Digital TV conversion will begin Friday|Signal switch could cause local problems

Published 12:38 am Sunday, June 7, 2009

Staff Writer

On Friday, when TV stations nationwide switch to digital signals, the biggest local problem may not be too few converter boxes.
“We are probably heading for a digital disaster because the FCC has not warned anyone that they need rooftop antennas,” said Estelle “Bunny” Sanders, mayor of Roper and a part of DTV Across America, an advocacy group working to ease the transition to digital TV.
For old-fashioned televisions to work with the new digital signal, people will need both an antenna that can pick up the digital signal and a converter box to “translate” the signal for the television.
Some antennas in use now will work for the digital signal, but many won’t. Also, some rural houses that received analog signals just fine on rabbit ears will need rooftop antennas for the digital signal, which doesn’t travel as well over long distances.
There’s been a lot of attention surrounding the new converter boxes consumers will need to receive digital television on analog sets. The government has provided $40 coupons to help people buy the boxes, and the date for the switch-over to digital was pushed back to Friday in part because of converter box snafus.
Much less attention has been paid to antenna problems.
Existing antennas might not work for two reasons, experts say: Some are too old to pick up the digital signal, and others are too weak.
Digital television signals travel through the air differently than (and often not as well as) traditional signals, party because they won’t bend the way traditional signals will, Sanders said. That means that people living in the country, far from broadcast towers, might not receive digital broadcasts as easily as conventional ones.
In Washington, many viewers watch broadcasts coming from different areas. WCTI, an ABC affiliate on channel 12, broadcasts from New Bern, said Jimmy Harris of Harris Electronics in Washington. The local NBC and CBS affiliates — WITN on channel 7 and WNCT on channel 9, respectively — broadcast from Grifton, Harris said. A Fox station broadcasts from Greenville, he added.
Harris said he thinks a lot of people still aren’t ready, but more are getting the word.
“Our antennas (sales) have, I’d say, probably quadrupled in the past 60 days,” he said. A lot of people are still going for rabbit ears, he said, but he said rooftop antennas may do significantly better with the broadcasting change.
Jason Pair, of Pair Electronics, said his company has converted some antennas to better receive the digital signals, but is also connecting some customers to satellite feeds, which are another way to get digital programming. Pair’s employees work with residents from Pitt to Dare counties.
Sanders said her group includes antenna installers who have agreed to cut prices during the conversion.
For some residents living in areas where cable is not available, the choices will be among antennas, a satellite dish and no TV at all. That worries Sanders, because many residents rely on TV for key information, including news about incoming bad weather.
She said, “The vulnerable population are going to be rural, poor, elderly, disadvantaged people who don’t even know they need an antenna.”
To apply for a converter box coupon, call 888-388-2009 or go to For information about the digital transition in general, go to, or