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DTV soft test to give analog viewers final ‘wake-up call’

Many TV broadcasters will take part May 21 in what’s being called a “soft test” of the public to determine who’s ready for the DTV transition June 12 and who’s not.

The test is being billed by the FCC as a wake-up call for DTV readiness among the public. Participating local TV stations today will interrupt programming on their analog channels up to three times throughout the broadcast day to warn viewers of the upcoming transition to digital television transmission. The test message will not be inserted into programming being transmitted digitally.

Over-the-air viewers watching analog programming during the tests will be told that the interruption in their programming indicates that they are not prepared for the DTV transition. The length of the program interruption will vary but generally will last between two and five minutes, according to the FCC.

One unavoidable problem with the test is that certain pay TV subscribers who receive programming from cable and satellite TV operators that retransmit TV stations’ analog signals will also receive the soft test.

“The soft test is a wake-up call to consumers telling them that the time to get ready for the DTV transition is now,” said acting FCC chairman Michael Copps in a press statement announcing the tests.

The nation’s largest broadcast group, ION Media Networks, is one of the broadcasters that will participate in the test. In the 40 markets where it still transmits an analog signal, the company’s stations will interrupt programming for three minutes at 12:28 p.m. with static color bars and a scrolling message warning viewers that they will lose TV reception June 12 if they do not make the appropriate preparations, said Joseph Koker, president Television Station Group, ION Media Networks.

Based on the company’s experience with stations that shut off analog on the original DTV transition deadline Feb. 17 and six more that did so April 16, ION Media is optimistic about the success of the June 12 transition, said Koker.

“We had limited calls on those days,” Koker said. “We think the NAB and the FCC are doing a good job of informing the public.”

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.