Hawaii Goes First

Hawaii became the first state in the Union yesterday to take over-the-air television all digital. The islands’ 20 full-power TV stations pulled programming from analog transmissions at noon on Thursday and replaced it with a billboard stating “All full-power Hawaii TV stations are now digital.”

As much as the transition has been publicized, people were still unprepared.

“The calls we’re getting now are from those people who are waking up and saying, `Oh my God, what do I do?” said Lyle Ishida, the FCC's Hawaii digital TV project manager told The Associated Pressthe morning of the switchover. Ishida reported that “hundreds” of calls came in from residents--by evening, up to 100 an hour--but there were “no surprises,” he told The Maui News. Most calls, he said, involved antenna issues similar to what happened in Wilmington, N.C. when stations in that market took the dive as a test market last year.

Hawaii’s shutdown comes as U.S. lawmakers discuss delaying the mainland transition. One veteran transmitter engineer cautioned against comparing the transition in Hawaii with a simultaneous shutdown across the contiguous United States. First, the size of the population allows more one-on-one assistance for people that need help with antennas. Second, Hawaii has no risk of interference from adjacent-market stations, since it has none. The isolated nature of the area also makes it easier to analyze and mitigate coverage gaps.

An informal survey of individuals at Linkedin.com indicated most favored leaving the main DTV transition deadline at the current date of Feb. 17.

“I don’t think more time will avert the problem,” writes Dave Lenox, vice president of sports for Special Olympics. “The people who will be impacted don’t know they will be impacted. The advertisements may be going over their head or they just tend not to pay attention to detail. I think the number of people who will be impacted negatively is probably fairly low so we should just go ahead and do it and have a plan for how to help those who go blank.”

Many TV engineers have favored a market-by-market transition, but the concept never got legs in Congress. Going market-by-market allows those stations that are ready, and haven’t planned for the extra $25,000 a month to keep analog transmitters going, can transition. Markets with a multitude of stations, and highly diverse ethnic populations, like New York or Los Angeles, might prefer more time.