Just this one time, put down the paper (or step away from the computer) and go turn on your TV.
Did you see anything, or was the screen dark?
If it's dark and you are surprised, you could be in the 9 percent of Americans unaware of today's digital television conversion. And that's too bad, because your government is spending more than $40 million of your money to spread the word, including $355,000 to sponsor NASCAR's No. 38 Digital TV Ford in three races.
It crashed twice, which, according to then-Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin, was a good thing because "except for the cars that win the races, the cars that are in wrecks get a lot of attention."
For you 9 percenters who missed the crashes and the ads, here's the deal. Today marks the death of analog TV, the kind that brought us everything that's been on since the first viewer complained there was nothing to watch. Austin stations shut down analog at various times today. In its place drumroll digital TV. For a while during the transition, we had both kinds. Now we have only digital.
RIP, analog, and thanks for the memories.
The switch has been in the works for years to free up airwave space for the public safety communications network. It means you have to have a digital TV, be hooked up to cable, linked to a satellite or have a digital converter box for your old analog TV.
A recent survey shows the awareness campaign has been successful. New Jersey-based Knowledge Networks reports that 91 percent of all "TV homes" know about the transition. Twenty-six percent of TV homes have done something to prepare for the change. But a recent Nielsen survey showed that as many as 30,000 Central Texas households are not ready for the switch.
The 91 percent figure is encouraging. We're not sure there is much else that 91 percent of Americans know about, like who their vice president is when it's not Dick Cheney.
FCC spokesman Mark Wigfield said about $110 million has been allocated for the transition, including $40 million for a call center that opens today and $12 million for private vendors to offer clinics. And more than $2 billion was spent to distribute coupons to subsidize the purchase of converter boxes needed to make analog televisions receive digital programming.
Though the message has gotten around, estimates show there are more than 3 million TV homes unprepared for the change. Many have low incomes, limited English proficiency or disabilities.
"We had to do a lot of targeted outreach to get to that last bit," said Wigfield, adding that the tougher-to-reach demographic includes people for whom TV is the primary source of news, information and entertainment.
If the 91 percent awareness figure is accurate, the feds deserve a pat on the back for their efforts.
There is, of course, sometimes a gap between knowing and acting. Wigfield is a proud member of the 91 percent aware of the change. But he's also a member of another large class of Americans the procrastinators.
He has two TVs in his Arlington, Va., home. One is hooked up to cable and good-to-go for the transition.
"The other is in my bedroom and it is not ready," he said. "I actually have a coupon in my pocket."
-The Austin American-Statesman