Are We There Yet?

Some amount of confusion seems to be following in the wake of the new administration’s last minute decision to back off on the Feb. 17 mandate for ending analog broadcasts at full power stations. Some of these jumped the gun and pulled the NTSC plug before the 17th. Others followed through on their original commitments to wrap it up by midnight on that date. Still more have set their sites on June 12 as “D-Day,” and there are others who may wait for the June date, or could end analog somewhere between the two governmental lines in the sand.

The FCC supplied information on Feb. 16 indicating that 220 stations would already have handed in their NTSC licenses before the 17th and that another 421 would be signing off their analog transmitters for the last time on that date. However a spot check of several markets shows this number may be a bit on the high side.

Hartford/New Haven area viewers are still getting all the major networks delivered in analog. A few stations in that region did go ahead and pulled the plug, including a PBS outlet in Bridgeport, Conn. and it’s reported that Hartford is now missing two of its analog stations: WUVN, a channel 18 Spanish language outlet and WEDH, the channel 26 Ion affiliate. A check with one of the Hartford stations remaining analog until June revealed that the number of DTV transition-related phone calls is holding steady at three or four per day. On the other hand, the FCC says that its national 1-888-CALL-FCC help number was dialed more than 28,000 times on the 17th.

A post Feb. 18 check of the Omaha, Neb. market shows that it’s down only a single major network player. Ed Reitan, a television viewer there reports that WOWT-TV, the region’s NBC affiliate, decided to end analog on Feb. 17 as planned, but didn’t wait around for midnight to power down its channel 6 transmitter. Reitan said the station aired a short program to commemorate the occasion which included 1949 film clips of the station’s original RCA TT-5 transmitter being placed on the air for the first time. Reitan reported that unfortunately, the WOWT-TV’s analog grand finale wasn’t quite as clean as it should have been.

“Following some aerial shots of Nebraska cornfields, they went to a red screen with information advising viewers to contact FCC or local help desk numbers for assistance in receiving DTV,” Reitan said. “However audio from a soap opera normally carried at that time persisted for a while and the soap’s closed captioning stayed up even longer. Finally the whole thing went away.”

In New York City, the analog flag may be flying at half mast, but all the NTSC players there are reported to be still going full blast.

Joey Gill, chief engineer at WPSD-TV, the NBC affiliate for the Paducah/Cape Girardeau/Harrisburg television market reports that it’s pretty much business as usual with one exception.

“The Fox affiliate here is now just running a DTV infomercial,” Gill said. “The audio is interesting though, as it’s in Spanish. It’s always been an English language station. However they are running captions in both English and Spanish.”

Shreveport, La. is another market where the overwhelming majority of stations are remaining analog for the extended duration.

Dale Cassidy director of engineering at KTBS-TV, reports that the Shreveport ABC affiliate is still keeping its analog signal up for the foreseeable future.

“With one exception, everyone in this market is remaining analog,” Cassidy said. “We have an exceptionally reliable older transmitter, a Larcan, and plan to run it until June 12. The single Shreveport station that did switch off analog by the original deadline is KSHV, a myNetwork affiliate. Chief engineer Steve Henry was asked about phone calls after his channel 45 analog signal went down.

“We shut down at midnight on the 17th,” Henry said. “And I expected a deluge of phone calls. Actually it’s been extremely quiet. I did take one call this morning from someone over in Longview (Texas) about receiving our digital signal, but it wasn’t really related to loss of analog.”

Henry said that for two days prior to the shutdown KSHV ran crawls every five minutes advising that analog telecasts would be ending.

“Apparently everybody got the message,” Henry said.

Lori Needham, executive director of the Rhode Island Broadcasters Association, reports that a "clean sweep" was made in the Ocean State as far as analog broadcasting is concerned, with only two stations keeping signals up for a limited time to advise viewers of what has happened. These stations are WJAR-TV in Providence and WLNE-TV which is lecensed to neighboring New Bedford, Mass.

“WNLE will be around for another 60 days,” said Needham. “And WNAC will keep going for another 14 days. The only programming will be news with DTV transition information wrapped around it—information on hooking up converter boxes; that sort of thing.”

Needham reported that telephone traffic to help desks at the state's television stations had picked up, with one especially memorable call fielded on Feb. 17. One viewer wanted to know simpply “Why didn’t they tell us this was going to happen?”

“I don’t know where this person’s been,” Needham said. “Maybe on Mars?”

There’s fallout from all of this in other areas of the business too. The Stainless LLC tower manufacturing business has gotten something of a shot in the arm from the after effects of the early/on-time/delayed analog shutdowns too.

Don Doty is president of the company and says that the decision by some broadcasters to stay on their original timelines has meant that some of his company’s stalled projects could move ahead.

“The spigots have been turned on, as it were,” said Doty. “Things have been pretty dead for the last 90 days or so in terms of new projects. Now the phones are ringing with customers telling us they want to go ahead. I’d say that some 50 percent of the projects that had been put on hold are now moving forward.”