Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bath digital switchover - when less is more

Is Bath about to become a city of haves and have-nots? From some of  the grumblings about the forthcoming switchover to digital telly you might think we were.

It’s all down to Bath’s hilly geography and the position of the two transmitters that serve us.

Ten miles south of the city, cresting the Mendip Hills, towers the “mighty” Mendip Transmitter, a colossus of guyed steel tubing, at 305 metres (that’s 1,001 feet in real money) the 15th tallest structure in the UK. After 14 other, slightly higher, TV masts.

A couple of miles to the east of us is the Mendip Mast’s stubbier relative, sometimes referred to as the Bathampton Transmitter but officially known as just Bath. And unless you’re one of the lucky few Bathonians with a clear line of sight to the Mendip transmitter, Bath is where your TV signal comes from.

In its previous incarnation, Dixon Towers was served by the punier of the two towers. We got the two main BBC channels, Channel 4, and ITV1. If you stood on your head in the loft with a transistor radio clamped to your ear you could just about pick up Classic FM. Not that you’d necessarily have wanted to. There was no Channel 5, let alone any of the digital channels. And that’s the way it still is today.

When we moved to the west of the city our viewing horizons opened up. Even before we bought a digital box, there was Channel 5 (although we’ve never watched it). With the box we got price-drop tv (the ghastly fascination of watching other people max out their credit cards soon wanes). And there was digital radio (or a disturbing bubbling sound, depending on the phase of the moon). TV and radio heaven.

What didn’t change when we moved, though, was the amount we had to pay for our TV licence. And because of that we felt rather chuffed: whether or not we watched them, we did get a whole load of extra channels for no extra money.

(We also got a phone call from the new proprietors of Dixon Towers East asking why their telly wasn’t working properly. But they’d moved from Bristol and didn’t understand...)

So let’s go back to the question about Bath’s haves and have-nots.

If we still lived in Dixon Towers East, we’d be rather looking forward to the digital switchover. From March 24 we’d be getting good digital reception on eight channels, in place of the current dodgy analogue signal on four.

And a couple of weeks after that, on April 7, we’d be getting an extra 10 channels, including BBC3, BBC4 and limitless re-runs of Tinky Winky on CBBC. Without spending anything extra on the TV licence.

Yet some people seem to think they’re being hard done by, and even that they deserve a licence rebate because they’re not getting a full set of channels. Are they right? Or are they just moaners?

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