Call Centers Buzzing in Wilmington

Most calls from viewers who lost access to WECT-TV.

The phones have not all been silent since Wilmington, N.C., shut off its analog-TV signal at noon Monday.

Melody Prevatte said her call center at Southeastern Community College received about 75 calls, mostly Columbus County residents who could not watch WECT-TV. “One lady was near hysterical,” she added. “She continued calling -- I think she spoke to everyone on our campus.”

A call center in Bladen County got at least 25-30 calls, said Sara West, an EMS member of the Bladen County Fire Department, more than they expected. “That’s a lot of calls,” she said, adding that most were about problems receiving WECT.

Raycom Media’s WECT had 82 calls by 5:30 p.m. General manager Gary McNair, who told B&C a few weeks back that he’d be “completely surprised” if the shutdown wasn’t a slam-dunk, said the bulk of them were probably viewers who lived close to the station’s analog transmitter, which is no longer functioning.

He was surprised to hear the number of callers to the various call centers, but he was confident that the kinks would work out over time. “I’d venture to say that, given the right equipment, you can pick up our signal anywhere in the market,” he added. “Now it’s the education process for those who didn’t get it.”

WWAY GM Andy Combs said his station received just a smattering of calls, mostly viewers’ minor technological glitches, while WILM GM Constance Knox said the station got about six calls. “Awareness in the market was so high that we didn’t expect a lot of calls,” Knox said.

Knox suggested that other markets work on a soft launch prior to the big shutdown in February. “Consider shutting off a week or two early,” she added, “because there’s just not enough help for people who wait to the last minute.”

Prevatte said trouble could have been avoided if more people knew they could test their converter boxes prior to the shutdown at noon. “People didn’t realize the boxes would work before today,” she added. “They weren’t prepared.”

Louis Sigalos, the Federal Communications Commission’s program manager for the Wilmington test, had no comment on the volume of calls, saying that those numbers were being collected back in Washington, where a contact in the consumer-affairs bureau had not returned a call at press time.