Monday, September 8, 2008 10:16 pm

A female consumer just called into to WWAY and was highly upset—not with the early digital switch or mandate to at least purchase a converter box—but the lack to inform consumers of the possible necessity to purchase a new antenna.

Marie Robinson, a resident of Wilmington, was not a happy costumer. She felt angry and frustrated.

“I feel scammed by all these commercials and companies,” Robinson said. “If getting a new antenna was something they knew we might have to do, why did they not say our antennas would not work?”

Robinson did everything that she was told to do. She paid attention to the commercials. She knew the switch date. She purchased and installed a converter box to her television. According to her, she scanned for channels at least 5 times, and she even thought to adjust the antenna.

Still no signal. Instead, her manual recommends purchasing a new antenna if not receiving channels.
What is Robinson to do?

Robinson is of low-income. No car. One television. She doesn’t want all the channels, just the basic- channels 3, 6 and if possible, channel 10.

The last thing that she wants to hear is that she needs to purchase something else for her television to work.

“I know that a converter box or a new antenna doesn’t cost $1000,” said Robinson. “But still, that’s more money that I have to worry about.”
She worries if other low-income consumers will experience the same issue and hopes she isn’t the “odd-ball out.”

Ginny Larson of Brunswick County thinks to have consumers purchase the new equipment is an injustice, especially since it wasn’t the consumer who mandated the switch but the government. She doesn’t believe the coupons are enough.
“The FCC and the government should take on the expenses,” said Larson. “If they are going to mandate the switch, they need to buy the television or the new antenna.”
She applauds the FCC’s decision to focus attention on senior citizens, but believes just as much focus should have been directed toward others who cannot financially afford the switch.

Robinson and Larson were not alone in their concern and both bring up a very interesting point.
What about the low-income consumers?

How accurately did the FCC and all those who helped make the switch possible assess the potential outcomes that this transition would have for those who live paycheck to paycheck?
Yes. Numerous ads and
Yes. Coupons were provided to lower costs of converter boxes.
Yes. You really would have had lived under a rock not to know of the switch.
So what could possible be wrong?

Well what about the difference between the antennas—VHF and UHF?

Since our Elon crew has been here the impression has been that the common emphasis prior to the switch was to have cable or satellite, a digital television or purchase an analog-digital converter box. This information has been drilled over and over and over again to the residents of New Hanover and the surrounding counties, but there might have been one bit of information that was not emphasized—Very High Frequency (VHF) antennas no longer work in this market and must be replaced with an Ultra High Frequency (UHF) antenna.
And like Robinson and Larson, people are angry that they were not “told” this information.

Andy Combs is the general manager of WWAY, Wilmington’s local ABC affiliate. He believes the stations did a good job in providing consumers with an ample amount of information including on the UHF antenna, and if they didn’t know it was because they chose not to pay attention.
“Had they called the 800 number that we were providing to them, then they would have known that they needed to get an UHF antenna,” Combs said. “People sometimes have selected memory.”
The issue may be not all consumers know the difference between the UHF and VHF, or how to check for the difference on their own antenna.
Many of the calls that I received throughout the day were from elderly consumers who bought the converter box to go along with their OTA television sets, but didn’t know the difference between UHF and VHF. To them, an antenna was simply an antenna.
In all likelihood the consumers who own televisions of this model, have probably owned these televisions for at least 10-15 years. Consumers who own these televisions have had them for years—and their VHF antenna used to work.

Eugene Daniel


The Students on the Switch

The DTV press conference

The DTV press conference

Eleven students made the trip to Wilmington, N.C., for the historic analog to digital switch. Here are what a few of them had to say about the experience.

LEIGH LESNIAK (Senior Broadcast major)

“It’s really interesting to see such a historic thing happen, to be here, to be see the very first television market in the U.S. experience this and see what their reaction is. It’s really neat to see history in the making.”

LAUREN LIMERICK (Senior Broadcast major)

“The information we take away today is going to predict what’s going to happen in the rest of the country. If we can offer this information as a guide to other community leaders, then they can have a better idea of how to prepare. I think we all understand the magnitude of it and we’re honored to take part in something so historic, but I think many people overlooked the sheer magnitude of this historic event. People are going to look back in February (17, when the rest of the country makes the switch) to Wilmington and Elon is going to be the one providing the information.”

Randy Gyllenhaal and Leigh Lesniak set up their shot at the DTV press conference.

Randy Gyllenhaal and Leigh Lesniak set up their shot at the DTV press conference.

RANDY GYLLENHAAL (Junior Broadcast major)

“Before I came here, I didn’t realize how important TV is to some people. To some people TV is their lifeblood. When that’s lost, when that goes away, they’re scared. They feel unconnected to the world. That’s what the digital transition might do to thousands of people in February. It really shows how important television is for everyday folks. Television is a confusing thing. It seems magical, but when something goes wrong, they don’t know how to fix it. So when something goes wrong, they’re going to be scared.”

