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WECT GM: Wilmington DTV Switch Is On

"Everything is on for Monday," said Gary McNair, general manager of WECT-TV, the NBC affiliate in Wilmington, N.C., even if a category 1 hurricane blows into town Friday or Saturday.

Category one has winds of between 74 and 95 miles per hour and storm surges of 4-5 feet, with no anticipated damage to structures other than "unanchored mobile homes and shrubbery."

The station is preparing to pull the plug on analog early (Monday, Sept. 8), along with four other Wilmington stations, as part of a market test of the national switch to digital Feb. 17, 2009. McNair said the plug will get pulled "unless there are lives at stake," and he doesn't expect that to be the case.

Tropical storm Hanna is threatening the East Coast, but McNair said "go" status for the switch would only change "if there is a storm that was going to be here Monday. The only reason we would delay this is if we were in the thick of things right then, and I just don't see that happening."

Even if it did hit Wilmington, he added, it will likely be a category one, "and it is not hanging around long, so we won't get the flooding. It looks like it is going to move through quickly Friday or Saturday."

Just where the storm will hit is not clear, with Florida, Georgia or South Carolina possible landfall targets, as well, but Wilmington is currently on the upper edge of the forecast track.

The Federal Communications Commission has said stations can continue to broadcast in analog during weather emergencies, although it is technically not the FCC's call since the test is voluntary and the stations don't have to cut off analog until Feb. 17.

WECT and other stations in the market held a second "soft" test of the analog switch Tuesday (Sept. 2) at 7:30 p.m. McNair said there were only about 10 calls to the call center set up for analog-only viewers to get information about how to continue to receive the station signal after Sept. 8.

The stations held a one-minute test last week, but the call center got no calls, according to McNair, so a second, longer test was conducted to try to reach anyone who might have missed it the first time around.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.