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The End of Analog Broadcasting - United States [Part Two]

9th April, 2024

It really isn’t easy to say goodbye.

And I’ve been guilty of this. Many times, in fact. I don’t even think I know how to say the word, just letting the sands of time do their thing of burying away the past, whether I want it to be that way or not. As I find myself frantically digging into the past, thinking about “what ifs” from a time long gone, I find myself coming back to that date time and time again.

June 12, 2009. I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye and I think a lot of people shared my sentiment. I was young, not entirely knowing what was going on until I kept digging deeper and deeper into broadcasting. It was from this loss that I developed my deep passion for television. I have the digital switchover to thank for my life today.

But were we ready? Is anyone ready for a huge change, really? I’ve always feared change and this fear kept me coming back, still finding myself digging further and further in the sand until I finally understood what had happened and the truth about what saying goodbye meant.

On 17 February, 2009, analog television began to die. Stations with failing equipment were some of the first to go, leaving by the original deadline set in place in 2005. A good amount of stations that would end their analog transmission at this time were smaller broadcasters, such as PBS member stations. In the end, 491 stations across the country intended to end their analog signals in February, 421 being approved for the original end date, with the remaining taking the extension into June.

And, on that fateful day in June, it ended.

All remaining major full-power stations were required to switch off their signals entirely, with key stations in each market airing “nightlight” programming. Around a hundred stations across the country continued to air emergency news and information, as well as the most famous remnant of the “nightlighting” era, the National Association of Broadcasters’ DTV informational program, Get Ready for DTV. (Taken from WNBC's nightlight feed.)

ID: Mike DiSerio from the National Association of Broadcasters introducing the nightlight program. He stands on the left with a blue button-down shirt and there's a television to his right. The captions read 'Hello. I'm Mike DiSerio', then repeat in Spanish at the bottom.

Hi, Mike!

This program was designed to run on a loop until around 12 July, informing anyone with an older analog tuner that they need to hurry up and buy a shiny new converter box. And then, by July, it was officially, finally dead.

But just like a lingering memory, head still poking out of the sand, analog television pushed on. It just refused to die. It turns out that not everyone was ready to say goodbye just yet, or maybe they couldn’t. Low-power stations, including translator stations for rural areas, were instructed to switch off by 1 September, 2015. Then, it would finally end.

So I waited. Patiently. Curiously. I did whatever I was doing in 2015, most likely enjoying my former innocence and playing on the Wii U, and waited. But nothing happened… again.

Delay after delay is common in the story of the digital switchover and it turns out that the LPTV switchover was completely suspended in April of that year. For now, analog broadcasting for low-power stations would continue, but the numbers were dwindling. More and more stations switched to digital or ended their services altogether and, in 2017, a final deadline was officially set - 13 July, 2021.

I was not in the country when analog television officially ended in the United States. I realized the date I had been planning for came and went when I was at work and I just felt empty. After years and years of delays, that was it. It just went out without any fanfare and I had missed it. But it was finally over, at least. Like peeling off a bandage slowly, but the pain was finally, finally over.



On 21 June, 2021, the FCC had granted its final extension to the state of Alaska. By 10 January, 2022, analog television in the United States was finally, finally, finally, finally over.

And I just felt relieved by it. After years of delays and uncertainty, after being let down by missing the original date and then discovering another extension (albeit for one state far away from me), it was over. Analog television, something that led me into the industry, was finally dead, and I had finally said all the goodbyes I could have ever said. By the time of the final switchover, I had already been transmitting my own low-power analog signal for months (Part 15 compliant, of course) and I had built up a strong enough understanding of how these kinds of signals even work. What was mystifying and almost tragic to me was now normal. It was finally done, all the bandwidth being sold off to internet companies and the average American now thinking that you needed cable to watch American Idol (by this point rebooted for a new generation). The age of streaming was upon us, some households ditching the TV entirely, technology moving at a breakneck pace, and analog television was still going strong in some rural Alaskan town. It’s honestly insane to think about.

But enough moping about. What weird stuff happened as a result of the DTV switchover?

