2009.06.17 Digital television comes to my analog world

Written by David Green.

By RICH FOLEY

I hope everyone survived the big switch to digital television last Friday. After seemingly endless months of those annoying “crawls” across the bottom of the screen warning of the upcoming change, I was looking forward to the end of the constant warnings of the switch over. I should have known better.

Now, many stations are still running crawls advising us where to tell neighbors having trouble to call. I figure if someone has ignored the last year or so of warnings of impending doom for non-digital watchers, they probably won’t believe anything a neighbor says, either.

It’s sort of like the countdown to Y2K, where many decided to wait until the date was upon us to see if any of the dire predictions were true. It certainly didn’t help that when the deadline day finally came back then, the situation didn’t affect that many people. Those are probably the people who tried to ride this one out, too, only to get a surprise when they turned their television on Friday morning.

I read two stories on the situation, one estimating that almost three million homes had done nothing to prepare for the switch, the other that as many as 12 million had not finished preparations, that figure including those that had purchased, but not installed the needed conversion boxes.

I avoided being in either of those categories, but barely. I wrote several months ago of not being able to pick up any stations with the converter box. The website devoted to antenna advice for those using converters suggested I purchase one  roughly half the size of my Buick. Instead, I decided to get cable television.

The lady at the cable company kept offering me choices of service levels with dozens to nearly uncountable numbers of channels, but I stuck with their basic package which includes 17 channels. Of course, two of those are shopping channels and two more are public access channels which, so far, have shown nothing this member of the public is interested in accessing.

I do get the A&E network, which isn’t included in my package, but comes in anyway, although with very bad to no sound (don’t tell them, or they’ll be out to disconnect it). I guess that makes 13-1/2 real channels. Compared to the four channels with spotty reception I had before signing up, that’s pretty good.

I’ve been surprised that I’ve watched as much C-Span as I have, but they have had a lot of coverage of the hearings on auto dealership closings which, to me, was pretty interesting. On the other hand, so far, I’ve found the Weather Channel to be pretty boring. I expected the opposite to be true in both cases.

If you’re a fan of the right classic television show, some of the channels offer multiple showings. Last night, I watched back-to-back episodes of “WKRP in Cincinnati,” which I haven’t seen in a long time. I’ve even watched a few old episodes of “MASH” which haven’t been on broadcast television in this area in many years.

On the flip side, does anyone really watch multiple episodes of “Bewitched,” “Becker,” or “ALF?” And how many episodes of “Scrubs” can you take before your brain turns to mush? It’s actually even worse on some of the premium channels.

Over the weekend, TVLand showed 14 straight hours of “Married...with Children.” I actually liked the show, but can’t imagine watching more than two or three episodes at a time. And the Travel Channel was featuring 17 consecutive hours of something called “Bizarre Foods.” I don’t know if it was a series or the same hour-long show 17 times in a row, but how many people do you think watched that marathon?

I’m disappointed that no channel seems to be showing The 3 Stooges, but there’s always the “Steve Wilkos” show. Wilkos does bear a resemblance to Curly Howard, but it stops there. Wilkos’s main claim to fame was as the bouncer/security chief on the Jerry Springer show. These days, he has his own show. Only in America...

Now I’m faced with disposing of my converter box and old rabbit ears antenna. The converter I should be able to sell at some point, but I’m afraid the digital age has rendered my antenna obsolete, even though it’s still under warranty. Perhaps I should just store it away. Maybe 50 or 60 years from now a descendent can take it on “Antiques Roadshow.” That should give some appraiser a good laugh.

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