Feb. 17 Fallout Indicates Fewer Problems Than Expected

The nation’s first mass analog shutdown occurred this week, resulting in fewer problems than first expected—and providing some valuable insight into public response and readiness that will help the industry cope with the final shutdown in June.

According to the FCC, 421 TV stations were scheduled to shut down analog broadcasting this Tuesday. Another 220 stations shut off analog prior to Feb. 17. As reported last week, the FCC imposed strict conditions on 123 stations asking to shutdown on Feb. 17. Out of the 123 stations, 43 decided to delay their analog shutdown.

I have not heard of any case where a station shutting off analog Tuesday requested permission come back on the air. From the reports I saw, some stations received few calls, while others received hundreds about the shutdown. Some articles reported on viewers who received analog TV but were unable to pick up the digital broadcasts, even with a converter box.

In Missouri, a man blasted his TV set with gunfire when he was unable to get his converter box to work after losing his cable TV service.

Waco, Texas was one of the markets where the FCC required stations to meet additional mandates before ending analog service Tuesday. KCEN-TV (licensed to nearby Temple, Texas) remained on the air in analog providing “enhanced night light” service with DTV transition information, news and emergency information. Other local stations are sharing the cost of KCEN-TV's continuing operation.

FCC representatives were in Waco on Wednesday to monitor stations' efforts to help viewers with the transition and to collect information they could use for the June 12 shutdown. Waco stations KWTX-TV and KWKT changed channels, requiring viewers to rescan their DTVs or converter boxes. See the Waco Tribune article "Waco TV stations get calls about digital switch" for more information.

One lesson from Tuesday's shutdown is that analog stations on channel 6 need to consider people listening to their station on 87.75 MHz with FM radios. According to the Waco Tribune article, some viewers noticed KCEN-TV programming was no longer available on their FM radio. While the station appears to have received FCC permission to use its DTV channel 9 as its major channel number on the air and in its station branding, KCEN-TV broadcast in analog on channel 6.

Reader Mike Mahan alerted me to another channel 6 analog station, WCTV in Tallahassee, Fla., where viewers lamented the loss of FM audio. There is an extensive discussion of this on the WCTV Web site. Engineers from other channel 6 stations that have not switched off their analog transmitters have told me they are already receiving calls from listeners concerned about losing TV audio programming. (Check the March 4 issue of TV Technology for more on Channel 6).

Blind TV listeners are likely to have a problem navigating around a DTV converter box and DTV. From comments on the WCTV Web site and elsewhere, it's clear many people do not understand that full power TV broadcasters will not be allowed to continue analog broadcasting in any form after June 12. And if they are broadcasting DTV on another channel, they will have no claim to their analog channel for continued analog broadcasting, either as a low power or full power audio broadcasting.

For some different takes on the analog shutdown, check out these articles:

Tobyhanna man loses patience over digital TV switchover

Digital switch leaves some in dark

Region adjusts to digital TV

Stations field calls after digital TV switch; stores get rush of sales for boxes