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...