Marketplace Scratch Pad

Oh great rabbit ear

Scott Jagow Jun 11, 2009

I have prayed to a few TV antennas in my life. “Please, please come in, most gracious rabbit ear. I must watch this football game, and you’re the only one who can make that dream come true.” Tomorrow’s switch to digital television may sound like the end of an era, but some people might still be on their knees in front of the Magnavox, begging for the picture to clear up.

First of all, 3 million households are apparently not ready for the switch. How can that possibly be? Here’s the Washington Post’s explanation:

The education campaign was uncoordinated, a federal program to help people pay for converter boxes ran out of money, and many were not informed that they might need additional equipment to receive TV service.

Those most at risk of losing programming — seniors, non-English speakers, low-income viewers and rural residents — are among the more than 14 million households that rely heavily on over-the-air signals to receive critical public-safety alerts, news and weather reports.

Some people need to buy a stronger antenna, and if they don’t, their digital TV signal won’t be very reliable:

That’s because digital signals do not travel as far or hold up to interference as well as analog. Analog signals will show a snowy picture for viewers on the edge of a station’s coverage area. But with digital signals, even the smallest obstruction — a tall tree in the yard or an airplane flying overhead — can cause the picture to freeze and sometimes disappear altogether.

When I was a kid, I would watch entire games constantly bending and tweaking that rabbit ear, so I could make out the field through the snowy reception. Ah, the good ‘ole days. But I don’t recommend it as a relaxing afternoon.

The benefit of going digital is that it frees up airwaves for wireless internet expansion and for use as emergency transponders. A utilitarian decision. Most people won’t be affected. They already have digital TV. Others will probably call the cable company on Monday, once they realize the dark picture isn’t a new reality show.

And then there are the few who will hang on for a few more months, slapping the side of the TV, fiddling, fiddling, fiddling with their old antenna.

The rabbit ear’s last stand.

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