But in spite of my pre-transition experience that foreshadowed problems with the analog shutdown—a dearth of English language stations and no American Idol viewing next season—we now have most of the channels we had before, plus a few extra, including a sports channel that has made it more difficult to pry certain family members off the couch.
The difference? Most stations in the San Francisco Bay Area changed their digital channels this weekend, in most cases to a much lower UHF or even to a VHF frequency. My understanding is that these new frequencies are somewhat less subject to attenuation, and the difference seems to be enough to put me inside instead of outside the reception footprint. So it looks like analog shutdown, after all, isn’t going to mean a monthly cable television bill in my mailbox.
The San Francisco Bay Area transition reportedly went forward with few hitches. According to a memo from Valari Staab of KGO television, KGO was able to resolve 80 percent of people’s problems receiving its signal on the phone, but acknowledges that, because it is being allowed to operate with more power than others assigned to Channel 6 or 7, the high-VHF frequencies, and broadcasting from its old analog antenna positioned at the top of Sutro Tower, it is having less issues than its brethren around the country. I may lose KGO for a while after mid-July, when it moves daytime broadcasts to an auxiliary antenna while crews are working to put new digital antennas for other stations up high on the tower. That work is expected to be complete in October. Staab also reported that local Best Buys have been running low on antennas.
In the rest of the country, reports, so far, are that things went smoothly. The FCC received nearly 800,000 calls this weekend; Chicago took an early lead as the spot with the most trouble. Volunteers around the country, from firefighters to members of Best Buy’s Geek Squad were standing by to help people hook up their converters. I just tried to explain to my mother, long distance, how to rescan for channels. I was unsuccessful; I gave her the Best Buy hotline, though I doubt she’ll take advantage of it. Fortunately, two channels in her area didn’t switch frequencies, so she’ll have something to watch until my next visit.
It may be some time, if ever, before we really know how many folks around the country were unable to make the transition, who either had to start paying for cable or satellite or adapt to a life without TV, because they are in DTV dead zones.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.