Now that Valentine's Day is over, it's time to take a look at something else we all love (or love to hate): Wireless audio devices. I would wager that most readers of this here blog have at least one, and probably more than 6 channels of wireless audio (mics and/or IEMs) in their churches. Some of you may already know what I'm about to share. Others may be in the dark. Either way, you have 367 days to get clued in and come up with a plan. Thanks to Jason Cole for inspiring this post.
It happens February 17, 2009
What's that? The day that analog TV shall cease, digital (not necessarily HD--but that's another post) TV will take over and all wireless audio devices above 698Mhz will henceforth be illegal to use. Now you might not care about the first two items, but you should care about the third. Take an inventory of your wireless audio and see how many of your systems operate above 698Mhz. I counted ours up today: We currently have 8 channels of Shure UHF (the original UHF), and 6 channels of PSM700, all in the 700+Mhz range. A quick check on Northernsound.net tells me we need to shell out almost $20,000 to replace these soon to be rogue devices. What's that old line, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help?"
I did some quick checking and at press time (I've always wanted to write that), the bidding for the 700Mhz spectrum is up to $4.6 Billion. Most are speculating that it will fetch at least $10 Billion, with some suggesting it could easily go as high $30 Billion. That seems like a lot of money to me. Then again, $20,000 seems like a lot of money, too. Maybe this is part of the "economic stimulus package?"
Today I contacted Shure to see if they would offer any kind of re-frequency-ing of their products. To my surprise they said no. According to them, it costs more to replace the PCB boards than it does to buy new gear. Now, given that a new UHF-R set will be over $2,500, those are some darned expensive PCB boards. I haven't checked with AT yet. I don't really blame them--if I were a manufacturer, I would rather have my production lines running cranking out new gear to sell than changing chips on old stuff.
So I was thinking today about writing to my esteemed representative and asking for a small piece of that $30B windfall to replace our old wireless stuff. Only seems fair; some of that money is already earmarked for "easing the transition to digital TV."
The other thing that is troubling is how much electronic refuse will end up landfills next spring. You might not realize it, but electronics are pretty hazardous stuff--containing mercury, lead, and all kinds of other nasty chemicals. It's bad enough we throw away tons of cell phones every and computers every year, but this is a government mandated disposal of tens of thousands of electronic components. What's the true cost of that?
For some churches, this will be a good excuse to replace some aging wireless gear with new, getting better sound and performance as part of the bargain. For churches like ours, instead of putting money toward new speakers (which we desperately need), we'll be replacing equipment that still works fine.
Now I'm sure there will be all kinds of great new technology and revenue streams that will come from the privatization of the 700Mhz spectrum. However, it seems a lot like building a football stadium with tax dollars. The big corporations (who contribute generously to re-election campaigns) collect the checks while the little guy takes it in the shorts. So join with me and write your reps and senators and ask for a piece of the pie. If the bidding goes up to $30 Billion, there should be plenty to go around. I'll settle for $10,000...no, make that $15,000.