McAdams On: DTV Reception

I would like to offer up my flat as a test bed for post-transition DTV reception. I had more channels before the deal went down. Now, instead of ABC and Fox, I get… wait for it… snow! That’s right. Snow. That relic of analog broadcasting, alive and well, more so than the corresponding digital channels.

I have carried the Terk HDTVa all over the place to no avail. I did the so-called “double re-scan” procedure recommended by the FCC, where you do a channel scan, unplug everything, take a nap, plug it back in and perform another channel scan. I succeeded in losing The CW and its diginets, which include This TV. I saw “L’Enfant Savage” on This TV. “L’Enfant” may be 39 years old, but it’s still an excellent film. This TV doesn’t always have such good finds, but it’s a free diginet, and frankly, it’s a nice alternative to the endless amateur hours that now comprise most of prime time. Or at least it seemed to be during the short time I could actually tune it in.

Now there is nothing but snow on Channels 5 and 7, presumably because The CW and ABC are running nightlight service. But I don’t know, because there’s nothing remotely identifiable in the snow.

I do understand there are options, but they are far fewer than TV providers would have the FCC believe. My choices are DirecTV standard def or over-the-air. The DirecTV is provided through a third-party vendor who holds the building captive and could care less if we have hi-def here. I, on the other hand, will not pay $50 a month to have standard-def programming piped into a 1080p TV. I realize the irony, already. It’s either that, or snow. But NBC and CBS come in fine, and I have Ion and a couple of PBS stations, all the Spanish-language channels I want and others in Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean and Japanese. The martial arts programming is awesome, if indecipherable to a Midwestern ear.

As far is improving my over-the-air reception, there isn’t much more to do. I live in a three-story complex constructed of poured concrete. The concrete part’s good for not hearing neighbors, but no so much for receiving TV signals. The building is in a horseshoe configuration facing south--away from the city’s TV transmitters 26 miles away on Mt.Wilson. Based on signal coverage maps, my home is smack in the center of signal reach, which extends another 25 miles into the Pacific Ocean, where Spongebob is probably watching This TV.

I have no way of setting up an outdoor antenna, and putting my Terk on the deck would require that I drill a right angle through about eight inches of concrete. Management frowns on such things. I suppose I could attach some speaker wire to a helium balloon from the grocery store and float it in the courtyard, but the choppers fly low here. I have e-mailed a couple of local network engineers about my problems tuning in their channels. Double re-scan, they said. OK. Next time I ping them, I’m going to disguise myself as Mrs. Tom Hanks.

The sad true fact that most of us knew all along was that the DTV transition was a sadly wasted opportunity. I know the common wisdom is along the lines of “who cares,” because most people subscribe to cable or DBS. There could have been a viable alternative in over-the-air TV, but that train is so gone the tracks are cold.

It’s just a shame that cash-strapped broadcasters are so gung-ho on mobile TV, but willing to blow off a significant population of regular viewers. It’s no wonder that cable subscriptions are rising for the first time in 10 years.

Personally, I’ve got my eye on a Roku.