June 12, 2009
Switch to digital TV signals is tonight

GOFFSTOWN - At midnight tonight, as part of a historic nationwide transition to digital television, New Hampshire will bid farewell to a decade-long tradition: Watching WMUR-TV on Channel 59.

Wait a second: Everybody knows WMUR is Channel 9. What's this Channel 59 business?

"People say, When are you going to start broadcasting in digital? – but we've been broadcasting in digital for over 10 years," said Alex Jasiukowicz, Creative Services Director for the state's dominant television station.

That's what Channel 59 is for. It carries WMUR's DTV signal, leaving Channel 9 free for the old-fashioned analog signal.

At midnight Friday, however, the analog signal will disappear for good, along with those sent by most other TV stations. (Nashua's Channel 13 will remain analog because it is a low-power station, so the federal government didn't require a change to digital.)

After a couple of hours for equipment changes, during which WMUR will be off the air, the station's digital signal will move to the empty Channel 9, and Channel 59 will disappear.That change has been a long time coming. 

Analog signals, which carry information on a continuous signal that varies over time, has been used since the first wireless signals were sent by Marconi. Digital signals, which carry information in discrete bits, are only a few decades old.

The advantage of digital is that it takes up much less space on the broadcast spectrum, usually delivers a much "cleaner" signal, and makes interactive, two-way systems possible.

The Federal Communication Commission has been trying for over a decade to switch America's TV stations to digital – much of the rest of the developed world has made that transition already – but the analog signals first had to be turned off so that the digital signals could take their place.

The process has been complicated by concerns about the effect of ending analog signals, which is why the original date for the switch (Feb. 17) was pushed back to June 12. 

The government's multi-billion-dollar program to subsidize the cost of digital converters for people who get over-the-air signals was also extended.

The deadline extension has drawn out the process further, turning it from a bang into a whimper.

The two other major in-state stations, New Hampshire Public Television and MyTV on Channel 50 in Derry, have already dropped their analog signals, largely to save the cost of operating duplicate transmitters. Several other Boston-area stations have done the same.

As a result, WMUR's switcheroo will be the only visible result on the change within New Hampshire – and it won't be all that visible. 

Only viewers who get over-the-air signals and haven't installed a digital converter box are likely to notice, since cable and satellite systems and over-the-air digital converters should automatically switch to follow the digital signal.

"It's going to be like having the kids going off to college, with a little bit of the empty-nest syndrome," Jasiukowicz joked. 


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