February 18, 2009 in Business

DTV switch prompts hundreds of calls for help

By The Spokesman-Review
Colin Mulvany photo

Dan Lamphere, KREM TV’s director of operations, walks a viewer through the installation of their DTV converter box. Feb. 18, 2009, at the studios of KSPS TV. KSPS has a phone board set up so that viewers who are having trouble can call in for help.
(Full-size photo)

Help line
The DTV help line for Spokane-area viewers is (888) 672-4483. It will continue through 6 p.m. Friday unless local stations decide to extend the service through the weekend.

More than 1,100 Spokane-area TV watchers called for help Wednesday, the first full day of the switch from analog to digital over-the-air television signals.

Four Spokane TV stations went ahead with the switch to digital transmissions, part of a large national conversion that affected everyone who watched TV via rabbit-ear-style antennas and was more than two years in the making.

When those stations made the switch late Tuesday, viewers had to use a converter box to continue receiving the signals.

In most cases, viewers were able to see some channels, but not all of them after hooking up their converter boxes, said Patricia McRae, general manager of KHQ-TV, one of the four stations that switched by Wednesday.

The other three stations that switched are KAYU, KSPS and KXLY.

Three other stations — KREM, KSKN and KGPX — will switch on June 12, the extended deadline recently passed by Congress to allow viewers more time to acquire converters.

Spokane’s TV stations provided volunteers and technical staff who answered calls starting at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday. By 6 p.m., the call-in line had logged over 1,100 calls, said Bob Wyatt, chief of engineering at KSPS, whose studio served as the call center for digital conversion questions.

McRae said KHQ’s downtown office also got about 100 calls during the day.

McRae spent three hours at KSPS answering calls.

“I never took one call when the person said ‘I can’t get any TV,’?” she said. “It was usually they could get at least one channel but not all of them.”

In many cases they needed to use a remote to scan for all available digital signals, McRae said.

Other calls came from viewers in areas needing regional translators to beam signals around mountains, such as in North Idaho. In those cases viewers had to use a pass-through feature on the converter that continued to receive the analog signal from the translators. Those remote translators continue using analog signals, unlike the stations’ main transmitters.

Others had properly installed their converter boxes but needed to re-position their antennas, said Wyatt.

“It was a matter of having them adjust the antenna so that it finally was placed where they could get all the signals they should be getting,” Wyatt said.

Wyatt said the peak time for incoming calls was between 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. From 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., the call line logged more than 150 requests for help.

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