Reading the papers and watching the news this weekend, one would think that analog television is a relic of the past – something that we can all soon look back at fondly as a quaint childhood memory, never to be seen again. Yet all the reports fail to mention that for populations that watch their over-the-air television from TV translators or Low Power TV stations, analog television is still very much a reality, and in some places will be for years until the FCC sets a deadline for the digital conversion of these stations. Many of these stations operate in rural areas or serve minority or other specialized audiences, perhaps explaining the lack of coverage in the mainstream media. But, given all the publicity that has been accorded to the "completion" of the conversion, some of these populations may well have been confused by the process. We’ve writtenabout this issue and how it could have created confusion in smaller markets which have service by both full-power and low power TV stations, here.
The transition of LPTV to digital raises a number of issues – including the ability of these stations to deliver radio-type programming when operating on Channel 6. As we’ve written, LPTV stations on Channel 6 have been used to provide radio services, as Channel 6 is immediately adjacent to the FM band and can be picked up on most radio receivers.. However, when the ultimate transition of LPTV to digital is completed, the ability of these stations to provide a radio-type service will probably disappear, as the audio system used by digital television will not be picked up by analog radio receivers.
As we recently wrote, the FCC has just announced a window during which LPTV stations can file for new digital channels that were made available by the full power conversion between now and June 30. This is but one more step toward the day when these last analog holdouts will make their transition. The government is also making available funds to help many of these stations make the transition (see our post here). We will only wait for the FCC to set the date when that transition will be mandated, and analog television broadcasting will truly be a relic of the past.
UPDATE 6/18/09: I received a message in response to this post, from someone very involved in the LPTV community, who says that engineers are working on a way to allow the analog audio signal to be embedded in the digital LPTV transmission, so that using LPTV for radio-like services may still be possible after the LPTV digital transition. It will be interesting to hear any specifics on that proposal as they become available.