are ready whether that is ordering a coupon and purchasing a converter box, subscribing to cable or satellite, or purchasing a digital television."

According to The Neilson Co., Wilmington is the 135th largest television market and serves about 180,000 television households.

Because the test occurred on the North Carolina coast during the height of hurricane season, the FCC granted the Wilmington stations the option to continue broadcasting news and information on their analog channels in the event of a hurricane or other emergency. However, the commission also made it clear that the analog option was available only because the stations voluntarily made the switch early. After February 17, 2009, stations will broadcast only in digital, regardless of emergency.

Portable, battery-operated television sets used during emergencies will also be affected by the DTV transition. Unless equipped with a digital tuner, portable, battery-operated television sets will not receive TV signals after the February 17 analog shut-off. Few manufacturers have produced battery-operated converter boxes for portable sets. In case of emergency, Wilmington area broadcasters using an analog signal will carry a message explaining the switch.

After February 17, 2009, televisions across the nation receiving their signals through cable, satellite, or another pay service will most likely be unaffected. However, households receiving analog signals through a rooftop antenna or rabbit ears will be directly affected. To continue receiving free, over-the-air television, households with antennas must upgrade to digital television in one of three ways:

1. Purchase a DTV converter box that will convert the digital signal into analog for an existing analog television set. Converter boxes are now available for purchase at most major consumer electronics retailers and usually cost between $40 and $70. …