Local stations make decisions about analog broadcasting

Local stations are finding different ways to approach the switch to digital broadcasting.

The mandatory transition date from traditional analog to digital broadcasting signals was most recently changed from Feb. 17 to June 12, and despite the new mandatory date, some stations are shutting off analog signals earlier.

WILL-TV, Champaign-Urbana’s local Public Broadcasting Service, has decided to shut off its analog signal Tuesday.

“The University’s costs to power the analog transmitter run $2,000-$3,000 a month,” said Mark Leonard, general manager of WILL, in a press release. “We’re trying to be fiscally and environmentally responsible.”

Leonard said the majority of television viewers appear to be ready for the switch, as phone calls inquiring about the transition have declined over the past few weeks.

“We’re down to about four a week from a high of a dozen or so a day,” Leonard said.

“We think delaying past March 31 wouldn’t significantly increase the number of prepared viewers.”

Digital programming will also allow WILL to broadcast different services on two individual digital channels, Leonard said.

The new programming channels, each broadcast 24 hours a day, will present shows regarding world news, documentaries, cooking, gardening, and travel.

Leonard said the station will drop the analog signal at 6 a.m. on March 31 as it switches to all-digital programming. WILL employees will also begin operating a phone bank to assist those still having trouble receiving the signal.

“We don’t anticipate any major problems, but we’ll have people standing by to help in case viewers need assistance,” Leonard said.

Other stations have already shut off the analog signal.

WCCU, Champaign-Urbana’s Fox network affiliate, completely switched to digital broadcasting on Feb. 17.

Chad Happersett, the station manager for WCCU, said the switch to digital has been met positively and without many problems.

There is “not anything major, just a few phone calls here and there,” Happersett said.

With many stations shutting off the analog signal before June 12, other stations such as WCIA, the area’s CBS affiliate, have found advantages in keeping an analog signal running until the mandatory date.

“We are the station of choice, in reality,” said Russ Hamilton, vice president and general manager at WCIA.

Hamilton said that because of the heritage WCIA has cultivated, many of its mature viewers are located in rural areas and have had more difficulty preparing for the transition.

“We’re kind of like their lifeline,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said the station has other issues to contend with, including the possibility of station interference. If WCIA was to switch over to digital broadcasting at this time, the signal would interfere with another station outside of the local market.

Staying on through the duration of the allotted analog time also allows WCIA to provide emergency news and weather reports to people not ready for the switch, he added.

To assist those who have not purchased necessary converter boxes for the digital signal, Hamilton said WCIA will be running three to four times the amount of informational advertisements and announcements as usual.

WCIA wants “to make sure all of those people have the opportunity,” Hamilton said.