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Feds pulling plug on analog TV Friday

For some, it’s now a hardship choice of ‘car or cable’
By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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A day away from the analog-to-digital TV transition, Auburn’s Martin Maxwell is left wondering just how well the much-ballyhooed switch will really help him and other antenna users with older sets. Maxwell pulls in most Sacramento TV stations with an outdoor antenna that rises 25-feet above the ground at his Glen Oaks Mobile Home Park abode. He recently bought a converter box to allow his analog TV to show programs from the over-the-air digital signal. But he admits he’s had difficulty with the on-screen commands. So the converter is not in use yet. Maxwell, a disabled veteran, points to other mobile homes at the Bowman-area park and their satellite dishes, saying he can’t afford the luxury of switching to DirectTV, Dish Network or other TV packages. “Keeping my car on the road is more important,” he said. “I live on a fixed income and everything is too far away for me to be without a car.” Maxwell added that many people have made a choice and are without a vehicle but have a satellite dish service. Friday is when major analog signals are due to go off the air. Many households in Auburn and around the nation are still unprepared for a conversion that has been planned for five years. The Nielsen Company reported Wednesday that 2.8 million American households, or 2.5 percent of the television market, are completely unready for the transition. That’s an improvement from the initial date for the change in February, when 3.75 percent weren’t ready. Even with the converter in place and a tall antenna, Maxwell said he’s still at the mercy of the power of the digital signals to come. On normal days, he’ll pull in Sacramento channels 3, 13, 10, 31 and 40. Channel 29 is a bit fuzzy, he said. And on some days, if the atmospheric conditions are right, Bay Area stations, including channel 2, will be clearer than local ones. But if a train parks on nearby tracks or the California Highway Patrol sets up radar on nearby Interstate 80, Maxwell said his signal is lost. While analog signals move in and out – with “snow” marring the picture on poorer reception – digital TV is an all or nothing proposition. Towers at Walnut Grove for most stations provide a digital signal that can’t “bounce” off clouds or land formations. That means a clear shot is a must from local antennas south to Walnut Grove – and to Mount Diablo for Bay Area stations. One of the options for those people not pulling in good signals with their current equipment is to pay for a link from a dish or cable company. But there are rural areas where neither cable or dish service will work. “There are going to be a few without TV,” Mitchell said. The vast majority of TV viewers won’t even notice the switch. Auburn’s Angie Beavers, 85, said she’s ready for the change. A relative gave her a new, digital TV for Christmas last year and she has DirectTV. Beavers said she also has an analog TV and bought a converter but it’s still in the box. Edith Wenzell, 73, said she doesn’t plan to buy a new TV. The Auburn resident said her four-year-old set is just fine and she has Wave broadband so there’s no need for a converter. But, like many, she still wonders exactly what will happen Friday. “I just hope that when I turn on the TV Friday, it will be working,” she said. Barbara Crowell, Auburn Multipurpose Senior Center executive director, said her office has several donated converter boxes available to TV users. Crowell said it’s scary to think of seniors who may be without TV after the digital change. “For some, it’s the only company they have,” she said. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com. Organizations move to smooth digital transition for consumers The Federal Communications Commission is advising TV owners with questions to call 1-888-CALL-FCC for help in making the digital transition. Or they can visit dtv.com and enter their ZIP code or state in the upper right-hand corner of the page to find local events and walk-in centers. By entering their ZIP code, they can also find station reception information that will help them to decide whether they need to adjust their antennas, or purchase a new antenna, in order to continue receiving their favorite stations. In Auburn, the Seniors First office is taking calls at (530) 889-9500, ext. 215 on local digital concerns. The Assistance League of Auburn, in partnership with Best Buy, is providing help in installing converters. Marty Allegaert, Seniors First senior resource specialist, said that the organization was prepared for a flood of calls but so far, has only had two or three. “We don’t know if things are under control or people are waiting for analog’s last gasp,” she said. “When I come back Monday, there might be a deluge.” Ken Harper, owner of Downtown Auburn’s Fowler’s TV, voiced a similar thought. The store will be open through Saturday and again Monday. But the 53-year-old store has had a steady stream of phone calls and questions, he said. “People using antennas are not going to get the same level of reception,” he said. “And they’ll have to rescan their boxes after the switchover (with autoprogramming) to find out what they have.” – Gus Thomson