Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Letter To Dave Folsom

Oh, sometimes poking a little fun is too easy.

In an earlier item, ODTV cited an article by TVNewsday's Harry Jessell about the problems experienced by VHF digital TV operators. Jessell cited such things as VHF's vulnerability to impulse noise, and the more widespread use of indoor antennas in 2009.

Dave Folsom took keyboard to E-mail client, and has written a response to Jessell's earlier article in a "Letter to the Editor" published today on the trade website. (Don't go to the link yet! You'll spoil the surprise!)

Mr. Folsom takes everyone to task, from the FCC for ignoring higher power recommendations for VHF DTV antenna manufacturers for poor performance and misleading labeling regarding VHF reception. He also talks about the need for better performance out of tuners and converter boxes.

Quoting Mr. Folsom:

VHF DTV transmission can work as well as UHF transmission if it is allowed enough transmission power, receiver performance improves and indoor and outdoor antennas are designed to receive both spectrum bands properly.

It also could work "as well" if a TV station owner did not insist upon grabbing a VHF allocation that will be forever hampered by a powerful analog (and later, digital) signal in another nearby country, which carries across a Great Lake back into the United States.

Which TV station owner would do that, perhaps?

Why, Raycom Media...which owns Cleveland market CBS affiliate WOIO/19, refusing to budge from RF channel 10 for its digital operation, which is across Lake Erie from powerful London, Ontario-based CFPL/10...which, like Windsor/Detroit area powerhouse CKLW/800, actually had historic over-air coverage in parts of the Cleveland market back in the day.

And that's where we spring the surprise.

Dave Folsom isn't just any reader of the TVNewsday site.

He's VP/Chief Technology Officer guessed it!...Raycom Media, the owner of WOIO and sister MyNetwork TV affiliate WUAB/43. He and his bosses are the people responsible for WOIO's current digital over-air TV mess.

Now, we don't disagree with most of Dave's basic points.

It's clear to us, for example, that VHF power levels are not nearly what they should be.

WOIO, for example, has been putting out a below-anemic 3.5 kW while it struggles on RF channel 10. It's trying to get an increase to a whopping 10.3 kW (oooh, ahh), but is having trouble coordinating that with the signal of...umm...CFPL in Canada. (Hey! How'd that station get there!)

VHF life would be easier for WOIO if it hadn't squeezed in next to CFPL. Digital over-air life for the station would probably be better if it hadn't abandoned UHF 19 for digital operation, but that horse is well out of the barn now.

And even if you needed a rooftop antenna to get CFPL back in the day here, WOIO still has to design its facility to protect the station's viewership on the Canadian site of Lake Erie, meaning power limits and directional antenna patterns.

The same protection needs hampered pre-transition digital applications by Winston Broadcasting CW affiliate WBNX/55 Akron (which eventually managed to light up RF 30), and ION O&O WVPX/23 Akron (which never got approval for pre-transition RF 59, and had to flash cut to 23 at the DTV transition last month).

A power level increase is not The End Answer for VHF DTV. Mr. Folsom makes some very valid points about receiver and antenna performance for VHF, and poor labeling.

But when your DTV transmitter is pushing out less than 4 kW (!) co-channel with a Canadian signal that can ride the waves of Lake Erie right towards your market...that is not any answer, and even 10 kW won't help that situation.

Mr. Folsom's company also owns CBS affiliate WTOL/11 Toledo, and a commenter to the TVNewsday item talks about VHF DTV problems there...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Some Hope For WJW Signal?

We're not sure we're releasing the balloons and celebrating just yet, but an OMW/ODTV reader is sharing what could be good news for those over-air digital viewers struggling to receive Local TV Fox affiliate WJW/8.

The reader dropped WJW a note via an online contact form, noting the station's VHF related troubles...and joining the rather large chorus hoping to get the station to move back to its pre-transition UHF digital assignment of RF channel 31.

A reply came back...our reader noting the name atop it, of WJW's Todd Meany. He's been the newsroom's "point man" on the digital TV transition, and is listed on the above linked contact form.

Assuming our reader isn't just making this up out of thin air, here's Meany's response:

"We would love to go back to channel 31, and in fact the FCC is talking about letting stations around the country, who are in the same situation as we are, go back to their former channels. We hope this happens sooner rather than later."

Assuming that is Todd, he's actually a bit behind the times in information.

Local TV Fox affiliate sister station WGHP/8 in the Greensboro/High Point NC market has already lit up, under FCC special temporary authority, its former digital signal on UHF 35.

A list by RabbitEars' Trip Ericson details moves by VHF stations across the country to fix or supplement their signal - somehow, either temporarily or permanently. It lists WGHP as currently operating both VHF 8 and UHF 35.

Another sister station of WJW in the Local TV group, KSTU/Salt Lake City, is listed as opting to hang onto pre-transition UHF 28 instead of staying on VHF 13.

And also significant to ODTV, it shows Sinclair ABC affiliate WSYX in Columbus petitioning to move its RF channel from VHF 13 to UHF 48. (It was, of course, on analog 6.) There are no listings (yet?) for ABC O&O WTVG/13 and Raycom CBS affiliate WTOL/11 in Toledo.

Is this brief note scribbled to a frustrated viewer by a Fox 8 staffer a sign that WJW could well land back on UHF RF channel 31 soon - a move that most local digital OTA viewers would likely welcome?

Well, the North Carolina and Utah moves may be an indication that Local TV does see this as a solution for the VHF DTV problem. We don't know if other moves are possible here.

We also don't know if there would be any technical problems if WJW wished to return to UHF 31.

It would seem to be a pretty uncrowded channel, judging from what we've been reading on Mr. Ericson's own site.

But we don't know if CityTV in Toronto would put up new objections to a permanent or even temporary WJW return to 31...CityTV operates analog channel 31 in southern Ontario, not terribly far from London, as a repeater for the Toronto signal.

Though the station can be seen in Erie PA, we're told, we don't believe analog 31 ever made it - even before WJW-DT lit up pre-transition 31 - into the Cleveland market. We don't think this is a similar situation to the CFPL/10 interference to WOIO's anemic VHF RF 10 digital signal...