The Big Switch…Analog to Digital TV Signal Debacle

by Debt Destroyer on September 2, 2008

The ads are everywhere, you can’t escape them.

No, I’m not talking about political ads, I’m referring to the PSA’s for TV’s, the Big Switch. On Feb 17th, 2009 you’ll only be able to receive digital signal which means that old analog TVs that don’t utilize cable or satellite to get a signal will be useless without a converter box.

Luckily for those of us which this effects, the federal government has provided $40 coupons to help ease the financial burden of having to get a box. Go here to apply for a coupon.

We haven’t had cable in the Debt Defier household since early 2001. And to tell you the truth, we hardly miss it. I miss ESPN and HBO and my wife misses TNT & TBS (she loves reruns of sitcoms). I’d love to be able to tell you that it has cut down on our television watching, but I don’t think that the case. We watch plenty of network programming (other than ABC…we don’t get that station very clearly).

Needless to say I was a little nervous about all this talk of converter boxes and digital signal.

I’d really hate to have to start paying to watch TV again. It just makes no sense to me (the airwaves belong to all of us and it’s all ads anyways). Then this summer my in-laws added to my concerns by saying they heard the stores couldn’t keep the converter boxes in stock. My mind quickly filled with images of crazed shoppers going mad over the boxes, much like you see during the holidays for whatever the newest fad is.

So when I heard about the coupon program I signed up right away. It took several weeks to get here, but it finally arrived. I got mine and went right to the store to get me a box.

I went to a locally owned store and I already wish I did some research on these things, cause I ended up spending $31 even with the $40 coupon. But the clerk told me I got a good one. Alright…I dont’ want a bad one.

I rushed home to hook it up. With my recent cancellation of netflix, I was excited to have some digital entertainment in our house (not sure what that means, but I was excited). The excitement quickly dissipated.

I went from being able to get 5 stations to 1 station.

Panic set in and I quickly unhooked everything and tried it again. It got worse…no stations.

You gotta love technology.

When I settled down, I emailed my local stations asking what as up. As of this writing, only two have answered me. One channel uses a low power station to provide analog signal to my town and plans to continue to do so well after the Feb 2009 deadline. They think they will upgrade that channel to digital sometime in 2010. The other channel has informed me that they have no plans to convert our area to digital.

So much for being on top of things.

Now I have to try to unload this box on a buddy of mine who lives in Sioux Falls. I’d try to take it back, but I’m very rough on packaging (big hit at Christmas time, but not so much though with things that need to be returned).

So for you rebels out there that dare to live cable-free, how have your converter boxes been working out for you? Do they actually work if you don’t live in the middle of nowhere?

Or is the “Big Switch” really the “Big Bait & Switch?”

Until next time,


{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

JBO September 3, 2008 at 5:08 am

We are going through the same thing in the UK but thankfully so far so good – the only thing that does cause an issue, on top of buying the box, is often the aerial or antenna needs replacing which for some, could become a costly job.

Generally the reception is pretty good once you have done this.


Meoip September 3, 2008 at 9:04 am

Mine works Between channel 6 and channel 59 I used to have 8 stations I now have 25 channels over the 8 stations. I now get 2 live radar feeds, 1 local news 24×7, 2 local weather 24×7 (only updated 3 times a day) I get 5 PBS stations and 3 religious stations. The pictures are clear but the reception messes up when lighting is in the area. You have to leave the box on all day to tape things on a VCR.
Perhaps the biggest downside is that most stations don’t broadcast digital so the size of the picture changes and sometimes the pictures don’t fit on the tv right.


Scott L. September 3, 2008 at 9:48 am

We purchased our box last spring and started receiving 9 stations instead of the normal, analog, 5; 3 PBS, CBS, the CW, NBC, “MyTV”, ABC, & a weather channel from the ABC station. What we don’t get is Fox, which we had poor analog reception anyway, though that means we won’t get 1/2 of the NFL this fall unless they go digital in the next week!

We started the converter box with rabbit ears, and would get poor reception on mildly windy days. We live in a small city in Kansas, so we aren’t getting masses of broadcast TV. We ended up upgrading our antenna to a powered version (it looks like the USS Enterprise from “Star Trek: TNG” sitting on top of the TV), which allows us to change the orientation of the antenna to bring in the signal better. That was another $45 (RadioShack) on top of the converter box (about $10 after the coupon at Wal-Mart). If we had a roof mounted antenna our reception would be better & probably could pull in stations from Kansas City (70 miles away).

The key is the antenna. Our box shows the signal strength for the station we are watching so we can adjust the direction to pull in the strongest signal. With the new antenna that’s a plus. And the picture is great on our almost 10-year-old 19″ dinosaur!!


