About

Mary Robinson is all about real-world information on the switch to digital television signals. The success of the DTV switch will depend on regular folks understanding new technology and getting it running in their homes. Ms. Robinson is weighing in on those nitty-gritty details, sharing her enthusiasm for TV-signal technology with those who are less technically inclined. She’s developed an expertise through years of hands-on experimentation, pulling in signals from the rooftop of her Texas home. Now she’s a resource for consumers struggling with the digital switch. We discovered Mary right here on TVWeek.com, where she reliably dispensed information in the comments section of this story, First Digital TV Converter Box Wins Government Approval about the digital switch. Let’s keep the conversation rolling!

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Digital Transition Answers


September 2008 Archives

Picking Up the Pieces After Ike

September 23, 2008 2:59 PM

I have been in Tyler, Texas, for 10 days now seeking refuge from Hurricane Ike. After eight days without power back home, where it got hammered by Ike, I called my house and got the answering machine, so I know that I have gotten power back to my home. For that, I am grateful.

My sister and brother-in-law just called and said they were at my house, and other than a lot of tree limbs down, there was not much damage to my house. For that, I am eternally grateful.

That was not the case after Hurricane Rita in 2005. I had a large oak tree on my house and the electrical meter and breaker box was lying in the driveway. It took three months to get the electricity hooked back up, and six months to move back in.

I did, however, lose my antenna this time. The mast is bent over, and the antenna is resting against the roof. Oh well, that is easily replaced compared with those who lost their homes and everything else they own.

I wanted to move it anyway. I want to go from the ground and attach it in two places near the peak of the gable. That will make it a bit sturdier to handle the brunt of forceful winds of future tropical cyclones—I hope, anyway. It did survive Hurricane Humberto, and tropical storm Edouard. It was just no match for Ike.

For my neighbors who were not protected by the sea-wall levy system, it has been a nightmare. Of the 3,500 homes in the Bridge City, Texas, area, only six did not have wind or water damage, or both.

I even heard that the people who evacuated from Orange, Texas, by bus, and left their cars in the parking lot of Lamar State College-Orange had water up to the rooftops of their vehicles.

The hurricane knocked all three of our full-power major network television stations off the air for a time. KFDM and KBMT were back on after a few days, and KBTV came back on Friday. I don't have any information about either of the low-power analog or digital Fox affiliate channels or the full-power TBN affiliate station. I will try to get that information when I get home.

Once again, I would like to thank the people of Tyler for being so helpful and gracious to the thousands of us who found ourselves seeking shelter from the storm. Your compassion for those of us leaving our homes and belongings does not go unnoticed. We thank you, and although we wish there was some way to repay you for your generosity, we do hope you never have such a tragedy to which we would have to repay that debt of gratitude.

Mapping Out Transition in East Texas

September 17, 2008 2:49 PM

Since I am still here in Tyler, Texas, awaiting word on when we can return home, I got curious about the full-power television stations here in deep East Texas. From what I could find out, there are four full-power stations that serve the cities of Tyler, Jacksonville, Nacogdoches and Longview.

All have built out their final DTV facilities except KLTV, channel 7, the CBS affiliate licensed to Tyler. KLTV is broadcasting on temporary channel 10 at this time, but plans to revert to channel 7 after the transition.

The construction of a new digital transmitter cabinet is set to begin Oct. 7, with installation in the transmitter building occurring during the week of Oct. 14 and testing to begin Oct. 22. KLTV will continue broadcasting the analog signal until the end of the transition period on Feb. 17.

KLTV has been granted a construction permit for an effective radiated power (ERP) of 10,200 watts (10.2KW), but has a maximization application pending before the FCC to go to an ERP of 66KW at a height of 313 meters above ground (MAG).

KYTX, the CBS affiliate on analog channel 19, is broadcasting the digital signal on channel 18 and will stay on channel 18 after the transition. It is broadcasting an ERP of 640KW from a height of 471 MAG.

KETK, the NBC affiliate on analog channel 56, is broadcasting the digital signal on channel 22 with an ERP of 1,000 KW from a height of 416.7 MAG.

And KFXK, the Fox affiliate on analog channel 51, is broadcasting on channel 31 and will remain there after the transition. KFXK is transmitting an ERP of 1,000 KW from a height of 338 MAG.

So, with the exception of KLTV, what you are getting now is what you will have to work with here in East Texas. I wish you good luck in setting up your systems to receive these stations.

DTV Transition Needs Disaster Relief

September 15, 2008 1:36 PM

I am writing this column in Tyler, Texas, as I have once again had to run from an approaching hurricane. My mom and dad, daughter, granddaughter and I (four generations of us) are here and waiting to see what kind of condition our area is in after being slammed by Hurricane Ike.

