Cutting the Cable/Satellite
Photos: Doug Quick (top)
"No Cable" (right)
There is a strong movement taking place for many households when it comes to television. The seemingly quarterly rate increases for cable TV and Satellite delivery has gotten subscriber's attention. Another frustration for viewers is the annoying re-transmission negotiation “blackouts” causing them to miss their favorite shows.
Currently, the major cable and satellite providers are in the midst of minus growth when it comes to the number of households they service. It seems many are looking elsewhere for video services. It's called “cutting the cord” in reference to the 75ohm cable which brings households dozens if not hundreds of TV channels in standard and high definition with cable TV....or satellite.
Fortunately, an alternative has been under our noses, or should I say over our heads for years, but we've gotten so dependent on cable and satellite delivery, we've forgotten about the old fashioned antenna.
Now, as an alternative to the cable, many are installing TV antennas to their homes. The type of antenna needed to pick up the maximum number of signals depends on where the home of the viewers is in relation to the location of the broadcast transmitter/tower/antenna. When you're dealing with multiple TV stations each with different location things can get complicated. That's why I'm offering some hints on what choices you may have to maximize your viewing potential.
Since the digital change over 15 years ago, we've seen vast improvements of the local TV signals and the quality of the broadcasts. Technically, stations over the last 30 years have had to “clean up their act” with eliminating the use of 16mm films for movies and syndicated off-network programs. Most programming began to be distributed via satellite so stations would have to record them during “feed” times for playback from high-quality videotape. When high definition broadcasting began, it took local stations several years to catch up with full high def broadcasting, much like the transition to color took place in the 1960s and 70s. Now virtually all local TV stations broadcast in high definition full time, commercials, network, syndicated and locally produced newscasts and programs. The use of automation at the master control of stations puts everything together with the ultimate precision that before was only seen coming out of the networks.
We've also seen the addition of multiple channels coming from the same signal. Now it's not just one channel coming from one signal. Many are combining 1-3 high def channels on one signal or 1 high def channel and three standard definition channels. So what type of programming is available on those extra channels? What started as a way to promote weather coverage, some channels would broadcast a weather radar image with the audio from NOAA weather radio. Those days are over. There are now dozens of “sub-channel networks” available to local broadcasters which require little, if any effort to their operation, but can be set up for local commercial availability which can help the revenue of the station but also can be used to air promotional announcements for the station.
Nostalgia is big within some of the most popular “sub-channel networks.” MeTV, Antenna TV, Decades, GRIT, ThisTV, Heroes, Laff, getTV, and Icons, Buzzr, and others have made recycled TV popular again. Sitcoms, dramas, game shows are all fair game for these networks. Some deal with ethnic programming for Latino audiences including news, entertainment, and sports. Others are based on lifestyle or religious programming.
It's this use of the local digital signal to add channels to each which makes the addition of an antenna to your home so valuable. You don't pay for any of these channels. They're free once you've made the investment in what is needed to receive the local channels.
Photo: Doug Quick Collection
The advantages of having your own antenna system
The quality of the broadcast is better in that the signal is not compressed as the cable company and satellite services do to reduce the amount of bandwidth needed.
No rain outages to "blackout" satellite reception
No cable outages during bad weather or the neighbor's tree falls across the cable feed line to your home
You would be able to receive all of the sub-channels which are not included with satellite coverage
You would be able to receive all of the main channels which are sometimes not included with satellite packages
Once you've made the equipment investment, it's free!
The disadvantages of having your own antenna system
The initial cost can vary depending on the style of the antenna(s), the support structure(if needed) and rotor needed to aim a single antenna. A multiple antenna system may be needed depending on your location and the location of the stations you're trying to receive
Lightning can be an issue if your antenna system is the highest point on your home. It is recommended by me that you disconnect your antenna lead and unplug its power supply in your home between your antenna pre-amp and your TVs during lightning storms. I would also recommend a "back up" antenna located in your attic or other location which would make it far less susceptible to getting a lightning strike. Just plug it into the house feed after the power supply. You might not get the best signal on all of your channels, but at least you'll be able to watch something.
