There’s local news from what Harry Shearer mockingly calls “the digital wonderland,” courtesy of Scott Fybush’s NorthEast Radio Watch.
Most stations are now simulcasting traditional analog TV signals on their existing frequencies, or channels, and digital TV signals on other frequencies. When analog TV signs off for good in February 2009, stations are supposed to give up their analog channels and move everything to the digital channels. Digital TV is supposed to allow broadcasters to send out either one “high-definition” TV signal or six different “standard-definition” broadcast feeds at the same time.
Fybush says that under the most recent FCC plan, Pittsburgh’s CW affiliate, CBS owned-and-operated WPCW-TV (19), will give up its digital signal on channel 49 and move to the current channel 11, while NBC affiliate WPXI-TV (11) will give up 11 and stay on its digital channel 48.
But it won’t matter, Fybush notes, because your snazzy new digital TV (assuming you’ve bought one) will still show WPXI as “channel 11” and WPCW as “channel 19,” rendering the traditional channel numbers all but meaningless.
(Remember, you can’t watch digital TV on a regular TV without a conversion box, and the regular broadcasts are set to disappear in 2009. Now would be a good time to check the credit limit on your MasterCard.)
By the way, according to Shearer’s Aug. 19 broadcast of Le Show (heard locally on WDUQ-FM), FCC regulations concerning the “public interest, convenience and necessity” of local broadcasting only apply to a station’s main digital TV channel, not the ancillary channels.
And there’s nothing that compels stations to broadcast high-definition TV on their main channel, so for many viewers, the promise of “high-quality digital TV pictures” will never materialize.
Consequently, Shearer says some digital stations are already running their main digital channels in low-definition digital TV (which, as he noted, can look pretty choppy at times) and paid programming or static images (like weather maps) on the other channels. (“Ask yourself,” says Shearer, “what entertainment company would consistently prefer to have one profit center on its channel, rather than up to six?”)
That’s why you might wind up seeing programming that Shearer calls “crap” on the digital TV secondary channels … not that you could tell the difference, as he wryly noted.
It sounds like viewers are getting digital TV, all right … mainly the middle digit.