Digital TV Transition Inspires Anger, Fear, Other Mongerings


This Friday, television as we know it will change as all analog broadcasting ceases and the airwaves go digital. Like other major traumatic events in America (natural disasters, terrorism, general elections), most of the country will not be directly affected by the outcome. But with 3 million homes still not ready for the digital transition, the analog anxiety of potentially missing an episode of Wheel of Fortune, Cheaters, or - mon Dieu! - The Bonnie Hunt Show could have disastrous consequences. At least that's what everyone hopes.

With little to no data about the telegraph-to-telephone or pony express-to-mailman transitions available to the media, outlets such as USA Today are choosing to err on the side of emotional extremes in predicting the reaction to the impending switchover:


Any transition in life is difficult, but networks, local stations, and PBS have been bombarding viewers for a solid year with PSA's and lower-third crawls warning them that those rabbit ears could become useless this spring. The deadline was supposed to be February 17, but Congress extended the deadline, giving broadcasters and viewers more time to prepare. Analog devotees should already be at the Depression stage, having hopefully Bargained with a hapless Best Buy employee for their converter.


Anger requires a lot of effort, however, and fear seems like a more easily-stoked response to this brave new digital world. From seniors to non-English speakers to low-income individuals, no one is safe from local television and print sources fanning the flames of fright. Just imagine the coverage Saturday morning, as field reporters interview frazzled citizens who had to go down to the VFW hall or the local college just to get a weather report. Here's a paraphrase of how each of those packages will end: "It's a shame that the individuals I interviewed today will not be able to watch this segment when they return home. At the public library, Chip Dickerson." Troubling.

As with every crisis, someone's trying to get in on the profit end. Cable-provider Comcast created a "Digital Broadcast Transition Rapid Response Team" to perform immediate cable installations for potential customers so desperate for television that they resort to cable subscription. Imagine the look on that elderly Alabaman woman's face when she discovers that BET is not a poker channel.

Other than a handful of TV-less vegan hipsters in Bushwick, everyone we know is prepared for Friday. But watch out for your neighbors. Keep that volume low and the curtains drawn. You don't know what's going to happen when normally peaceful individuals miss the Showcase Showdown.


  • JudgeFudge says:

    I just got my DTV converter box yesterday (btw, thanks for the $40, Government! Did you know that no converter box costs less than $50?). Now my T.V. has poor man's cable. It's true, I can watch the same episode of Seinfeld on two completely different chanels, but what's more, now I get 37 spanish language chanels in clean, crisp digital reception. Also, the weather chanel, Qubo, a version of NBC that only shows women's crew, a kids' version of PBS, and four different faith-based networks.
    Come on Television gods, couldn't you at least let me bogart some showtime or something? I had to pay 15 bucks for that box, when all was said and done!

  • Juancho says:

    I feel like Barry Williams, finally getting a chance to see Florence Henderson's box.

  • Old No.7 says:

    At this point, who hasn't had a chance to look at her box?

  • Inhaler says:

    Imagine the look on that elderly Alabaman woman’s face when she discovers that BET is not a poker channel.
    That would have so qualified for the top 5 comments of the week list.

  • leon says:

    Merely the observation that without the digital converter, I could receive up to six different stations; with the converter box, up to two, and then only at certain times of day.

  • Joel says:

    This high of a number still being unprepared is shocking. Why would anyone have a reason to get angry over this transition? You are getting a better product almost for free, the signal travels further, you get more channels for free, free HD channels are never a bad thing.

  • Juliet says:

    "Imagine the look on that elderly Alabaman woman’s face when she discovers that BET is not a poker channel."
    I was moderately amused until I read that line, and the inference is not only in poor taste; but unprofessional and low-rent. I resent the implications as a Southerner from Alabama's Gulf Coast. You shouldbe ashamed of yourself.

  • Spot says:

    It's just another public announcement from the Fearmongers. Y2K, global warming, a large asteroid whacking the earth, etc. The media riot inciters need to calm down. Life can be tough, but not as tough as the media says. I went without TV for a month. My stress level dropped, I PARTICIPATED in sports, and found these wonderful things called books. Oh, and I actually began talking with the neighbors I've lived next door to for 15 years.

  • Mr. Lep says:

    Opened the box....Not Florence's, hooked up the converter. Read and re read the instructions (that were clear as mud) and no matter how I tried, I could not even get the "start up page" (per the manual) to load.
    I called the Geek Squad (two hours on hold..hung up) then called Maganavox (mfg of the wonderous POS) another hour and 15 on hold before I hung up. Then tried an 800 number that a local TV station was touting...about an hour and a half on hold before I gave up on that one.....if only I could speak fluent Spanish, I could press dos and viola, a person that could either help me hook up my converter or, at least I could order a Taco Salad.
    Thanks US Gov for saving me money on an item that does nothing...kind of like our peeps in DC.

  • Bob Newhart says:

    While there are those that are stuck in the "analog age."
    I have to confess that I don't even own a TV and therefore, I'm stuck in the "printed word age." I'm sorry to be the one that has to say this, but after having read this article, television really is "an idiot box."
    Each and every single american on this planet should try learn to use their head for something other than blinking their eyes during commercial breaks.
    ps. I've also have never visted youtube.

  • Scott says:

    "Did you know that no converter box costs less than $50?"
    if you were paying attention- you could have actually gotten cash back from that coupon if you got your box at the beginning, when they were less than 40$, instead of slacking till the end.. like everyone always does..

  • MEMEMEMEME says:

    Well I know a lot of people do nto really have he resources but normally $15 to pay for the box after using the government's card is not so bad for free tv after that. The rest depends on the networks and this is nto the case in all states or places. My mom has this box already and she has awesome picture and great programming. We've had enough time to prepare. After all for the price of a couple packs of ciggarrettes we can get a box. many placesa are even less. My mom wound up paying only $7 for hers at PC Richard and Son. I think in the long run it will pay off. Everything else transitioned this way. Some peopel don't even own a tv so we are already lucky this way.