Pete September 3, 2008 at 10:37 am

I got my two converter boxes using the coupons, and paid $20 for both after the coupons ($10 each). sounds like you were buying a pretty expensive converter box?

My reception since using the boxes has been exceptional. I now get more stations (20+?) than before, and the quality is amazing! I’m hooked.

Sorry the reception in your area isn’t as good..


Kimberly September 3, 2008 at 11:02 am

I live in the middle of the city, and I used to get all of the stations in pretty well. After I hooked up the converter box, I could intermittently get one station. I hope that the stations up the power on their digital channels by the time The Office starts later this month. Until then, I’ve given up, and the TV is unplugged and shoved in the closet.


The First Creditor September 3, 2008 at 4:25 pm

They way they have been spewing out this propoganda, I thought all analog receivers were going to blow up on February 17th. But low and behold, smaller markets don’t even plan on making the switch. Whenever I think about free tv, either through digital or analog receivers it always goes something like this

“Man, they must really want us to watch TV, what else can you get for free in this day and age?”


Stan September 5, 2008 at 4:18 pm

I say good riddance to bad rubbish.

“When TV goes digital” I’m going back to reading books.

I’ve had a TV all my life. I’ve had cable twice, and both times I wasn’t sorry when it ended.

I loathe paying for TV, and refuse to do it. Even if it’s just a “converter box” that I have to buy once.

I go through phases of not watching TV, and as much as I enjoy some shows I resent the amount of time I spend do it. The only reason I currently own a TV is to watch video taped instructional videos that I still own. Other than that I can watch DVD’s just fine on my computer.

When TV switches over completely I will borrow dvd’s and video tapes from my local library, and that’s about all. I’ve had it with this stuff, they haven’t been programming for me for years anyway.


Glory September 9, 2008 at 4:28 am

Stan, I agree with your point of view. I also refuse paying for TV but it is too bad watching only dvd’s. At least one should watch local and interenational news to be aware of what happens throughout the world.


John (Debt Defier) September 9, 2008 at 9:46 pm

Glad to see I’m not the only holdout who doesn’t get cable.

@ JBO – Good to hear that we are going through the same stuff as peopel across the pond.

@ Meoip, Scott L & Pete – That is what I was hoping would happen.

@ Kimberly – You know nothing changes until Feb so there’s no reason to have the TV in the closet yet.

@ The First Creditor – Good point. I didn’t think of it like that, but us viewers are very important. Well some of us are, I guess my area isn’t but the rest of you are.

@ Stan & Glory – I’m with you on not paying for TV. I don’t think I could bring myself to do it.


Lestat September 14, 2008 at 10:23 am

The cable guy came and took away my cable box on valentines day this year. Not such a nice gift for the Mrs. But we both agreed that the $120/mo could be used if applied elsewhere in our budget.

We bought 2 of these boxes with the government gift coupons. Had to fork out $20 extra for each.

At first I was really pleased that the noise wasn’t the typical static hiss but more of a digital noise. Kind of like watching a DVD that is scratched.

We live in the midwest and are able to pickup quite a few channels. A few stations broadcast multiple channels including PBS. A local station has a ‘weather channel’ and a retro channel (Shows like; Night Rider, A-Team, The Incredible Hulk, and Thats Incredible).

We have a table top type of antenna that sits on top of our TV. On clear or windy days we have reception trouble with most channels. There are a few suspects that I’m sure are broadcasting low signals. I’m considering getting an outside antennae, and hooking it up to the extisting cable TV cables.

P.S. Like the ajax edit comments feature 😉


Valerie Anne November 28, 2008 at 12:44 pm

I used to have an antenna on top of my tv too, but the reception was not good. When I tried an outside antenna, channel pick up was a lot better.


Emil Strauss December 17, 2008 at 10:35 pm

If radio was good enough for my parents and grandparents (before the t.v.) then soon it will be good enough for me. I am not buying into the change and am even a bit angered by it. We have a.m. and f.m. radio, why not the same for t.v.? …or will we?


Chad February 27, 2009 at 3:16 am

I do have a question, if you have a box that comes with your cable service such as time warner or dish then you do not need to buy the converter because it is built in to the box that you pay for with them. I just wanted to check and make sure that I am right about this before its to late.


Debt Destroyer February 28, 2009 at 4:25 pm

@ Chad – If you have cable or a dish you don’t have to worry about the change at all. Only the people who rely on antenna reception have to get a converter box.


The Happy Rock March 1, 2009 at 9:23 am

@chad – If you are connected with a cable company the analog switch should not effect you. Calling your provider or checking out their website would be the best option to verify.


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