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2009 in Review: Analog Shutdown Completed in June

This week's RF Report looks back at the major RF-related stories in 2009: the analog shutdown, problems with VHF DTV reception, the rapid development of broadcast mobile DTV, broadcasters’ attempts to prevent the spectrum they use from being taken away and auctioned off for subscription wireless services, and, finally, the near completion of the 2 GHz BAS band reallocation.

The major story during the first half of the year was the cessation of full-power analog TV broadcasting. As the Feb. 17 deadline approached, there was increasing concern that television viewers were not ready for the transition. Many broadcasters were not able to construct their complete DTV facilities on their final channels due to delays in getting local, FCC (and in some cases, Canadian or Mexican) approval to make the required changes. After the test transition in Wilmington, N.C., it was clear that more would have to be done to help viewers make the transition, and it became clear that in some cases people would lose reception.

After seeing the problems with the earlier Feb. 17 transition plan, Congress delayed the final date for the analog shutdown until June 12. The FCC ramped up its efforts to support the DTV transition, including publication of detailed maps showing areas where people with analog service might not be able to receive a station’s digital service, along with a Web-based map providing signal level information at a specific address from all local stations within a given market.

The commission also required broadcasters to air specific education announcements and set up phone numbers to help their viewers. Groups were even recruited to go into people's homes where needed to assist in receiving DTV service.

Stations and markets were given the option for transitioning prior to June 12, or on the original Feb. 17 target date, if certain conditions were met. Hawaii switched off its analog TV service on Jan. 15.

The massive education efforts from both broadcasters and the FCC, along with this phased transition were the main reasons the analog shutdown went as well as it did.

While there were a few major problems during the transition, it became clear that some viewers, especially those in rural areas with marginal analog reception, were having no luck in receiving DTV signals. Homes with indoor antennas proved to be a special problem. As 2009 nears its end, broadcasters, retailers and consumer electronics manufacturers have released guidelines for purchasing and using indoor DTV antennas.

One thing that I suspect many stations did not expect was the difficulty consumers would have in receiving their VHF digital television signals.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.