TV stations to test digital signal statewide

Published 10:38 pm Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sometime this week, you will find out if you are ready for the digital switchover scheduled to officially take place on Feb. 17.

The Alabama Broadcasting Association will coordinate a statewide test of digital signals, anticipating the change in television broadcasting from analog signals to digital.

On Wednesday (today), at 5:25 p.m., many TV stations across Alabama will simulate pulling the plug on their analog signals and broadcast only in digital for one minute. That will help viewers know if their TV is truly ready for the digital changeover.

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“(Wednesday) at 5:25 p.m., there will be a test of TV stations across the state,” said Sharon Tinsley, the president of the Alabama Broadcasting Association. “All but two stations will be ready for this test. One is WUOA on the campus of the University of Alabama, and the other is WRJM in Troy.

“We are particularly concerned about people in west Alabama. The digital footprint in that part of the state indicate that people in that area tend to get a low signal. These tests will help us get information about those people’s ability to receive digital signals.”

Tinsley added that low-power stations are not required to make the switch to digital.

David Johnson, the chief technician at Demopolis CATV, said there will be a test performed all day Thursday, but any of his customers are already prepared for the switch from analog to digital.

“No one’s going to notice the switchover,” he said. “We’re already ready. We’ve already changed out all of our equipment, and we’re already digital, except our two channels, and they are ready to be switched over.”

Johnson said that anyone already on the cable service will not notice any change on Feb. 17.

“They won’t even see the channel blink,” he said. “It’s already done.”

Tinsley said that WVTM TV-13 in Birmingham will have seven tests on Wednesday, with the statewide one-minute test being the shortest.

“There will be other tests statewide as we get closer to the Feb. 17 starting date,” she said. “It’s not set in stone yet, but we plan to have tests every Tuesday from Jan. 20 to Feb. 10. That way, if someone is watching their TV and they flip around, they will see if their TVs will work after the switch.”

Television sets that pick up their pictures from rooftop antennas or “rabbit ears” are likely to have problems picking up a digital signal. Most TV sets bought after March 1, 2007, when the government began requiring digital tuners, should be OK.

Portable TVs all have analog receivers and are not digital-ready. Unless those sets have a digital converter box, they will not work after Feb. 17.

One marking on the TV or in it manual that will assure receiving the digital signal is “digital tuner,” “digital receiver” or “HDTV.” If it says “digital monitor,” “HDTV monitor” or “digital ready,” it does not have a digital tuner, and will not work. It will need a separate box containing a digital tuner to see the digital picture.