One Going Early

Back to the now-very-confusing world of digital TV…where one station serving Ohio viewers is going to shut off its analog signal a bit early.

Like, tonight.

All but a handful of Ohio stations have backed away from what would now be an “early” analog TV shutoff on the original deadline, February 17, 2009. For those with no calendars handy, that day is otherwise known as “tomorrow”.

As a result, as best as we can determine, the following stations will still adhere to the original deadline, and become “digital only” as of tomorrow night:

CLEVELAND/AKRON: WOAC/67 Canton (infomercials)
COLUMBUS: WTTE/28 (Fox), WWHO/53 Chillicothe (CW)
TOLEDO: WGTE/30 (PBS)
DAYTON: WPTD/16 (PBS) * – see note below
CINCINNATI: WSTR/64 (MyNetwork TV)
WHEELING (WV)/STEUBENVILLE: WTRF/7 (CBS)
PARKERSBURG (WV)/MARIETTA: WTAP/15 (NBC)

It’s that last station that’s been the subject of some question, and is also moving early – shutting off its analog signal tonight instead of tomorrow night.

Gray’s WTAP/15 had originally landed on that FCC list of 123 stations that requested early shutoff, but were required to provide one of two showings that would allow it to actually shut off its analog channel on the original February 17th transition date.

When the FCC released its final disposition of that list of 123 stations, WTAP was not listed anywhere…not among stations that had certified that they would follow a slew of new conditions imposed by the commission, not among stations that cited emergency reasons to shut off analog early, and not among stations that had declared that they’d stay on past February 17 in analog format. (Those FCC links, of course, all lead to PDF files.)

As it turns out, a number of Gray-owned stations were in the same boat…and now, we know why.

The company’s stations, including WTAP, started 30 day on-air notifications early, last month, based on advice from counsel…and that means they didn’t belong on the original 123 station list, and that’s now been cleared up with the FCC.

WTAP filed a silent notification with the agency on January 16th. Quoting:

PURSUANT TO PARAGRAPH 133 OF THE COMMISSION’S REPORT AND ORDER, MB DOCKET NO. 07-91, FCC 07-228 (REL. DEC. 31, 2007) (THE ORDER), GRAY TELEVISION LICENSEE, LLC HEREBY NOTIFIES THE COMMISSION THAT WTAP-TV INTENDS TO PERMANENTLY CEASE ANALOG OPERATIONS ON OR AFTER FEBRUARY 16, 2009. THE STATION WILL BROADCAST THE VIEWER NOTIFICATIONS REQUIRED BY PARAGRAPH 134 OF THE ORDER.

And WTAP has indeed been dutifully broadcasting the notifications, ramping them up in the last few days before tonight – the date the Parkersburg station will sign off, at “about 11:35 PM”.

That’s right, tonight, not Tuesday night. We don’t know why it’s a day early, aside from the fact that February 16th would possibly be considered a “safe” date to assure the move, based on the filing above.

In effect, WTAP and its sister Gray stations (including WSAZ/3 in the Charleston/Huntington WV market, which serves portions of extreme southern Ohio) are not adhering to the original digital transition date…they’re “going early” even in the context of February 17th. WSAZ’s analog transmitter goes off tonight as well.

In effect, that means they’re not in the same situation as the other stations in that “list of 123” that got extra conditions imposed upon them. It puts them in the same boat as WNEO/45 Alliance and WMFD/68 Mansfield, which shut off analog transmitters months ago.

WTAP and the Gray stations appear to have followed the rules as actually in effect in mid-January, and they appear to have won…

* – Oh, and our note about Dayton’s WPTD/16.

What is now the only Dayton market station set to turn off analog tomorrow night is trying to change that, and they may have been successful in doing so.

When every other Dayton area station filed to shut off analog signals on Tuesday, it seemed natural for PBS affiliate “ThinkTV16” to go along with the rest of the market.

That plan, as you’ve read here, fell apart…and station by station, Dayton’s full-power TV outlets decided to wait it out, based upon those FCC guidelines we’ve talked so much about, and presumably based on other stations deciding to dump the no-analog plan.

WPTD, in a Dayton Daily News article we linked earlier, openly stated that they were talking to the FCC and counsel about abandoning their already-approved February 17th transition.

And in its implementation order (PDF file) for the DTV Delay Act, released Friday, the FCC seems to have WPTD in mind:

Some stations that were not on the Appendix to the February 11 Public Notice have expressed interest in withdrawing their notifications for good reasons associated with circumstances in their markets, but not rising to the level of an “emergency or disaster.” We find that it is in the public interest to allow stations to withdraw their notifications of intent to terminate analog service on February 17, 2009.

Due to the limited period of time remaining before February 17th, stations that wish to withdraw their notifications must notify us no later than 6:00 pm EST on Sunday, February 15, 2009.
(snip)
Stations should also revise their “Viewer Notifications” to reflect their change in plans as soon as possible.

OMW reader Rich Emery, keeping an eagle eye on Southwest Ohio’s diminishing February 17th transition for us, tells us that it appears WPTD has already done so – he saw no more analog termination-related crawls in “ThinkTV16″‘s Sunday night programming block, for many hours.

Thus, we wouldn’t be surprised if WPTD will be able to keep its current analog-and-digital setup going for now…completely unraveling the earlier plan by Dayton stations to turn analog TV into a “thing of the past” on Tuesday night…

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