Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Whither, WHYY


Although presently scheduled to happen between the November 2008 elections and the actual onset of the newly elected government, a big event has been postponed twice, and may be postponed again. The event in question is federal prohibition by Congress of further American broadcasting of analog television, the only free television now being broadcast. Congress has passed such a law, and the President has signed it. Even if you aren't a cynic, it's hard to believe the cable television industry isn't overjoyed, if not a little culpable. Presumably, useless analog television sets will then be put out at the curb for trash collection simultaneously. One could, however, imagine that trash collectors will be busy attending protest riots in Washington, so you can't be entirely sure the trash will be picked up. The Constitution provides for lame-duck sessions of Congress just before this impending moment, so perhaps all can be rescued by chastened legislators.

WHYY Offices

That's one vision of the future. An alternative would be that the spin industry will work us up into a buying frenzy for high-definition television (HDTV) by that time, so the nation may eagerly line up in front of discount stores to buy a technological marvel that renders current television a laughable joke we can hardly wait to eliminate. Judge for yourself, because HDTV capable television sets are already on display in the shops, side by side with the old-fashioned variety. Unfortunately, it is a little hard to observe much difference. The present spin is that HDTV, or digital television, will be such a dramatic improvement that any transitional disruption will be ignored.

In fact, improved reception isn't the issue at all, more bandwidth is. Analog transmission is a bandwidth hog, severely limiting the number of channels available for licensing. Digital transmission would permit a vast increase in the number of channels available to use the free airways, making heftier competition for cable transmission, also a notorious political plum, as all utilities somewhat are. Dig a little deeper and you find that not only is the issue fifty dollars a month versus free, or ten channels versus two hundred, it also has to do with the vast overbuilding of fiberoptic networks by that bearded CEO fellow who went to jail, and the subsequent scooping up of fiberoptic by the Chinese, Google, or whoever. But set that aside. The current buzz is that WHYY, or Channel 12 the Public Broadcasting System, will expand to channels 12.1, 12.2, 12.3 and 12.4. That will give Philadelphia a full-time arts and culture channel, in addition to the present channel 12, which is now somewhat overweighted with environmental photography. It's hard to know whether the existing arts and culture institutions, which charge admission to their content, will welcome or deplore a new competitive medium in their midst. Some of the grimmer realities of the matter are highlighted by the additional reality that Channel 12 will be given yet another two channels to fill, and presently isn't at all sure where any content will come from. One of the most discouraging features of the present single PBS channel is the obvious shortage of money for programming purposes, sadly evident in the irritating and humiliating marathons of public pleading and begging for contributions. If there isn't enough revenue to support one channel, how can four be financed?

Originally published: Friday, February 09, 2007; most-recently modified: Wednesday, May 29, 2019

is there an answer to j. hanniver's 1/17/09 posting about not getting WHYY on HDTV?
Posted by: e. cooper   |   Feb 8, 2009 9:34 PM
Why can I get WHYY digital on the converter box TV with old fashioned rabbit ears--but NOT on my new HDTV with high quality rabbit ears? In the living room 12 comes in only non-digitally.
Posted by: J. Hanniver   |   Jan 17, 2009 9:12 AM