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First NYC Stations Sign Off

New York stations WABC, WPIX and WNET all powered down their analog transmitters at 12:30 p.m. Friday and began broadcasting DTV on the VHF channels---7, 11 and 13---they previously used for analog.

So far, the switch appears to be successful, as within ten minutes of the switch this reporter was able to receive the three new VHF digital stations in a Manhattan apartment using a simple $12.99 antenna from Radio Shack. How well the VHF signals are received by the broader New York marketplace remains to be seen, as engineers have expressed concerns over how well such VHF signals will be received throughout the DMA, particularly with simple indoor antennas, given the power thresholds they are allowed to transmit.

“The issue is that the power allocated to many of the markets is less than the maximum that would be allowed in the marketplace due to the proximity of interfering stations,” explains Dave Converse, VP of engineering for the ABC station group. He says that Chicago faces a similar challenge.

ABC owned-and-operated WABC, along with other New York stations including Fox O&O WNYW and CW station WPIX, was running informational crawls Friday morning on its analog broadcasts saying, “if you are seeing this image, you are NOT ready for the DTV transition” and pointing them to a toll-free number for information. It was also running messages on its digital channel, which had previously been UHF Ch. 45, urging viewers with digital TV sets or converter boxes to rescan their devices after 12:30.

NBC owned-and-operated WNBC, which along with CBS owned-and-operated WCBS and WNYW is waiting until 11:59 p.m. to cease analog operations, also had a “Tech Now” program running at noon Friday instructing viewers how to install a converter box, which has been followed by informational programs on the switch from NAB.

Numerous spots from local cable operator Cablevision encouraging viewers due to lose service to call Cablevision could be seen on all the local analog channels.

WABC teased its turnoff throughout its noon newscast, and at about 12:27 went to anchor Bill Ritter, live from “the control room where we’ll flip the switch.” Ritter talked about the change digital TV represents in a brief taped segment, then counted down the final minute live before a WABC engineer dramatically pushed a button to key the turnoff.

“If you have cable or digital TV, you’re not going to see anything,” said Ritter. “But for those of you who have analog, you’re signal’s about to go off. We want no viewer left behind.”

A message also flashed across the screen for digital TV viewers to rescan their TV or converter box.

Ritter gave a 10-second warning, then said WABC was about to “push the button.” Nothing immediately happened, and Ritter said, “Digital 7 should be coming off. If you have digital 7, nothing’s changed.” Then the screen went to static.

WPIX on Ch.11 analog was still on until 12:32, then it too went to static. So this reporter, who had already adjusted his rabbit ear antennas for optimal analog VHF reception (which still wasn’t very good) switched his HDTV to digital mode and found no signal for WABC, as expected. So he began a rescan at 12:34.

The rescan was complete by 12:38, and at that point the TV had robust reception of both WABC and WPIX, which it used to receive well when they broadcast DTV on UHF channels. But it was also now receiving the digital signal of PBS station WNET for the first time, with its four-channel multiplex. WNET had previously been broadcasting a low-power signal that this reporter couldn’t receive before it switched to high-powered transmission on VHF Ch. 13 Friday.