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02/18/2009

Madison Stations Say TV Switch Not Causing Major Problems

By: Jeff Richgels, The Capital Times

Madison TV stations that have ended analog broadcasting and gone to digital-only were reporting a steady stream of calls from viewers with issues that mostly were solved with some guidance.

Every Madison market station now has moved to digital-only broadcasting except for FOX 47, which will go on the new deadline date of June 12, and WHA-TV, which plans to go sometime between March and June 12.

WISC-TV reported taking the most calls at about 200, general manager David Sanks said, due largely to the fact that it is the designated "night light" station for the market that continues to broadcast in analog a screen with information about the situation, including where to call for help.

"It went well," he said. "Nobody panicked. Nobody got angry or belligerent."

Most callers were people -- many elderly -- having trouble connecting their converter box or scanning in the channels, said Sanks, who was among the WISC staffers taking calls.

"We had a (Web) site with all converter boxes and we could look up the manual and take them through making sure it's set up right," he said. "And usually when we were done it was all taken care of."

Some people did have reception issues with their antennas related to the different nature of analog and digital signals. In those cases, moving the antenna sometimes is enough. In other cases, a person may need a new antenna.

For more information on the antenna issues, go here.

The FCC has quietly released a new online tool to determine what digital stations will likely be received at a particular address. The tool will provide an educated guesstimate by signal strength ranked from "Green: Strong Signal" down to "Red: No Signal."

The tool uses Google Maps technology, so you can click and drag the location icon (the inverted teardrop) to a different location to do an A-B comparison. The results will update automatically.

Bob Goessling, operations manager at WKOW-TV, also said it went "remarkably well," with about 100 calls coming into the station's phone bank from when its analog signal was turned off at 1 p.m. Tuesday to when its phone bank was shut down at 9 p.m.

The station was continuing to get a "steady stream" of calls and e-mails Wednesday, Goessling added,

As with WISC, most of the calls to WKOW were people with equipment issues.

In some cases, WKOW staff went out to help people, while in others they asked the people to seek help from someone they knew could help, Goessling said.

"I didn't get any calls from anybody who was completely taken by surprise," he said.

That would be in line with what two Federal Communications Commissions field officers in town to check on the transition told Sanks.

"They said Wisconsin was pegged as one of the best prepared states," Sanks said.

NBC 15 operations manager Jeff Shields said things went "fairly smoothly" at the station, which had extra staff manning the phones when it shut off its analog signal at the end of the day Monday.

"Our call volume has been fairly light," Shields said. "Hopefully that means we did a pretty good job of preparing people for this."

Shields said some stations farther north in Wisconsin had many more calls, probably due to the fact that they were changing channel numbers in the transition to digital-only.

For those seeking further assistance, AARP Wisconsin has launched a toll-free help line at 1-877-698-8068. Trained operators will answer questions about the transition from 7 a.m.-10 p.m.

Nationally, the latest estimate from Nielsen is that more than 5 million U.S. households -- or 4.4 percent of all homes -- were not ready for the transition as of Feb. 15.

About a quarter of the nation's 1,759 full-power TV stations have cut off their analog signals.

The FCC cleared 421 stations to go all-digital this week. Another 220 stations have already made the switch, including all stations in Hawaii.

The federal government mandated the end of analog broadcasts to make room on those frequencies for wireless Internet service, emergency radio traffic and other uses. Digital TV broadcasts, which began several years ago, take up much less of the wireless spectrum.

Originally, all U.S. stations were to cut their analog signals on Tuesday, but at the urging of the Obama administration, Congress voted this month to give broadcasters until June 12.

Congress delayed the cutoff in large part because the fund that pays for $40 converter-box coupons had reached its spending limit. Coupons are now being issued only as fast as old ones expire unused.

The stimulus bill that President Barack Obama signed contains $650 million in additional funding. Once that money becomes available, it can clear the backlog of 4 million coupons in a few weeks.

Joe Glynn, vice president of engineering at PBS affiliate WVIA-TV near Scranton, Pa., said the station got a dozen calls in the past two days about its planned changeover at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday. The converter boxes have been a frequent subject.

"Unfortunately, some of them have asked how you get the coupons for the converter box," he said. "Some of them have called asking us if we sell converter boxes. Others are calling and saying 'I got the converter, but I'm not getting anything on it' - I'm assuming because they don't have it hooked up right."

He said most callers acknowledge that they only have themselves to blame for procrastinating.

"Everybody admits it's their fault," he said. "They knew it was coming. Some people seemed to be mad at themselves for not doing something sooner."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Source: http://www.madison.com/tct/mad/topstories/439318


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