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Posted: Saturday, Oct. 18, 2008

FCC chief reminds us to push button on digital

Published in: Mark Washburn

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Kevin Martin, who grew up near Waxhaw and now heads the Federal Communications Commission, was in Charlotte this week to talk digital television.

People living on the dark side of the moon for the last year are probably the only ones who don't know that on Feb. 17, 2009, television stations will quit broadcasting shows the way they have since the 1940s. Transmitters will switch over to a digital technology, and old TVs with rabbit ears won't be able to pick them up.

It doesn't matter to the 90 percent of the public that gets TV through cable or satellite. They won't notice any change.

But people who get TV the old-fashioned way – over the air, picked up on an antenna – will need to get a converter and hook it up to their TVs. Boy Scouts should stop selling popcorn and go door-to-door offering to hook them up for $10 a shot. They'd find plenty of takers.

Stations in Wilmington agreed to be guinea pigs and went digital in September. Thousands of calls came in to special DTV phone banks from people who suddenly lost their picture.

Martin says 98 percent of the public was aware of the switch, but some were still caught without a signal. Most who had gotten a converter but couldn't get it to work were coached over the phone.

“There's a button you must push, a scan button, to look for the stations,” he says. “And your antenna needs to be pointed in the right direction.”

By clearing out space on the broadcast spectrum formerly occupied by TV, more frequencies are available for emergency services. What was left over was auctioned off for about $20 billion.

Wireless broadband will probably occupy that spectrum, meaning in a few years you'll be able to watch TV on your cell phone and get wireless Internet at broadband speeds.

‘Extreme Makeover' Sunday

Charlotte's “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” project in the Windsor Park neighborhood will air Sunday at 8 p.m. on WSOC (Channel 9). It will be preceded by an hour special on WSOC about the making of the house.

Media Movers

WBTV (Channel 3) rejoins the Saturday morning news league with a 6 to 8 a.m. newscast anchored by consumer reporter Kristen Miranda with Kelly Franson on weather (who also appears on the weekend evening shows). ...

Meredith Brannon, a hospital pharmacy technician from Dallas, N.C., won $1,000 on Thursday's “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire.” She guessed wrong on the $25,000 question: “In soccer, kicking the ball between a defender's legs is a maneuver known as a what? Clove, pepper, curry or nutmeg?” Turned out to be nutmeg. ... Ben Cerullo of Ben Cerullo Ministries will be the focus of a reality show “Thunder Road,” about his crusades in remote places around the world. It debuts 11 p.m. today on INSP, based in Indian Land, S.C. …

Molly Carroll and Bo Thompson's “Brainstorm” show adds another hour on WDYT-AM (1220), now running 9 to 11 a.m. weekdays. …

Maurice “Moss” Bresnahan, president of South Carolina's public TV and radio network, will leave next month to take over public TV station KCTS in Seattle. … Olympic swimmer Mark Gangloff will be the guest of Joey Popp on HealthWise, 6 p.m. Sunday on WTVI (Channel 42). Topic is health medicine … WBT AM (1110) afternoon host Jeff Katz is named to the N.C. state committee for employer support of the Guard and Reserve.

Mark Washburn: 704-358-5007; mwashburn@charlotteobserver.com

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