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Wilmington Stations Rush to Upgrade Ahead of Early Analog Shutoff
8/8/2008

As Wilmington, N.C., races toward its first-in-the-nation marketwide full-power analog television shutoff Sept. 8, NBC affiliate WECT and Fox affiliate WSFX are undertaking a few other major transitions.

First, WECT set out to move from a sidemount DTV antenna 900 feet up the tower at Delco, N.C., which has proven inadequate in covering the market, according to Dan Ullmer, chief engineer for WECT and WSFX, which have an operational partnership. The stations are also installing a new HD master control.

“We are working with our contractors and Raycom Engineering at breakneck speed to have everything ready in time,” Ullmer said.

WECT now has a new Harris Diamond DTV transmitter at the 1,800-foot Winnabow, N.C., tower site, which Raycom took part ownership of when it acquired Liberty Corp. in 2005.

The site already has a multichannel DTV antenna designed for ABC affiliate WWAY (Channel 46), WSFX (Channel 30), and WECT (Channel 44), but the combiner was never set up for Channel 44, Ullmer said.

Over the weekend of Aug. 2-3, “delicate surgery” was completed by Roger Hatfield, Raycom special projects engineer, and Don Jones, president of Modern Broadcast Solutions, along with other contractors and station staff, to allow the system to receive the Channel 44 signal from WECT, Ullmer said. That DTV signal is expected to launch imminently.

Rolling out a new HD control room prior to the Sept. 8 shutoff is a huge endeavor all by itself. Complicating the matter, WSFX runs its HDTV at 720p, and WECT does 1080i. Current master control is digital SD for both stations.

To help make it work, the stations consulted with Dave Folsom, Raycom vice president of technology. Raycom’s WOIO in Cleveland and Bob Maupin, its chief engineer, developed many of the design ideas and solutions that WECT/WSFX is using, Ullmer said.

Production Manager Tom Cheatham is leading another segment of the rollout, transitioning from a 25-year-old Ampex analog switcher to a Snell & Wilcox Kahuna HD switcher, Logitek Artisan digital audio board and various other support equipment.

Most of the full-power television stations in Wilmington—the public broadcaster excepted—are ceasing analog broadcasts Sept. 8 as a test run five months ahead of the rest of the nation.

With the possibility of poor reception and other problems as the transition approaches, broadcasters and the FCC figured they could learn from a test market that ended analog ahead of schedule.

Wilmington is running its own soft-test of its test. The four network stations will switch their analog signals to an informational slate for one minute Aug. 19 to alert those still watching.

Read more about Wilmington broadcasters’ preparations for the Sept. 8 event in the Aug. 20 issue of TV Technology in print and online.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified WECT as a CBS affiliate.   Print Page