Let’s start with the lack of information. In the UK, the switchover to digital had been postponed to 2012, but the government invested millions of pounds into making sure everyone knew of its arrival. By the time analogue was to be no more, you had Digit Al, the cheeky little robot mascot of Digital UK, advertising his scheme to plant Freeview boxes into the home of every Briton all across the Central line. (Not that it was the most effective campaign, as the average man would rather die than pay Zone 1 fares.)

ID: A mascot costume of robot character Digit Al stands to the left of a tube train that advertises when London switches to digital television.

I have a strange fascination with Digit Al. Couldn't tell you why.

In the US, a country with a much larger population and vast geographical regions, some of which prevented the transmission of digital television entirely, you’d expect the marketing budget to be infinitely higher. Instead, it was anywhere from $3 to $20 million. As such, many Americans were left confused about the transition due to the lack of information and television stations (not to mention the FCC) received upwards of thousands of calls in the months when the transition took place.

Digital carries a lot more information, but it’s got some severe drawbacks. Range was cut compared to the older analog signals and a lot of rural areas lost service unless they bought a more powerful antenna with their new converter box. Even still, some mountainous areas just couldn’t cope with the change. Translator stations help reduce the loss in signal, but the cost to upgrade was often too high to do so.

ID: A woman on a televiison programme. The left side of her face is pixelated due to poor reception. The caption under her reads 'What Does Justice Look Like?'.

I'm sure that the younger generation will compare this to [Insert Popular Children's Horror Game/Character/Whatever].

And then there were just goofs in the way the transmissions ended. A lot of stations didn’t bother with a fancy send-off, instead opting to cut the signal in the middle of a commercial break or at the end of a broadcast. Here’s a few fun ones!

A lot of stations did the typical thing of airing a news segment and showing the master controller pulling a fake switch to turn off the old signal. Maybe they aired a generic Star Spangled Banner. But what about the stations that went all out and really made an impact?

  • KLCS, Los Angeles, California. 12, June. Funding for Arthur gets cut off, but the R.E.M. amuses me.

  • KLRU, Austin, Texas. 12:01 A.M, 16 April. They actually used an old Star Spangled Banner tape here, complete with transmitter information! And it’s the cool seventies folksy rendition that’s actually the last stanza.

  • WFTV, Orlando, Florida. 12:59 P.M, 12 June. Another local one to me! The old cat mascot is back. I really like this voiceover. I actually watched this one live when it was happening in 2009, so it’s weirdly nostalgic to me. I suppose, in a way, this was the broadcast that led to me writing this blogpost today.

  • KETG, Arkadeplhia, Arkansas. 8:58 A.M, 12 June. The song is a great touch and it's already gotten stuck in my head. I’m a sucker for bringing back old sign-off montages for the final analog sign-off.

  • WFAA, Dallas, Texas. 12 June. One of the greatest send-offs to analog broadcasting that I’ve seen. Acknowledging the station’s history and airing the old sign-off tape was such a good decision and one that I love seeing. It just shows that the station really cares, you know? This is also one of the most beautiful old sign-offs I've seen on top of that.

  • WNBC, New York, New York. 10:58 A.M, 26 June. I’m going to cap this list off with the very first television station that I had ever watched, originally being from New York myself. I’ve toured the studios of WNBC a few times and I hold the station very dear to my heart. I genuinely don’t think there could’ve been a better way to end the analog signal of America’s most famous television station.

So I guess I’ve finally said my goodbyes after all. Pretty soon, we’ll enter the era of ATSC 3.0 with all its fancy new features and the signal that became born from a desire to get rid of the old NTSC ways will soon end up just like it. It’s just always hard to move on, especially when you don’t get a proper chance to look back one last time. As I wrote this post back in March, I’ve suffered through the loss of someone I once knew. It took a whole month to even post this; I had so much on my mind and couldn’t quite come back to it. I guess change still bothers me in some way. Unable to move on, stuck in a rut… But sooner or later, you’ll come around. You’ll find out that things just need to keep moving forward and that you need to keep looking up.

As a final addendum, here is my personal favorite of the analog sign-offs, Georgia Public Broadcasting’s one from 11:56 P.M. on 17 February. Ray Charles was the first artist that I truly loved and this is one of those cases where I don’t think the station could’ve signed off in a better way. A perfect closedown to a monumental era of broadcasting and a fantastic sign-off montage that they brought back.

- Lcd101