Mary Robinson is all about real-world information on the switch to digital television signals. The success of the DTV switch will depend on regular folks understanding new technology and getting it running in their homes. Ms. Robinson is weighing in on those nitty-gritty details, sharing her enthusiasm for TV-signal technology with those who are less technically inclined. She’s developed an expertise through years of hands-on experimentation, pulling in signals from the rooftop of her Texas home. Now she’s a resource for consumers struggling with the digital switch. We discovered Mary right here on TVWeek.com, where she reliably dispensed information in the comments section of this story, First Digital TV Converter Box Wins Government Approval about the digital switch. Let’s keep the conversation rolling!



Digital Transition Answers

Remembering Analog Television

July 18, 2008 2:51 PM

As I write this, there are only 215 days until television broadcasting as we have known it will fade to black for the last time.

My hope is that television stations across the country will give analog television the final send off that it so dearly deserves. I ask that they celebrate the passing of analog television as we would the 4th of July, or the passing of another year. Have a good old New Orleans funeral for it. May they mourn its loss, but celebrate its life. May they all reflect on the medium that has brought us so far. From those first experimental grainy images shown at the World's Fair in New York in 1936, to Howdy Doody, to Kaptain Kangaroo. From royal weddings transmitted from across the Atlantic to the first U.S. manned space flights. From presidential debates to daily game shows. From rock and roll's bad boys The Rolling Stones to the Osmond Brothers. From triumph at the Olympics to tragedies too many to count not only here but abroad. From televangelists to hawkers of the pocket fisherman. The Advent of color. The addition of stereo sound.

No matter how we look at it, television brought us the world. It made us laugh at Lucy and cry as the Challenger shuttle broke apart. Sometimes the picture was clear. Sometimes it was fuzzy. Sometimes it rolled, and sometimes there were ghosts in our living room. But it was always there. We could depend on it. It never left us. As of now, it is not even on life support. Its days are numbered. Literally. I will miss it and I think from what I have observed on the original forum and here on the blog, there are a lot of you out there that will miss it too.

I once heard that the only thing constant in life is change. And change, baby, she is a-coming.

Yes there are things to celebrate about the switch to digital. There are multiple sub-channels. High definition video. Surround sound. But what good are they if you don't receive it?

What is going to happen when the first small town in Kansas or Nebraska gets wiped off of the map and there was no warning because the only television station was 75 miles away, and they could not get the weather warnings like they used to with analog TV? This is a serious overlook of congress that needs to be addressed. I believe that there is a viable and simple solution for it.

Channels 2 through 6 in the VHF low range are not really suitable for digital broadcasting. TV engineers are running from them like the plague. What once was extremely valuable real estate in the TV spectrum is now worth about as much as Baltic and Mediterranean are in the Monopoly game.

So what should we do?

I think the answer would be to take existing TV stations with these channels and form an alliance that would keep one analog VHF Low station on air in each of the existing markets. Maybe they could air community information 24/7. News and weather, until there is a need to use it for emergency information. I only count 66 VHF low band digital television stations in the U.S. That is less than 2 per state. And as far as I know, they would not interfere with the new emergency two-way communications band that was created from channels 52 through 69 in the UHF band. I would not want to live in Tornado Alley and not be able to see the weather updates. Is this something to consider?

I know that all is not lost on the digital transition at this point in time. But sometimes I have felt like a lone voice in the wilderness in trying to get people to think about the end of analog broadcasting. Yeah, all will be fine and dandy if you get your converter box, bring it home, and hook it up and never skip a beat. But those stories are few and far between. Don't wait until Feb. 18, 2009 and think you are going to run out at lunchtime to pick up a converter and bring it home and be in front of the TV for the 5 o'clock news. It probably is not going to happen. Get set up now so we can work the bugs out together.


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Comments (18)

mary... the cat lady:

Hey cheryl,
Yours is not a stupid question at all, but please do not confuse digital with HD. All full power TV stations in the U.S. are broadcasting a digital signal of some sort at this time. However, not all are broadcasting a HD signal. Digital does not equal HD.
HD cannot be viewed on an analog television. The programming can be viewed, but only in standard definition. Standard definition is the same picture clarity that we have been using for years. The converters that are available with the government coupons cannot deliver HD, only SD. But the picture clarity is better because if you can recieve the signal, there are no ghosts.
To determine what channels are available in HD, I would need to know what area of the country you are in. In other words, what city with television stations is closest to you. If you can get back to me with that info, I can probably let you know what stations are putting out a digital signal.
Please post back, and I will see what I can come up with.

One VHF station...not a bad idea.

Many people are still confused about the transition to digital television so thanks for trying to get the word out.
Our non-profit, the Urban Progressive Foundation has been actively working with seniors and other groups to provide straight, clear and understandable information to help them through the transition.
I will be traveling to Wilmington, North Carolina, where the first full blown transition test-run will commence. If you can't make the trip, allow me to be your eyes and ears. Visit my blog http://digitaldynamo.blogspot.com/ and website www.transition2DTV.com to for more information.

mary... the cat lady:

Hi Denice,
I would love to have first hand accounts of how the transition test goes in Wilmington. I thank you for your offer, and will look forward to hearing about it, and I will check out your website. Thank you so much for offering your eyes and ears. Have a good trip, and I hope it is not too soggy there after TS Hanna.


