Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Big Switch

I talked about this in the NPT: The First 50 Years special (see previous blog entry), but it's an interesting story so I thought I would try to explain it here.

Growing up in Clarksville TN, we got our TV from the local stations of Nashville. The ABC affiliate was on channel 8, and was confusingly known as WSIX. (Apparently no one is quite sure to this day why it was called that.) The PBS affiliate was WDCN, which was on channel 2.

In 1973, it was determined that WSIX would have a stronger signal if it switched frequencies with WDCN. Some sort of agreement was made so that both stations benefitted technically, and thus came about The Big Switch. We got a great deal of warning that this was going to happen, with stars from both networks taping special PSAs for Nashville to explain the switch to local viewers.

Finally on December 11, 1973, the moment came. The event itself was hosted by Big Bird from Sesame Street, and Easy Reader from The Electric Company. (Of course you know that Big Bird is played by Caroll Spinney, but you might not know that Easy Reader was played by Morgan Freeman.) So there we were, tuned into channel 2. Big and Easy explained to us what was about to happen. Animated numerals 2 and 8 switched sides on the screen to help illustrate the concept. Big and Easy did a countdown, and on cue, we switched our dial from 2 to 8. And voila, there they were on channel 8!

I believe Robert "Marcus Welby" Young hosted a similar switch from 8 to 2 for WSIX viewers, and there was the added wrinkle that WSIX at that moment also changed its call letters from the pointless-and-confusing WSIX to the obscure-but-at-least-not-confusing WNGE. (For those keeping score, they are now WKRN. And WDCN is now NPT. Whew.) But who cared about Marcus Welby. I watched Big and Easy make the Big Switch.

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