Throwing the Big Switch


Talk about the digital age. I watched the symbolic throwing of the swtich to all-digital TV station broadcasting in Wilmington, N.C., on on of the local cable system’s access channels streamed over the Internet to Washington (I am inserting some remoted live blogging into our live, live blogging), where the occasional frozen picture and audio made me wonder how we’re going to jam all this digital information down the limited-size pipes we have.

But I digress. I notice the upbeat symbolism of FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo turning a giant light switch on to officially mark the end of full-power analog in the market, rather than turn ing something off. They could have as easily pulled a giant plug out of a board, since the digital signal was already on and it was the analog that was being discontinued, but that would be too much "glass-is-half-empty."

One of the TV station GM’s noted at the official turn-off ceremony that when he first learned Wilmington would become the guinea pig, or lab rat, for the digital switch, he was excited, until he realized that what they would be was the first in the nation to take something away from viewers–analog signals. But he concluded that those viewers would just have to let go if they were to gain the benefits of what would come next.

That, broadcasters and the government hope, are great new pictures and sound and multiple channels.

In town for the event as well, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who pushed loud and long for test markets in advance of the Feb. 17, 2009, national turn-off, put in a plug for localism, saying this was an opportunity for local stations to add diverse and hyper local news and political coverage.

National Association of Broadcasters President David Rehr put in a plug for the "free" in free TV, putting his usual emphasis on the word when discussing all the advantages of digital.

Rehr also gave a shout-out to cable and satellite operators for their cooperation in technical coordination, saying that would be critical going forward.