Bad Weather Would Postpone Wilmington Test

Wilmington, N.C., Mayor William Saffo Appears on C-SPAN’s The Communicators

William Saffo, mayor of Wilmington, N.C., told C-SPAN Friday that he has assurances from Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin that if a hurricane or serious storm threatens his city, the commission will postpone the planned Sept. 8 test in which the Big Four network affiliates and one other station will pull the plug early on analog broadcasts.

"We had about seven major hurricanes in the late 90s that came through our region," he told an interviewer for The Communicators, and "we don't want to make this transition in the event that there is a threat of a hurricane or if there is a tropical depression out there.”

He added, "The assurance that I was given by chairman Martin was that they would not make that switch if that was happening.”

The day before, Martin was asked about the timing of the test during hurricane season and said that if there was an imminent threat, the FCC would have to evaluate it. But he also pointed out that there would be challenges "in every part of the country when the transition does occur," and that continuing to have in place an emergency-alert system that allows people to identify impending threats was going to be a critical part of the transition.

The Wilmington stations volunteered to pull the plug so that the FCC could get an early read on the impact of the real switch, which comes Feb. 17, 2009.

Saffo said he did not lobby for the distinction of being the first market to go digital, adding that he found out about it only 48 hours before the announcement was made May 9.

The mayor said he already received several calls from viewers with questions about the test, including where to get their DTV-to-analog converter boxes.