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Free TV Eludes Others, Too...

I wrote last month about how I only receive one channel over the air with my spanking new 1080p TV set. (See “Free TV Eludes Me.”) Fortunately, it's NBC, and I can attest that an HD broadcast signal straight from the tower is a sight to behold. The Bird's Nest in daylight looked like it was color-corrected by Leroy Nieman.
The fact remains, however, had the Olympics Games been carried on another network after the digital transition, I wouldn’t see them, and neither would a lot of other people, according to some of our readers:

Dear Editor:
I answer the phone several times weekly from people like you, simply trying to get our station over-the-air in our horribly terrain-challenged market. While explaining about the relative advantages of bowtie versus indoor log-periodic, a tiny voice in my mind is telling me that no one here is going to climb on the roof, slowly turning the antenna while someone in the living room yells, “That’s it!”
Regardless of their legality, suburban covenants and peer-pressure are keeping viewers uninterested in cable or satellite from putting up the outdoor antennas. And those cheap enough to forego $13 per month basic cable seem to be reluctant to hire a pro who can do the job for $500. Imagine that.
-- Gary Stigall, director of engineering, XETV-TV
San Diego, Calif.

I’ve worked for WVCY-TV in Milwaukee for 25 years and have supervised two DTV transmitter installations. I’ve tried about every brand of DTV tuner available, and with anything less than an absolutely optimum installation; we get the same results as you. Coat hangers? Been there, done that.
The bottom line is that the United States, in my opinion, is not prepared for a February cutoff of analog TV. If the Homeland Security Administration and those advocating the importance of the Emergency Alert System are serious about the significance of their responsibilities, they and Congress need to re-examine the deadline immediately.
-- Andy Eliason, WVCY-TV
Milwaukee, Wis.

“Free TV Eludes Me” made me laugh out loud and shake my head in empathy. I live in a ground-floor apartment on the side of a large hill with terrible multipath, about 47 miles from Boston“s antenna farms. I’m not permitted to put anything outside the apartment, so I had to find an indoor solution. After much experimentation I have been able to get the ATSC signals of most analog stations. It took a lot of trial and error with bits of mad science blended in.
I can’t imagine the elderly or nontechnical folks tackling this problem. You really need to be a bit obsessed to do what it takes to pull in stable DTV reception under less-than-ideal circumstances. Next February should be interesting.
-- Joe Plett

I am a former chief engineer of a group of over the air TV stations and have yet to figure out why, for the most part, they ignore the consumer. I realize there is no “direct revenue” in activities such as that.
While it would be of no value solving your problem, I would like to illustrate how one market is dealing with this. There is a “loose” coalition of businesses in Quincy, Ill., that involved the local NBC affiliate, WGEM-TV (a Quincy Newspaper station), Quincy 2-Way Communications and Seaver Management and Consulting Services (my company).
About a year ago, WGEM began holding town meetings to explain the upcoming conversion to digital to consumers. These free sessions were surprisingly well attended by a rather wide demographic. They had partnered with the local Best Buy, [where employees] couldn“t answer the questions about reception. They wanted to sell product. The owner of Quincy 2-Way, Bill Jaynes, and I approached them concerning custom-system design and install.
Bill’s company has over 20 years experience is installing antennae and supports; I have over 30 years in signal reception and transmission characteristics. I also have the necessary testing equipment and market knowledge to equip customers with the proper installation.
Here in Quincy, there are two commercial stations. One has three digital signals, the other two; a religious broadcaster with only one signal at this time, and a PBS station that has three--so there are nine free signals available.
Since this market is adjacent to Peoria, Springfield; the Quad Cities, Iowa; St. Louis, and Columbia/Jefferson City, Mo., all which have multiple stations, viewers in any of the outlining areas can receive up to 25 signals just out of the air. Now, in fairness, many are duplicates, such as NBC, CBS, and ABC, but their secondary channels provide a wide range of programming.
Quincy 2-Way became an authorized dealer of Winegard, a leading receive antenna manufacturer in Burlington, Iowa (just up the road a bit) and worked with us to provide the right antennae for the application.
In most areas, viewers are left to their own devices to find and install the proper antenna. Often, the market will be a mix of UHF and VHF stations, creating an additional confused situation. In addition, I have enjoyed touring the various big-box stores and asking legitimate questions to determine if they even know what they are talking about, let alone helping the customer to receive satisfactory results.
To be effective, TV stations are going to have to become proactive with the viewer. With NBC’s purchase of the Weather Channel, there will certainly be some synergy between that program stream and some of the HD-2 and HD-3 channels. Sports will certainly follow and, there is no reason for free TV to be left out in the cold due to reception problems.
-- Mike Seaver
President, Seaver Management and Consulting Services
Quincy, Ill.

The trouble with digital is either you have it all or you don’t. It’s frustrating for consumers because they don’t know if they are on the verge of getting it or not. No snowy or ghostly picture to try to hone in one. Just that first scan for channels when they hook up the box or TV. And if they don’t get all the channels they are supposed to get, they often give up.
An effort needs to be made to alert folks to install good antennas. But word will get out. I feel the benefits of free TV, with the cleanest of HD signals available, along with all the new multicast channels, will motivate consumers.
We found a marine antenna designed for boats [that] believe it or not worked well. It looks like a 22-inch plate. It is designed to be mounted flat, parallel to the horizon. It could easily go in the attic or a well-hidden area in the house. We tried the 14-inch marine version and picked up everything in our market and some others too.
-- Tom Fawbush
Louisville, Ky.

And this, from a query about reception McAdams posted on Linkedin.comâ?¦

We became an all terrestrial household about six years ago. As the years have progressed we first added a PC-based receiver for HD. The picture was good, but operation was cumbersome. Then it was a standalone tuner with HDMI from LG for a front-screen projector. Two-and-a-half years ago, a plasma was installed. We use a combination of rabbit ears and other fancy internal antennas costing up to $100. We live about seven miles from the DFW transmit location. I can see the tower lights.
RF being what it is (magic), it is impossible for me to get all the digital channels from Cedar Hill without getting up and adjusting antennas. So at this point, Fox loses most of the time. We either skip watching shows on Fox or watch them on the lower-quality analog channel for now.
Interestingly enough, the antennas I bought at the surplus store for $2.95 work better in almost all cases than the $99 units from Radio Shack and Best Buy. I use both TVs with built-in tuners and TVs with my welfare, government-subsidized boxes. No significant difference.
I travel to south Arkansas a lot and visit a colleague that does installations of home entertainment systems. He cannot even discuss over-the-air TV any more. Even with the CBS affiliate being digital VHF, it is not practical. They will never be able to get all channels, especially since the tower collapse in Redfield, Ark.
So where is my coupon for the $200 to $300 antenna pole and installation? What happened to the D-VHS with ATSC tuner? Or coupons for my VHS/DVD recorder?
I think Feb 2009 may be the next president“s first true crisis. There are more people with TVs in cars, boats, house trailers, apartmentsâ?¦ that old TV in the garage we watch the game or news on.
February 2009 is probably going to signify the end of television broadcasting. If I am in a house trailer, it is easier for me to get a wireless Internet card and watch YouTube and If I have to change, add an antenna or something, odds are a big percentage of who is left watching over-the-air broadcast will go to something else.
Those towers and transmitters are very expensive links to cable systems. If broadcasters keep transmitting HD in 12 Mbps and lower, and if I can“t use a Watchman or other portable TV, or throw rabbit ears up at the deer camp, why do we need broadcast television? Google and Verizon seem to have a handle on that market.
-- John Johns
Dallas/Fort Worth