Analog out: Local stations make digital jump

NBC29 chief engineer Bob Jenkins, right, pushes the button to digital broadcast with FCC Virginia state coordinator John Hunter looking over his shoulder.

We've been hearing about the switch from analog to digital television on February 17, 2009, for what seems like years now. So when Congress extended the deadline for rabbit ears, local stations just said no and went digital as planned.

The Newsplex even made the switch a day early. "The [Federal Communications Commission] contacted us over the weekend and said we had to cut off CBS analog before February 17," says general manager Brad Ramsey.

The Newsplex CBS station, WCAV, quit the analog world at 11:35pm February 16 after the news; and the station stayed off the air for a couple of hours. Its Fox WAHU and ABC WVAW stations had already switched over during the day February 16 live from Carter's Mountain.

"Basically we had to turn off analog on each of the stations and reconfigure," explains Ramsey.

Although it costs thousands of dollars a month to transmit analog signals, money wasn't the main reason for dropping analog sooner rather than later, says Ramsey.

"We didn't want to confuse people," says Ramsey, "and that's happening in some markets. And our signal will be much stronger."

And now that it's done, "I feel like we have a big monkey off our back," he says.

Over at NBC29, the station hasn't quite bid adieu to analog. Although it pulled the plug on analog news and programs at 12:30pm Tuesday, February 17, viewers who haven't made the switch will still see something: a video that explains (in English, Spanish, and closed-captioned text) how to hook up a converter.

"Digital television is a little different from analog," explains general manager Harold Wright. "With analog, people may put up with a snowy picture, or ghosts. With digital," he says, "it has to be an absolutely perfect picture or there's no picture at all."

Wiith only 610 people in the area waiting for converter boxes that would allow their older TV sets to get the digital signals, Wright believes that Charlottesville is ready for the change.

"We've been telling people for a year," he says, noting that the stations gets 10 to 12 daily calls from viewers. "We're getting as many phone calls from people telling us to shut up about the change."

The station has been working with the Jefferson Area Board for the Aging, because the elderly are believed to be most prone to getting left in the digital dust. When problems can't be solved over the phone, they're referred to PinTech Corporation, which will send out engineers to get viewers set up.

With NBC29 doing soft tests since December 1, "I've said for weeks I thought this was going to be much ado about nothing," says Wright before the 12:30pm pushing of the button. "I still think that."

The station's switchover went smoothly, and by April 17, it should be able to pull the plug on analog, unless Wright can convince the FCC to let him end the public service announcement earlier. "They're forcing me to spend $10,000 a month," he says, "on a station that no one's watching."


Digital yes. HD no. A posting on WCAV says 24-72 hours before real television appears (read posts on the story).

Is there a single person out there that can actually tolerate anything less than 720p? Of course not. Bring on the HD for TV.

While I love getting extra channels via my rabbit ears, can anyone tell me why the screen so frequently breaks up into little cubes, and why I have to reset the channels on the converter box at least once a week? It's making me nuts, and I'm perturbed that I might miss Lost again due to this problem. Didn't have this problem with analog.

Is your antenna amplified? I've found that most digital tuners need a signal strength consistently above 50 or so. On analog you would just get a picture that might get wavy or snowy, on digital you get blockiness, much like satellite.

As far as resetting the channels, maybe your converter box is de-listing the channel when it doesn't detect enough signal strength from it? I'd try another converter, just be sure you can return it if it doesn't work better.

Also you might want to try a new antenna as well. There are some cheaper ones at radio shack that just might do the trick.

Many thanks for the advice! Yep, I think it's the signal strength. The antenna is amplified, fairly new, one of the best I could find at Best Buy. The picture seems to break up most often during rain or heavy wind. There are also industrial metal buildings next door that might have something to do with our poor reception. The reception is great on the other side of the house however (the side we don't live in!).

I've been avoiding the cost of cable or dish for a long time now, but might need to go in that direction. I had digital cable years ago when it first came out in Cville, and remember it breaking up or freezing somewhat often.

Wonder how they came up with that figure of 610 people still lacking converters. Someone keep track of all the TVs people own?
Myself,I am happy that the only reason I own a TV is so that I can play DVDS, including TV on DVD.
Much rather sit back and watch "the Dukes of Hazzard" or "Xena Warrior Princess" on DVD than the reality TV swill we have now.