Tuesday, July 08, 2008

What's Up In Wilmington? It's Just TWO Months to the Transition Test.

Today is July 8th, which means that there are only two months remaining until Wilmington, N.C. becomes the first TV market in the country to run a full test (other than two stations, see below) of the digital transition. It's also been two months since that was announced, and covered just about everywhere. So what's happened since?

Actually, it doesn't seem like all that much has happened. After a brief flurry of articles, in May, (one of which noted that National Telecommunications and Information Administration offical Anthony G. Wilhelm had already paid the city a visit) the local "paper of record" (The Star-News) has not covered the story since, other than this piece from the New York Times technology feed (which deals with the overall national transition, and doesn't mention Wilmington).

Yet to cover the story (at least in the online edition) is the local African-American newspaper The Wilmington Journal, but with the concerns that have been expressed regarding the transition's effect on minority communities, I expect to see some coverage of this before too long.

In researching this story, I also tried to find out something about the local stations, both those that are participating in the transition and the two that are not. ABC affiliate WWAY has this (text) story on an FCC visit to a local senior center on June 25 (to help people apply for coupons and give lessons on how to hook up the converter box). NBC affiliate WECT has a whole page devoted to the switch, which also points to this other page containing videos of FCC Chairman Kevin Martin's late May appearance at a public meeting. A big question there was what happens to the battery-operated portables used by so many during hurricane season, which is kind of a big deal in North Carolina - does Cape Hatteras ring a bell?. Fox affiliate WSFX links to a similar page which uses much of the same info. Low-power CBS affiliate WILM also has their own info page. The other participating low-power station (TBN affiliate W51CW) does not appear to have a web presence. Other than the WWAY video mentioned above, I'm not sure if any of this info is later than May.

As I've mentioned before, PBS affiliate WUNJ (which lacks its own website, but is part of the UNC-TV network) is sitting the transition out (the UNC-TV site has references to the national 2/17/09 date, but not the Wilmington date). A blog related to the UNC-TV site (Kip's DTV Tips, maintained by Kip Campbell, UNC-TV's Director of New Technologies) contains an official statement as to why. In addition to public safety concerns (i.e. the need to have at least one station those battery-operated sets can receive when a hurricane hits), there's also the fact that they also broadcast the same analog feed statewide, and lack the technical ability to replace the "Feb 17th" info alerts with customized ones for the Wilmington area. They also seem to have some doubts as to whether the community is being given enough time to acquire coupons and boxes.

One other station is passing on the transition, low-power MyTV affiliate W47CK (announces itself as WMYW on air). Low-power stations are not required to transition on 2/17/09 (although WILM and W51CW are participating voluntarily).

The links above represent the information sources I'll be using to check in on developments as we get closer to the test. I hope there's more to report on next time!


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