Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sorting Through The WJW Mess

Yes, we were a bit harsh in yesterday's item, explaining the "lack of power" out of Local TV Fox affiliate WJW/8's new digital transmitter...which was believed to be running at 30 kW, but is actually only putting out 11 kW, based on our research of FCC filings.

Here at your Mighty Blog of Fun(tm), we're not technical experts in such things as TV transmission systems...so, we got some help - both solicited and otherwise - by Those Who Know What They're Doing.

One of those people is long-time friend, colleague and World Champion Tower Hunter Scott Fybush of NorthEast Radio Watch.

For one, no matter which setup WJW ends up putting on the air, Scott tells us that it's important to note that VHF DTV has caused many more problems than expected...and not just in Cleveland:

High-band VHF DTV appears to be having reception issues all over the country - certainly at WCPO (in Cincinnati), and at WHDH in Boston, and WTNH in New Haven, and to some extent at WHEC and WHAM here (at NERW home base in Rochester, NY).

And, of course, right here in OMW-land at WTOL and WTVG in Toledo.

Scott tells us that one of those stations has already implemented a temporary solution, which might be advisable for WJW to emulate here:

WHDH has reactivated its DTV 42 transmitter under Special Temporary Authority.

WHDH explains that move here.

Could that give WJW an idea - to reactivate its own RF 31 digital transmitter to temporarily "fill in the gaps"? We understand WHDH/7 has both transmitters going now, which apparently puts two "7-1"'s (and -2s) on digital tuners that have rescanned. Two is better than one, we presume, if your tuner or converter box can handle the confusion...and it'll be obvious which one is the resurrected former signal.

(Plus, and this is a bonus WJW may want to consider, it would put "8-1" on tuners twice for those who get a scan on the digital 8 signal!)

It's either that, or WJW could continue to send reporters to digital TV homes with trouble picking up digital channel 8, and task those reporters with carrying indoor antennas around the room to find the best signal, and quickly going back to the studio while the reporter swaps out to a new antenna. Not like that would ever happen...with the viewer puzzled about why he has to walk around a room with an antenna in his hand while watching TV.

Just how much improvement would a 30 kW digital channel 8 upgrade bring to local viewers?

Trip Ericson is a very bright, young Virginia-based college student who created the RabbitEars website - chock full of technical information about every TV market and station in America.

Trip writes in the comments to our last item:

The 30 kW permit calls for a directional pattern. Most of the power goes out over the Lake, and thus the future power boost is negligible to most viewers on dry land.

What I'm trying to say is don't count on it to do you any favors, unless the current antenna has uneven gain across the channel 8 spectrum...

Trip, by the way, is also an engineering intern at Roanoke VA CBS affiliate WDBJ/7, and at some point, will be running the broadcast world. We're sure of it. And he's not even 21 years old now.

An OMW reader named "Pat" tries to do some further reading of the WJW construction permits:

From the FCC records, it appear that their temporary transmitter puts out 1.07KW so they are using a high gain antenna to get to 11KW. Their regular transmitter puts out 32KW so a much lower gain antenna will be used. The lower gain antenna will put more signal in close to their transmitter site. It is possible those out closer to the horizon aren't seeing the same level of issue you see. 30KW ERP will make a different, but the higher power transmitter will a lower gain antenna may help even more. (By the way, I have no broadcast experience, so I may be wrong).

So be it, Pat...we have no TV engineering experience, as well.

We don't presume for a moment that the 30 kW upgrade will solve all problems for WJW, and the station's current situation at very least is not as bad as a certain CBS affiliate at downtown Cleveland's Reserve Square.

But maybe even a "negligible" increase can smooth out some of the reception issues in areas not that far away from Parma. At the OMW World Headquarters, some 20 air miles from the WJW transmitter site, we have been able to get a regular lock on the digital channel 8 signal, but...it's on the edge, and we get occasional audio dropouts. The same antenna setups get us WOIO/19's digital channel 10 only when the atmosphere cooperates.

WJW, meanwhile, is not battling a massive on-channel analog signal across Lake Erie like WOIO is. But that directional pattern Trip mentions may be in place for WJW because of two adjacent signals to the south - WTRF/7 Wheeling and WTOV/9 Steubenville, which have both flash cut to digital.

When it comes to WJW, we expected problems on the fringes of the market...but we didn't expect weak reception within 20 miles of Parma. We have to believe the 30 kW facility will help at least a little in the core of the market, even with the directional issues.

But the current situation may mean that 30 kW won't be the top power level for VHF DTV stations in the future.

Oddly enough, the current VHF DTV reception situation is nothing new, as Scott Fybush tells us:

It also bears noting that this is EXACTLY the same situation as happened with the early years of analog TV, both VHF and UHF - the FCC initially thought stations could get by with much lower power levels than were eventually authorized.