We also are wondering how long it will be before we can go home. It may be a week from now or a month—we just don't know.

The good news for us is that the hurricane levies held up against a nearly 13-foot tidal surge. The bad news is that others were not so lucky, and all four of the oil refineries in the Beaumont/Port Arthur area are shut down until the damage can be addressed and they are able to start up again. That affects us all.

Fortunately I didn't need my battery-powered TV this time, because in my haste to get packed, get the cats in carriers and load the car, I forgot to bring it. Can you believe that? But it was close. Tyler was just far enough. Just south of us in Lufkin, many are still without power tonight, so I wonder how many of them are depending on their battery-powered televisions this evening.

As I stated in one of my earlier columns, I think I have found a viable solution to that dilemma for after the transition to digital: a converter box that can be run on a battery pack that is manufactured by Winegard.

But the transition to digital needs to be monitored by those with the power to either educate the public on reception solutions for different causes of interference, as poster EmmGee-Ohio has suggested in some of the posts, or have the ability to mandate the use of new technology to address the reception problems of rural, long-distance viewers or those in urban areas that are the victims of landlords or home owner associations that put obstacles in the way of those that have the right to erect antennas to overcome multi-path or blocked signals.

Two and a half million residents of the state of Texas tonight have no power tonight, and I would bet thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, are getting information from battery- or crank-powered televisions they had in their emergency kits. That will not be an option come next hurricane season, so I hope we get it right. Remember, it could be you dealing with a disaster next time.

Learning the Lessons of Wilmington

September 9, 2008 5:45 PM

Well, they did it yesterday. They threw the big switch (which was really connected to nothing) and unplugged analog broadcasting in Wilmington, N.C., five months before the rest of the country. Another baby step in that trek toward all-digital broadcasting.

Well, not exactly. Viewers of analog signals still willl get a notice displayed across the analog screen that says, "At 12 p.m. on September 8, 2008, all commercial television stations in Wilmington, North Carolina, began to broadcast programming exclusively in a digital format," which included a 800 number that viewers could call for information. Also, the local PBS station will continue to broadcast the analog signal until the transition date.

And if Tropical Storm Hanna had impacted the area on Monday, instead of over the weekend, the plug would have been kept in place. This is an option that the rest of us will not have when it comes time for us to take the plunge. That will take place 161 days from now on Feb. 17. Come snowstorm or blizzard, the analog transmitters will be turned off. Get ready and cross your fingers now.

Wilmington, the 135th largest market in the country, had been inundated with ads announcing the early date of the switchover. They probably saw far more of them than the rest of the country can expect as our date nears, although it does seem that every 10 minutes another digital transition public service announcement is airing. But then again, I have cable, and most of the ads that I see make it a point to state that those televisions connected to cable will continue to work just fine. Hint, hint. Wink, wink.

According to John Dunbar of the Associated Press, as reported in the Houston Chronicle, FCC spokeswoman Edie Herman stated that as of about 6 p.m. Monday, several hundred calls had been taken at the 800 number. She said that as of Tuesday, they would have a better take on the nature of the calls, but student researchers from Elon University showed that in the first five hours after the flip of the switch, most calls were about problems with the digital conversion devices rather than a lack of awareness of the transition in general. At a local station, of the 81 calls logged as of 4:50 p.m., only one was due to a lack of knowledge about the transition.

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, whose idea it was to come up with a test run prior to the mandated transition date, praised the Wilmington area for volunteering to be the first market in the country to go mostly digital. However, he said he wished other markets with other kinds of terrain and population patterns had stepped up to the plate as well.

Early this year, Nielsen Media Research estimated there were more than 13 million TV households that can receive only analog, over-the-air signals, and it is probably going to be Congress that is the recipient of the wrath of the American public if things don't go smoothly during the transition. (It's no wonder they chose February as the transition date. The elections will be over.)

All in all, it was a historic day. The biggest change in television since color was added, they say. But I think considering the limited market size and the flat terrain surrounding Wilmington, it should be considered more of an exercise than a test to see how the mass transition will play out.

Future Transition Brings Back Memories

September 8, 2008 8:57 AM

Just for fun, let's step back in time this morning to an era long ago and for many of us far, far away. To another time and place. To another life.

As we travel back to the early 1950s, we may find that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The VHF band was getting crowded at the dawn of the golden age of television, and more channels were needed to satisfy the thirst for television in areas of the country that were not near the major metropolitan cities.

To address this problem, in 1952, the Federal Communications Commission created the UHF band with channels 14 through 83. Immediately applications were filed and stations began to slowly come on the air. KPTV in Portland, Ore., became the first commercial UHF station on the air on Sept. 18, 1952.

