MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
Just after midnight last night, stations began turning off their old, analog transmitters. About half of the country's full-power TV stations have already made the switch to digital. Still, many are waiting until the very last minute, just before midnight tonight. Among those are stations in the Dallas-Fort Worth market. Analysts say that market is one of the least prepared in the nation.
Bill Zeeble of member station KERA explains why.
BILL ZEEBLE: While the number of digital-ready households in North Texas has grown in the last four months, Dallas-Fort Worth still ranks near the bottom nationwide. Nielsen Media estimates 145,000 homes lack needed converter boxes. That's three times higher than the national average.
Nielsen's Gary Holmes says low-income populations here may be a reason why.
Mr. GARY HOLMES (Chief Press Officer, Nielsen Media Research): You need to spend money to get cable. You need to spend money to get satellite TV. You need to spend money to get a new television. I think that a lot of these populations probably are either putting off the investment in these technologies until they have to, or maybe they won't spend the money altogether.
Unidentified Child: Mommy, I want to (unintelligible).
Ms. CLAUDIA MARTINEZ(ph): I've lived here for three and a half years.
ZEEBLE: Twenty-three-year-old Claudia Martinez, her husband and six children live in a small house in mostly Hispanic West Dallas. She stays at home with the kids and a giant TV. Her husband's construction work is spotty these days, so she's dropping their costly cable. That means she needed a converter box, another strain on her budget.
Ms. MARTINEZ: It's pretty tough right now to be able to purchase one.
ZEEBLE: Martinez got lucky. Dallas Concilio, a nonprofit that helps Hispanic families, had some free converters and gave her one.
Concilio's Elizabeth Rubalcava says TV is important to the families she serves.
Ms. ELIZABETH RUBALCAVA (Affiliate Relations Coordinator, Dallas Concilio of Hispanic Service Organizations): It's a way for them to get news of what's going on, not just locally, but maybe in their home countries or countries where their families still live.
ZEEBLE: TV is also the main source of emergency information for many people. Earlier this week, severe storms rolled through North Texas, complete with tornado warnings. Some stations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are currently broadcasting in both analog and digital. But during the storms, their digital signals were intermittent, at least at my house, with a digital converter box.
(Soundbite of television program)
Unidentified Man #1: We've got this severe - heaviest weather coming (unintelligible)…
ZEEBLE: Even the Federal Communications Commission acknowledges digital signals are less reliable in bad weather.
FCC spokesperson Edie Herman.
Ms. EDIE HERMAN (Media Relations Advisor, Federal Communications Commission): Sometimes weather, sometimes hills, sometimes a large tree that suddenly moves in the wind can momentarily affect a signal. We have not heard of serious concerns about emergency service as a result of this kind of movements in digital.
ZEEBLE: While most of the stations in Dallas-Fort Worth are waiting until just before midnight central time to turn off their analog transmitters, public station KERA-TV flipped the switch at noon.
Unidentified Man #2: Ten, nine, eight, seven, six…
ZEEBLE: The station is keeping its analog signal on the air with a message onscreen listing a phone number and Web address for viewers with any questions. Calls to the station's phone bank were immediate.
(Soundbite of phone ringing)
Unidentified Woman: Okay, do you have a button where you can turn (unintelligible)…
ZEEBLE: KERA and other Dallas-Fort Worth TV stations only plan to keep call centers open through tonight.
For NPR News, I'm Bill Zeeble in Dallas.