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WTHR to boost tower power on signal gripes

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The city’s top-rated news station wants to crank up its signal, saying it’s had more than 40 complaints about reception from over-the-air viewers since the conversion to all-digital broadcasting.

WTHR-TV Channel 13 filed the request with the Federal Communications Commission in June to boost its output 83 percent, to 77,000 watts.

The station told the commission the increase would exceed a maximum power limit currently in place but that the intention is not to expand the NBC affiliate’s coverage area.

Rather, “since WTHR has transitioned to [digital], viewers have repeatedly complained that they experience reception problems when trying to view WTHR’s broadcasts.”

The station owned by Columbus, Ohio-based Dispatch Broadcast Group said it has “invested substantial and sustained time, expense and resources over the past several years to confirm that a power increase will help restore consistent service to viewers” who were able to receive that station’s previous analog signal.

WTHR went as far as sending engineers to viewers’ homes to measure signal strength. It also has incrementally dialed up power on two previous occasions in an attempt to remedy reception problems since the 2009 digital transition.

Interestingly, complaints aren’t limited to fringe areas such as Bainbridge and Crawfordsville—but also in parts of Indianapolis and Fishers.

WTHR officials did not respond to requests for comment.

The request to boost the power of its broadcast signal, from a 1,039-foot tower at Ditch Road and West 96th Street, might seem odd. After all, about 90 percent of viewers watch via pay TV such as cable and satellite.

It’s not as odd as you’d think, said Phil Bremen, a former television reporter and anchor and associate professor of news at Ball State University.

“In a business where margins keep shrinking, nobody wants to give up any viewers by default,” Bremen said.

Also, Bremen noted that a small-but-growing segment of viewers, particularly younger ones, are ditching cable television amid price increases that often exceed the rate of inflation. The number of Americans relying on over-the-air signals grew last year to 54 million from 46 million a year earlier, according to a study by Gfk Media.

Some of those viewers now rely on antennas for local stations—and stream network television shows and movies from Internet-based services such as 

wthr-table.gif

Netflix and Hulu.

“The fact that this tendency is not abating as the economy recovers is causing some concern in the cable industry. The broadcast stations are noticing, too, of course,” Bremen said.

He even wonders if WTHR’s rationale of boosting power to reach a relatively small number of homes may be just the stated reason for the request. Bremen noted that many stations now view mobile TV as a big part of their future—with the ability to beam a video signal straight to one’s laptop or mobile device. “To do that, signal strength will matter a lot.”

About 150 stations in the United States are already broadcasting mobile signals, said Dennis Wharton, an executive VP at the National Association of

Broadcasters.
The advantage for consumers, unlike those using a wireless carrier’s signal to watch video, is that “it won’t eat into your data plan.”

Still, Wharton acknowledges there have been “a minority” of stations that have indeed suffered a loss in audience reach after switching to digital broadcasts. Some of it had to do with stations that were in the VHF band—such as WTHR—and that stayed with their old channel frequency. Those that moved to UHF, such as WRTV-TV Channel 6, have more headroom to add power.

Indeed, WRTV is cranking out 1 million watts of power on UHF, but embeds the signal with a code that allows viewers to receive the station at the familiar channel 6 on their televisions. In analog, channel 6 was in the VHF bandwidth.

WRTV began using the UHF channel during the transition period when broadcasters simulcast in analog and digital.

Fortuitously, “we decided to stick with [the UHF channel],” said Tim Boling, director of engineering at WRTV. “We really are pleased with our coverage.”

The only downside “is you spend more money on power bills,” he said.

Boling said some sister Scripps Howard stations have used their powerful signals to broadcast mobile video, although WRTV, at least for now, has had good success delivering broadcasts via wireless carriers’ phones.•

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  • 13 Reception Mostly Gone
    In the past month-6 weeks only receive 13 about 20% of the time. Channel 8 use to be the problem, now 13 joins them. I refuse to pay for local programing by use of cable, and receive my signal by air. I live in Shelby county, near Fairland
  • Bad or No Reception
    We up north can get 8 sometimes and 13 rarely, depending on which way the antenna's aimed and whether it's getting ready to rain. Too bad, because most of our formerly favorite shows were on those two stations. Now, we mostly watch PBS, which is great!
  • reception chn 8
    how can I receive channel 8 on just an antenna
  • reception
    how can I get channel on just an antenna
  • DTV
    WKYT-TV (Former Analog 27 and a UHF only analog market) got off digital channel 13 because this same issue. After the transition, they went to digital channel 36.
  • Reception
    I used to live in Indy and would love to get an outside antenna to pick up WTHR-WISH-WRTV-WXIN down here in Louisville, I hope they do crank it up and it can get down here at times....
  • mysterious visitor from the east
    I'm viewing this via a link at a media website. Here in Boston, WHDH-TV tried broadcasting on its "heritage" VHF channel 7 after the digital switch and found out that its signal was VERY substandard, so they wasted no time going to channel 42 and a "million watts" effective radiated power. I put the "million watts" in quotation marks because the way TV broadcasting works, the antenna MULTIPLIES the transmitter output. There is in fact a big electric bill to pay, but not a "million watts" worth.
  • Cable carriage vs. OTA
    That 91% number is misleading. If even 1 TV in the house gets cable, the entire house is counted as having cable. Forget about the kitchen or the kids TV. Many cable companies, dorms, large apartment buildings and motels are all getting the signal off air, even though they add to the 91% number. If it goes away, lots of people will miss the big transmitter.
  • Pay the Power bill to your viewers
    Solet's think out of the box for a moment ... Imagine if the TV station was to take the power bill they pay monthly and instead put those dollars toward funding peoples basic cable subscription. Thankfully the TV station doesn't have to pay cable for that convenience. People would have no reception problems and the station could use that spectrum for just mobile devices even more efficiently. Problem solved for everyone. Plus the 'going green' initiative and the significant reduction of the carbon footprint would probably be huge for public relations, community awareness and all that the environmentalists appreciate. You might spawn new sponsors too like from Whole Foods and others that have even deeper pockets and more disposable income than most. Okay ... so you can go back in your box now.
  • GREAT NEWS
    I have never been able to get CH 8 or CH 13 with my antenna only TV's. I do get 6, 20, 29, 40 and 59 sometimes. I was beginning to think that this HD business was to force everyone to subscribe to a cable or dish service. Look at the TV guide, there is PLENTY to watch on over the air TV. How many hours a day do you spend watching? I hope CH 13 gets what they need soon and CH 8 will soon follow their lead!
  • premium content
    how does this work for premium content such as espn, etc?
  • Hope Ch. 8 pays attention
    At least Ch. 13 is doing something about it. Ch. 8 has the worst OTA signal. I live in Mooresville and the signal totally disappears for weeks at a time and is very tempermental when it can be pulled in. I complained a couple times to their management but they just gave run around answers with no apparent concern. Maybe this will change their mind.
  • Antenna worst than dish
    I wanted to switch from my Dish and Directv to antenna, so I could save lots of cash. However, if it's humid outside, the picture get pixelated, and hard to watch. When it works, the picture is beautiful. BTW, I live in the Garfield Park area, which is just south of Downtown.

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