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Will you still be tuned in when all TV stations change to digital?

Trade group calls switchover ‘a catastrophe’

When large television stations across the nation quit broadcasting analog signals in February, thousands of smaller stations – including several that serve Tucson – will not.

If you rely on an antenna for TV, that could mean plugging your set into a converter box to see some stations and unplugging to see others.

And it depends on where you live because Tucson’s mountains force a patchwork of signals from various transmitters, meaning some viewers will have digital signals after Feb. 17 and some won’t.

“This is just a catastrophe for your area. It’s like Y2K for television,” said Ron Bruno, president of the Community Broadcasters Association, a trade group that represents small stations.

The problem is that most of the set-top boxes that will let old TVs get digital signals will block analog signals – the ones from small stations like Jewelry Television, TeleFutura and TBN. If you get a converter box without a “pass through” feature, you will have to unplug the box to get analog stations.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration lists 54 converters available at retailers. Twenty-one of those allow analog signals, according to the NTIA Web site.

The Community Broadcasters Association tried to block the sale of boxes that do not allow analog signals, but the case was rejected by a judge in May, Bruno said.

Cable and satellite viewers won’t be affected at all by the digital transition – their signals will not change in February.

A test Sept. 8 in North Carolina highlights some of the problems that are likely to hit Tucson when the nation’s major television stations go digital.

Hundreds of callers in Wilmington – where full-power stations switched off analog signals at noon Sept. 8 – couldn’t get signals, and some didn’t know the switch was coming, according to The Associated Press.

While public education efforts have focused on making sure viewers are aware of the transition, very little has been publicized about the potential need for antennas.

“Many reception issues are generally easy to resolve, but in some cases in some areas, folks may need a better antenna,” said Andy Combs, general manager of WWAY-TV, one of the stations that turned off its signal. “It’s best to figure all of that out ahead of time.”

The digital switch will affect antenna viewers of Tucson’s 10 low-power transmitters in various ways.

Telefutura, TBN, Azteca America, the Home Shopping Network and Jewelry Television viewers will be affected all over the metro area because those stations send analog signals to the entire metro area.

Univision and KVOA have translators that serve the Northwest Side, though both have transmitters for the rest of the city that are already digital.

Univision, which carried all of the top 10 shows among Hispanics for Sept. 8, has two transmitters covering the entire city – one digital and one analog. Univision’s full-power analog signal in Tucson was switched off Thursday, the company said in a news release.

If your Univision signal went blank Thursday, you might be trying to watch the analog signal through a digital converter box that does not allow digital signals. Call the station at 622-0984 for information.

Venture Technologies, the Los Angeles-based owner of Tucson’s Jewelry Television transmitter, plans to take its signal digital, but not in February, said Vice President Brian Holton.

“Probably it will be after – probably a few months after,” Holton said.

TeleFutura’s Tucson signal is a low-power relay from the main station in Douglas. Univision, which owns TeleFutura, did not respond to several inquiries about when TeleFutura’s analog signals here would go digital.

Azteca America, which offers a broad range of entertainment, news and other programming in Spanish, has a low-power transmitter on Mount Bigelow that will not go digital in February, said Azteca engineer Fred Streeter, who works in Phoenix.

“Our basic plan right now is to wait until the FCC mandates it,” Streeter said.

The federal government is offering coupons worth $40 off the purchase of a digital converter box, which allows older analog televisions to get digital signals. The converters, which sell for $59.99 at Best Buy, are widely available.

The coupons are free, though supplies are limited. Two coupons are allowed per household. See this story at www.tucsoncitizen.com for information on how to get coupons.



Analog television – A signal that uses radio waves to send and display pictures. These signals limit the amount of information that can be sent in a given bandwidth, or frequency range.

Digital television – Television signals that use radio waves to send computer code to your TV, which must decode the signal. Digital signals allow more information to be sent in a given bandwidth and let stations broadcast Dolby Surround Sound.

High-Definition Television – Commonly known as HDTV, this is the highest quality signal available. Analog signals are limited to a resolution of 480 lines per vertical inch on your screen; HD signals can be up to 1,080 lines. Current broadcast HD TV signals are 720 lines per inch.

Multicasting -Allows broadcasters to split their allotted bandwidth into multiple, lower-resolution signals. Even multicast digital signals are higher quality than analog.

Downconverting – A process cable companies use to convert digital signals to analog before pushing the signals to viewers. This will allow cable viewers to keep getting TV without making changes, even after broadcasters are required to send digital signals in February.

Source: Federal Communications Commission

Local channel changes for full-power stations

Station Now 2009

KHRR 40 40

KUVE 46 46

KGUN 9 9

KWBA 58 44


KVOA 4 23

KMSB 11 25

KUAS 27 28

KUAT 6 30

KOLD 13 32

Source: Federal Communications Commission

Tucson stations with analog signals for all or part of the metro area:

Home Shopping Network

Azteca America


Jewelry Television


KVOA (Northwest Side only)

Univision (Northwest Side only)

Source: Federal Communications Commission


What to do

On Feb. 17, all full-power television stations – most major networks and major local stations – will stop transmitting analog signals. Your old antenna will be able to pick up digital signals – only the tuner in your television must be digital. All flat panel TVs are digital. Check your owner’s manual to see if your television’s tuner is digital.

Cable or satellite

Your signals will not change after February. You do not have to do anything to keep getting your normal signal. Cable and satellite signals are degraded before they are sent to homes, so to get the full benefit of HD broadcasting you will have to pay for HD programming or use an antenna for local broadcasts.

TV with analog tuner

You will need a set-top converter to get digital signals. The converter must have a “pass-through” feature to get analog signals from low-power stations.

TV with digital tuner

You will be able to get over-the-air analog and digital signals, but to get the full benefit of HD programming you will have to pay for HD programming from a cable or satellite provider or use an antenna for local broadcasts.


On the Web

Community Broadcasters Association: www.dtvnow.org

Federal Communications Commission digital transition page: www.dtv.gov

List of converters and whether they allow analog signal pass-through: www.ntiadtv.gov/cecb_list.cfm

To get coupon worth $40 toward the purchase of a set-top digital converter box: www.dtv2009.gov


By the numbers

• 98.2 percent of U.S. homes have televisions

• 2.6 televisions per home on average

• 73.2 percent of homes have cable

• $364.79 – average paid annually for cable or satellite service

• 71,800 households in southern Arizona rely on antennas

• 23,680 southern Arizona households had applied for converter box coupons by Aug. 1

• 10 million people have applied for free coupons for $40 off the cost of a set-top digital converter

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau; National Telecommunications and Information Administration

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