Editor’s Note: On Feb. 17, 2009, TV stations across the United States will turn off their analog signals as the final step in the conversion to digital TV. If you still have an analog TV set hooked up to an antenna to get a TV signal, then this three-part series is for you. It lays out 10 steps you need to take to figure out the conversion to digital and gives you key information on what the local TV stations are planning to do over the next few months. Today’s Part 3 covers the status of the signals from Bangor’s stations.
“I don’t know if the stations are broadcasting at full power yet.”
Everywhere I went, I heard this refrain. From the man who installed the antenna on my roof to the many clerks at the electronics store to other shoppers who were buying converter boxes, no one seemed to know.
This critical piece of information affects your ability to assess properly whether you will need to consider another option, such as cable or satellite, to receive a signal, especially if you already have hooked up the converter box and are having trouble getting one or more stations.
For the Bangor area, the good news is that all but one station are broadcasting at their full range. But as I interviewed people from each local station, a number of other factors became part of the equation and most of it is information you won’t find easily — if at all — on any Web site. Some of the information may affect whether you decide to purchase a combination VHF-UHF antenna, while some may influence what type of converter box to buy.
The Bangor-area signal of the Maine Public Broadcasting Network is at full power, according to Mel Jones, an associate in the Audience Services Department.
He said that because a person can get the analog signal for Channel 12, it doesn’t mean that person will be able to receive the digital signal, which is broadcasting at Channel 9.
Other than your antenna’s physical location and varying atmospheric conditions, which are often mentioned as the main roadblocks to getting a good signal, the difference for WMEB may be the location of its transmitter towers.
The tower for analog Channel 12 is located in East Eddington while the tower for the digital signal is in Dixmont.
That tower is in the same location as the one for Channel 5, so if you are getting a good signal for Channel 5’s digital signal, you likely have your antenna pointed correctly to get WMEB’s digital signal.
It doesn’t mean you will get the signal. For myself, I find that Channel 12’s digital signal comes in only some of the time, while Channel 5’s digital signal seems to be the second-strongest at my location in Hudson. The difference is likely in the amount of kilowatt power for each signal. In the data for my location in the report from www.tvfool.com, my antenna should be getting a transmission from MPBN at 3.17 kilowatts and from WABI at 363 kilowatts. That is a pretty big difference.
WMEB in Orono, however, is only one of several MPBN sites around the state. The others are Augusta, Presque Isle, Biddeford and Calais, so residents of those areas will be more likely to pick up the signal closest to their location.
Information: mpbn.net or 800-884-1717.
Asked whether Channel 5 was broadcasting digitally at full power, WABI Program Director Steve Hiltz said, “We are.”
But, he said, there’s a twist.
After the switch to digital on Feb. 17, 2009, WABI would be the only local station left permanently in the UHF frequency range at Channel 19.
Hiltz said that the station recently has applied to the Federal Communications Commission to obtain the VHF frequency of Channel 12 for its digital signal.
If the FCC approves the application — and the station is expecting that outcome — WABI will change its signal back into VHF territory.
“It won’t happen by the transition day, but sometime next year,” Hiltz said.
WABI will let viewers know the date of that switch because it will be necessary to rescan your TV channels to pick up the new signal. Otherwise, when you turn to Channel 5, you won’t get any signal at the original digital frequency.
For residents in Washington County, yet another factor should be considered. WABI uses a translator tower, broadcasting at Channel 61, for that area, and by law, those analog towers are not required to switch to digital on Feb. 17, 2009.
Station Manager Mike Young said the plan is to keep that analog signal up past the transition, although the long-term plan is uncertain.
The reason, Young said, is the pending application requesting the switch to Channel 12. The outcome of that will help determine the future of the translator Down East.
“A lot has changed since we installed that translator,” Young said.
Information: wabi.tv or 947-8321
Channel 2 is broadcasting at full power for its digital signal, said Judy Horan, president and general manager of WLBZ 2.
That would be that if not for a piece of information from antennaweb.org that comes up for people within range of Channel 2’s digital signal. It states the station will be changing its digital frequency after the switch Feb. 17, 2009.
Next summer, Horan said, WLBZ will put up a different transmitter — one she said will be “more flexible” than the transmitter for the station’s digital Channel 25 because of the better technology available since that transmitter went on line.
The new transmitter will change the digital frequency of the station, taking it back to VHF Channel 2 from its current frequency of UHF Channel 25.
WLBZ will advertise the switch well beforehand so that folks won’t wonder where their Channel 2 signal went. Viewers will need to rescan the TV channels to pick up the new signal when the switch is made.
Another fact to consider is that WLBZ has a low-power tower for Channel 57 in Washington County. Unlike the high-power transmitter, a low-power transmitter does not have to switch to digital in 2009.
“Viewers in Washington County can plan to watch WLBZ 2 as they presently do on February 18,” Horan said, but only if they now are picking up the UHF Channel 57.
She suggests the purchase of a converter box with analog pass-through technology that will allow analog signals through the digital box to your TV. A digital converter without that feature will block all analog signals to the TV.
Information: wlbz2.com or 942-4821.
Channel 7 is the only Bangor-area station not broadcasting at its full range, according to George Thomas, operations manager at WVII.
“We are on a temporary channel,” he said. “The temporary channel probably covers about 80 percent of our viewers.”
On the transition day of Feb. 17, 2009, the power for the temporary UHF frequency, Channel 14, will be turned off and the power will go on at Channel 7, a VHF frequency.
“It will duplicate the range of analog,” Thomas said.
In the next few months, viewers of WVII will see advertisements of this change, letting everyone know that they will need to rescan the channels to pick up the new location after the transition date.
This situation also means you might not know whether you can get Channel 7’s digital signal until the switch is thrown.
“They really, unfortunately, need to wait till February 17,” Thomas said.
Information: wvii.com or 945-6457.
In the know
After reading this three-part series, you are armed with enough information to make an informed decision on what avenue to pursue before the switch Feb. 17, 2009.
If you have more questions, contact your local TV stations and ask for guidance. Talk with the clerks at the electronics stores. Or visit Web sites, such as www.dtvforme.com or www.dtvanswers.com, for more details about the transition and opportunities to ask questions online.
The information is out there, you just need to know what to ask.
Now you do.
On the Web
www.dtv2009.gov — site for the converter box coupon
www.antennaweb.org — all about antennas
www.tvfool.com — more on antennas, including coverage maps
www.dtvforme.com — Maine site on the DTV conversion
www.dtvanswers.com — national site on the DTV conversion