NEW YORK-Louise Coleman of Brooklyn, N.Y., did everything she was supposed to do before full-power and started broadcasting only in digital, but she still found herself in a Best Buy store on the DTV deadline day, Friday, buying the last amplified digital antenna on the store shelf.TV antennas were in short supply in New York City Friday when full power broadcast TV stations switched to digital-only TV broadcasts. Marguerite Reardon CNET
By 1 p.m. EDT the Radio Shack on 23rd Street near Park Avenue had plenty of converter boxes in the store, but it was all out of antennas. The Best Buy just down the block on 23rd Street and 6th Avenue only had a few antennas left by mid-afternoon. And by 5 p.m. a Best Buy customer service representative at the store on Broadway and 62nd Street said that antennas were sold out in Manhattan. The only stores that still had them in stock were in Queens. As for converter boxes, the representative said the store still had 242 left.
Justin Barber, a spokesman for Best Buy, said that as of Friday evening, Best Buy stores across the country were meeting demand for converter boxes. He couldn't say whether other areas around the country were experiencing antenna shortages. But he said that the company had anticipated a spike in demand.
"We have been working with our antenna vendors to get additional inventory, " he said. "That was definitely something we were planning for in anticipation of the DTV switch."
It's difficult to say how widespread the potential antenna shortage has been. Mark Wigfield, a spokesman for the Federal Communications Commission, said he hadn't heard that antennas were in short supply. But he said he wasn't surprised that antennas are in high demand.
"You really do need an antenna to receive digital signals, " he said.Best Buy had plenty of digital TV converter boxes on hand for last minute shoppers. Marguerite Reardon CNET
But Wigfield added that people may not need to rush out and buy a new antenna. They may be able to use the existing antenna they had used to get analog TV signals. But he said that whether the antenna is new or old, consumers should make sure it supports both UHF and VHF radio frequencies. VHF antennas have traditionally been the rabbit-ear antennas that receive channels 2-13. And UHF antennas have been in the shape of a circle or bow-tie. These antennas are used to tune channels 14-51. Now that broadcasters are only transmitting in digital, it's important to have an antenna that supports both VHF and UHF, since many digital signals are now being broadcast in UHF frequencies.
In addition to VHF/UHF antennas there are also amplified antennas that can be used to improve reception. In the case of Louise Coleman, the amplified antenna, helped her get all the standard TV channels offered in her area, as well as two more channels she couldn't get with analog TV.
But retailers caution consumers that no antenna is a one-size fits all solution, something Richard Savelli, of Manhattan learned the hard way. Savelli had bought a basic rabbit ear-style antenna from Radio Shack when he picked up his converter box earlier this year, but even with the new antenna he isn't able to tune in some digital TV channels. He was in Best Buy on Friday looking to buy a new antenna. But the pickings were rather slim.
"It is frustrating, " he said. "Nobody told me I needed a special antenna. But cable is too expensive and I don't want to give them my money."
Figuring out exactly which antenna to use can be a big challenge. The FCC has some information on its Web site that provides some help. But most of the information on the Internet is about outside antennas. Still, Wigfield recommends that consumers check out the FCC Website and use a tool that allows people to put in their address and ZIP code to see where their local station transmitters are located and what kind of signal they can expect to get. There is also information available about the different types of antennas.