Digital TV conversion deadline not changed locally

Published 10:19 am Friday, February 6, 2009

Congress may have pushed back the digital television transition deadline but Tri-State residents still need to be ready by Feb. 17 if they want to watch their favorite network shows.

The law, if approved by President Barack Obama as expected, postpones the shutdown of analog TV signals to June 12, in an effort to address concerns that millions of Americans were not going to be ready by the Feb. 17 deadline.

But all four local network affiliates — WSAZ, WCHS, WVAH, WOWK — in the Charleston-Huntington market plan to make the chance on the original date because the law allows stations to convert early.

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“Just about every TV station in West Virginia is making the change on Feb. 17,” said Jack Deakin, Interactive Media Manager for WSAZ. “… We’re ready. Nothing in the law says we have to stop and wait. So we’re going to go.”

All the local stations have been broadcasting simultaneously in analog and digital for at least a year.

The Nielsen Co. estimates that more than 6.5 million households that rely on analog TV sets to pick up over-the-air broadcast signals still are not ready. People who subscribe to cable or satellite TV or have a newer TV with a digital tuner will not be affected.

Viewers who watch TV on an analog set with rabbit ears or a rooftop antenna, can continue to receive the station by using a digital-to-analog converter box, subscribing to cable or satellite service, or buying a TV with a digital tuner.

But many viewers may not have realized it but WOWK actually has already stopped broadcasting the analog signal, a conversion that was implemented a little sooner than expected because of some equipment damage caused by last week’s storm, said John Fawcett, general manager.

“We’ve received almost no calls from anyone who says ‘hey, we can’t see you guys now,” Fawcett said.

The original legislation that mandated the change was in 2005 and the stations and the government have been telling the consumers that this would happen, Deakin said.

But many legislators felt that they delay would give consumers more time.

“There are almost 4,000 households in my district alone waiting for the DTV coupons. We can’t transition in two weeks,” U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson said. “A responsible delay just makes good sense.”

But the local stations feel that this has been talked about long enough.

“I believe a lot of people have been prepared for this,” Fawcett said. “But we will keep watching to see.”

Deakin agreed that most people will be ready and that will be important to help those who aren’t.

“There are gong to be some people caught by surprise,” Deakin said. “WSAZ is going to have extra people on hand to help answer questions.”

TV station managers are recommending viewers do a channel scan after Feb. 17 to make sure they are getting all the channels.

WSAZ will transmit a “Nightlight” message on its analog channel for 30 days (until March 17, 2009) instructing viewers how to receive its new digital signal.

For more information concerning the DTV transition, converter boxes, and how you can continue to receive the stations, call 1-877-388-5473.

This number is staffed 24-hours a day, seven days a week by people who can answer your questions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.