Feb. 17, 2009
DTV Better or Worse? It Depends on Your Location and Method of Reception
By Tony Rutherford
Huntingtonnews.net Entertainment Editor
Huntington, WV (HNN) -- D-day -- no not the one in the Second World War -- but digital television day arrives with only a few of the anxieties that fueled the Y2K worries when 1999 became 2000. Two stations --- WCHS and WVAH --- have decided to maintain analog and their digital broadcasting.
Of course, their newscast said it was the choice of the stations in question. An FCC amended notice indicated that at least one Charleston-Huntington major network station would likely be required to maintain analog casting. During the transition period , the written and broadcast education has concentrated on the need for those receiving over the air signals via antenna on an non-DTV ready set would need a converter box. The government issued $40 coupons, but has since run out. Anyone requesting one is put on a waiting list.
However, West Virginia is noted for its mountainous terrain; therefore, reception is limited by terrain. To continue receiving over the air stations, little has been mentioned about antenna upgrades, except the need for a UHF antenna. The FCC indicates in some cases an indoor one might be insufficient and an outdoor one may be needed.
It's a touch of irony that the state has been deemed well prepared for the switch due to the percentage of households with cable or satellite reception. Actually, the terrain of the state limited or made over the air reception weak or non-existent which saw a rise in the purchase of large consumer satellite dishes -- particularly in rural areas -- ranging from seven to 12 feet in diameter.
The households could not receive their local stations, but they could get FREE national cable channels, that is until the content providers scrambled the signals. (Remember those decried photos of a family with a giant parabolic dish planted in the yard at a shack in the mountains?) Eventually the encryption became secure enough that two small dish networks --- Direct TV and DISH --- now cover the country. Verizon is gradually expanding FIOS which uses phone lines.
Researching the digital television questions thus becomes a quagmire --- those people outside the Grade B reception contour of analog stations likely have a dish or do not watch much TV. In fact, in the unregulated days of Big Dish Explosions, you could pick up signals from out of market stations. As encryption and subscription began, the local stations pushed through Congress a law detailing who could and could not subscribe to an out of market (i.e. live in Chicago, subscribe to Denver network) station.
The same free tv stations making the jump to digital feared that if dish owners had choice of cities, a significant amount would select station(s) not in their area. Why? That’s a partial mystery. The reason(s) were not shared. The potential advantages, though, reek of a law that even now with small dish mania infringes on the First Amendment rights of viewers to watch news and information from cities or regions of their choice.
Interestingly, one advantage of watching say a California station in New York was time shifting. TIVO and other digital devices have conquered the hurdle without the ‘out of market’ need.
Another potential reason would be keeping up on news in a city where you were born, where you do a lot of business, or , maybe, they just have a prettier news anchor. In any event, DIRECT TV and DISH had to uplink all local stations, leaving only a sparse portions of the country that qualify for a so-called national feed.
While this discussion of satellite technology historically in rural areas may seem off topic, it’s actually not, as the digital signal transition touches some of the same underserved television homes. I would belabor the free flow of information and First Amendment choice arguments, but they are for some future U.S. Supreme Court case. Instead, the correlations amongst these technologies come down to the antenna, which is what the dish itself does; it gathers the signals from satellites.
During the DTV conversion, the terrain has been labeled as impacting your signal. A December 2008 FCC report contains “troubleshooting” tips for those having difficulties receiving channel(s) , even with their converter.
“When an analog TV signal is weak or receives interference, static, snow and distortion will often appear on the screen. Digital broadcasting will provide a clear picture ; however, if the signal falls below a certain minimum strength, the picture can disappear,” the FCC guide states. “This cliff effect means that if you watch analog TV stations that have static or distortion , you may have to adjust or upgrade your antenna system.” (Note: No government coupons for new antennas, just a waiting list for converters.)
The digital FCC troubleshooting continues that you may need an amplifier to boost the signal or even an outdoor antenna. (http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/troubleshootguide.html )
The last minute decision to postpone complete conversion until June 17 in some markets relate to rural and economic concerns. If you can’t afford cable or a dish, you likely will have a hard time in this weak economic time purchasing converter(s) (minus $40), amplifier(s), antenna(s), and/or a new TV. Prior FCC studies indicated that 89% of stations (1,553) “will experience an overall net gain in the population that can receive their signals” and “11% (196 stations) will have an overall net loss in television viewers. “The second [FCC] report contains maps and other information for the 319 stations where more than two percent of the population covered by their analog service will not be covered by their digital service.” The report noted that “it is predominantly viewers who live outside the actual community of license who may lose coverage.”
Estimates by the FCC were considered possibly “overstated” since some of those who would lose an over the air signal likely possess cable or satellite alternatives. In fact, as with analog service, terrain challenged stations have been granted permission to install “repeaters” and/or “translators” to fill in the areas blackened by the digital cliff effect.
Assuming no mysterious Y2K type ‘bugs’ materialize, WSAZ will be only digital by the time you read this. WOWK has been digital only for months after a storm fried their analog transmitter. WCHS/WVAH are ready, but have agreed (per FCC directive) to keep their analog signal on the air past the deadline.
WSAZ engineer Issac Meade in a web story emphasized “location , location, location,” as not all areas will receive channels. WSAZ will staff a call center Today and Wednesday 1-877-388-5473 from 5 a.m.-7 p.m. if you have questions on setting up your converter. The FCC phone bank is 888-225-5322.
Using an on-line signal strength guide, HNN ran a check for the 25701 zip code. WTSF (Channel 61) has a strong digital signal; WOWK and WSAZ have moderate signals; WPBY and WVAH have weak signals; and WKAS (Channel 25, KET) and WCHS have no signal. (http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/dtvantennas.html, http://www.fcc.gov/dtv/markets/maps_report1/Charleston-Huntington_WV.pdf and/or http://www.fcc.gov/dtv/markets/DTV_Report_1.pdf. )
But, if you’re getting WOWK now and after 12 midnight you’re getting WSAZ, you don’t need to call or buy anything different. You got it right.

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