Stations like ABC O&O's WLS/7 Chicago and WPVI/6 Philadelphia are feeling the pain, and are pressing the FCC for greater power allocations on their own VHF DTV channels.

Though it now appears that a 3-million viewer drop for the network's "World News Tonight" on Friday may not be attributed to a loss of digital viewers, but rather, a loss of counting them (per this Associated Press article), the network does appear very sensitive to the issues.

Local stations like WJW and WOIO do not appear to have the same sense of urgency as ABC, or as Sunbeam Television's WHDH in Boston...or if they do, we'd at least like to know about it...

15 comments:

  1. Scott isn't entirely wrong about the high-band VHF issues in Cincinnati - but he's not totally right, either.

    WCPO-DT is upgrading their RF 10 facility. In order to do this, they first have to take down their analog antenna from atop the tower (which would be a challenge with the recent string of bad weather days with the weather pattern we're currently in down here in SW OH/N KY - it's a risk to workers to be up there in bad weather), then mount a new antenna for the RF 10 signal (which is licensed to operate at 15.4 kW ERP according to the FCC filings) atop the tower, and finally take down the temporary antenna they have been using since they put up their digital signal. It was earlier anticipated that the WCPO fully authorized facility wouldn't light up for 2 weeks - now it looks as though, unless they can get a decent stretch of good weather, that won't happen until July at earliest.

    However, WKRC-DT 12 IS operating at their fully authorized facility, and is having major issues. So what might wind up happening is a similar suggestion to what WHDH is doing...with WKRC perhaps asking for an STA to re-start the RF 31 facility for supplemental use.

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  2. This may be a silly question after all that has been said, but what's the best recommendation for someone in Cuyahoga Falls (44221) to get WJW and WOIO?

    Antennaweb and tvfool say our address should be in full signal strength category, but I can't get those 2 channels at all. 19 has never come in well, but 8.1 came in perfect up until the VHF switch. I've tried several indoor antennas, and smaller outdoor. Will a large antenna mounted on the roof be strong enough (2 story house)? Nobody seems to have concrete answers regarding those 2 stations. Thanks in advance!

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  3. Whoops - my bad.

    The current WCPO DTV facility is at 272 m HAAT at 16.3 kW ERP, its planned facility is at 305 m HAAT at 15.4 kW ERP. WKRC's authorized/currently operating DTV facility is at 305 m HAAT also, but operating at a slightly higher 15.551 kW ERP.

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  4. Eric, from previous postings on this blog, for now I would guess that's your best option. Remember though it MUST be VHF-Capable.

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  5. I thought I would note this as well.

    I do have a rather large rooftop antenna with a pre-amp on top of a 2 story house. I'm able to get RF-8. I'm able to get RF-10 a majority of the time too except when band conditions get swirly. I've since lost WTOV on 9 in Steubenville when they went digital, and I've also lost VHF and UHF stations from Erie (I expected this especially from WICU RF-12 which is way underpowered at 5.4KW ERP). Anyway, I e-mailed WTOV about a day after their transition back in April to mention my inability to receive their digital signal especially when their analog came in reasonably well. I got a response from the engineer asking what kind of setup I was using, and he mentioned that I may be able to get their station again when the power was increased; it didn't fix the situation. (There has always been a presence of their DTV signal on the s-meter)

    An interesting anomaly that I've noticed is that distant DTV signals seem to come in stronger here during periods of wet weather. I have been trying to figure out why for the longest time. I originally thought that strong adjacent analog signals were to blame for my lack of signal strength during good weather. I figured that precipitation attenuated the analog signals just enough that the converter box was better able to see the digital signal. However, that hypothesis has gone out the window now since analog has gone away. I still can only get Erie (UHF only) and Steubenville reliably when the weather is crummy as it is today. My only other conclusion is that it may be an issue of multi path interference. I think that the weaker multi path signal is attenuated just enough by the wet weather that the direct signal comes through clearly. In WTOV's case, I would always get some form of multi path on their analog signal a majority of the time; especially when the weather was clear. It was no big deal for analog because the multi path was just barely noticeable, but it was there none the less.

    I've read that 8VSB signals (the standard used in the US) do not like multi path, and enough multi path interference (which doesn't seem to be much in my opinion) starts messing up the data received at the digital receiver to the point where it's not watchable. Does anyone have any thoughts about my idea? I cannot come up with any other reason as to why DTV signals on VHF and UHF work better in wet weather.

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  6. Here in Doylestown I had a solid WJW-DT signal for 2 years running. After a post-transition rescan the channel became very iffy with lots of dropouts. Using my roof mounted deep fringe antenna with rotor I found I can correct this problem moving the antenna off the current "receive call channels" sweet spot. The new RF-8 has very little margin for aiming error where the old RF-31 gave me a good 75 degree arc of excellent signal.

