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Wilmington Lesson: Test the Boxes, People!!

Broadcasters in Wilmington, N.C., rated their Sept. 8 early analog shutoff a success—especially regarding their efforts to educate the public about obtaining converter boxes.

Note to other markets: Remind people to turn on their converter boxes, to scan for channels and, if necessary to get new antennas.

But the day highlighted that by design, the DTV transition, will bring winners and losers. NBC affiliate WECT moved to a new tower for DTV to get better in-market coverage, and some out-of-market viewers in places like Raleigh lost the signal. On the other hand, WILM, the CBS affiliate owned by Raleigh DTV pioneer Capitol Broadcasting Co., switched from low-power analog to full-power digital and should have much greater coverage.

Most of the calls—1,800 to the FCC and hundreds more to broadcasters and local call centers—were resolved easily. Some people hadn't scanned channels, for example, and were guided through, broadcasters said.

"Many of the consumer problems that they saw in Wilmington were quite mundane," said Jonathan Collegio, NAB vice president for the digital transition. "You had a range of people that had purchased converter boxes, but had not plugged them in yet, and who, frankly, hadn't read the instructions."

FCC and staff at the TV stations walked viewers through what they had to do, broadcasters said.

And nearly everyone at least knew something about the transition, indicating that the educational efforts of broadcasters reached most everyone, even if some people waited until the last minute to get and set up the boxes. A few broadcasters likened those folks to the people scrounging the final bottles of water at the supermarket as a hurricane is about to close in.

"It's human nature, and that's too bad," said Gary McNair, vice president and general manager of WECT.

Looking ahead, broadcasters could adjust their message to include re-scanning DTV channels, say the Wilmington folks.

"The main thing is education of use of the converter box and continuing to talk about the antenna," said John Greene, vice president for special projects with Capitol. He suggests expanding educational efforts to include box operation and installation.

"Nationwide, stations are going to have to tell their viewers to re-scan," said Collegio. "Otherwise they're going to get tons of calls from folks who otherwise have done everything anything right."