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Hanna may delay digital TV test

A North Carolina city that would be first to make the switch is in the path of the storm.

September 06, 2008|Jim Puzzanghera | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Rumbling toward the Carolina coast, Tropical Storm Hanna may force the delay of the nation's first test of the digital television conversion.

Wilmington, N.C., is scheduled to become the first media market to permanently switch to digital TV signals at noon Monday. But the storm was approaching hurricane strength Friday and was expected to make landfall just south of Wilmington early today. That's causing angst for broadcasters at the region's five commercial TV stations.

Broadcasters and Federal Communications Commission officials discussed the situation in two conference calls this week and plan to have another conversation Sunday morning to decide whether they will postpone the digital conversion.

But based on the forecast, which called for the storm to move quickly through the region, they remained optimistic Friday that there would be no delay.

"I think it's still going to end up taking place," FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin said. "We're obviously watching the tropical storm very closely."

The FCC plans to post an announcement about the test on its website by 2 p.m. EDT Sunday.

Thom Postema, vice president and general manager of Fox affiliate WSFX, said he was 90% certain the switch would occur as planned Monday.

"We'll probably get some rain and some wind and some tree damage and maybe some power outages, but we're hoping everything will clear up by Saturday afternoon and we'll be able to move forward with this," he said.

The dry run in Wilmington, which may not be so dry after all, is designed to identify problems. Over-the-air viewers need new digital TVs or special converter boxes for their old sets to see the digital signals.

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jim.puzzanghera@latimes.com

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