It's not necessarily a "do it yourself" project. If you are uncertain, do your homework, study up on what you'll need to install BEFORE you make any purchases. Keep in mind people have been electrocuted installing antenna's and TV towers that come in contact with power lines!!
Along with the "regular" local network affiliates, you'll also be able to get many of the networks shown above. Note, that you won't get ALL of them as some might not be seen in our area. Check out the TV Today pages on this site to see what is available in your area.
Links to antenna installation equipment/merchants sites:
For details on internet providers in our area go here: The Best Internet Providers in My Area
I am not associated with or receive any monetary reward for listing the above sites. Others will be added as I discover them and qualify their information as being helpful.
Since the demise of Radio Shack, there are just a limited number of offline brick and mortar stores which stock antenna accessories and supplies. Here in central Illinois one of more numerous stores for making the antenna investment is Menards. Notice, even though I shop there, I receive no payment or consideration from Menards for mentioning them here. I mention them because most everyone is familiar with the store no matter where you live in mid-Illinois. There may be other local businesses which could also be a source within a local area, but as far as I know, only Menards has locations in most major cities.
Before you make the investment, find out what you'll need. Go to Long Range Signal and it will direct you to TVfool.com to find out what stations you'll find available to you before you start to build your antenna system. Note from what directions the stations are from your home. From that, you'll find out if you will need a rotor to aim your antenna in the right direction for the station you're trying to get.
If you're close to most stations you might consider a multi-directional antenna set up which would require no rotor, as it would receive all stations from all directions. If they're farther away, though, you'll need a more directional system which will allow you to receive distant stations in your area. You might even need an amplifier to boost the signal even from a larger antenna.
Some antennae can be roof-mounted with a minimum of hardware, but other antennas may require more height to receive your local stations. A tripod mount with a mast may be needed like mine shown above to give your antenna more stabilization during higher winds. Guy wires may also be needed to support your antenna as well, once again, like mine shown above.
Below are pictures taken of products you may want to consider when building your antenna system from Menards. The prices of those items are also shown, along with comments from me which may help you. Click on each picture for a larger view.
(Left): If you're lucky and are located somewhere you can receive all of the stations you need with an indoor antenna, here's one which may work for you. You will need, though, to move it around a bit. Place near an outside wall or window to maximize its ability to receive the signals.
(Left): One thing you'll need if you choose an outdoor antenna is a way to connect it to your TV or TVs in your home. Use RG-6 cable like that shown here.. It's cheaper usually in bulk boxes, but consider you'll need hardware (tools) to connect the cable ends. I recommend the weatherproof outdoor connectors for all connections. They're slightly more expensive but worth it!
No matter which antenna you choose, you'll probably need a "mast" to support your antenna if you decide on the tripod antenna mount. Frankly, I'm not a big fan of what is shown here, but I suppose it would be OK under normal conditions. Frankly, I use heavy electrical conduit pipe and it has worked for years with no issues. I previously had a similar mast like that shown here and had it bend in a wind storm a number of years ago.
One other suggestion, I would recommend is grounding your antenna system. A grounding rod shown here to the left of the masts would help in keeping your antenna from becoming a hazard during electrical storms. simply insert a "grounding block" (also available at Menards around $3) in your downlead of RG-6 coax. Connect a copper grounding wire to the grounding block (ask someone at Menards for help) and run to the grounding rod which you have inserted in the earth below. It's no big deal and may save your equipment from being zapped. I still unplug the master antenna lead to the amplifier power supply whenever it storms.
Pictured here to the left are two antenna mounts you might want to consider. The first one would support most multi-directional antennas like the ones shown at the very top of this page. For something a little larger, and if you need more height, consider the tripod mount shown closest to the left. That's the mount I have on my antenna and combined with a guy wire system it has been in service for well over 10-years with no problems.
