Thursday, February 19, 2009

421 Stations Transition, A Nation Yawns

So far, so not all that bad.

Reports are coming in from all over, and most of them are fairly positive. Many of them deal with a bunch of locations at once, so let me pull out a few interesting pieces of data from these TV Newsday, Broadcasting & Cable, TV Week and NPR articles.

When it comes to large-scale turnoffs, we are not dealing for the most part with the biggest urban centers. We have Providence, but not Boston or New York. San Diego, but not Los Angeles. Scranton, but not Philadelphia. Overall, the FCC seems to want to give the biggest cities (which may have a larger concentration of poor and/or non-English-speaking residents) the most time to prepare. According to TV Newsday:
The most populous places where many or all major-network stations are cutting analog this week include San Diego and Santa Barbara, Calif.; La Crosse and Madison, Wis.; Rockford and Peoria, Ill.; Sioux City, Iowa; Waco, Texas; Macon, Ga.; Scranton, Pa.; Rhode Island and Vermont.

The news from San Diego sounds pretty good, according to both Broadcasting & Cable and this Los Angeles Times story, with a modest amount of calls, mostly from people who already had boxes and just needed technical advice (such as the need to rescan), although there were antenna-related calls as well. This also seems to have been the case in Pennsylvania, according to a quote in the B&C article from an official in the Pennsylvania Broadcasters Association. Similar statements were made by officials from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters, the Florida Association of Broadcasters (whose CEO made a Y2K reference), the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Mark III Media (operating out of Caspar, Wyoming) and the National Association of Broadcasters. There were also articles taking encouragement from the experience of Springfield, IL, Fort Myers, FL and Nashville, TN

Nationally, the FCC hotline actually had fewer calls Wednesday than the day before.Again, the failure of consumers to understand the need to re-scan for new channels was an issue, causing the FCC to issue a consumer advisory on the subject.

It wasn't all roses, 'tho. President Michelle Vetterkind of the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association reported that stations have been getting calls "in the hundreds", but characterized the callers as frustrated rather than angry. Call volume was particularly heavy in Providence, with one call center worker telling TV Newsday that he kept having to explain to callers that the transition was not just a scheme to extort money out of them. The biggest issue for callers appeared to be antennas.

Antennas were also an issue in Vermont, due to the hilly terrain (which I experienced from family visits growing up) causing difficulties in UHF reception (which is where several channels were moving to).

There was a certain amount of date-related confusion reported (although Lori Needham of the Rhode Island Broadcasters Association said that this was not a problem in Rhode Island). The mass media just barely managed to cover the June delay in the first place, the fact that hundreds of stations were going ahead anyway got much less coverage than that (of the network news shows I've been watching, I saw one mention lasting about five seconds). And I haven't seen any TV news stories on the Feb 17 moves. Overall, this remains a story for the Business/Tech section of the newspaper.

I also got the impression that converter-box sales have picked up dramatically in the affected areas.

BTW, if you're a cable/satellite viewer like me and wonder what it was like to see an analog station to sign off, here's a video of three signoffs (from The Orlando Sentinel via The New York Times).

P.S. Thanks to the commenters from the last post for their field reports. How are people in your town reacting to all this?


At 5:17 PM, Blogger John said...

In Rochester, Minnesota, the only two local stations, KTTC (NBC) and KXLT (FOX), stopped analog broadcasting on the 17th. I noticed KXLT was airing an analog nightlight service last night: a looped message alternating between English and Spanish, produced by the National Association of Broadcasters. (Ironically, I've been the only solitary myspace friend the NAB has attracted to their myspace page since they started it a year and a half ago to raise awareness of the DTV transition.)

Local viewers can, with a good antenna, pick up analog stations further out, including KIMT in Mason City, Iowa. I think it was KIMT that mentioned people would indeed be able to adjust their outdoor antennas on their slippery snow-covered roofs in February, but they'd have to pay $600 to rent a boom truck. KIMT decided to keep their analog broadcast signal going a bit longer, until when temperatures are warmer, which seems sensible. It was almost exactly 50-years-ago-to-the-day that KIMT itself was probably first to announce the tragic weather-related deaths near Mason City immortalized in Don Mclean's famous line: "the day the music died".

The reader commentary in the online edition of the Rocester Post-Bulletin has been overwhelmingly disparaging of those who weren't ready for the transition. While I created the page mentioned as an example in Bob's earlier post "Voices in Opposition", I haven't updated it in over a year--mainly because I got discouraged by some negative comments I received from senior people on ARS Technica. I was told I was a "FUD spouter", that these issues had all been gone over before, and therefore I essentially wasn't worth talking to. I know I had a few factual errors on that page I was seeking input to correct, but I was hoping for a civil and constructive dialogue. I give Bob a lot of credit for staying with this project and providing a good historical record. He was also gracious in his earlier correspondence with me.

A local news anchor from KTTC made an appearance in a spoof newscast in the following YouTube comedy video, where she says, "Over the last several months, we have continually, over and over, and time and time again, told you about the switch to digital television. That day is finally here...":

Another comedy more widely circulated on YouTube shows an elderly woman trying to hook up her converter box and rabbit ears with an actual FCC instructional audio running in parallel.

A feature article today in the Post-Bulletin quoted local seniors who went through the great depression: "People listened to the radio for entertainment, that is, if the batteries worked or they had electricity, which they didn't always."

As I imagine people gathered around the radio back in the depression era, I think of the squeals, pops and static they must of heard coming from their old radios. Did those artifacts add anything to the experience? Some might argue that they did. I still remember listening to WLS from Chicago late at night on AM radio when I was young, the slow fading and static rush of the shifting atmosphere giving a sense of distance and perhaps made the universe seem just a bit larger. I remember my grandpa, God rest his soul, carefully adjusting the rabbit ears on his old TV. I was just a kid then, but if I close my eyes and try to remember I can still almost see the TV's snow and the occasionally rolling frames. Don't get me wrong, I like my HDTV. Yet I can't help but feel a bit sad for a part of history that is no more.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home