It turns out that not all television stations are switching to digital in early 2009. And it will be tricky for consumers to still see the signals of thousands of specialty stations that aren't ready for the switch.
Nearly 3,000 stations operate under different rules than the 1,700 full-power stations that provide the most-popular broadcasts. The low-power broadcasters typically aim their programming at religious and minority groups. A few also host shopping or civic channels.
And nearly 5,000 more "translator stations" help extend the reach of full-power stations, often in mountainous areas where TV broadcasts need relaying.
The feds aren't requiring those stations, many of which operate on shoestring budgets, to make the expensive switch to digital. At least not yet. That might seem OK, except millions of households that depend on antennas will find it difficult to watch both digital and analog stations after the switchover.
Converter boxes will enable old TVs to receive the new digital broadcasts, and the feds will help us buy the converters. But the federal rules don't require the digital boxes to also handle analog signals from low-power stations. And most manufacturers fear that analog signals will interfere with digital signals.
They will instead shut out the analog signals—and the specialty TV stations that will still use them.