Saturday, February 14, 2009

Who Dropped the Ball?

The DTV Debacle

It is going to happen in Elgin. It is going to happen in Tow. It is going to happen in Taylor. It is going to happen in Smithville. It is even going to happen in many parts of Austin.
People are going to wake up Wednesday morning, February 18th, turn on their TVs, and find some their favorite shows and news broadcasts gone. The Washington Post said it succinctly Saturday, “On Tuesday, more than 400 stations [nationwide] are expected to drop their analog television broadcasts. It is not known how many people will lose programming.” [Underlining for emphasis] KEYE TV is one of them.

Locally, KEYE TV (CBS) will drop its analogue signal becoming Austin’s only purely digital station according to a longstanding plan. Public TV station KLRU TV will also axe analogue next month. KXAN/KXAM/KNVA says it will continue broadcasting in both spectrums, but they do not say how long: “We will continue to assist viewers while determining the most appropriate time for our station and viewers to transition to Digital TV.” KTBC TV says it will continue its analogue signal to the new federal cut-off date, June 12. KVUE TV’s web site is counting down to June 12 in milli-seconds—It’s kind of fun watching the clock tick down.

In an earlier post, I posited that all local stations should drop analogue February 17th as planned. It’s been in the works for a decade. TV stations have been spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for new digital transmitters while doing their darnedest to educate consumers. To continue in analogue will cost stations $10,000+ per month in electricity during a time of depressed revenues. If all who could flipped the switch, it would put pressure on Congress. It might even be a “stimulus”, pushing people to purchase one of those cool HDTVs if they can afford it.

Why is this happening? Basically, the Bush administration and Congress bungled the job. That’s not a political statement on my part. That is fact. There is a good breakdown of why this is happening in The Washington Post. Here’s a link:

I’ll leave the ugly details to you the reader and the Post or other reports out there. Just “Google” “digital TV conversion.” Some of them say that the delay is a good thing. I disagree.
Congress passed a bill pushing back the conversion date, but the bill did not include funds for more of those $40 coupons help underwrite the cost of conversion boxes. Therefore, even though the official date is pushed back, unless people want to and can afford full price of the conversion boxes, the boxes will still be on the shelf. There is a possibility, however, that the boxes may become hard to find, if the government starts sending coupons again.

Further, folks with limited means or abilities may not be able to hook-up the boxes if they have them. It’s just nuts. There should be a cadre of wire heads working with social-service agencies helping to hook up these people in Elgin, Tow, Taylor, Smithville, and Austin. But, of course, that would take time and money too.

KVUE TV has an excellent site answering lots of DTV questions at and you can watch the cool countdown clock too. KEYE TV’s site, including the “Dr. DTV” blog is pretty good too. Here’s that URL:

Just as a reminder: If you have an HDTV, if you’re on cable, or if you have satellite service, you’re golden; you’re OK.

My main frustration lies not with the local TV stations. The TV stations held up part of their bargain. Your government, especially the previous administration, did not. If you are displeased with the way this digital debacle has been handled, say so. Be heard. Write your representatives in Congress. Tell them, if you can’t see them, you won’t vote for them. It might get their attention.

© Jim McNabb, 2009


Anonymous said...

No matter how much time or money you throw at it, SOMEBODY will not get it...

We should have pushed DTV's instead... LONG ago. The cheap converter boxes are like most foreign-made techo junk and won't last 2 years....sadly, though... DTV's weren't on the market in the 90's when this was madated because the standards and technology weren't there yet. The converter subsidy is essentially throwing money at cheap asian tech firms.

What's even more sad is the lack of variety in tv's. As a kid, I could find tv's on the cheap from little black & white sets all the way to 25" color tv's. Now... it's overpriced lcd's 15" and up... there isn't that low-cost entry level variety.

On a side note... I had the displeasure of dealing with ATT U-Verse tech support this past Friday... and after 6 phone calls (at one point they hung up on my wife), I made a 7th and final call.. and cancelled my service. I plopped a pair of rabbit ears (purchased from Ace Hardware) on the mantel near our 32" LCD TV and displayed local channels in glorious HD... I think I'll survive.

Lance Hagood said...

It's Deja Vu all over again...endless changes, but this one is for the better.
You can drive around Westlake, Balcones, Pemberton Park and Tarrytown and still spot the skeletal steel frames of Rohn-25 tower, long ago ensnared in tree canopy. Home TV antennas, some pre-dating KTBC.
In the beginning, KUHT then KPRC came on the air
in Houston. The signals could "sometimes" be received in Austin. Those inclined, and who could afford it had a local crew come out and put in a 50 or 60 foot "tower". Much digging and steel hefting out in the back yard. A "set" was purchased at a "radio" store, or even picked up in Dallas or Houston and brought home. A "Viewcaster" yagi antenna and rotor was added. An odd looking 300 ohm ribbon cable, developed during the "tech boom" of WWII, was snaked into the house and hooked up to a 45 tube beast that used more power than the refrigerator. The family gathered around the Mahagany box. Dentists and Attorneys and Doctors bit their pipe stems waiting for the tubes to warm up.
And there is was...snow...cosmic noise. A bump of the rotor control and...and..a noisy test tone came wavering out of the speaker. If you squinted, you could make out an Indian Chiefs' Headdress. There, the bold letters K P R C -T V. The picture would get better...with weather. with the season. Sometimes it was great, and you could see film of part of a Rice game, or watch early NBC network programming from 140 miles away! In the beginning it was a huge effort, and it still had snow, fading, and ghosting.
A bit later KTBC-TV began broadcasting. Mr. Pryors bald pate becoming the very first "live shot"
in Austin. Snow was mostly banished, but ghosting became a serious problem. More people bought sets, and fiddled with rabbit ear set top antennas.
Then UHF became available in Austin and we had to buy "set top" converter boxes. Ghosting reigned, with almost everything a double or triple image.
We learned "just" the right spot for the rabbit ears...
until a plane flew over.
Capitol Cable then came clumping about the back yard and stapled cable into our homes, and a new bill into the mailbox. Now this was an improvement.
Much later, RCA developed the TK-76..the first
"portable" TV camera. If you've ever lifted one you might argue that designation. SInce Carter cancelled participation in the 1980 Olympics, the market was flooded with them. Local news improved. Reporters were everywhere, starting to do live shots. And as they monitored their own signal for the shot with potable TV's...there was still much ghosting, fading, and sometimes even snow. Good Reporters learned to be quick with the rabbit ears, or just do without.
Back at home, the wire nest behind the entertainment cabinet continues to grow. We got VHS. Then DVD. Video Home cameras.
And now the digital conversion.
Being a former Newser, I have to admit to buying
a compliant Sony over a year ago. In discussions with family and friends about coupons and converter boxes, I'd only get a frown or a yawn.
So, you know what they got for Christmas. It fell to me to dig into the wire nests and hook them up.
Simple. And like magic....more stations and perfect tuning. It doesn't matter what you do with the rabbit ears. No ghosting, fading, or double images. No snow either.
In the Amateur Radio journals there is discussion of using the converter boxes to "DX" digital TV. To pick up distant stations using the new converters.
Hams clench their pipe stems, bump the rotor, and there it is...KPRC. Just a little checkerboarding.
From 140 miles away!
And now the Reporters won't have to fiddle with their own rabbit ears out in the field. Well, not too much.
Deju Vu all over again.

Debra said...

FYI, you can just stick a straight pin into the antenna spot on the converter box. No rabbit ears required. Well, actually, I used a corsage pen.