When Marvin Charette clicked on WUSF-Ch. 16 Friday afternoon, he was expecting to see PBS' Worldreport global news program.
Instead, the 53-year-old Dunedin resident ran into unexpected fallout from the digital television switch, as Bright House Networks took WUSF out of its analog tier, making the station accessible only to customers with digital cable.
Charette, who has standard cable service, doesn't want to pay the extra $1 per month for a tuner allowing him to see WUSF. As a past contributor, he's not sure he'll be giving money, either: "I can't see the station — why would I give money to it?" he said.
To minimize confusion in the transition to digital TV, cable companies agreed to keep most local broadcasters on the same analog channels they occupied before turning off their analog signals.
But cable providers are required to carry only one public television station in the analog and digital tier in each TV market. In Tampa, Bright House chose WEDU-Ch. 3 because it carries more PBS programming, broadcasts in high definition and has a higher viewership.
That meant WUSF could choose between inclusion on the digital tier — where Bright House digital cable customers could see their four different digital channels — or stay on the analog tier, where the company's subscribers would see just one channel.
The change makes WUSF, a station licensed to the University of South Florida, the only local broadcast station dropped from the analog tier by Bright House, which is the area's largest cable provider with more than a million customers.
So why didn't Bright House just leave WUSF on the analog tier, too? "It's a business decision," said spokesman Joe Durkin, who would not reveal exactly how many Bright House customers could not see WUSF, noting that "over 60 percent" of their subscribers get digital cable. "We're going to utilize the space for other programming."
JoAnn Urofsky, general manager at WUSF, said the station ended its analog broadcasts in April, but Bright House kept simulcasting WUSF until Friday.
"Of course, I'm upset; our staff has been fielding calls all day," added Urofsky, who acknowledged that the station learned in November about the choice.
Other area broadcast stations reported dozens of calls from viewers who mostly had questions about installing digital-to-analog converters and orienting their antennas to improve reception. "I think it's gone pretty well," said Ken Tonning, general manager at St. Petersburg CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10, which received about 200 calls Friday.
And Chris Hendrix, the Gibsonton technician profiled in a Friday St. Petersburg Times story, was happy to report a busy day. Hired by a Texas company as part of a government-funded program providing free installation help for converters, Hendrix got no calls until stories in the Times and WTVT-Ch. 13 highlighted his plight.
"My office had 100 messages this morning," he said. "I don't feel like the Maytag repairman any more."