DTV reception remains an issue with stations and OTA viewers alike

For some broadcast stations and many over-the-air television viewers, the critics were right about DTV. Reception would work well, or not at all. And to pick up some signals, viewers would have to install expensive outdoor antennas.

The FCC says there are only a “limited number” of DTV-related reception issues, but that is little solace to the broadcasters and their viewers experiencing a seemingly random series of big and little problems throughout the United States.

Among the major problems, WLS-TV in Chicago has encountered an “urban canyon” effect in which tall buildings and high-rise walls reduce viewer reception. The problem is so bad that the ABC affiliate now wants to change its channel.

The FCC has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that would allow WLS to move from its current channel 7 to channel 44. The station predicts the move will allow it to pick up 178,771 additional viewers.

Luckily for WLS, the channel move is possible due to another change granted by the FCC to WWAZ-TV in Fond du Lac, WI. That station has been off the air due to problems constructing its digital facility on channel 44.

Now, it will move to channel 5 and has proposed adding a pair of digital translators to restore service to many of the homes who will lose reception when it moves its transmitter closer to Milwaukee.

In Colorado Springs, the FCC has proposed granting KKTV’s request to move from channel 10 to channel 49. Grey Television, the station’s owner, predicts the change will boost its viewership by about 1 million people and reduce interference the station has been experiencing.

Since the analog television shutoff on June 12, pockets of reception problems have surfaced all over the country. Most solutions have included moving stations from VHF to UHF channel positions or boosting the station’s power.

The FCC, who may have underestimated the power requirements of some stations in its DTV planning, has shown flexibility in working out the problems. In Sante Fe, NM, the commission allowed KNMD-TV to move from one VHF channel to another to boost viewership in mostly rural areas. Last week, the commission issued a notice of proposed rulemaking on a request by WVUE-TV in New Orleans for a fix of its DTV reception problems.

Currently, the FCC is working with about 40 out of nearly 1800 television stations to isolate and fix problems. But some reception issues, affecting individual viewers, may not be fixable and are simply a result of the switch from analog to digital technology.

For example, John Dorsey, a resident of Glen Ridge, NJ, lives only three miles from the New Jersey Network’s broadcast tower at Montclair State University. He assumed he would get superior digital reception. Yet, he receives no signal at all from the public station.

Dorsey learned that since the station’s transmission tower sits on a 400ft high hill over his home, its signal is being beamed over the top of his house. The solution, he was told, was to install a 50ft high antenna. Dorsey rejected that idea.

Other New Jersey residents cannot receive signals from New York City. Vernice Howard of East Orange, NJ, no longer receives channels 9 and 11, which are broadcast from Secaucus and midtown Manhattan, respectively. Marge Mazaitis of Fanwood, NJ, lost channel 2, broadcast some 20 miles away from the top of the Empire State Building.

Mel Krueger, who lives in Mountainside, NJ, is unable to view channel 7 and struggles with the reliability of other channels. He either gets a blank screen that scrolls the words “no signal” or an image that is either frozen or broken up into jigsaw-like fragments.

These viewers are suffering from a host of issues. Digital signals are more susceptible to interference and can be disrupted by terrain, tall buildings or the amount of foliage between a TV station’s transmission tower and a home antenna. Stormy weather also can break up a signal. Locating specific signal problems if often a difficult process.

Before the transition, when digital signal strength maps were being drawn up, the FCC predicted that about 198 stations would lose some viewers. The commission also noted it has spent millions of dollars educating viewers on where to buy converter boxes and methods for improving reception.

However, John Castagna of Monsey, NY, wrote a complaint to the Web site concerning the entire digital television effort. Calling the government’s DTV efforts “a near failure,“ he said that what was promised was not delivered.

“The government whitewashed its advertisement, fooled the public and wasted millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money on a nearly useless program,” Castagna wrote. “Because the public was sold a bill of goods, most people now have to use paid TV service for dependable reception. Technologically, the DTV box is flawed, and Congress should be held accountable.”