If airwaves were strings, the world would be one big ball of twine. There are thousands of airwaves being used today. With the introduction of new technology, more and more airwaves are being used, but digital television, or DTV, might clear up the airwaves.
In the early days, before TV, radio was the big thing. Families would gather around the radio in the living room to listen to radio dramas and big band and jazz music. But there were times when radio stations would overlap each other and listeners could barely make out what was being broadcasted. The fairly new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) finally had enough of the static on the airwaves and in the 1920s made it so each radio station had their own frequency to broadcast on. Now the FCC has come up with digital television to free the airwaves even more.
Most people have already heard about the government mandated switch from analog broadcasting to digital on Feb. 17, 2009.
"We get a lot of people coming in and asking, 'Why do we have to have this?'" said Ruth Armstrong of Radio Shack in Mammoth Spring. According to the FCC, the switch is not only so people can get more channels and a clearer picture, but also to free up the airwaves for government, law enforcement and emergency personnel and to make wireless communications more easily accessible.
Digital television compresses information sent over one airwave so it frees up space within the airwave for more channels and programs. This means that one station can use one airwave instead of several to broadcast several channels with more programming options.
Those living in this area who are most likely familiar with rabbit ears and outdoor antennas know that channels are limited. For many it's often frustrating when a channel isn't coming in and all they see is static. When digital television comes out, those sparse channels could end up being a good handful of channels.
But what are people doing to prepare for the change?
The people of Wilmington, N.C., braced themselves for the switch Sept. 8. In May, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin announced that the city had been selected as the first market to test the transition from analog to digital television. Martin said the test is to correct any problems that might happen in the transition before the nationwide event.
Movie geeks and gaming wizards won't have to worry about their entertainment going down the drain with the conversion. The converter boxes are downwardly compatible, which means they are compliant with both old and new electronic devices. Also, those who receive their television signal from a satellite orcable provider will not have to get a converter box or a new TV. Currently, the FCC has not extended digital television to satellite and cable companies. Some of these companies may choose to broadcast selected channels in digital. To find out which channels are affected and if a converter box is needed one must call the company.
According to the FCC Web site (www.fcc.gov) and the DTV Web site (www.dtv.gov and www.dtv2009.gov), the government is issuing two $40 coupons to each household to purchase an analog-to-digital converter box before the Feb. 17 deadline. The converter boxes cost anywhere from $40 to $70.
Currently, Radio Shack in Mammoth Spring is the closest retailer that accepts the converter box coupons. Armstrong said, "Our converter boxes run at $59.99."
There are some people, though, who have bought new televisions with internal converter boxes who don't know what to do with their old analog television sets. Other than giving them away or donating them, people can recycle their old televisions. However, the closest electronic waste, or e-waste, recycling center is about 50 miles away in Pontiac, Mo.
The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality did have one option available to rural residents. "We had a project involving U.S. prisons that provided for free shipping of electronic waste materials, but that ran out June 30, 2008," said spokesperson Doug Szenher. The project was called GreenFed which provided free shipping for 18 to 19 inch televisions through UPS. The old televisions would them be sent to a prison in Texarkana for processing.
"There is a possibility of the GreenFed project being reinstated at some point," Szenher said. "Part of the problem with the TV is the size and weight. There is a limit of what size and weight we can ship for free."
Szenher suggested that those who choose to buy a new television get in touch with a solid waste distribution center for information on how to recycle old televisions.
Some other suggestions for those who are planning on getting a new television are donating old usable televisions to the Salvation Army, thrift stores or public libraries, or using old televisions to play old games and movies.