Although the delay of the DTV transition to June 12 has taken a little wind out of the sails for the potential of a massive rude awakening for an American public unprepared for the sudden obsolescence of their analog TVs, the transition is still going to happen. While more households will have obtained DTV converter boxes (and that’s a good thing), the transition nevertheless will leave a huge swath of temporarily vacant spectrum ripe for the exploiting.
Back in December I blogged about a Pittsburgh-based project called The End of Television which planned an unlicensed analog TV broadcast of submitted videos on the original transition day of Feb. 17. I contacted Ian F. Page for an interview on the radioshow. At that point the transition was still more than two months off, so he suggested we do something over email, saving a phone interview for closer to the transition. Then Congress delayed our fun, but Ian didn’t give up — he just delayed the End of Television until June 12, too.
Ian was kind enough to still agree to do the email interview to explain the motivation behind The End of Television, and its relationship to other unlicensed broadcasting.
mediageek (mg): Please tell me the inspiration for the End of Television project.
Ian F. Page (IFP): I first heard about the transition to digital television a year and a half ago. The idea actually came up because some one explained to me that the streets would be littered with TVs and that there were specific protocols for recycling TVs. I had been thinking about ways to watch videos alternative to screenings and I began making a video that I wanted to show on TV. I had a burgeoning interest in electronics and after a little collaboration discovered that I could accomplish building a transmitter.
mg: Why is the transition to digital television significant, and why did you choose to mark it in this way, with an unlicensed broadcast?
IFP: I have always enjoyed moments in my life where some mandate or alteration in the daily round comes down from the mountain and WE have to adjust. I remember one day in high school when I overheard a classmate talking about how his cable company had switched the numbers of such and such channels. He was riled up about it. It is a totally insignificant change that somehow agitates the self-programmed thoughtlessness. It gives us a glimpse of the human behind the machine, a glimpse at the power of a medium, whatever that machine or medium might be. Daylight savings is another example, or when the fare for the subway goes up, or New Year’s eve. I like these moments and June 12th is another one of them.
I find the June 12th switch amusing in that the switch cannot happen unless people get involved with their televisions, so a passive medium gets a little physical attention. It is also amusing because the whole ordeal shows our faith in everything digital, the event is a nice marker on the way to accepting anything and everything more efficient and newer. The political activity behind the switch is also a loud declaration that TV is a right, not a luxury. The delay was a very interesting revelation for me, to read speculations and think about what it would be like if people didn’t have TV anymore. It brought back a conversation that I hadn’t heard in a while and from, what I read, the debate was really polarized.
mg: Is the project a political statement?
IFP: I am not approaching it in a political way at all, but the project leads to an interesting idea – the privatization of the electromagnetic spectrum. The idea of owning or trespassing on a person’s radio waves is silly to me. I do not think that someone or some corporation should be able to own a frequency. At the same time I do understand the need for regulation and allocation, since so many lives rely on communications.
Companies own wavelengths, like colors for example. John Deere green is just a wavelength like 88.3FM and both are private. The problem is that the frequencies for the public are ever decreasing. There was never any massive preservation projects for the electromagnetic spectrum like there was for parks, so now experimenters are confined to small frequencies. So if you want to experiment with radio waves and not become a ham radio operator, it is inevitable that you trespass.
mg: What relationship, if any, does the project have to unlicensed or pirate radio?
IFP: It is similar, the difference is only that I am modulating a video signal and audio signal onto a radio wave, rather than just an audio signal. That, and it is at a different frequency, but otherwise they are the same.
mg: Are you willing to share the technical details of your broadcast set up?
IFP: The set up is mostly commercial equipment and some modified ham radio equipment, nothing out of reach.
mg: How many submissions have you received? Can you tell us about any of the more interesting ones?
IFP: To date there are over 30 hours of footage, with more submissions coming in hopefully. The submission deadline is May 25th. I was excited to receive a submission from tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE, a local filmmaker who is getting involved in the project. The video is something he has wanted to have on TV for a while now and we are glad to give his work the setting it needs.
mg: Finally, besides the obvious need to delay the debut of the project, is there any other affect the June delay of the digital TV transition has?
IFP: The delay revealed to me the elaborate process a bill has to go through to get passed. It also means not as many stations will be turning off at one moment, which potentially lessens the impact of the project on the viewing audience, since there are more people prepared to receive digital television and not analog. Other than that, it is pretty much the same.
Thanks for the interview, Ian!
The End of Television is accepting submissions on VHS or miniDV tape through May 25. Send to:
The End of Television
331 S. Aiken st
Pittsburgh, PA 15232