TPT, the local PBS affiliate, heavily promoted the White House honors for Stevie Wonder. For many in the Twin Cities, though, they needn't have bothered; audio problems made the program unwatchable.
It's still unclear what the problem was, since viewers in other parts of the country reported no similar problems.
In the Twin Cities, however, some viewers couldn't hear any of the audio from singers or comments by Michele Obama.
"My parents called me to ask about the audio. MTS multi-track sound button fixed it for me. WCCO's CSI also had similar problem," one acquaintance on Twitter told me.
Perhaps this is fallout from the digital conversion. Perhaps we've entered an era where some older TVs aren't compatible, despite assurances to the contrary. Or perhaps TPT just messed up. Or it was the cable company or satellite service (so far, people with problems have been Dish Network and Comcast subscribers). We don't know. A call to TPT's offices only yielded a taped message that because of the snowstorm, the offices were closed.
We'll try to follow up on this (I'm off Friday, but will try to check) after sunrise.
Here's some terrific pictures from the White House on the event.
(Photo: Saul Loeb/Getty Images)
Updated 11:15 a.m. -- Through the kindness and connections of Twitter, it's been relayed to us that an audio processor failed.
Updated 5:53 p.m. 2/27 - Email from TPT
We sincerely apologize for this problem and would like to explain how it occurred. Recently we installed a new piece of equipment in order to alleviate some audio fluctuations. Unfortunately this new equipment failed and our engineers worked throughout the program to try and restore sound, but were unable to do so. We were also not able to insert a "crawl" to alert our viewers to this issue because we do not currently have the equipment to insert this bit of information while a program is in progress. This equipment is on our list to purchase as soon as funds become available.
We apologize for the late response, but we have been checking into the broadcast rights of this program. We have determined we will be able to air it again in the near future, but do not have rights to do so until after our March pledge drive which begins this evening. We will inform you via email when we have a specific broadcast date and time for this program. We appreciate your patience and, again, apologize for any inconvenience.
Not speaking for WCCO, of course... but a lot of glitchy 5.1 surround sound issues that used to only be noticed by viewers of the digital channel (233 on Comcast, or 4.1 on your new digital converter) are becoming glitches for all cable customers. Even though we haven't shut down our analog channel, a lot of cable systems are broadcasting our digital signal on their channel 4.
So -- if a show is in surround sound, and someone messes up the mix of the audio, you might not get the center channel, meaning no dialogue.
So, indirectly, it is part of the digital conversion, but it's not a technology issue, it's probably human error. Again: this is just my theory.
I don't think my parents figured it out either, even with my suggestion of switching to the second audio track (sometimes used for PBS's descriptive audio service, but I don't think it was in use for that show).
It's probably TPT's screwup -- I bet there was a widget somewhere downmixing/remixing 5.1 audio improperly, maybe simply dropping the front center audio channel. It happened to everybody watching TPT's digital broadcast, regardless of whether they were getting it over-the-air, on Comcast, or via satellite. I haven't heard if analog was screwy or not.
But if you want to talk about digital transition pains, you may want to call down to KTTC in Rochester. They've dropped their analog signal. They had been broadcasting digitally on channel 36, which my parents could pick up very nicely, without even having to point the antenna in the general direction of the tower. But, after channel 10's analog broadcast went dark, they moved the digital broadcast to 10. Now my parents need to aim the antenna almost directly at it.
I don't know if it's a UHF/VHF thing or what (actually, my parents and I are really annoyed that digital broadcasts are going to be on VHF at all -- the impression we'd gotten for years was that they'd drop VHF, but I guess not...)
It was the same on Charter, and affected the HD channel as well as the regular channel. Seemed to me that a mic was turned off, especially during Paul Simon's gig. His guitar was mic'd and perfect, but it sounded like his vocals were being picked up by either the guitar mic or another further away.
That was very disappointing.
The audio problem was so bad that TPT's delivery of this program was unwatchable whether it was Comcast or over the air. In fact, the better your equipment, the worse it got.
I'm amazed that a program of this stature would be vulnerable to such a breakdown in quality delivery. It was definitely a failure in the delivery of the mix - a loss of center channel - not related to any individual microphone on the stage.
If it was a failed audio processor, where, along the line, would this have happened? Was it at TPT? Why did it only affect this program? The preceding program was in 5.1 and it was fine. If they knew what it was, why wasn't it acknowledged, why couldn't it have been fixed?
This is unforgivable.
Unforgivable? Really? Machines, computers, software fail.
Every viewer, any amount.