The analog turnoff went well for Media General's 14 stations, with an average of 150 viewer calls received per station, as of Saturday evening, says Ardell Hill, senior VP of broadcast operations for the group.
Only a couple stations had a high volume of calls Friday, with a few logging 500 to 600, but that tailed off pretty quickly. While Media General had been concerned about reception problems at a few of its stations that were switching back from UHF digital to their old analog VHF assignments, that wasn't as big a problem as it expected.
"At the end of the day, the single most predominant issue was the converter box itself," says Hill. "Either the customer was not doing it right, or it was a cheap box that didn't [rescan well]."
Media General does have a coverage issue at one station, WSPA in Spartanburg, S.C., but it was not unexpected. WSPA had its tower collapse during a freak storm back in early March and had been operating a low-power UHF signal from a temporary antenna at a much lower height than before, while it races to get a new permanent tower built. When it switched to a low-power VHF signal on Ch. 7 on Friday as part of the conversion, not surprisingly fewer viewers were able to find the signal. Hill says Media General is working with affected WSPA viewers on a case-by-case basis in the interim to try to restore reception.
"We're working with them, and trying to find ways to get them an outdoor antenna," says Hill. "That's probably the biggest challenge."
Media General has several other stations that also switched back to VHF, including markets such as Tampa, Florence/Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Johnson City, Tenn. But Hill says it's too early to tell what the overall impact to DTV reception has been. From participating in industry calls Friday, he has heard problems with VHF reception in several markets, however.
"For the most part, it's clear that the VHF signals are noticeably covering less of the market than what UHF at full-power was," says Hill. "We're hearing that from the industry in several markets, and that's a pretty universal thing being experienced: the V's are not quite getting out as well as the U's."
Hill does add that viewers with newer indoor VHF/UHF antennas that have built-in amplifiers are faring much better in finding the new VHF digital channels.