OTA HDTV Reception Q&A

Updates on the DTV transition and how to receive over-the-air digital television for free.

Location: Richmond, IL, United States

Hello there! I created this blog to share the information about over-the-air HDTV reception you have been wearily searching the Web or calling technical lines for, whether you have decided for less expensive means to get your favorite TV shows, or still adjusting from the over the air broadcast DTV transition that occurred on June 12, 2009. After working for a leading antenna manufacturer for almost 5 years, during which time I've shared my expertise with those who asked on the phone and by email at work, I decided to do the same in the Blogosphere! Confused about getting your local HD channels? Just click through the archives, some of the most useful information is in the early posts from 2005-06. If you want to get in touch with me with antenna related questions, just leave a comment anywhere on this site.

Monday, February 16, 2009


I am posting this entry the night before what was supposed to be the day when all full power TV stations in the US were to shut down, but instead February 17th will be a day when some markets will see a handful of stations power down their analog transmitters, while others will wait until the now official new deadline of June 12th. The final count of stations making the transition on or before the original February 17th deadline will be 641; 220 have done so already, 421 will do so on the 17th. The FCC has released the now final and approved list of stations noting those that will be making the switch at http://www.fcc.gov/ - see the Headlines dated 2/16/08 including an Excel and Acrobat document list.

Late last week, 43 stations that had announced they would shut down analog on February 17th reversed their decision, pretty much after the FCC blew a whistle on several markets whose top four network (CBS, FOX, NBC, ABC) affiliates would go all digital. The reason the FCC did this was to ensure that at least one local affiliate of the top four networks, each with a local news organization, to continue providing local news and emergency information to those households still not ready for the transition. Also, I would have to think that some decisions were made based on some stations switching from a pre-transition frequency to a post transition frequency, that would make some households realize they need to realign their existing antenna, or get a whole different one. Also, the FCC has noted some stations have "enhanced analog nightlight" to have these local affiliates have at lease an analog signal ready to broadcast emergency information, but they have written very little detail on this.

Anyway, I am going to play devil's advocate and provide examples of this now two-wave transition for three markets, two of the markets claiming to have less than one percent of their households not yet ready for the DTV switch, but also had a station pretty much ordered by the FCC to keep their analog broadcast going:

Milwaukee WI - Here the top four network affiliates as well as the PBS affiliate elected to continue their analog broadcasts until June, so there was no concern from the FCC here. The CW and MyNetwork affiliates, both owned by Sinclair Broadcasting, are going to make the switch and do the standard "nightlight" plan by posting information on the switch on their analog channels instead of regular programming that will only be seen on the digital channel. Also making the switch here will be a religious station, and they plan just to flash cut to DTV. Milwaukee has a fairly easy endgame; only the CW affiliate on analog 18 will be changing their DTV channel post-transition; their current DTV broadcast is on real channel 61, in the 52-69 channel spectrum that will be returned for new wireless applications and services. So, once their nightlight period ends sometime late in March, all the Milwaukee DTV broadcasts will be on their post-transition channel, meaning at that time DTV OTA viewers will likely not need to adjust or replace their current antenna, while those households catching up will get the right antenna and be all set before June 12th.

Madison, WI - This is one of the markets claiming to have less than one percent of their households unprepared for the switch. Unlike Milwaukee, in this market all their affiliates have DTV broadcasts on what will be their post-transition frequency, so all that needs to be done here is to simply power down their analog broadcasts. Their NBC affiliate will be the first to go at about 11:30 PM local time on February 16th, followed by the CBS affiliate, then the ABC affiliate, as well as the CW affiliate. ABC and CW will do the traditional nightlight while the CBS will have the "enhanced nightlight" in which that station in the event of an emergency or for local news can power back up their analog channel 3. The station that reversed its intention to power down this week was the FOX affiliate, channel 47, whose pre and post DTV frequency is in VHF high band on channel 11. Now I can speculate that the reason FOX in Madison is still going full analog is for OTA DTV viewers using a so-called HDTV antenna that in reality is nothing more than a UHF antenna, like a Silver Sensor for indoors and a bowtie antenna for outdoors. These antennas may get the other DTV channels and analog 47 for FOX, but possibly not the VHF channel 11. Hopefully when these viewers realize they are not getting 47-1 but just 47, they will ask about it and realize they really needed a VHF high band/UHF antenna to all their local channels when they become all digital. Also the PBS affiliate will continue to be analog, probably because PBS in Wisconsin is a statewide network, so to promote the switch in few areas would probably have just caused confusion.

Quincy, IL-Hannibal, MO-Keokuk, IA - Like Madison, this small market claims to have less than one percent of their households as not prepared for the DTV switch. This is an interesting market because it is a duopoly in terms of the top four networks. There are analog channels 7, CBS, and 10, NBC, and the other networks are only available over the air digitally. DTV channel 7.2 has ABC network programming, while 10.2 has the CW and 10.3 FOX. Additionally, 7's DTV frequency in on channel 29 while 10's is on 54, a station in the frequency spectrum that will be returned, and yet both stations' post-transition DTV channels will be their original VHF frequencies. Well, both these stations were planning to switch early, but after the FCC blew the whistle, channel 7 agreed to delay its switch until June while 10 would proceed,which makes sense since their pre-transition frequency would be returned. But what about those households that, again, became DTV ready with a UHF only antenna? Once channel 10 makes the switch and people who thought they were ready suddenly lose 10.1, .2, and .3, how would they react when they realize they need a high band VHF/UHF antenna? And now, making this issue more confusing is that 10 is going to be on the enhanced nightlight; so, does this mean the station will not switch their DTV frequency until the nightlight period ends, or even until June? Will they just broadcast on DTV 54 and power their old analog transmitter only for news and emergency information? How long will it last? (2-17-09 UPDATE: At 12:30 PM today WGEM did power down their analog channel 10 broadcast and in a two hour period made the transition to broadcast all digital on the channel 10 frequency, so it is likely the FCC is requesting at least one major affiliate, KHQA, stay on analog to provide local breaking news as needed) And during this time will those households that got a UHF only antenna for DTV viewing replace their antenna with a VHF high band/UHF? Hopefully the stations will remind viewers one simple suggestion; if their antenna setup gets a decent 7 and 10 analog picture as well as their DTV equivalent, then when the switch becomes final the viewer can just rescan their tuner. Still, I think in this case discretion may not quite be the better part of valor.

In any case, the FCC did announce today that they would send out reps to the markets making the switch to be on site at walk-in help areas for those needing information on how to get a converter box, install it, and then see is they need the right antenna. They have also started a Web page where viewers can check their DTV reception - http://www.dtv.gov/fixreception.html.

And now, here comes the first wave . . .