  • Mark says:

    JUDGEFUDGE what makes you think you get a privilege such as television for free? Just be happy they are giving you anything. Ungrateful mongrel.

  • bobby says:

    I am outraged at the lack of choice people have in this matter. We are supposed to live in a free country yet we are being told what is going to happen (with digital cable) and there is no other option.
    I was taught it was illegal to have a monopoly (cornering the market) yet this is a form of that. Some people are quite happy with "rabbit ears" (like ourselves) and getting the few local channels to watch and fill the time either before getting up or falling asleep. We don't want cable, it's too expensive for amount of time we watch it and for the few channels we want to watch. Others simply cannot afford cable but can at least watch a bit of the outside world.
    So who will this new wave of digital cable really help? When I had cable I was quite happy with the reception and had no problems. Will this new technology supply us with cold drinks and popcorn when a movie comes on? Will I be able to interact with a news debate? Or will things be just the same as they ever were with the exception of having to buy this new box and pay more for what we always had?
    Thanks to all the businesses, politicians, CEO's etc who will profit off our lack of choice. Nice to see the people we trust to look after the country are out for themselves.

  • Jeff says:

    I'm not getting a converter box. I don't think it will affect me. and if it does, I don't care.
    It is such bullshit the converter boxes. It is a simple tool that changes the signal. If the govt didn't give us the 40 dollar coupon, the boxes would cost 10-30 dollars. It's just a way for companies to line their pockets even more with govt money as well as ours. Can you imagine how much money they made?

  • The Graduate says:

    Trampling reported in Wal-Mart again, just like Black Friday...
    The great peoples of our nation will stare for an hour at the snow on their TV's before realizing it's not reruns of Northern Exposure after all.
    The library will still be empty, however Movie Gallery will see record profits this week-end. Stock up early.
    Hospitals across the country will see an influx of broken hands, from folks banging the TV 'cause there ain't no picture.
    Future philosophers will ponder this time in our history and ask The Great Question: when did TV become a necessity of life?
    Rush is advocating a billion dollar TV bail-out, and once more the liberals won't get on board.
    Come this time next week, the ruckus'll be over faster'n Lindsey Lohan's girlfriend.
    Graduate of the 1-step Free from TV program.
    U2 can be Free From TV using our free one step program.
    Step One: Shut it off.

  • apparently, out in the middle of nowhere says:

    I requested my two cards and was probably one of the first waves to receive them. By the time I got around to looking I found the boxes were more than the card, then there was no stock, then when I found the extra $30 to buy them and they were finally in stock, I discovered the cards had an expiration date and they were no good. I got on the "list". No replacement cards ever came. In the meantime, after communicating with neighbors who had made an attempt, I find out that where we live, we won't get a signal anyhow. A very expensive antenna might work. I have to say I've seen the quality and if broadcast in hd and on an hdtv it is fantastic, but all the old shows are quite compromised. An old square analog is still necessary to view those. It's time to dig out the VCR and enjoy some old home movies and just let the world go on by.

  • humph says:

    Yes Jeff , these MF are smilin now and fillin
    their deep pockets lol !

  • johnny5 says:

    Digital tv sucks... signal always goes in and out.
    You ever heard of the
    Electronic Cigarette freakin awesome...

  • anon says:

    This transition has confused a lot of people. This isn't about Digital Cable, it is about free broadcast tv switching to a digital signal. Once you get the converter box (and possibly a new antenna) you'll be back to viewing the exact same TV stations you were watching before (provided you can get their signal) except now they'll be crystal clear and often have sub-channels with different programming.
    As for losing channels you had with analog TV broadcasts: yup that can definitely happen. If I hook up a cheap set of "powered" rabbit ears to my digital converter box, I get one or two TV stations (one of them I'd rarely ever watch). If I hook up an antenna I built myself out of scrap wood and wire coat hangers (search "home made HDTV antenna" on for instructions) I get almost all of the local stations.
    The DTV boxes that work with the coupons aren't really going to get you HDTV. They downconvert the signal to something that will work in a stander definition TV. I wish that full HDTV tuners were cheaper, because I like the tuner on the convert box I have better than the one in my HDTV.

  • JOSIE says:

    I've had DTV for several months. From about 6 nice local clear channels, DTV has given me (as JudgeFudge says) 6 Spanish stations, 3 weather, 3 hunting & fishing, car racing, sports, fights, Catholic, Hairloss, jewelry. The NBC & ABC channels often say, "No signal." or are chopped up so much you can't make heads or tails out of them. So, I keep one channel on all the time: a vertical stripe of colors that plays Big Band music all the time!

  • Lucy says:

    Let's see. With analog on an indoor antenna, I got 7 channels, 5 of them with very good reception and the other 2, so-so, but got them all of the time. Now, with digital and an outdoor antenna, I get 0 channels from 7:40 pm until 11 am, then from 11 am until about 3:12 pm or so I get 10 channels with fair reception that goes in and out, and 2 of those I may lose altogether after an hour or so. (I am on vacation now; during this reception, I would usually be at work.) From 3:12 pm until 7:40 pm, the channels go off for longer periods at a time, and by 7:40...nothing. Oh, on Saturdays ad Sundays,the all-day infomercials and PBS never-ending telethons-disguised-as-programming come in beautifully.
    Now what are the advantages of digital TV? -- that's right, a clearer picture. Wow, I can only imagine how great that must be during primetime when my screen only shows a little blue box that says, "No Signal."

  • My thanks to you for taking the time out of your day to write about something like this.