Preparing for the Big Switch

converter box
converter box

Posted by: Mark Bullock - bio | email

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - WSFA 12 News is counting down to the end of analog television in Alabama. We're now less than one month away.

June 12th is the new date for so-called Big Switch. That's when television stations will shut off their analog signals and broadcast exclusively in digital.

Only viewers who get television signals over the air (with an antenna) will have to change their set ups. WSFA 12 News has heard from a number of viewers who say they are having trouble. So we enlisted an expert at the station to give us some tips.

WSFA 12 News Chief Engineer Morris Pollock walked us through the process, beginning with the converter box.  A converter box allows your old analog TV set to receive new digital signals.

Converter Boxes

Pollock demonstrated how simple it is to connect a converter box to your television. Simply plug a cable into the 'out to TV' outlet on the converter box. Then plug the other end of the cable into the 'in from antenna' outlet on the back of your TV.


If you have a newer digital television set, you won't need a converter box. But you will need an antenna. So which is best? The old-fashioned rabbit ears or a roof-top model?

It all has to do with the distance between you and the television station's transmitting tower.

"If you're farther away than 30 miles, you may be beyond the distance acceptable for rabbit ears," Pollock explained.

We hooked up rabbit ears to a TV set at the station, which is about 30 miles away from our transmitter tower. We were able to receive 17 digital channels. But some of them looked pixilated or frozen.

When we connected a roof-top antenna to our television (or to the converter box, if using an analog television set), we didn't have those problems. And we got 21 channels instead of just 17.

Signal Amplifiers

Most converter boxes include a feature that shows you the strength of each station's signal. If it's too weak, you may need to invest in an amplifier, which are usually sold alongside antennas at electronic stores.

Scanning for Channels

Once you have everything installed, you will need to scan for channels. It's also call it auto-tuning or programming on some TV sets/converter boxes. This feature tells the television to search for all available channels.

On June 12th, you will have to scan for channels again. That's because many stations, including WSFA 12 News, will move their digital signals on that date.

For More Information

There are several web sites that allow you to enter your zip code to learn the distance between you and the various transmitter towers in the area.

These sites also recommend the type of antenna that is best for your location.

For more information, check out or You will also find an interactive signal-strength section on the government's web site,

You can read more about the transition to digital television in the Big Switch section of this web site.

And if you still have questions, join WSFA 12 News for another of our Big Switch phone banks. Experts will be standing by Tuesday, May 12th to answer your calls beginning at 5:00pm.

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