MOUNT VERNON — Friday night was the end of an era for television broadcasting. By midnight, broadcast TV in the United States switched from analog to digital broadcasting. Anyone who owned an older analog television and received over-the-air broadcasts using an antenna is out of luck, unless they have a digital converter box to make the digital signals usable by an analog TV.
The switchover was delayed to let stations and consumers get ready for the switch. The FCC was braced for an onslaught of calls Saturday morning by people who had not gotten the converter boxes and others who were having trouble getting a picture, even with the box.
The Associated Press reported the FCC did get about 800,000 calls, starting Saturday morning. This was something less than the 1 million or so calls expected by the agency.
In Knox County, the transition evidently went relatively smoothly, according to Phil Herald, owner of Herald’s Appliances in Mount Vernon.
“We sold some converters a while back,” he said. “We had maybe one person come in for a converter this weekend. It was unusually quiet. That’s good. I think that delay helped people focus on what they had to do to get prepared for this.
“We really didn’t get any calls. We were expecting some, but I think we only got one. And I’m glad. We all know people with older TVs had to get a converter box. People with newer digital sets didn’t have to do anything. I think it was good that Obama delayed it for three months.”
Even so, he said, there were still some bugs to iron out and some new things for people to get used to. Because the digital signal is sent and received differently from analog, some people might have to upgrade their antennae.
“That is a possibility,” Herald said. “The signals come in a different way from the other signals. Even if they have the box, there’s a possibility they may not get all the channels. The antenna isn’t quite the right antenna. In the majority of cases it will work. But if it doesn’t, they might have to change their antenna.”
Herald said one big difference between analog and digital signals is that digital is all or nothing. Viewers will not get fringe reception with digital.
“That is an issue,” he said regarding receiving a digital signal from a distance. “We’re pretty far from Columbus, so a lot of times they will need a booster; a signal booster. That boosts the signal so they can get the programs out of Columbus.”
Another innovation with digital broadcasting is the ability of a station to use multiple channels. Channel 10 in Columbus might broadcast on channels 10.1, 10.2 or 10.3.
“The point one channel, such as 10.1, is for the main feed, the normal programming,” Herald explained. “The others, like 10.2 and 10.3, are for what you might call sub feeds, which are in addition to the main feed. They could be used for the weather, it could be news. They all use it for something different. But the point one is always the main feed.”
For the local Radio Shack store, the only other local major supplier of the converter boxes, the conversion weekend centered mainly around one issue, that of reception and antennae.
“It was interesting,” said Radio Shack media representative Wendy Dimingas about the local store’s experience. “By far and away, most of the questions over the weekend had to do with antenna reception. Since antenna reception is not really a one-size-fits-all question, it was really more one-on-one counseling.
“Antenna reception is dependent on where you live, are there trees in the area, how far you are from the transmitter. We did remind people of the importance of rescanning the converter box. If for whatever reason they couldn’t bring in the same stations their analog TV was able to bring in, it might be that they would have to talk about antennae reception issues with their local store. So not only did the Mount Vernon store do one-on-one counseling in the store, but they received a lot of phone calls on the topic, too.”