Wednesday 14 September 2011

The end of the beginning

Not with a bang, but a simper...

Today is the day our local analogue TV signal begins its "digital switch-over". Never again shall I watch Charles Durning fall head over heels for Dustin Hoffman, non-digitally. BBC2 is the first to go and is playing out with Tootsie. The others follow towards the end of the month.

Over the years, analogue BBC2 has brought all sorts of wondrous programmes into our living rooms. Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, The Old Grey Whistle Test, One Man and His Dog, The Goodies, to name just a handful. Less mainstream than BBC1, BBC2 was the channel for experimentation, minority interest and unconventional humour.

Of course I haven't actually watched the analogue signal for years. Why would I? The digital picture is so much better. More consistent, less signal noise. I doubt it will be missed. BBC2 will still be there, though its digital signal arrives about two seconds later than analogue. The comparison will become meaningless within the next 20-odd hours*.

The thing is, this isn't the end. Once the TV signal is wholly digital throughout the UK in 2012, our broadcasters will turn their attention to radio - the wireless. A quick tally shows over a dozen analogue radio receivers in our house, plus one in the car. These are mostly small, portable devices which, if you had them all tuned into the same station, you can follow seamlessly through the house - brilliant!

Of course with Digital Audio Broadcast (DAB), the signal's quite clear and you get a programme description where there used to be a dial. You also get either a good signal or interference that makes the broadcast sound like it has been through a paper shredder and reassembled in the wrong order. No middle ground. DAB radios eat batteries twice as fast, and don't all deliver the same signal at the same time. Post digital, the famous 'pips' on the hour will be forever inaccurate by the time little DAB processors have reassembled them.

Shame. Progress.

Still, should be fun tuning in to what's still available after radio follows TV into analogue oblivion. Will there be any stations punctuating the hiss and whine along the dial? Are those Eastern European propaganda stations still broadcasting analogue? What happens to Long Wave and Short Wave? One thing's for certain, you'll still be able to hear the sound of the universe being born. The echoes of the big bang whose radio waves don't need an Earth-based transmitter. Maybe 'white noise' will be all there is to listen to on analogue sets. Might be worth tuning in after all...

*STOP PRESS: At 1.13am BST, it actually happened. I wasn't waiting for it but BBC2 analogue has just disappeared, for ever.


  1. Our area, Colorado, U.S.A, switched over to all digital about a year ago. All the people who only had an antenna had to get converter boxes.

  2. US television switched to digital some time ago but I didn't pay any attention, as I hardly ever watch TV. Eventually I ran across a digital-to-analogue converter in a Brocki* for $10, to be used in case of spectacular fireworks, local natural disasters, the rare sports event I care about, and presidential elections.

    By the way, you will note that I support the spelling "analogue" (like "catalogue") and reject the degenerate "analog," etc.

    --Reactionary Commenter

    *Swiss for thrift store†
    †American for op shopˇ
    ˇAustralian for charity shop

  3. ...and I always thought analog and catalog (and program etc) were de rigeur in the US.

  4. Digital switchovers make me mad. Obviously BBC2 is the exception, but in the States the analogue-to-digital conversion did not improve the quality of the programming. We can see the same stupid television shows in digital! Bully for progress.

  5. Had my own eulogy-post when US went digital.
    If you gotta go out on a movie, though, Tootsie is a pretty good one.
    "I was having a terrible nightmare. You were in it. You had really big teeth, but you were still a nice person."
    Gotta watch that one again.