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Digital TV switch at noon on Thursday, Jan 15

Digital TV coupon. (Photo Illustration by Baron Sekiya/

Digital TV coupon. (Photo Illustration by Baron Sekiya/

 Karin Stanton/ Contributing Editor 

By Thursday, the days of tweaking the TV rabbit ears to better pick up that football game or the evening news will be history. Hawaii will be the first state in the country to switch entirely from analog to digital television at noon Thursday, Jan. 15.

The federal government, television station engineers and viewers who do not have cable or pay TV have spent more than a year gearing up for the big switch.

Analog television sets receiving free TV using an antenna will not work after Thursday, but there is help. In addition to a slew of Web sites, the Federal Communications Commission has a call center in Honolulu and a representative on the Big Island to assist with the transition.

“If you rely on cable or satellite to bring you all of your TV channels, then you’re already ready and don’t need to do anything,” said Jamison Prime, FCC representative currently on the Big Island. “If you’re lucky enough to have gotten a fancy new digital TV at Christmas – you’re good to go, too.”

For viewers who wish to continue using their analog TV sets, the federal government has created the TV Converter Box Coupon Program.

The program allows U.S. households to obtain up to two coupons, each worth $40 to be applied to the cost of eligible converter boxes which are cost $40-$70. Consumers must submit an application to receive the coupons.

Converter boxes plug into TV sets, either in the back or front, depending on your TV.  You will still need your antenna, which works with the TV converter box. 

Big Island retailers selling converter boxes include:

* Kona – Wal Mart, Radio Shack and Kmart

* Hilo – Radio Shack, Wal Mart, and Sears

* Waimea – Radio Shack

“You should go ahead and hook up your converter box today – just to make sure you know how it works. There aren’t a lot of digital signals to catch yet – KLEI over in Kona as well as most of the stations in Hilo, although those stations aren’t up to full power,” Prime said. 

After the big switch at noon, “people will have to take action to make their converter box rescan for the new digital channels that go on the air; this isn’t something that happens automatically,” he said. 

“If you’re still having trouble, you may be outside where the signals reach. The converter box and the switch isn’t going to give you TV signals if you live in a place you can’t get a TV signal now,” Prime said. “You’ll also want to make sure you have a good antenna to catch the digital signals, and in some cases it might be worth looking into upgrading the antenna if you’re still having troubles.”

“KGMB got their new digital signal up and broadcasting over in Maui last night.  I’m already hearing good reports from North Kohala, and have been able to pull the signal from the car using a pretty basic antenna set-up.”

Prime said a series of consumer clinics is planned to answer questions and help trouble-shoot.

“We want to make sure that there are in-person resources – places where people who have questions about how to hook up their converter boxes or want to talk to a person face-to-face can stop by for help,” Prime said.

Big Island consumer clinics:

* Tuesday, Jan. 13 and Wednesday, Jan. 14, 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Neighborhood Place Community Center, Kailua-Kona

* Thursday, Jan. 15 and Friday, Jan. 16, 1-7 p.m., Old Kona Airport (Pavilion), Kailua-Kona
* Thursday, Jan. 15 and Friday, Jan. 16, 1-7 p.m., Prince Kuhio Plaza, Hilo

* Saturday, Jan. 17, 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m., Old Kona Airport (Pavilion), Kailua-Kona

* Saturday, Jan. 17, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Prince Kuhio Plaza, Hilo

* Saturday, Jan. 17, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Tex Drive In, Honokaa

More than 50,000 requests for digital converter coupons have been logged in Hawaii. Hawaii has approximately 424,000 television households; more than 20,000 – including nearly 5,000 on the Big Island – use rabbit ears or rooftop antenna. 

Nationwide, more than 20 million households have a television set receiving over-the-air signals. About 13.5 million of these households rely on over-the-air broadcast to receive their TV programs while another 9 million households have cable and satellite service, but also have at least one broadcast-only television set in the house.

The transition to digital TV, which is mandated by Congress, is set for Feb. 17 for the rest of the country. Hawaii is making the conversion early to so building new TV towers on Maui’s Haleakala doesn’t disturb the endangered Hawaiian petrel, which typically nests in February. 

“I am pleased that Hawaii’s broadcasters have volunteered to lead the nation in the transition from analog to digital television,” Sen. Daniel Inouye said. “The prospect of digital television is exciting and I am delighted that ours will be the first state to realize its benefits.”

Inouye said the digital transition will bring consumers better pictures with sharper sound while at the same time freeing up new airwaves to improve communications for emergency first responders.    

— Find out more:

Honolulu help line: (808) 541-2388

FCC toll free: 1-888-CALL-FCC

Request up to two $40 coupons: 1-888-DTV-2009,

Other contacts:

Chris Leonard: 935-5461,

Mike Rosenberg: (808) 535-0206,

Mary Diamond: (202) 418-2388,

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