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Call center to help consumers with TV conversion

Television viewers across Washington state faced a confusing picture of analog signal cutoffs Tuesday. Some stations acted early, most Spokane stations and some elsewher were on time and others, including virtually all in Seattle, decided to wait until June 12.

For years, Feb. 17 had been advertised as the last day of analog broadcasting by full-power TV transmitters, but a flurry of congressional and Federal Communications Commission action resulted in a delay to June 12 by stations in most major markets and many elsewhere.

In Spokane, KSPS, KHQ and KXLY were making the change Tuesday night, KAYU switched on Monday night and KREM, KSKN and KGPX were waiting until June. Ahead of the change, KXLY operators were “inundated” with calls Tuesday morning, said a receptionist who did not give her name, while KHQ reported few calls.

All Spokane TV stations joined in establishing a call center at KSPS with engineers and other technical personnel to take inquiries on 24 telephone lines, said Bob White, engineering director of the public broadcasting station.

The call center will be open 4:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Wednesday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday and thereafter as needed, judging by call volume, White said.

About 15 percent of television viewers in the Spokane market rely on antennas. White said that figure includes viewers as far away as northeast Oregon, southeast British Columbia, central Washington state, the Idaho Panhandle and Western Montana who rely on low-power signal translators that are not covered by the changeover directive.

In the Seattle area, all were waiting until June except KWPX, a small Ion network affiliate in suburban Bellevue.

In neighboring states, all four Portland, Ore., major network affiliates, widely viewed in much of southwest Washington, and KLEW-TV in Lewiston, Idaho, seen in parts of southeast Washington, also opted for June.

In other parts of Washington, most stations stuck to the Tuesday cutoff.

With the change, viewers who rely on older television sets with antennas need a converter box to receive digital signals, which take up less of the wireless broadcasting spectrum than analog.

Delaying the move costs stations for the extra electricity to continue broadcasting in both formats and other arrangements to continue analog transmissions.

The cutoff does not affect cable and satellite viewers.

KNDO and KNDU in Yakima and Kennewick scheduled an eight-minute video, with one viewing each in English and Spanish, on how to get and set up a converter box and scan for digital channels, after the 11 p.m. Tuesday newscast. Analog broadcasting was set to end at 11:52 p.m. after the playing of the national anthem.

KNDU General Manager Larry Forsgren said two of the four stations in the southcentral market had already switched to all-digital broadcasting, one because of an analog equipment failure, easing the transition for KNDU-KNDO. He said KNDU had been getting an average of six to eight calls a day, mostly from senior citizens.

At KVOS, an independent station in Bellingham, chief engineer Stephen Cornmesser said there had been barely 20 calls in two weeks of regular announcements and screen crawls advising viewers that analog transmission would end Tuesday.

“I was surprised at how few calls there have been,” Cornmesser said.

In Seattle, station managers said they decided to delay the change because nearly 5 percent of the market is not equipped for digital transmission.