Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Emergency Radios with TV bands: obsolete?

On February 17th, analog TV broadcasts will cease in the USA, as stations switch to digital broadcasting. There has been a push to get analog TV's equipped with converter boxes to prepare for the changes, but there is one product I have not seen any provisions being made for. Emergency hand-crank radios that receive TV audio, like this popular model sold at Amazon.com:
American Red Cross FR300 Emergency Radio, White

Plenty of Radios like this are still being sold with TV bands. Will those bands work after the Feb. 17th switch over? I would think not. And according to the FCC, they won't:

FCC Digital TV transition: Public Safety Implications
[...] some individuals and public safety entities may rely on battery-powered analog televisions during power outages that may occur during weather or other emergency situations. Portable, battery-powered analog TVs will not be able to receive digital TV programming after February 17, 2009 unless they have an external antenna or audio/video input that allows them to be connected to a digital-to-analog converter box. Also, currently there are no digital-to-analog converter boxes that operate on batteries. Accordingly, if a converter box is to be used with a battery powered TV at times or locations where power is not available from the local public utility service, it will need an external power source, such as battery power station or an emergency power generator, for it to function. Portable AM/FM and shortwave radios are unaffected by the DTV transition and will continue to function as normal to provide access to emergency information. Radios that are designed to tune the audio portion of analog TV broadcasts will not be capable of receiving the audio portion of digital TV broadcasts. Consumers may wish to consider obtaining new portable digital televisions or radios that can receive the audio portion of digital television as they become available on the market. [...]

I know that my parents wanted to get an emergency crank radio, but they wanted one that could get TV sound. When I told them about this, they decided to wait until the "new" ones come out. But will they? And When?

The ones for sale now have no warnings that they are about to become partially obsolete. How many people are buying them now, and will only find out later that the TV portion no longer works? I predict there will be some angry customers.

Perhaps someone will come up with a battery powered converter box for them. But how long will that take, and how much will it cost? More than the radio itself?

And as for waiting for the "new" radios to come out; will they? The existing radios are completely analog. A "new" radio that can receive TV sound would have to have a built in converter, or a digital receiver, which would be like having two radios in one. It would most probably drive the cost up considerably. Perhaps TV bands will no longer be bundled on emergency radios, or radios thus equipped will cost a lot more?

These are all interesting questions that have yet to be answered.

There is also another interesting scenario on the horizon. What about people like me, who already have a radio with TV bands that is about to become obsolete? The FCC has already had a government sponsored auction at which they sold the broadcast rights to the analog TV spectrum to companies like AT&T and Verizon. What will those companies do with those bands, and will I be able to receive whatever-it-is, on my radio? I've heard they are considering sending TV content to cell-phones. That would most likely be digital. Other portions of the spectrum were sold to other vendors, so who knows what they will use it for? If any of it is used for analog transmitions, I would assume an old TV band radio could pick it up.

These are all questions we will most likely have to wait and see about. If anyone does hear of any answers/solutions/news regarding these issues, please feel free to post about it in the comments section.

Related Links:

Will Portable TV's, Emergency Radios, Still Work Next Year?

2009: The end of TV broadcasting as we know it



Anonymous said...

Great...like you I have an emergency radio with TV sound...this reeks of sheer profit to the new owners of the TV analog bands (Verizon and AT&T) ... Will I buy one?....probably....after waiting to see if the price on this radios come down after a while...what to do with the old one?....Keep it and hope if there is an emergency the on-air radio stations will take up the slack.

DKUVA said...

My 13 year old autistic son was terribly distressed when the TV-Band on his radio stopped working. I had to try to explain it to him, but I still don't think he really understands the "why". I'd like to replace it, but as you said, I haven't even seen a "new" TV-band radio. The thing that made the old ones so easy to add was that it was just like receiving the FM radio signal. Maybe the new TV Band will be like the HD Radio?

Chas said...

My mom likes to listen to her soap operas on the radio when the power goes out (where they live, it can be out for days).

I told her I'd get her a "new" radio that does TV bands if and when it comes out. I've not been able to find any so far. I did this post in part to see if I could attract that information from somebody who knows. Nothing thus far.

Anonymous said...

Like many I had to give up listening to TV on my Sony radio with TV band when all TV went digital. I have 4 portable TVs for use when the lights go out. I find that TV stations have more up-to-the-minute emergency and weather information for my area. I have listened to the weather band on one of my radios and by the time it catches up with the area I live in, it's probably too late to do anything about it. From what I have read at other places on-line, I gathered that the radios of tomorrow would not include the audio portion of DTV, but I guess maybe the FCC knows better. I hope that the FCC is right because I would really like to have a radio with a functioning TV audio band again.

Chas said...

I think you're right, the TV stations often have faster updated emergency information, so it's really a shame that emergency radios can no longer tune them in.

It would be great if future emergency radios find a way to include the TV audio bands again, that is not prohibitively expensive.

Anonymous said...

I'm also looking to replace my emergency radio (mine is a stormtracker that has an analog TV set included. I found a site that sells a battery-operated digital converter at http://www.batterysavers.com/Battery_Operated_Digital_TV_Converter.htm. The site also sells emergency radios with (analog) TVs. There are also battery-operated digital TVs available elesewhere but the emergency radio would be separate.