I was always thinking about that: What's gonna happen to people in rural areas? I live in the valley and the only channels I can get in are on VHF from 70 miles away. I can't get any digital stations what so ever. And one other thing, how are they going to make it on handheld television sets? My cell phone has a built in analog tv tuner in it, and I don't want to have to carry around a converter box, giant antenna, and power supply in my pocket after February 17th 2009. Anyway, thanks again for blogging this, we will all have our memories of Analog Tv.

mary... the cat lady:

Hi Tyler,

That is the thing about the switch-over to digital broadcasting... It is going to leave a lot of people like yourself out in the cold, so to speak. There is a bill pending in congress to allow analog television stations within 50 miles of the border with Mexico to remain on the air until 2012. My question has been, what about the people like yourself who live in the rural areas that will be without television service after the transition? I think this oversight was an injustice to thousands of veiwers in the heartland of America. It was almost a case of "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" by congress. I really don't think this was all that well thought out. But as far as I know, it is coming and there is not a whole lot we can do about it.
Your phone will be useless for television reception once the low power stations go digital. The bright side there is that it will probably be a few years before that happens, and you will probably have a new phone by then anyway.
I grew up with television, so I look to digital with excitement, but also as if I am losing a friend that I grew up with. I guess I will have stories to tell my grandkids about life with television in the olden days...

Our two converter boxes cut off our TV. Now the no 2 box has destroyed my TV. I am all for digital being a filmmaker in a financial crisis at the moment. I have used an analog to digital box for my video conversions for years. The govt. forcing us to all go digital is a greed and control by our govt and powers that be. When people are in the dark without reception then they will not know the news and if people in disaster areas can not get reception then there is a problem. If the poor, elderly and rural areas are affected and including the mountain and hill areas there is a problem AMerica wake up!

mary... the cat lady:

Hi Vicki,
Yours is only the second time I have seen reference to a TV going kablooey after hooking up a digital to analog converter. I was not so sure that the converter was responsible for the first incident, nor was I so sure it did not cause it. Now that I have seen your post, I am beginning to wonder. I would please like to know what converter box you were using, and how did the TV react when it messed up. I would really like to compare notes as to the symptoms.
If you were to read the original column at the end of my blogs titled "Government Approves First Digital Converter Box" you would see many other posters are as concerned as you and I are about the people left behind by the transition to digital.
I will ask you to post back and give a list of symptoms the TV exhibited when it failed after hooking up the converter. I will be looking for your post, and thanks.
As far as the transition goes, it is coming and there is not a lot any of us can do about it. The only exception to the mandated Feb. 17 transition date is a bill pending for stations within 50 miles of the border with Mexico. And I ask again, what about those, as you stated, that will be in the dark without news and information? Yes, there are a lot of problems with the transition. No, it was not very well thought out in a lot of regards. It is very much another case of, and my tongue being firmly planted in cheek, "Your government at work for you."

Mr. G:

I have a new t.v. 50 inch HD Samsung DLP. My question is the last 3 weeks my t.v. station are going on and off what is going on with the station. Oh I have outside antenna. thank you .

mary... the cat lady:

Hi Mr. G,
I don't know where you are, or what stations you are refering to, but my best guess would be that they are in the process of upgrading the transmitters or installing a new antenna on the tower.
Whenever maintenance or new construction takes place on the tower of a broadcast station, the transmitters need to be turned off completely or powered down to an absolutely minimal power due to the radio frequency radiation that is harmful to humans.
Sometimes there are more than one transmitting antenna on a tower, so whenever one station is having work done, all the broadcasters have to power down to accommodate the workers on the tower. It can sometimes take days or weeks to finish the work.
If you would like to post back and give me the station IDs, I would be glad to try and research them to see if I could pinpoint exactly what is going on.
I will be looking for your post.

C, Wood:

FOr me I have wasted money on 2 DTV boxes. After the test last night it proves my fairly new antenna will not work for Digital. This leaves me with no reception except possibly 1 channel. Before this with analog I had excellent reception on many channels. I am dreading Feb 17th.
Just shows you what happens with government interference. Fine for people that can afford cable. I can't and satellite doesn't work for me either.
Letting off steam helps.

mary... the cat lady:

Hello C. Wood,
I would like to know what kind of antenna you are using.
It may not be as bad as it seems. A lot of stations are broadcasting a signal that does not even come close to covering what the analog signals cover.
I would like to know where you are and how far away from the transmitters you are. Also, is it hilly or are you in a valley?
The stations you got before, were they mostly VHF, or did you get UHF channels as well, and how well did you recieve them?
What "test" are you refering to?
If you will get back to me with as much information as you can, I will try to get you up to speed on getting the channels that you are missing.
This is the reason for the tests. So you will know beforehand what kind of reception you would get if the analog transmitters were turned off today.
Please post back.


C. Wood:

There's a few things that we need to know, before you give up!

1) What boxes have you used? Some are better than others. Older boxes, before 2007, mainly aren't the newest technology.

