As we reported earlier, Ohio TV stations will take part in a statewide "analog shutoff soft test" tonight for five minutes, tonight starting at 7:31 PM.
During the five minutes, the stations' analog signals will display a message telling viewers that their TV set is not ready for the coming national digital TV transition, which officially takes place just two months from now...late at night on February 17, 2009.
Full-power analog stations are required to shut off those signals at 11:59:59 PM on the 17th - going into the early morning hours of February 18th.
The message airing on those analog stations tonight will include a phone number for viewers to call to get more information, reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Julie Washington:
As part of the test, viewers will be given a help-center phone number, said Christine H. Merritt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Broadcasters, which is coordinating the test.
The center, staffed with engineers from participating stations, will be open from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.
OMW hears that the phone bank for the Cleveland market will be housed at ideaStream PBS affiliate WVIZ/25, and other local stations have said they'll answer calls as well.
This Associated Press article on the soft test (we found it on WKYC.com) notes that it's not only statewide, but will take place in some 30 states.
40 stations in Ohio are on the list of those participating in the "soft test", including all of Northeast Ohio's commercial stations.
One major station that won't be airing the soft test might be a surprise to our readers, as reported above by the Plain Dealer - Western Reserve PBS (WNEO/45 Alliance-WEAO/49 Akron).
Station officials have told OMW that they don't want to preempt PBS' "NewsHour" - and that one of the public broadcaster's two stations, of course, has already made the digital transition...with WNEO/45 shutting off its analog signal back in mid-November.
Western Reserve PBS tells us that they'll still help answer viewer calls during the soft test tonight. And we hear that station president/CEO Trina Cutter will go door-to-door during the five-minute test, informing the half-dozen station viewers who haven't already heard about the digital TV transition.
(Yes, we're just kidding about the "door-to-door" thing. But we're pretty sure Trina has run out of libraries to visit. The Kent-based PBS station has, as we've documented, been waaaaaay out front in the DTV education realm in Northeast Ohio.)
And despite the fact that it does not even have a digital signal, and won't until it "flash cuts" on February 17th, ION O&O WVPX/23 is on the list of stations doing the soft test tonight.
No low-power stations are required to shut down on February 17th (i.e. "The Cat"-WAOH-LP/29 Akron and W35AX/35 Cleveland, Canton's WIVM/52-WIVN/29, etc.).
Of course, local stations use a variety of methods to feed cable systems and satellite...so don't be surprised if you see the "you're not ready" message on cable or satellite. As near as we can tell, Cleveland's Time Warner Cable system still gets off-air analog pickup from a number of stations.
And we're wondering if even the fiber optic feeds many stations use to deliver signal to cable companies will get the correct output for tonight.
Unless the cable companies fall asleep between today and February 17th, the analog-to-digital transition should occur without a hiccup even for those who have only analog cable...the downconversion being done at the cable headend.
And both major satellite companies are converting their SD feeds of local TV stations to use a "center cut" picture from the station's digital/HD feed.
A note about the transition - the so-called "DTV Nightlight" bill has indeed passed Congress, and is expected to be signed into law soon.
It will provide stations the opportunity to keep analog signals on for an additional 30 days past February 17th - on a voluntary basis - to carry transition-related messages and emergency and public safety information.
It'll be interesting to see how the FCC implements the new law, which they'll be required to do by January 15th.
And some stations just won't be able to do it. For one, two Northern Ohio stations (WNEO, WMFD/68 Mansfield) have dismantled their analog facilities already, and a third (WVPX) would have no place or need for an analog "transition message" broadcast, since it's firing up digitally on its old analog channel...