The death of a technology always brings sadness to its most ardent users, and the demise of the Hay River CBC transmitter last week was no exception. Some residents, who use rabbit ears and rooftop antennas to watch their favorite over-the-air channels, no longer have access to those because of a nationwide cost-saving measure to shut down more than 600 analog transmitters.
The transition from analog to digital is two years in the making for the CBC, who were ordered to do so by the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission last year. They said the move will save them $10 million per year.
Analog supporters aren’t ready to give up their cherished rabbit ears or rush to buy satellite dishes just yet, though. They don’t see it as antiquated technology.
“Some of us prefer not to have satellite dishes or receivers and some can’t afford those luxuries,” said Brendalynn Trennert.
“CBC is the only channel I watch,” said Myrtle Graham.
“It seems I’ll have to buy a receiver and a monthly package to keep watching my favorite shows?”
Fortunately, there is hope for their cause.
Gary Hoffman of the Hay River Community Service Society (HRCSS), which controls television broadcasting in Hay River, says there is light at the end of the tunnel.
“We are in discussions with the CBC to keep their equipment and continue to broadcast,” he said.
“It’s old but it’s good equipment and they’re just going to dispose of it. We’re hoping we can get it from them. One way or another, CBC will be back on the air.”
He was taken aback when finding out the transmitter would stop operating.
“I found out about a month ago that this was going to happen,” he said.
“Our society was never formally notified, I heard it through the grapevine.”
Hoffman says the excuse that consumers need to absolutely switch to digital is completely false.
According to him, he’s heard of more and more people in recent months who are actually giving up their satellite dishes and going back to using antennas.
“People are very happy with the programming we provide,” he said.
“In fact, we plan on providing a movie channel and a history channel shortly. We are trying to improve the service and stay within budget.”
He estimates that people pay an average of $1,000 per year for their satellite packages, while access to the over-the-air channels costs a paltry $36 per year.
Fans of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network will be pleased to know that APTN agreed to give all of its equipment to the HRCSS, so they could continue to broadcast those shows.
Making CBC and Radio-Canada available to Canadians in communities of at least 500 people was a 1970s policy goal and today, the CBC expects that only 1.7 per cent of its viewers will be affected by the switch to digital.
Just like Brendalynn Trennert and Myrtle Graham, Elizabeth Scheper is part of that small group.
“We’ve been using an antenna for a year, and had rabbit ears for 14,” she said.
“The CBC has great programming, especially for kids.”