Digital TV killed my radio news

Posted: Monday, March 02, 2009

As I drove home from work a week ago, I changed my radio to the low end of the FM dial so I could pick up the evening news from the ABC-TV affiliate. All I heard, though, were the sounds of silence.

"It's always something," I said aloud to fill the void, and went back to a National Public Radio station, where I had been listening to the day's news.

I began wondering whether the dead air had anything to do with the television industry's much-heralded switch-over to digital broadcasting, which wasn't supposed to take place until the next day. Hmmm, could there be a connection between -

I suddenly lost my line of thought as the trained chimpanzee driving a big sport utility vehicle beside me tried to squeeze my car into the concrete barrier on the interstate.

I survived, but I didn't think about my radio again until the next evening - the day of the Big Switch mandated by the Federal Communications Commission. I punched in 87.7 at TV news time and got a whistling noise instead of silence or the news.

A night later, the whistling had been replaced by static.

By then, I had learned that the move from analog to digital broadcasting had, indeed, done more than require viewers who relied on rabbit ears to buy a converter box if they wanted to keep watching their shows. It also had taken local ABC-TV affiliate WJBF off my radio.

Because they covered the same bandwidth, television stations broadcasting on Channel 6 had long been picked up on FM radio. I remember that when the space shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986, I listened on my Ford's FM dial to Channel 6 out of Tallahassee, Fla., as Dan Rather described the scene for his television viewers.

Digital TV changed all that, and we can't say we didn't get advance notice about the end of analog. "Feb. 17" became ingrained in our brains as the date of the impending swap.

(As the deadline approached, we were given extra months, but many stations adhered to the original date anyway.)

Crawls advising us of the change moved across our TV screens more regularly than weather bulletins and lost-child alerts. TV reporters pushed the governmental rule every chance they got. If we didn't know of the switch, then we simply weren't watching enough television and got what we deserved.

On the other hand, I never heard one word about losing my television on the radio. If anyone ever mentioned that little side-effect, I missed it.

I don't know how. I keep the television and the radio on simultaneously at the house, refocusing my ears from one news program to the other as I get dressed in the morning. In the car, I listen to CBS News at the top of each hour, then switch immediately to NPR, and then to the ABC evening news - at least, I did.

Digital is probably better than analog, but I feel I've been robbed of an option in my life. I wonder whether I can order cable TV for my car?

MOORE WORDS: According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, "analog" comes from terms meaning a ratio, word or reckoning. Related are logic, analogy and logarithm.

"Digital," as you might guess, stems from digits, meaning finger or toe. Even before that, it meant to tell, say or point out, because people counted on and pointed with their digits. That's where "diction" came from, too, and"dictator" and "indict."

In electronics, both "analog" and "digital" have complicated meanings I don't understand and couldn't describe if I used all 10 fingers and most of my toes.



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