(L) Defunct analog television tower atop Mt. Larson - Austin, Texas. (R) One working rabbit ear antenna, extended, 5" black-and-white television. (Click for larger image) © Ryan Schierling
As of June 11, 2009, the Federal Communications Commission put an end to all high-power analog terrestrial television transmissions in the United States. Television sets in some two million households went blank that date, as they were unprepared for the transition, despite Congress rolling back the shutdown by four months. The switch from analog to digital was designed to free up frequencies for public safety communications, and allow television stations to provide improved picture and sound quality, and more broadcast options for consumers.
In the middle of a warm summer night in 1978, I woke up downstairs in our giant brown upholstered chair. The house was dark and silent, and the 20" black-and-white television was on – visual static flickering across the walls and ceiling, soft aural static rousing me from a restless somnambulant state. It was 3 a.m., transmitters were shut off, there was nothing on TV but dead air. I turned off the set and went back upstairs to bed. I was six years old.
There is never anything on television. 23 hours of analog static and one Indian Head Test Pattern, photographed on a 5" black-and-white television. (Click for larger image) © Ryan Schierling
Most television stations are on 24-hour schedules now, with paid programming and infomercials filling the late-night and early-morning slots. There are no more formal sign-offs, no national anthems played or test patterns aired. On the majority of digital televisions, a silent, solid blue screen has replaced random, hissing analog static if a broadcast station or input cannot be located.
People are only nostalgic about things that they remember being better than they are now. Were the good old days really that good, or do we just whitewash the difficult returns home with fresh paint on worn and splintered wood? I tend to forget the bad, try to romanticize the good. There was a five-inch black-and-white television in the trash at work last week. I took it out, plugged it in, extended the single antenna and turned through the channels looking for something, anything out there. I needed an analog signal in a digital world, a reassuring hand on my shoulder from the past.
I got MTVtr3s. Sometimes you just can't go home again.
There are still viable analog signals out there – and they're always looking for us – but we're not paying attention. We are no longer of the past or even the present, but of the future. There isn't a need to look back.
There is always something on television. 24 hours of over-the-air analog broadcasting on Mexican UHF/VHF stations, photographed on a 5" black-and-white television. (Click for larger image) © Ryan Schierling