Few problems reported in midstate TV switch

Van Adams tried to prepare himself as much as he could Tuesday when Macon-market TV stations switched off their analog signals.

Adams, a retiree who used to work in real estate, has five TVs in his Warner Robins home, but was only able to get coupons for two converter boxes.

The converter boxes allow people who use antennas or “rabbit ears” to get their TV signal to adjust older model televisions to receive digital signals, which stations across the nation are switching to as part of a mandate from the Federal Communications Commission. Most TVs manufactured within the last couple of years have a built-in converter.

“I didn’t have any problems,” Adams said. “It seems to me the quality has improved a little bit. It wasn’t all that complicated to do.”

Of the stations in the Macon market, WPGA-58, WGXA-24, WMGT-41 and WMUM-29 switched their signals to digital-only Tuesday at noon, with no interruption of service to those viewers who receive digital signals, either through a cable or satellite subscription. Those stations joined local Christian broadcaster WGNM-64, which switched to digital-only several months ago.

Currently, only WMAZ-13 continues to broadcast an analog signal, and representatives of that station said it will switch over to digital-only on March 17 to give area viewers a chance to prepare themselves for the switch.

Congress pushed back the DTV switch to June 12 a couple of weeks ago at President Obama’s request to give Americans more time to get ready for the change.

Though all of the area stations reported at least a few phone calls in the hours following the switch, many of the officials with those stations said the questions they were getting were mostly technical, such as how to install the converter box.

“We had a few calls,” said Keith True, general manager of WGXA. “I helped walk a guy through hooking up his converter box and how to run the channel scan. I’m cautiously optimistic that we won’t get too many more calls. There were no irate calls. ... More people were upset that we’ve been running the FCC notices (over the past couple of weeks). There was more confusion leading to the switch than from the switch itself.”

Derek Brown, general manager of WMGT, said the station only received two phone calls before 5 p.m., and one of those was from a caller who thought an old cable box could be used as a converter box.

“(The switch) went perfect,” Brown said. “Everything went smooth. We were all well-prepared. All of the general managers had talked with each other, and we did soft tests. I think everybody was ready.”

Most of the local stations made a request of the FCC to do the switch Tuesday, because it costs the stations several thousands to run two signals and because everyone had advertised the Feb. 17 date for the past couple of years until Congress switched it to June 12. “I think it would have been a disservice to keep the (analog) signal going,” Brown said.

When the switch was made at noon, WPGA ran a half-hour infomercial-type program to help educate viewers about the switch before resuming regular programming, general manager Debbie Hart said.

“We had a few calls, but it wasn’t overwhelming,” she said, adding that WPGA will broadcast more information about the switch on its analog signal for the next couple of weeks, as per an agreement with the FCC. WMAZ ran a segment at the beginning of its noon newscast with information about the DTV switch.

Mary Huff, spokeswoman for Cox Communications, said her staff also answered some calls about the switch and got some foot traffic Tuesday at its Macon store on Presidential Parkway. She said she expected more calls after 5 p.m., when people got home from work. She said the switch might lead to more subscribers for cable or satellite services.

“I hope so,” she said. “We’ve already had some people call in and ask about becoming Cox customers.”

Adams said despite having the extra TVs that won’t be getting any signal in a month, he will stick with using an antenna. “I had cable and satellite when I lived in Florida, and it wasn’t worth the extra money,” he said.

Adams said he hoped his daughter might be able to secure a couple of coupons — since the government limited the number to two per household — but the government ran out of coupons. He said he would use a third TV to watch DVDs and VHS recordings, but wasn’t sure of what he would do with his two remaining sets.

“My main concern was to see ‘Jeopardy!’ so I’m a happy guy,” he said. “I don’t know what the heck to do with all these TVs. People keep talking about a green ecology, but there are a lot of TVs that are usable that now won’t be usable. If the (converter boxes) were $25, I might buy a few more, but I’m not going to pay $60 for a box.”