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Cincy Works Through Tricky DTV Switch

While most markets had a fairly smooth switch to fully digital television last week, it took DMA #34 Cincinnati a little more time-and a lot more phone calls from perturbed viewers-to sort out its post-analog issues. With a high rate of over the air viewing and some topographical challenges, general managers in Cincinnati were prepared for problems, though perhaps not the degree of displacement that resulted last Friday.

WCPO VP/General Manager Bill Fee says the market's three phone banks (WCPO and WXIX shared one) logged 4,600 calls over the weekend. Compounding the issue was Newport's WKRC shifting from a UHF to VHF signal, and Scripps' WCPO's issues with its broadcast tower; the station is broadcasting in low power for the next few weeks until it moves its digital antenna-currently 100 feet below the top of the tower-in place of the analog antenna at the top.

After a harried week of addressing upset viewers, Fee says calls have slowed to a trickle and things are getting back to normal. Even Nielsen's overnights are due in today or tomorrow, he says; Nielsen held them back after June 11 as Cincinnati got its viewer issues worked out.

"We're going to resolve this reception problem one house at a time," Fee says. "It may take months, but we'll get there."

WKRC V.P./G.M. Les Vann says the station, shifting from channel 31 to 12, got 1,840 calls since Friday. Many calls from WKRC viewers went to the WCPO-WXIX call center, as the WKRC phone bank shifted to automated mode Saturday afternoon and was not staffed by real-time personnel until Monday morning (viewers left messages and were called back by technicians on call).

Vann says WKRC logged 30 calls yesterday. "We're still getting some calls, but nothing like what happened last week," he says.

Both Vann and Fee say their troops are tired, but relieved that the worst is behind them. Fee says the true relief will hit when WCPO's digital antenna is atop the tower, hopefully by July 1. "We're just waiting to bust a bottle of champagne on the bottom of the tower," he says, "and throw the switch on digital."