Houston TV Viewers Prepare for a Switch

The nation is less than one month away from the transition to digital television. On June 12th, TV stations will completely stop broadcasting on analog signals. That leaves just a few weeks left to make sure consumers can still access over the air broadcast television. Laurie Johnson has more.

The switch was supposed to happen back in February, but Congress allowed a delay moving the transition back to June 12th. On that day, every TV station in the country will be required to drop their analog signal and broadcast completely in digital format. Kayla Hernandez-Ulloa is part of the DTV transition team at the FCC. She says some people may not realize the switch to digital is a public safety issue.

"The full-powered broadcasters switch over to transmitting in all digital to release the airwaves that are now being used, the analog airwaves, for public safety purposes so that emergency services such as police, fire and emergency rescue workers can communicate better amongst each other, especially during an emergency without any interference."

By now, most people know they have to have one of three things: a digital TV, a digital converter box or cable or satellite service. Ken Lawrence is the program director at Houston PBS. He says roughly four percent of Houston households are completely unprepared for the switch — meaning there is no TV in the house equipped to receive a digital signal.

"Now that number jumps up to about 20 percent right now in terms of partially unready households. And what that means is if somebody has cable on one TV set in the household, but hasn't gotten the rest of the sets ready, they're partially ready."

Houston's rate of readiness is not the worst in the country, but is higher than the national average.

"Part of that has to do with the population. Most of the stations that have a fairly high rate of unreadiness tend to be markets with large Hispanic populations. And in fact, in this market that is the largest segment of our community that is totally unready. But the numbers have come down, they've been cut almost in half since February."

Coupons worth $40 are still available for converter boxes, but only through the end of July. You can apply for a coupon online at dtv2009.gov.

And if you're not sure whether your TV is transition-ready, Houston stations will run so-called "soft tests" three times during the day this Thursday, when a special message will display on the screens of TVs that are not converted.

Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...