From left, Eugene Daniel, Connie Book, Olivia Hubert-Allen and Anne Nicholson stand by the symbolic analog to DTV switch.

From left, Eugene Daniel, Connie Book, Olivia Hubert-Allen and Anne Nicholson stand by the symbolic analog to DTV switch.

OLIVIA HUBERT-ALLEN (Senior Journalism/Political Science major)

“This is a truly historic event that will impact broadcast television for the rest of time. Just like when televisions originally turned from black and white to color, this conversion will mean drastic change for television viewers. Because the spectrum in the United States is so saturated with channels, there is little room left for further development. Other countries don’t have this problem. Transitioning to digital television will open the door for more things, like watching television on your phone for example.”

A Big Step…

Capitol Broadcasting Co. (CBC) President and CEO Jim Goodmon came by WILM-TV to congratulate the staff, saying the switch was a big step for the station. “Are we multicasting yet?” he asked jokingly, before getting a piece of cake. John Greene, Vice President of Special Projects for CBC, was there to celebrate too.

Goodmon only let the station know four months ago that they would have to be ready for the switch on September 8th.

Twelve years ago, Goodmon and Greene led the push at WRAL-TV In Raleigh to become the first station in the country to broadcast digitally. Now they are finally seeing the first market to fully transition to DTV.

Before 4:30 PM, WILM-TV had only received calls from six different people. CBS didn’t work on their TVs. All of them relied solely on OTA television. They all knew about the switch and had purchased digital converter boxes well in advance. CBS was the only station to not work on their TV – all the other channels they were used to and even some new channels came in clearly.

WILM is a low power station whose analog signal was only broadcast in a 5-10 mile radius to some 3000 people. The new digital signal now reaches 300,000 people. WILM’s digital signal is still low power and is not as strong as the other stations’ signals, explaining why customers are picking up all of the other channels except for WILM CBS. The analog signal was broadcast across the street from WILM. The new digital signal is being transmitted from Delco, some 20 miles to the west of Wilmington. Low lying areas are having a lot of trouble picking up WILM, including the area where the station is located, and callers are being encouraged to raise their antennas as high as possible (ideally on the roof) and to point them to the west.

One angry caller who lives down the road from the station couldn’t understand why he could receive the CBS analog signal perfectly before but now couldn’t pick up the digital signal. “I think it’s a copout,” he said. It was explained to him that simple rabbit ears were not enough. He would likely need to get an amplified antenna and put it in his attic or roof. The caller didn’t want to go through the effort and determined that he would just “do without CBS”

/ Tristan Milder & Alison Hydrick

Calls to WECT

The call volume to WECT has been the largest in the market so far, which we would have predicted since it is the most watched channel.  Most of the callers that we are getting are people who rely soley on over-the-air television. Many have converter boxes hooked into antennas and are able to get some channels, but not all of them. Since WECT has a less powerful signal than some other stations, many of these people are being directed to reposition their antenna, increase the signal strength by using the signal strength indicator in the DTV menu, or in the worse case scenario, buy a new, more powerful antenna.

Overall my experience with people has been pleasant. Most of the calls that I recieved were from people who knew the change was coming, and were prepeared, but just had small technical problems they were unable to solve on their own.  My hope would be that when the switch is made nationally, there are lots of people on the ground who can assist callers and make house calls, so that people can enjoy their digital television.

/olivia hubert-allen

A few noteworthy quotes

“Each person needs a different solution. There just isn’t one thing that will fix everybody’s problem.”  – Rachel Beauchemin, District Manager of Radio Shack

“Today at noon, North Carolina leads the nation in an enterprise. It is the most important thing to happen in our lifetime that has to do with television.” 

“We would have cancelled the switch if the hurricane was more of an issue.” – Bill Saffo, Mayor of Wilmington

[In speaking about what a friend had said to him] “You’ve had to be living under a rock to now know about this transition.” – Bill Saffo, Mayor of Wilmington

“This has been the biggest change since iet went from black and white to color in the 1950s.” – Kevin Martin,  FCC Chairman

Danielle Jorgensen, Sales Operator at Best Buy, told us that the store had fielded a lot of calls and quetsions. Many people had trouble with specific channels. She cited channel 3 and 6 as being the most asked about.

/olivia hubert-allen

Photos from Wilmington DTV switch

Photo Op with the FCC Chairman

Chairman Kevin Martin (center) with, from left, senior Olivia Hubert-Allen, sophomore Eugene Daniel, senior Anne Nicholson and Connie Book, associate dean of the School of Communications.

Chairman Kevin Martin (center) with, from left, senior Olivia Hubert-Allen, sophomore Eugene Daniel, senior Anne Nicholson and Connie Book, associate dean of the School of Communications.