Today is the day!
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.”
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.