This is just a test: San Francisco TV stations shutdown analog broadcasts tonight

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Broadcasters around the country arenâ''t just relying on public service announcements to warn viewers about the upcoming analog shutdown. Theyâ''re not stupid, they know that the vast amount of TV-viewers ignore advertisements, and even the analog TV viewers that that are watching donâ''t realize that the ad warning them that some TV viewers may have to take action to prepare for the February 17th analog shutdown is talking about them.

Sometimes, you have to really shake people to get them to pay attention. And tonight, San Francisco Bay Area broadcasters are going to try to shake analog TV viewers up. At 6:15 pm, local TV stations will briefly replace their analog signals with a still image warning viewers that they are not prepared for Feb. 17th and need to take action. This isn't trivial, broadcast engineers had to rig up a way to send a different program feed to the analog transmitters than they do the digital, cable, and satellite transmitters.

So far, brilliant. (The Bay Area is not alone, at least 80 such mock shutdowns have happened so far around the U.S.).

The image will display a link to DTV.gov, where folks can go online to learn all about the shutdown, along with a phone number for a regional call center. Explains broadcast station KGO: â''three beeps will be heard and an on-screen graphic will appear on our channel informing the viewer if their television is "ready" or "not ready" for the digital transition.â''

Here's where I get worried. Iâ''m glad theyâ''re including the phone number; I just hope that it goes quickly to a real person, not an endless voicemail menu, and it's a person who can go beyond telling the people to get a converter box and actually walk them through the process. Because the folks I know that will be most affected by the shutdown, that is, the elderly, donâ''t necessarily jump on line whenever they see those three little Wâ''s. They donâ''t necessarily have computers. They need to have a conversation with someone who is patient, and knowledgeable, and can in one phone call order their coupon and, perhaps, put them in touch with a volunteer to hook up their system for them. The video below, showing an elderly person struggling to follow conversion directions, is meant as humor, but itâ''s not that far off base. (This video is staged, but Consumer Electronics Association has launched a contest for the best DTV conversion video posted on YouTube, suggesting people converting family and friends record their experiences.)

Because the more and more I think about the day that analog TV dies, the more I realize that coupon programs and public service announcements and even test shutdowns arenâ''t enough. The Wilmington, NC, fire department, which in September went out to residentsâ'' homes and helped them hook up converter boxes, isnâ''t enough.

We are going to need volunteers in every city, knowledgeable volunteers, who donâ''t mind running out to Radio Shack to pick up that extra cable or signal booster that didnâ''t come with the TV converter; who can answer a hotline and help the people that canâ''t figure out which cable goes where. Could it be that we needâ''IEEE members?

For more tales from the digital television transition, as well as links to in depth coverage about digital television technology, see IEEE Spectrum's Special Report: THE DAY ANALOG TV DIES.

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