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How would a tropical storm or hurricane affect DTV reception without cable or satellite TV?

Si Cantwell
DTV converter box

Older analog TVs require a converter box to receive digital TV signals.

If cable or satellite TV were to become unavailable, viewers could try picking up over-the-air signals from local stations.

Newer TVs are equipped to receive digital signals. Converter boxes are available to enable analog-era TVs to receive the digital signals.

See a list of the DTV signals available in Southeastern North Carolina here.

And see a 2009 MyReporter.com article about using battery-operated TVs to receive digital signals here.

Billy Stratton, chief engineer at WWAY-TV, said he doesn’t know how many viewers have battery-operated TVs.

“There was a lot of conversation when we first went from analog to digital,” in 2008, he said. “I’ve not gotten a lot of calls about battery-operated TVs since.”

In a hurricane, Stratton said, heavy rains might affect reception of over-the-air digital TV signals.

He thought that would mostly be limited to fringe areas of the station’s designated market area, Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover and Pender counties.

Constance Knox, general manager of WILM-TV, agreed that reception of DTV signals could be a problem during torrential downpours, although she said it would only be temporary.

“For a short time, they’d probably be getting the signal cutting in and out,” she said.

Stratton said an outdoor aerial antenna generally provides a better picture than a set-top antenna, as long as it’s in place.

“In a storm, an outdoor antenna may not be there for long,” he said.

Gary McNair, general manager of WECT-TV, said he didn’t think reception would be affected by rain, but he said wind could affect rooftop antennas.

“Antennas do not like to move around a lot and provide good reception,” he said. “Analog was a little more forgiving in that regard.

“With analog, you could get a diminished signal,” he said. “Digital pixelates and then goes away.”

McNair said the station’s news team would go on the air “as long as there’s an endangering storm in our coverage area.” WECT’s designated market area consists of the same five counties as WWAY’s, and McNair said it also provides coverage to Samson and Cumberland counties.

Andy Combs, WWAY’s general manager, said the station would go to “wall-to-wall coverage” when a hurricane or tornado warning was issued for the station’s designated market area and would stay in that mode until the warning is discontinued.

He said all of the station’s newscasts are available live on WWAY’s website, including round-the-clock storm coverage.

WHQR Public Radio would broadcast WWAY’s audio signal during such wall-to-wall coverage, breaking in occasionally with its own news updates, said Michelle Bliss, WHQR’s news director.

Knox said WILM was still making plans as Hurricane Irene was moving over the Bahamas on Wednesday morning.

Knox said WILM would likely use coverage from its sister station, WRAL-TV in Raleigh, which covers news statewide. That could include coverage from the Outer Banks if the storm’s primary North Carolina impact is felt there, she said.

And WILM would work with its radio partners at the five stations of Sunrise Broadcasting in Wilmington, which like WILM and WRAL are owned by Capitol Broadcasting.

“As people call in to the radio stations, we may pick up some of that information,” and use it on WILM’s “news crawl” across the bottom of the screen, Knox said.

WECT has a partnership with Cumulus Broadcasting, which can use WECT’s news and weather material at will, McNair said.

The StarNews provides intensive storm coverage at StarNewsOnline.com/Hurricane.

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