I don't have any personal experience with this particular antenna, but it seems to other sources to be highly recommended. It doesn't weigh much and won't create a heavy wind load which will make installation easier, BUT it only points in one direction and rotor may be needed to turn and aim the antenna to the station you're trying to watch.
(Above Right): There are two items here you may need. First on the right is an antenna amplifier and power supply. The black rounded box shown is mounted on the mast below the antenna. The cable from the antenna feeds to the appropriate connector on the box, while the other connected feeds to the power supply which will be in your home, and ultimately feed the signal to your TV (s).
One other thing is the video distribution amp in the red and white blister pack shown here. It will boost your signal from your amplified antenna for distribution to all of the other TVs in your home which are connected via RG-6 cable from the outputs on the distribution amp.
If you have an open ceilinged basement, your set up will be much easier as you will be able to run your cables there. Note: avoid running cable near or across AC power cables in your home. If you have a crawl space, it'll be more difficult, but not impossible.
The "Repack" of Local TV Stations
There is something which is taking place in virtually every television market in the country in the coming months. Will it affect you? The answer for most of us is, “a little.” Here's how the National Association of Broadcasters puts it:
“As part of the broadcast spectrum incentive auction, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
is authorized to repack the television band by assigning television stations to new channels. This process will pose significant challenges for the broadcast industry. Repacked television stations will need to complete channel moves. Radio stations and non-repacked television stations may also be affected if they are located on or near a tower with a repacked television station. NAB is committed to helping stations understand and prepare for the repack.”
“On April 13, the FCC released a public notice announcing the results of the auction and outlining which stations will be moving along with their new channel assignments. Nearly 1,000 stations will be moved to new channels.”
When the original digital conversion took place over15 years ago, the stations we remember on channel
3, 15, 17, 20, etc. were allowed to broadcast on other channels so they could broadcast on both their original standard channels and their new digital channel. For example, WCIA, Channel 3 broadcasts on channel 48; WILL, Channel 12 broadcasts on channel 11; WICS, Channel 20 broadcasts on channel 42; WBUI, Channel 23 broadcasts on 22; and WCCU, Channel 27 broadcasts on 26. Currently, though, WAND, Channel 17 actually broadcasts on channel 17 having sought out special permission to change from channel 18 several years ago. WICD is a special case, which I will explain shortly.
Now, since the upper UHF frequency spectrum will be used for other purposes, the local television broadcast channels will be moved or “repacked” to the lower UHF frequencies from 14 to 39. The good news is that many of the stations will be “upgraded” to allow for higher power and increased coverage areas, placing them on a level playing field with the other major stations in the market.
Much of what we see happen will take place at the beginning of 2020 for central Illinois, but the “repack” has already taken place for several stations you may watch every day. The translator stations of WAND in Jacksonville and Danville have already been repacked with the Danville stations seeing an increase in power to allow the station to broadcast well into western Indiana. The frequency change for the Jacksonville station went from 40 (call letters changed from W40CV-D) to 29 (W29ES-D), while the Danville frequency went from 31 (W31BX-D) to 23 (W23EQ-D).
WICD also made the change from it's digital channel of 41 to its new channel on channel 32. It also came with an upgrade of power and antenna height with the installation of a new antenna and transmitter. That will be needed at most stations making a change during the “repack” stage they are assigned to. See the changes made at the transmitter of WICD during the re-pack construction here.
Once the repack begins, you'll probably see a "crawled" message on the screen of the affected station telling you to "re-scan your TV as to not "lose" its signal. Be alert to those instructions.
Links to helpful websites in dealing with the repack of local TV stations:
Video Streaming Alternative
So, after you cancel your cable subscription or your satellite subscription, how do you watch "House Hunters" on HGTV, or MSNBC or CNN, or A & E or any of the other cable networks? The answer is a Video Streaming Service. For the details on what you need and how it works check out this link, called "Kill the Cable Bill."
I am not associated with or receive any monetary reward for listing the above sites.
Others will be added as I discover them and qualify their information as being helpful.