Local digital TV switch half completed

Published 10:12 am Tuesday, February 17, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) — In theater superstition, a bad dress rehearsal is supposed to foretell a good opening night.

If so, the U.S. might be in good shape when it turns off the last analog TV broadcasts in June, because the lead-up to the smaller-scale turnoff Tuesday has been confusing to both viewers and TV stations.

For years, the government and industry has said Feb. 17 would be the day when analog TV signals go away, and viewers who lack cable or satellite would have to tune in to digital signals. But when funding ran out for coupons to subsidize TV converter boxes, Congress became concerned that viewers wouldn’t be ready, and hurriedly passed a bill to delay the deadline to June 12.

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At the same time, Congress left the door open to stations to keep the Feb. 17 date. When a third of U.S. full-power stations said they’d like to do so, the Federal Communications Commission put its foot down, placing extra conditions on some of them. Only late Friday did it become clear, or nearly so, which stations would shut down analog four days later, and which would wait for a few more months.

A patchwork of 641 stations across the country, mainly in thinly populated areas, are still turning off their analog broadcasts this week or have already done so. Among them are five stations in Ohio, including the FOX and CW affiliates in Columbus.

The most populous markets where many or all major-network stations are cutting analog include San Diego and Santa Barbara, Calif.; Providence, R.I.; La Crosse and Madison, Wis.; Rockford, Ill.; Sioux City, Iowa; Waco, Texas; Macon, Ga.; Scranton, Pa.; and Burlington, Vt.

‘‘I think this whole delay is ridiculous,’’ said Robert Prather, president of Gray Television Inc., an Atlanta-based company that owns 36 stations. ‘‘It’s just going to cause confusion among consumers. There’s no reason in the world for it that I can understand.’’