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Two unique events are occurring in our household this week, two in three days actually. One was yesterday, it was Nick’s 18th birthday. It went well. Here is the birthday boy sampling a pint of real ale, my pint actually. He ordered a Peroni. My quality real ale was £3.60, his fizzy tasteless larger was £4.65!! I know. Anyway Nick enjoyed his day, that’s the main thing.

The other unique event is tomorrow when we switch to digital TV. We are the last part of Great Britain to receive digital TV, I’m excluding Northern Ireland here who also have not switched yet and don’t do so until October. The switchover started in the Cumbrian town of Whitehaven in October 2007, I don’t know why Whitehaven was chosen to be first, but probably because there is no one there intelligent enough to notice if it had all gone hopelessly wrong. It’s taken them five years to get this far, and it will be the biggest non event of the year.

We get our TV signals from the Newton transmitter in the Tyne Valley, it’s a relay transmitter of Pontop Pike. Pontop is one of the main transmitters for the North East, but in the Tyne Valley we are too low down to receive transmissions from Pontop so have to get them from the Newton relay. The signals are transmitted from Pontop Pike, received at Newton and then re-transmitted to us here. The problem with Newton is it’s useless. It’s an old relay with limited capacity. Some years ago much of Newton’s capacity was taken up by mobile phone antennas, leaving no capacity for expansion. Consequently here in the Tyne valley we still do not have Channel Five nor do we have any Freeview channels and we have no digital radio! I know, it’s unbelievable, but true.

So what happens now. The digital switchover starts tomorrow when we lose analogue BBC 2 which is replaced by a small number of digital channels. Then two weeks from now the digital switchover is completed when the other three analogue channels are switched off and we receive a few more digital channels.

Here’s the problem though. Most TV viewers in Great Britain had access to Freeview even before the digital switchover. Freeview is a service where you buy a small Freeview received for not much money and plug it into your TV. Or you could buy a TV with an integrated Freeview receiver. Then you would receive about 50 channels in total including some HD channels and  a few radio services too. But not from Newton. We, today, in 2012, have four TV channels and no digital radio. Hard to believe, but true.

Although we are switching to Digital, Newton is not being upgraded, so still has limited capacity. It’s not economically viable to upgrade Newton, it only serves 10,000 people who are regarded as not important enough to have money spent on them. I can see the economic reasons behind this to be honest, but it does mean that when the digital switchover is complete in two weeks time, we still will not have anything like 50 channels. All we will get, in addition to the four channels we have now is, Channel 5, BBC 3, BBC 4, CBBC, CBeebies, BBC News Channel, BBC Parliament, ITV 2, E4 and More 4. Not much really.

Consequently we will have to do what we do now, which is to continue to pay huge sums of money to Sky TV. Sky charge me well over £20 a month for their basic package of channels. There are quite a lot of them, we don’t have the premium channels, Movies or Sport, at all, but still pay over £20 a month. Most of these channels though are full of complete rubbish, old American TV shows of no interest. Then a large percentage are ‘Plus One’ Channels so that if you miss the old American TV show that you didn’t want to watch, you can also not watch them an hour later.

We only have three tv’s in the house, in the living room, the kitchen and in my office. The one in my office is an old analogue one which will be redundant in two weeks time, so we’ll only have two soon. The only difference this will make will be that we will be able to watch the BBC News Channel in the kitchen while Nick watches Comedy Central, via Sky, in the living room.

So digital switchover, bring in on, but don’t bother with a fanfare.