Thursday, June 11, 2009

Change the Channels

Tonight's the night that television changes.

I grew up with a plethora of over-the-air channels when I was a child. Since Rome is midway between Atlanta and Chattanooga, we received channels 2, 5, 8, and 11 from Atlanta and 3, 9, and 12 from Chattanooga. I think I learned channels and networks before I even fully knew my times tables: 2 and 3 were NBC, 5 and 12 were CBS, and 9 and 11 were ABC. (And then there was 8, the educational channel that no one watched in the early 1960s...)

(Those network assignments were so ingrained in my head, in fact, that when channel 2 in Atlanta switched from NBC to ABC in the early 1980s, it took me years to re-learn the network configuration. Then, when 5 went from CBS to Fox, things got even weirder...)

Channel numbers and networks and station designations have become interchangeable over the years; channel 2 and WSB and (then) NBC were three ways of saying the same thing. Even when cable came along, with its habit of re-assigning channel positions, we'd use channel number shorthand, saying things like "2 is 3, 5 is 4, 11 is 6, and 46 is 9," and it all actually made sense.

But tomorrow, those channel numbers become pretty much meaningless.

Oh, I think that WSB intends to use the 2.1 designation for its primary signal, but they're really not broadcasting on the frequency for channel 2; they're broadcasting on a UHF frequency and remapping to 2.1. That's the way it is for all the channels; they're remapping, I suspect, so that all of those like us who have grown up with these channel designations won't feel lost.

But before long, phrases like "channel 2" are going to be as archaic as phone numbers such as "Pennsylvania 6-500" or "Klondike 3-2343."

(And as an aside on the digital transition: I still have a file from Comcast, over a year old, saying that "the digital transition will have no effect on our customers, who will not have to make any changes to enjoy television." I'm putting it in with this week's letter from Comcast, informing us that all of our TV tuners are going to be worthless for any channels other than 2-26 on their cable system, because they're forcing customers to use digital adapters when they reconfigure their channels, so that VCRS, DVD-Rs, and analog and digital tuners will be unable to watch these channels. I asked a Comcast rep if that would also affect QAM tuners, and I may as well have asked if any information could escape from the event horizon of a singularity.)

1 comment:

Jason said...

I've been talking with Comcast for quite a while now about the digital switch, and all the basic cable channels (2 through 78) will be broadcast in the clear and any digital tuner will get them (the adapter they are pimping is just a digital tuner in a set top box). And with a QAM tuner, you should still be able to tune in the HD versions of local channels. We'll just have to wait until August to see if they lied to me.