As anticipated on our posting on Black Friday the 13th, the FCC’s Media Bureau Staff had no respite over the holiday weekend. On President’s Day itself, they issued a public notice along with what should be the final list of which TV stations will shut down their analog operation the next day – Tuesday, February 17 – and which will stay on the air analog or broadcast "nightlight" or "enhanced nightlight" services.
According to the FCC’s latest, 220 stations have already shut down analog operation, and 421 more will do so tomorrow; so about 36% of the nation’s full power TV stations will lower the analog curtain on February 17.
The FCC had identified 106 stations in 41 markets as being "particularly problematic," because all four major commercial network affiliates planned to turn off their analog signals. That would presumably leave the public without access to local news and information on any analog channel, since the FCC seems to assume that in most cases, the four major network affiliates are the only ones that have local newscasts. After some arm twisting, the FCC persuaded 43 stations to stay on the air analog, leaving only 20 markets in jeopardy. Some of the other stations will broadcast announcements on their analog channel about how to receive DTV signals ("nightlight"); and in markets where all four major network affiliates were ready to flicker out, at least one will keep the analog lamp lit for local newscasts and emergency messages ("enhanced nightlight").
The FCC has targeted 72 markets where one or more of the top four commercial network affiliates will terminate analog operation. They are dispatching an army of staffers (suitably attired in flak gear?) to these markets to visit stores selling DTV converter boxes, to assist in DTV walk-in centers where consumers can get hands-on assistance before they tear their hair out trying to hook up boxes and antennas, and to reach out to at risk groups. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus to help your grandmother with her TV. There will be 2,506 staffers manning FCC telephones at 1-888-CALL-FCC, and that number will be able to link callers to 1,759 additional agents through industry "partners." Will a real person answer the phone faster than your cable company answers? If Las Vegas is not taking bets on that question, they are missing an opportunity.
So here we go! Tomorrow is the witching hour. If all else fails, the FCC suggests their latest: http://www.dtv.gov/fixreception.html, where you can learn how to buy a converter box, get a coupon to help pay for the box, install a box, or upgrade your antenna. There is no reference to a recent finding we saw posted on the Web that a coat hanger worked better than many retail indoor antennas.