This Is Only a Test: Vegas Station Simulates Analog Shutoff

NBC affiliate "pulls the plug" on analog signal in dry-run of DTV transition

In a variation on the old "This is only a test" emergency broadcast messages, KVBC Las Vegas conducted a simulation of what will happen at the stroke of midnight on Feb. 17, 2009, when full-power stations across the U.S. cease broadcasting in analog.

While the transition won't affect viewers who watch KVBC through cable, since the station already provides both analog and high-definition feeds via fiber to local operators, it will disrupt service for over-the-air viewers who don't buy a digital-to-analog converter box or a new digital set.

So during each of the station's seven daily newscasts on May 2, the station stopped feeding its normal programming into its studio-to-transmitter link and instead ran a brief clip of simulated static. (To see a clip of KVBC's Dana Wagner "pulling the plug," click here.) Overlaid on the fuzzy screen was a graphic instructing befuddled viewers to call 888-DTV-2009 or, the industry's official sources for information on the transition.

The simulated blackouts, which included footage of an actual cable being pulled, began with Friday's 5 a.m. newscast. KVBC anchors explained to viewers that those who could still see them after they "pulled the plug" have nothing to worry about come February 2009—those who got only white snow, however, need to act now to make their sets DTV-ready.

"For 90% of the population, this isn't going affect them. For 10% it will," said KVBC General Manager Lisa Howfield. "So I said the best way to get the attention of people who are watching analog is, well, pull it out for a second. It grabs your attention."

Speaking to B&C the evening before the test, Howfield added, "I don't know if we're brilliant or crazy, but we're gonna find out."

KVBC promoted the test all last week, urging viewers to tune all of their sets to its station, channel 3. (It is, after all, May sweeps.)

The assignment desk was instructed to direct any complaining viewers to the same toll-free number and Website listed in the graphic.

As of Friday morning, at least, no one seemed confused. At presstime, a newsroom staffer manning the phones told us she got exactly one call.

"It went really smooth!" exclaimed Howfield after the 6 a.m. newscast, which she said averages some 29,500 households a day. "I'm really excited."

The experiment was praised by two FCC Commissioners. Commissioner Robert McDowell called it "gutsy" while Commissioner Michael Copps added: "Anything that gets people's attention and lets them know the transition is coming is a good thing."