    I prefer to keep the antenna in the sweet spot so I can also have Youngstown's 27.1 WKBN signal to replace the troubled WOIO for CBS viewing. Their subchannel 27.2 is the Fox affiliate so I suppose I'll be dumping WJW for them. I'm not sure how they manage to put a 720p resolution on both channels but they look good.

    I do like the idea of switching WOIO to 43.2 and This TV to 19.1 but I doubt that is the solution Raycom is looking for.

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  7. Interestingly, the "consumer guru" on WCPO, John Matarese, posted a number of answers to FAQs related to DTV on the station website, and got it spectacularly wrong on at least one note. He claimed that VHF was the "standard" for digital channels, not UHF, saying that Cincinnati was "unusual" among markets in having a majority of stations broadcasting their digital signals on UHF. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

    I think he was attempting to excuse the problems in Cincinnati, especially on WCPO-9 (RF 10) -- in a way, blaming stores for selling people UHF-only antennas. There may be SOME truth to that, but stating that VHF is the "standard" has no basis.

    By my calculation, stations broadcasting digital signals on UHF outnumber VHF stations by about 3 to 1 in this country...

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  8. My grandparents have never had cable. They had a C-Band satellite back in the early 80s before everything got scrambled, and OTA analog since. This transition has finally pushed them to get Time Warner out and install the standard $58.99 cable package. I had set up with a new antenna on a 20ft mast with proper grounding and aim last July in preparation for the transition. They went without an NBC channel in digital since WKYC was on an unusable channel 2 and WNWO out of Toledo was substantially weaker than the other Toledo stations. Once they got wind of the channel 8 problems, which they received fine before the move back to 8, they had had enough.

    I know some say this transition was partly to help push people to pay services, and I used to discount those claims, but this VHF DTV problem is inexcusable IMHO. They need to find reasonable UHF channel allocations for these stations and get it fixed ASAP. From all the reading I've done here and on other sites, a simple power increase will not solve the interference problems that plague VHF DTV.

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  9. This one's weird; using a set of old straight rabbit ears only I'm getting WWJ-TV (although not very strong, it does come in) but no WOIO even though I can see the blinking lights from my house on top of a hill in Sagamore Hills on the other side of the Cuyahoga River valley...

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  10. Here in Brimfield (just south of Kent) with a rooftop antenna with rotor on a two story house without a preamp I am able to pick up 8 & 19 without much difficulty. Would love to get Erie,PA, Wheeling, Steubenville and Pitt if possible. Is anyone in the portage county area able to get any stations from those areas?

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  11. Something I'm learning is if there is a weak link in any part of an antenna system as it relates to reception is a difference of getting a signal, or not getting a signal, or one that 'stalls' or jutters. I just installed some high quality Monster cable on one set, and it cleared up the channel 19 blues on one set. Another set did a little better, but the signals from both tv 8 and tv 19 remain too weak. Like I said, good quality cable can make a difference, pay extra for the Monster stuff and stay away from the radio shack store brands and generic garbage you'll find at Walmart. Just a little advice you might thank me for down the line!-)

    - Andrew, MALL727.net -

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  12. I just sent a complaint to the FCC via their website at:

    https://esupport.fcc.gov/sform2000/formF!input.action?form_page=2000F

    I urge you to do something similar. Maybe we can get some help from them.

    "I am writing this to complain about the digital tv switch here in Cleveland. Both WJW and WOIO decided to move to the vhf band after the switch. Neither I now many of my neighbors are able to recieve that signal anymore. This is disturbing since we have always recieved a good signal from both channels in the past. I have purchased and installed 2 different VHF roof mounted antennas and connected them to a new television set via RG6 cable. This was a considerable expense yet I am still unable to recieve either channel. I do not believe that either WJW or WOIO are delivering an OTA signal to their licensed area. A quick internet search has confirmed that there are hundreds of other people complaining about this signal as well. An informative blog has been setup regarding this topic at http://ohiodigitaltv.blogspot.com/ I urge you to read the many complaints and work with WJW and WOIO to restore programming to their licensed area. Thank you for your time."

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  13. Many years ago I lived in Wooster. By many years ago I mean when WAKR-TV was channel 49. Receiving channels 3,5,8 was a real challenge, especially WJW-8. Looks like decades later, nothing has changed and now it is worse. I bet
    there is not a shred of signal from WJW-DT-8 over the city of Wooster

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  14. What's confusing to me (to get on the Cincinnati Channel 9 bandwagon) is why I could receive Channel 9 just fine prior to the conversion (with occasional weak signals that required an antenna adjustment), and now I cannot receive it at all. I hoped that the move of the transmitter to the top of the tower would fix things, but things are just worse.

    Does anyone know if the work on the transmitter has been completed? The ETA was 6/26, three days ago.

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