Medialoper: February 18, 2009 — Yesterday morning Herbert Cackin turned on his television set to find nothing but static. Cursing, he assumed his 25 year old Zenith had finally “konked out”. Next he turned on the television in his bedroom only to find the same problem. Finally he tried the set in the bathroom — same thing. At that point Cackin jumped to the conclusion any logical person would come to.
“I was damn sure we’d had another one of them 9-11 style attacks and that this time the terrorists killed our TVs”.
Despite the FCC’s best efforts to inform the public about the new law that requires television stations to abandon analog broadcasts in favor of digital broadcasts, it seems that not everyone got the message. Yesterday, after the switch finally took place, complaints poured in to local television affiliates around the country, and television repair shops were inundated with frantic phone calls.
“If all those sets had really been broken I’d be planning my retirement right now” said Delmore Floyd of Delmore’s Television Repair Service in Cody, Wyoming.
Of course no repairs were required, viewers just need an analog-to-digital converter box to continue watching their existing sets. Still, some viewers were miffed by the change. Althea Zarp of Burwell, Nebraska mused “they say I need this little doohicky to watch TV now. My TV worked just fine yesterday, why the change? I just wanna watch my programs.”
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has been handing out discount vouchers for the convert boxes for over a year, but the agency reports millions of vouchers remain unclaimed.
No one is sure just how many viewers were unaware the change was coming, but some experts have estimated the number could be in the millions. One psychologist speculated that the people who were caught off guard likely represent the 23% of the American population who “just don’t pay attention to things”.
Right wing radio announcer Rush Limbaugh seized the opportunity to whip his audience into a frenzy, at one point shouting “the government broke your TV sets!” Limbaugh fielded dozens of calls from angry listeners, many of whom blamed President Clinton for the problem. Alvis Miller echoed the sentiments of his fellow listeners when he told Limbaugh, “Hillary hasn’t even been in office for a month and already the country is going to hell!”
Police in Grand Forks, North Dakota, responded to numerous reports of television sets being thrown out of windows, and there were reports of isolated rioting in parts of Southern Florida.
Despite the unrest and protests, most viewers bought, borrowed, or stole converters by days end. Many used the switch as an excuse to buy a new television set — even some cable and satellite viewers who didn’t need any new equipment to continue watching television. A shopper at Fry’s Electronics in Burbank, California, who requested to remain anonymous explained, “I told my wife we need a new set because of this switch. It’s not often I get an excuse like this one”.
Best Buy stock shot up 28% in one day as lines formed around the block at most of the chain’s locations around the country.
White House insiders have indicated that President Clinton is considering appointing a Public Information Czar who will be tasked with the responsibility of making these sorts of announcements “more obvious”. Meanwhile, Congress has scheduled hearings for next week to investigate whether the change, which has been in the works for over a decade, might have been handled differently.