As his local transmitter finally succumbs to analogue switch-off, Julian Clover casts an eye over the process.
As far as the Clover household is concerned, digital switchover in Cambridge passed off without major incident, as you’d expect analogue signals were dispensed with even before Ulrika Johnson arrived at Crystal Palace to promote something called On Digital.
Having written about so many other people’s digital switchovers it felt strange to have to do it myself. To be precise it’s just BBC Two that has been switched off from the mighty Sandy Heath transmitter, BBC One, ITV1, Channel 4 and Channel 5 get switched in a fortnight. But the process involves retuning any DTT or Freeview receivers because the main BBC multiplex now occupies the frequencies previously taken by the old analogue BBC Two.
My 70-year old neighbour knocked on my door mid-morning. The upstairs TV was fine, but the she couldn’t get anything in the living room. As it turned out she had simply ended up on another TV input, the box itself was fine.
Later that day I found myself retuning one of my neighbour’s friends. Born in 1918 she had lived through the invention of television itself, the closure of television at the outbreak of war, the launch of colour, switch-off of 405-lines, and now Freeview. Although she had an integrated digital TV, this former schoolteacher couldn’t get past the menu screen. If you don’t use technology on a daily basis these things aren’t intuitive. She could of course have called the helpline set up for the over 75s, but as caller number 64 a call to that digital chap who lives next to her friend seemed a better bet.
Digital UK, the body set up to handle the switchover process, has been leafleting everyone in the area. But it’s easy to miss these things. My own viewing patterns may not be typical, however if you so often miss the local news, and your radio is tuned to a national (or US) radio station announcements are either generic or not heard. Sky leafleted me twice, with a picture of a bale of straw on the cover to remind me I lived in the country, and had bought some local bus shelter displays.
My neighbour told me all was quiet at the digital UK roadshow that had established itself outside the shopping centre. I ventured into the high street and asked if trade had picked up at department store John Lewis. The assistant told me that it wasn’t really making that many new sales – but that the shop was now full of people asking how they could retune their sets.
Pity poor Bennetts. The Norfolk electrical retailer went into administration recently before it could reap any benefits the switchover that takes place from Tacolneston later in the year. On a national basis a profits warning from Dixons, which also runs Currys and PC World, showed what the combined effects of the consumer slowdown, too much floor space and the internet can do to a once highly profitable business.
Still, the man on the local news from Digital UK explained the switchover was all about fairness, which is strange, because I thought it was about selling off spectrum to the telcos.