This year, America’s television will cease to broadcast with radio frequency waves on the analog spectrum. Replacing it will be computer code, a more efficient form of broadcasting in the 0, 1 language of digital. The switch is set to take place at midnight Feb. 17. Legislation that would have delayed the end of analog until June 12 passed unanimously in the Senate on Monday, Jan. 26, and while it was expected to pass in the House, failed on Wednesday, Jan. 28.
A quick call to the FCC confirmed a dreadful rumor: Once the nation goes digital, white fuzz will be gone forever. Your TV will either get a clear picture, or it won't get the channel at all. Old analog televisions that aren't converted to digital will show nothing, said the FCC rep, audibly confused by why anyone would ask such a question. Gone will be the days of wraith signals, of watching faint shapes of people talking to you from behind a sheen of static. Gone will be the snow and its lulling shhhhh sound, sampled on so many great albums, a signifier of emptiness in the modern world. As a kid, I would let my eyes glaze over at the tingling pixels, and it was the first time I can remember meditating on that which is not concrete. Goodbye, sweet fuzz. How will insomniacs nationwide doze off at 3 a.m.?
Two categories of television stations are exempt from the federal government’s digital switchover: translators and low-power stations. Translators are basically signal boosters for metropolitan stations and are designed to serve a state’s more rural areas. Low-power (LP) stations are independent broadcasters usually confined to the UHF band of the television dial. Their low radio frequency (between 3 and 150 kilowatts) gives them a limited broadcast area. With even large corporate broadcasters struggling to make the original Feb. 17 deadline, few of these LP stations are capable of funding and installing the equipment necessary to make the digital change. So for now, the government is giving them a break.