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Goodbye, rabbit ears!

Area TV stations field thousands of calls Friday as they make switch to digital signal

POSTED: June 13, 2009 12:15 a.m.

Atlanta TV stations pulled the plug on over-the-airwaves broadcasting on Friday afternoon, making the mandatory switch to digital TV at 12:30 p.m. — and fielding lots of calls about it, too.

Robin Hossain with I-Zone 3 Technologies, contracted by the federal government to provide customer support services for the digital transition, said many of the TV viewers who were contacting WATL-TV in Atlanta hadn’t yet ordered the $40 coupons available from the government to pay for a digital converter box.

"The phones are ringing off the hook. We’re expecting a bigger crush later today and into the weekend," she said during a live chat on the TV station’s Web site. "I expect it to pick up gradually, as opposed to a large flood."

The TV station hired some temporary workers to help with the flood of calls the station received on Friday.

"Our toll-free line does split across several lines," Hossain said. "Half of our calls have to do with people not having coupons yet. We have actually had to help people place orders for the $40 coupons. We’re doing that, because there is an intimidation factor for some viewers."

A survey sponsored by broadcasters showed Americans are aware of the switch, thanks to two years of advertising about it. But many people simply procrastinated.

"We know some viewers will wait until the very last minute, or even after June 12, until they take action," said Paul Karpowicz, second vice chair of the television board of the National Association of Broadcasters.

Any set hooked up to cable or a satellite dish is unaffected by the end of analog broadcasts, but around 17 million U.S. households rely on antennas. Nielsen Co. said poor and minority households were less likely to be prepared for Friday’s analog shutdown, as were households consisting of people younger than 35.


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