It’s D(TV) Day!


Today is the day!

It’s here!

The big shutdown of Analog Television has arrived!


Okay, be honest: Are you ready for the digital television conversion?

Yeah, I thought you were.

Anyone who doesn’t know that by midnight tonight all full-power analog TV transmitters will be shut down has to be Amish—and I have it on good authority that the Amish are sick and tired of the DTV transition, too.

Still, on Wednesday of this week, the Nielsen Company released research showing that 2,8 million American households are “completely unready for the transition.” While 2.8 million might seem like a lot, it’s only 2.5% of TV-equipped households. After all those months of annoying crawls, PSA’s and special programs, can they still say “we didn’t know” with a straight face? Perhaps they’re waiting for President Obama to personally deliver and install their converter box.

One explanation for at least a part of that 2.5% is that Low Power TV (LPTV) stations aren’t required to shut down their analog signals yet, and some of those unconverted households might be in rural areas served only by LPTV. They could also be in larger markets but prefer to watch only their favorite LPTV channel. They could also be waiting for the change so they can claim discrimination. There are also those who believe those converter boxes are “the government trying to spy on us.” Seriously, I’ve heard people say that!

For me, there is a sad aspect of this historic day. People are so sick and tired of hearing about the DTV transition that they just want it to be over. Many have missed the great historical significance of the day, the great and honorable tradition that is being laid to rest. When the first round of analog shutdowns occurred here back in February, I watched some of them and was horribly disappointed. At the appointed time, they just flipped the switch. No ceremonial moment, no salute to the generations that brought television to this historic milestone. Just a quick cut to snow and a licensee who’s delighted to lose that chunk of the electric bill.

I wonder what the true poineers of television would have to say about this day?

Philo Farnsworth, the man who, at 13 years of age, conceived the concept of image scanning and reconstruction upon which analog TV is based, went on to develop the first working electronic television system. Farnsworth didn’t get the credit due him because he was an ethical man, a genius who didn’t have the deep pockets (or lack of integrity) of David Sarnoff’s RCA. When fellow inventors from RCA asked to tour his laboratory and see his device in operation, it never occurred to Farnsworth that they might illicitly copy some of his technological developments. Farnsworth and RCA spent years in court over those infringements, and eventually Farnsworth won.

Philo Farnsworth would be fascinated with the new technology. Ever the inventor, he’d be in it up to his eyeballs and be having a blast seeing it in action. He’d probably improve on it, too.

Another big name in early TV development was Dr. Vladimir Zworykin, a Russian-born scientist who worked for RCA and developed much of their early television technology (including the parts based on designs “acquired” from Farnsworth). I believe that Zworykin’s reaction to today’s television might be found in an interview some time after his retirement in 1954. What follows is not a transcript, but it’s mighty close:

Interviewer: “Of all the many inventions to your credit in the world of television, what invention gives you the most satisfaction?”

Zworykin (heavy Russian accent): “Da Svitch.”

Interviewer: “What?”

Zworykin: “Da Svitch.”

Interviewer: “I don’t understand.”

Zworykin: “You know, Da Svitch, so I can turn the damn think off.”

I hope those engineers who use “da svitch” today will do so with reverence and respect, because without Analog TV, the world would be a very different place today. Whether better or worse is a never-settled debate—but it would definitely be different.

Rest in Peace, Analog.

Marconi the Radio Cat… and TV, Too!

Marconi the Radio Cat

This good-looking young guy is named Marconi. He’s the youngest of the four kitties who allow us to inhabit their house. One day, he showed up at the back door of the Citadel Little Rock Radio Center, home of Arkansas’ largest radio group and the place where I work to support my writing habit. Since he was hanging around at a bunch of radio stations, it seemed only right that he be named after Guglielmo Marconi, the man who is known as “the Father of Radio” (he was the first man to transmit information wirelessly over long distances — more or less the inventor of wireless communication).