2) What type of antenna and what model is it? Is it rabbit ears, classic Yagi (arrow typed antenna, that lies flat), or UHF model?

3) Do you plug the antenna into the wall and the TV?

4) Are you in a house or an apartment? This really DOES matter. Signals don't go through other apartments well.

5) Are you facing the city that the towers are located in? If not, the signal is going through too many walls.

6) Are there hills, mountains, bluffs/coulees, sky scrapers, or other obstacles near your place?

7) can you put an antenna outside? that is best for reception. But outdoor antennas work inside too.

8) How far out of the city are you? Being farther away makes it more difficult to get DTV, but doesn't make it impossible.

9) Did you confirm that the antenna in has the antenna going in... and not antenna hooked to the "OUT TO TV" area? It may be simple to mix the 2 plugs up, and it does happen. If that's what happened, its rather common.

Could there be moving metal cars, trucks, helicopters, planes near you? Those interfere with DTV signals too.

My point, there is something you can do... even if it isn't local. I live in Toledo, Ohio, but get Detroit, Lansing and Windsor, Ontario clearer and more reliable than Toledo's stations in my back yard.

C. wood, please get back to us on these particular questions... I'm sure it will help a bunch! We are glad to assist you in whatever way we can. But we need info to help you.

Same goes for anyone else who has a problem getting the new DTV stations to come in.


Mr. G:

There are 2 parts to the tower:

Part 1, analog signal bays,to the public... the one that's snowey, but still watchable. you can call it classic TV signals.

The other part is DTV signal bays... these are the portions of an antenna that transmit the DTV, or newer TV signals to you.

Currently, some stations are adjusting thier towers, to make the digital bay portion of that tower higher, since the analog part goes away in a few months.

It's basicly to prep and make Feb 17th, 2009 easy as flipping a switch.

My local WTOL did that 2 weeks ago. WDIV is going through some stuff like that now.

That's more than likely the cause.

But wit that said, there are still other possibilities, such as weather, obstacles in the way, or antenna pointing direction. Location and surroundings are a big thing to look out for.

I noticed you never gave a location or distance from the broadcast city of license. This would be like "WTOL-DT Toledo, Ohio". It's how the station identifies itself, with a city attached to it.

C. Wood:

Mary,the cat lady, EMGEE-Ohio
I live in a single family home in Westchester Cnty.,50 miles from NYC and 20miles from Bridgeport,40mi. from New Haven. I have a roof top antenna and get VHF very well and some UHF but snowy reception. I do get 1 Digital channel which is from New Haven.I do have a lot of trees behind me and they are on a hill. I bought the boxes in June. One is Radio Shack and the other Magnavox. My concern is just getting one channel. THe test I was referring to was a 2 minute one the other night on several channels.
Thanks for your responses.

mary... the cat lady:

Hi C. Wood,
Ok, here is what it looks like from a quick reveiw of the three cities that you mentioned.
Bridgeport: Channel 42, WSAH and WEDW, channel 52 both look like they could be received where you are. WEDW has a construcion permit to move from channel 52 to in-core channel 49. They both have decent effective radiated power and antenna height.
New Haven: WTNH, channel 10 and WCTX channel 39 seem like they should be OK too. BUT, I reall think it would help to attach a CM 7777 signal amp near the antenna. The CM 7777 can be seen at solidsignal.com. The two stations put out a mediocre ERP. You are within the signal contour, but these are not real strong signals.
It would help if you were to describe your antenna. Is it a directional antenna? If it is an omnidirectional, you are probably not going to be able to receive these stations. You will need to get a medium to high gain directional antenna. If only to minimize EmmGee's nemisis, multi-path.
Now, if you do indeed have a directional antenna, and it is pointed toward Bridgeport and New Haven, you are trying to get New York off the back side of the antenna, and that won't work.
You will have to have an antenna rotor. New York and the other two cities are in opposite directions.
And New York may be a long shot, at best.
It may help you immensely to go to tvfool.com and input the call signs in the online coverage map page, and see what color and how strong the signals are at your house. You can also do a signal strength chart for your house by inputing your address, antenna height, etc on the available channels page. It will create a chart showing the probable signal strengths for channels in your area at your house.
If you need help interpreting the chart, post back and I will help you figure it out.
Aren't you glad that they conducted the test instead of waiting until Feb. 17 nest year and then finding out that you only get one channel? This gives you some time to make adjustments and tweak your system.
I do wish you luck...

mary... the cat lady:

Oh yeah C. Wood,
Keep your coax lead-ins as short as possible, and if you are operation the two converter boxes by way of a splitter, that splitter by itself is cutting your signal strength in half. You will probably need a distribution amp.
You micht want to see my blog titled "Keeping Your Signal Strength Up". I discuss in some detail how to calculate the signal strength at the tuner, and it also explains how devices like signal amps, transformers, coax, and distribution amps work for and against you.
Like I said before, if you need more help, please post back.

mary... the cat lady:

And also C. Wood,
In which direction are those trees and hill? Are they in between you and Bridgeport and New Haven or are they in the direction of New York? This will make a difference and may determine how well or if you get the channels.

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