The problem at the time was that there were no televisions on the market with UHF tuners in them. So what to do? They manufactured set-top UHF-to-VHF converter boxes! As Yogi Berrea supposedly once said, "It's deja vu all over again."

According to AntiqueRadio.org, the UHF converter worked this way: You hooked up separate VHF and UHF antennas to the back of the converter box and a common antenna lead-in to the back of the VHF television. There were two knobs on the box, so when you wanted to watch UHF, you set the knob on the left to UHF and turned your channel selector on the TV to either channel 5 or 6 (whichever was not used in your area) and then tuned in the UHF channel you wanted with the knob on the right. When choosing VHF with the knob on the left, the signal was "passed through" to the TV and you chose what channel to watch with the channel selector on the TV. Sound familiar? Instead of analog pass-through, we had VHF pass-through.

I personally do not remember seeing one of these devices. We got our first television in 1955 with the extra tax deduction that my parents received from me being born the year before, and if my memory serves me (and it may not), it did in fact have a UHF tuner, although they were not mandated on all televisions until 1964. Our first TV was an Admiral, blond-wood console television set with a 21" screen.

I have no recollection of life without television, although my sister does. But I do have a memory of the audio going out on the TV one time, and until the repairman could get out to our house (yes, the TV doctors made house calls), we had a tall stand-up Hi-Fi radio and turntable unit that had a FM radio in it that we used to hear the audio from channel 6 at the bottom of the FM dial. "Gunsmoke" was not to be missed for any reason.

The first television stations in our area were UHF stations on channel 31 in Beaumont, Texas, pre-dated by a channel 25 in Lake Charles, La., but I have found no other reference to these other than an ad, in the archives of the local newspapers, for an antenna guaranteed to receive the stations.

We got our first VHF station, KFDM channel 6, in 1955, pre-dated by KPLC channel 7 in Lake Charles in 1954. I don't think channel 25 or channel 31 lasted much longer after that,

In fact, when KFDM signed on in 1955, the paper carried a headline that stated, "Big Time Television Comes to Area." That gives reference to the second-class status of UHF television at the time. The first UHF station I remember seeing listed in the TV Guide was a channel 16 in Galveston, Texas, although I never watched it, and it disappeared from the listings just a few years later. The next UHF station I remember is channel 39 in Houston, which is still on the air and is, at this time, a CW network affiliate.

If you are interested in seeing more of the UHF-to-VHF converter boxes or the accompanying signal boosters that were needed to receive the early stations, you can go to Mark Nelson's Web site the First Set-Top Boxes to view his collection.

How to Cope Without Battery-Powered Emergency TVs

September 5, 2008 12:39 PM

One of the things that has bothered me about the conversion to digital broadcasting is the elimination of the battery-powered emergency televisions that are used by thousands of people during severe weather, tornados, hurricanes, blizzards, earthquakes and other calamities as a useful information medium.

The hand-cranked and battery-powered televisions that were a staple of every emergency kit are becoming obsolete. If you have followed my thoughts on this subject, you know this has been one of my greatest concerns.

Living on the hurricane-prone upper Gulf Coast, I have many times relied on my battery-powered TV to get pertinent information and to be able to see, even if in black-and-white, the radar images of numerous tropical storms and hurricanes.

I found a functional solution to that dilemma this evening on the Solid Signal Web site.

Winegard has a digital-to-analog converter box that has analog pass-through powered by an AC adapter that powers the converter box with 9 volts DC. Winegard also has a battery pack adapter available for use with the converter box in which you can install six D batteries to power the converter box for up to 18 hours.

This, to me, is a viable option for those of us who are close enough to the digital television transmitters to receive the signals.

The pre-amp I have installed on the high-gain antenna that I use for distant stations will not allow signals to pass through when the electricity is off. However, I am close enough to the transmitters that if I were to install a smaller, fixed antenna aimed at the local stations, with a straight coax drop-down to the back room in the house, I would be able to receive the digital transmissions. I have stated before that this was something I had on my long list of things to do, but still, I was perplexed as to how I would power the converter box until I could get my generator going. Now I have a way to do that.

The battery pack is only compatible with the Winegard converter box, but this may be the answer for me. The converter box sells for $61.99 plus $9.95 for shipping, but is eligible for the $40 government coupon if you have one. The battery pack that plugs into the 9-volt jack on the back of the converter box sells for $14.99 plus $4.95 for shipping.

The converter box can be viewed here.

And the battery pack can be viewed here.

I am glad to find these products because this is something I have been pleading for.