There’s something about having a cat show up on your doorstep that makes the “cat people” rise to the surface of any organization, the way cream rises in raw milk. Soon, folks were leaving him food and water, which of course made him a regular fixture around the back porch. One of our salespeople had a standing arrangement for discount spaying and neutering with a vet she used to work for, and several staffers chipped in to have Marconi “broken” and get him his first round of shots. A couple of our night and weekend guys were secretly taking him inside on cold nights and keeping him in one of the bathrooms. He really became part of the family.
At first, I thought Marconi he was feral because he wasn’t particularly sociable and seemed to be somewhat of a “traveling man.” Over the course of a few weeks, he became more trusting and even let a few of us pet him as he sunned himself behind the building. I saw something in Marconi. I was starting to think that he wasn’t really a feral cat. I noticed that he tried to come inside Marconi the Radio Catthe building a few times, and he was much more sociable than most truly feral cats. The real clincher was the day that I saw Marconi playing with a live mouse in the grass. Feral cats do not play with their food. I decided that Marconi must have been someone’s lost, run away, or abandoned house cat. He could manage outside on his own, but it wasn’t his natural habitat.
Everyone could see that Marconi and I had developed a special bond, and I was frequently asked not if but when I was going to take him home. Our cats were strictly indoor kitties, I was leery of trying to bring this maybe-semi-feral cat into our home. We had three females at the time, but we also had an empty space that had been occupied by another yellow boy named Buddy, Marconiwho had been with me for over 15 years and had died just a few months before. I’ve always believed that people don’t adopt cats. Cats adopt people, and Marconi had adopted me. He worked his way into a special place in my heart, and one day I finally knew that He wanted to come home with me. I gave him what he wanted, and today he is firmly and fully in command of the Case household.
Marconi never had any complaints until the day he heard about Larry the Garden Cat. Marco was sitting on the back of my chair as I was browsing the website of KTHV-TV, Channel 11 (“Today’s THV”), the CBS affiliate in Little Rock. THV has an outdoor weather set that they call “The Weather Garden.” One of the residents of the Weather Garden is a yellow cat named Larry, whose story is not unlike Marconi’s, but with a video twist. Larry’s become somewhat of a celebrity, with frequent appearances on THV’s morning show and weekend weather. I haven’t seen him as much on the evening news; the night crew must be dog people. Larry’s got his own corner of the THV web site, a blog, and even an on-air contest – the “11 Larry Look-Alikes Contest.”
I was browsing the THV website one day, with Marconi sitting on the back of my chair (not unlike the first picture above), and when I came to Larry’s web page, Marconi perked up and growled just enough to get my attention. I asked him what his problem was, and he responded with indignation and just a hint of jealousy. Ths discussion went like this:

“That Larry guy starts hangs around a TV station and now he’s a TV star with his own web page, and a blog, and a cool T-shirt with his picture. I was hanging around at a radio station, and what did I get? A radio show? Noooo.  A web page or a blog? Noooo. Not even a stinkin’ t-shirt. All I got was neutered.”

“Well, Marco, “ I replied, “It’s going to be 100 degrees outside today, and Larry has to live outside while you live in this nice, air-conditioned house. And, when it thunders, Larry can’t run downstairs and hide under the rug like you can. Are you sure you’d rather be Larry?”

Marconi thought for a moment and purred, “No, I’m good.”

Marconi does look a lot like Larry, so he wanted to enter the 11 Larry Look-Alikes contest. And, he won. As one of the eleven winners, he gets one year of heartworm and flea preventative treatment, sixteen pounds of high-class cat food, one full checkup from Dr. Bob, the THV Morning show’s resident veterinarian, and a Larry the Garden Cat tee-shirt. Marco decided to donate most of his winnings to Helping Hands for Little Paws, an all-volunteer animal rescue organization that rescued two of his three feline housemates.

But, Marconi wants that tee-shirt!