Following Friday’s tranistion from analog, stations across the country report fewer and fewer calls for help. Most involved the need to rescan converters and TVs to find stations that switched channels. Some, as with WLS Chicago, were due to lower power on the new channel. The FCC reported 317,450 calls to its DTV hotline on Friday, 145,403 on Saturday and 48,000 as of 8 p.m. Sunday.
The analog TV transmission era went out with a whimper over the weekend, with sharp day-to-day declines in calls to the FCC DTV hotline.
After Friday’s first-day rush of 317,450 consumer, the number of calls dropped to 145,403 on Saturday and to approximately 48,000 as of 8 p.m. ET Sunday.
“We are kind of safe at third right now,” said Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps after the first day’s calls were tabulated.
Now, the transition shifts to what FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein referred to Saturday as a “search and rescue” operation — finding those who have lost over-the-air service and getting them hooked up.
The FCC numbers jibed with the NAB’s survey of 259 stations. It reported an average of 135 calls since the DTV switchover went forward Friday.
“In general, this went very quietly with just the expected calls with people needing to rescan for channels,” said Ardell Hill, senior vice president, broadcast operations, Media General Broadcast.
“Most of our stations report that calls dwindled off [over the weekend] to where there’s no volume of calls at all.”
Most of the calls involved scanning and rescanning converter boxes, antenna placement and applying for converter box coupons.
Chicago and Dallas had the highest volume of calls, but for different reasons.
In Chicago, the problems were blamed on the market’s high percentage of over-the-air viewers combined with ABC-owned WLS’s switch from a UHF digital channel to a VHF digital channel with low power.
“We took over 2,000 calls on Friday, with many spilling over to voicemail because of the volume requiring call-backs. The calls can be painstaking and can take from 10-20 minutes each,” said WLS President and GM Emily Barr.
According to Barr, WLS’ permanent digital channel 7 comes with just 4.75 KW of power.
“We’re not just having issues in outlying areas, but also in downtown buildings,” she said. “We anticipated this and met with FCC officials in Washington last week asking for an increase. We expect a quick response now to our emergency request, but understand this is a challenge to work out with adjacent stations so there aren’t any interference problems.”
ABC-owed WPVI Philadelphia seemed to be having a similar problems. In a newscast over the weekend, anchor Rob Jennings said viewers may be having trouble receiving the station, now on digital channel 6, because they are using UHF-only antennas or because the stations may be underpowered.
“The government may have to let us…increase our power in order for everybody to get our signal,” he reported.
Meanwhile, in Dallas, Belo’s flagship WFAA found itself facing something unexpected immediately after switching over at noon Friday — the loss of its signal on satellite services DirecTV and Dish Network.
“We knew we had something odd because the callers were complaining that we had promised them there was no issue if they weren’t receiving signals over-the-air,” said Craig Harper, Belo’s VP of technology. “These weren’t the usual over-the-air questions about rescanning and antenna placement.”
The two satellite TV providers share a common off-air pickup point for Dallas signals. Harper speculated that just like a lot of consumers, the pickup point failed to rescan, but couldn’t say for sure what the problem was. “We just knew it wasn’t our issue.”
Harper said that Belo’s station in Louisville, Ky., experienced a similar problem.
In any event, he said, the satellite problems in Dallas and Louisville were remedied within an hour or two.
Over the next few weeks, the stragglers should be able to restore full service as they become more adept at using their converter boxes and as stations improve
Media General’s Hill said that some of his stations are not yet operating at full power, waiting on transmission gear that needs to be moved from market to market.
“We’re going to see better coverage in three to four weeks as we go to full power in several markets. The last will not be until September in Spartanburg where we’re waiting to rebuild a tower that collapsed in the recent ice storm,” said Hill.
According to Hill, stations would do well to instruct viewers — especially those in fringe reception areas — to continue scanning to be sure to get all the offerings available.
Finally, analog’s end allowed for some unusual reception patterns that made for some intriguing viewing.
Belo’s WWL in New Orleans got a call from a surprised viewer about 75 miles north of Toronto, Ontario. Apparently, all the other stations operating on ch. 4 in the eastern half of the country were off the air, clearing the airwaves for the reception of WWL 1,200 miles away.
So, for WWL, the analog era ended with a new record.
“WWL’s GM Bud Brown is sending out a package with a bunch of station goodies,” said Belo’s Harper. “This is the longest-distance viewer ever for that station.”