TV sets in the Triangle are still struggling with digital conversion, days after the nationally-mandated switchover on June 12.
UNC-TV is currently working to fix an antenna and power supply problem which will keep some sets Elmo-free throughout the summer. But many local viewers are also having trouble receiving a signal from WTVD, the local ABC affiliate.
ABC's problem appears to be nationwide. Some ABC affiliates, including WTVD, are broadcasting their digital signal on VHF, whereas most other stations broadcast on UHF. The power level assigned by the FCC for these VHF stations is lower, and that is causing the majority of reception problems.
Similar problems are reported in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.
WTVD's general manager John Idler says they are aware that some viewers are having trouble picking up WTVD, but that a majority of over-the-air viewers are still receiving a signal.
"We are working with the FCC and exploring all of our options. They're in the market on Thursday doing some field testing, and we hope to have a solution soon."
Idler says one possible solution could be for the FCC to increase the amount of power currently allowed for their transmitter. "We're obviously concerned about it," he said. "And they are committed to working with us."
A statement on the WTVD Web site says the reduced power means viewers need to assess their antenna situation. An outdoor antenna works best, but the bottom line is you'll need a VHF antenna of some kind to view WTVD's digital channels. Many antennas are UHF only. An "all-channel antenna" (right) is a good option.
If you have an all-channel indoor antenna, try to re-orient it or raise it to a higher level. If this doesn't work then you'll probably need an attic or outdoor antenna. The most important factor is that the antenna be designed for VHF channels as well as UHF channels. -WTVD
Idler says WTVD decided to go with VHF over UHF after consulting with engineers. "There weren't an infinite number of options for us," he said. "Our options for channel selection were limited, and at the time we thought that was the best option. Even though we selected that channel position and to be VHF, we never had any input with the FCC about the amount of power we'd receive. One of the options we're working on with the FCC is increasing the power to that transmitter."
The VHF antenna development is news for many viewers. Dennis Cuddy of Raleigh says that like most other analog TV viewers, he believed all he needed was a converter box for the big switch. But since the conversion took place on Friday, Cuddy has been unable to view many of the local channels he previously received, including NBC-17, UNC-TV, ION, and ABC.
Idler says that every station in the market promoted the necessity of having the proper antenna, through commercials and also on their Web sites. "We put that information out there," he said.
Cuddy, who says he consulted with the FCC and a conversion expert at WRAL to get up to speed, now has the proper antenna. Cuddy even had a professional come to his home and make sure he was set up correctly, but he still has trouble due to the temperamental nature of digital signals, which are sometimes easily disrupted.
"This morning, Channel 11 was perfect," Cuddy said. "I was watching 'Regis and Kelly' and 10 minutes into it, all heck breaks loose. The expert on TV says you could have the best antenna in the world, and it won't make any difference. A guy a hundred yards away starts up his lawnmower and I can't get a signal."
Cuddy says his WTVD signal comes and goes, but the NBC-17 signal is just dead. Russell Mizelle, the chief engineer for NBC-17, says they have received few complaints about lost signals, but encourages those with problems to call their station (836-1717). "It's very sporadic," he said. "One neighbor can't get it and the next neighbor has it just fine and is bragging about it."
The FCC is also recommending people "double-rescan" their converter boxes or digital TV sets. That procedure means you disconnect the antenna from the box or TV, rescan the box or TV, turn it back on and reconnect the antenna, then scan again. This can clear the memory of the box or TV and wipe out any incorrect saved info.