Viewers prepare for DTV switch

Published 8:23 pm Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Imagine waking up the morning of Feb. 18, turning on your TV only to find nothing on the air.

If you rely on an antenna for your television signal, and if you are not prepared for the upcoming switch from analog to digital TV, then you will likely have that experience.

“It’s going to be a confusing time for a lot of folks,” said Morris Pollock, chief engineer for WSFA in Montgomery. “Lots of people have procrastinated, and those are usually the people that get upset over it.”

Fortunately, there is an easy way to equip your TV for this historic change, which is mandated by the Federal Communications Commission. It’s called a converter box, and you can purchase one locally. For those who need an increased signal strength, there are other things you can do.

Local TV stations, such as WSFA, are also making efforts to educate and prepare viewers for the transition to digital.

“Keep in mind, next Feb. 17 around midnight we will cease broadcasting our digital signal on UHF 14 and begin broadcasting on VHF channel 12 with greater range, which should make it easier for everyone to pick up,” Pollock said. “So when you wake up Feb. 18, you’ll have to rescan your digital tuner in order to receive WSFA on the new DTV channel 12. Your existing antenna should work just fine to receive our new signal.”

The result will be much the same for any TV station. Doing a full re-scan for channels should resolve any channel hopping issues, Pollock said.

WSFA is inviting viewers to participate in overnight “test windows” to allow people to align their equipment prior to the shutoff Feb. 17. These tests will occur every Sunday morning from 2-3 a.m. from now until the shutoff date.

“You may be able to catch one of these test windows and rescan your converter box during that time to make sure you are prepared,” Pollock said. “When the one-hour test is over, you will have to rescan your converter again in order to receive all of our channels.”

He added that digital tuners will identify WSFA’s digital signal, which is actually broadcast on UHF channel 14, as 12.1, 12.2 and 12.3.

Because digital signals are location sensitive, one viewer may get a poor signal while another viewer about two miles away gets a clear picture. There are other things people can do to improve their signal, however.

“They need an outside antenna or one with an amplifier,” James Rhodes of Handy TV Appliance said.

Rhodes added that converter boxes do not work as well with rabbit ear antennas.

A tall, sturdy antenna is recommended because of the ability of wind to knock out the signal.

“It’ll either be crystal clear or it won’t pick up,” Rhodes said.

There are several informative Web sites people may visit for more information, including,, or

—Scott Mims can be reached at