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Digital TV great until it isn't; Boston stations report issues with antenna

NBC Boston reports an antenna issue has made it harder for people who watch it via their own antennas - along with that of some other Boston TV stations. It provides some tips on rescanning your tuner on how to get its alternate signal, if you're lucky enough to be close enough to its antenna, which is pumping out the station at a lower power.

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And it lost channel 2 as well as 15, a rescan picked up the standard definition channels but not the HD ones.

What is it? I have not seen or heard of it before.

NBC Boston 10 comes in on channel 15 on most DTVs that receive air signals via antenna.

All your life is Channel 13
Sesame Street
What does it mean?

The issue is two fold:

1. The repack on 8/2 moved the channels from UHF to lower (& less desirable) frequencies in the VHF band. As a result, some will need to get VHF antennas--which are the old rabbit ears. (Channels 7 & 56 weren't impacted by this repack, and it's likely you'll still have great reception for these channels.)

2. It seems that since the repack, all of the switched channels (pbs, cbs, abc, nbc & fox) appear to be running at low power for some reason. A conspiracy theorist would likely say the networks are intentionally making it difficult/impossible to receive the OTA signal, as they want you to switch to cable or satellite (where they get $2-3/month per network in carriage fees)

I'd STRONGLY urge people with signal issues to complain to Congress & our AG because without complaints they have zero incentive to boost their signal. It's insane that practically no one in the city of Boston is able to receive local tv stations, especially since the towers in Needham are only ~10 miles outside the city!

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1. No it didn't. Only WGBH moved to VHF-lo (aka rabbit ears) frequencies.

2. Yes, but it is temporary until the permanent configurations of the antennas are completed. There is a lot of tower work going on and some stations are running at lower power or from backup antennas until the work is done. Wait patiently and signals will likely improve.

The people you should really be complaining to are the FCC. They can authorize higher transmitter power and antenna pattern changes.

I'm in Marlborough. I lost the HD version of 2 and 44, but I have the sub-channels. I also lost 27, and that had always been the strongest channel, digital or analog. I agree with roadman that 38 is gonzo. However, 25 comes in better than ever. When I was first rescanning, It took me three tries to get both 4 and 5. Other channels are about the same as before. In my location, reception can be iffy at times, but it would be nice to have the channels to begin with. The TV is in my kitchen as a backup and to watch some programs when I am in the kitchen.

For antennas, get the ones with poles that you can move around. The flat ones are useless.

Especially for those of us and seniors that can't afford cable.

I'll just give up TV as a lot of folks have done.

Can't even pick up 3 local channels without constant in and out reception.

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Contact engineering manager at tv wcvb under "contact us" on their web page. They will give you a complete explanation of what's happening. They are operating on a low auxiliary antenna and they don't have a date when the station will be back.

People I know out in the 'burbs can no longer get Ch 4 or 10, and 2 is flakey, even after rescanning. If I were an advertiser, I'd be demanding a reduction in ad rates, because a whole lot of people aren't able to see my ads anymore. IDK what the rationale for the change was, but it wasn't smart.

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Maybe they don't care. After all, if you can't afford cable you probably won't buy their junk either.

In a nutshell: over time the FCC has been taking "spectrum" that was previously allocated to TV broadcasting and selling it off for other uses.

This has been made possible by the nature of digital television transmission. In analog, you needed a lot of space between channels so they wouldn't interfere with each other. With digital, you can put stations right next to each other without interference. Therefore, the FCC has been "repacking" TV stations into lower frequencies that are right on top of each other so that the higher frequencies can be sold off.

What is monumentally confusing about all this is that the number associate with the station's brand no longer has any connection to the actual frequencies those stations used to use in the analog days. For example, WCVB still brands itself as "Channel 5", but here in the digital era they actually broadcast on the frequencies that would have been considered Ch. 33 back in the analog era.

I know all this because I work with wireless microphones, and most of them operate on the same frequencies at UHF television. We need to keep up with what TV transmitters are moving where so that we can avoid those frequencies for our mics. As the FCC has been slowly selling off more and more spectrum, more and more of our wireless kits are becoming illegal to use in the sold-off parts of the spectrum, and it's harder and harder to find unused space in the legal part.

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What is monumentally confusing about all this is that the number associate with the station's brand no longer has any connection to the actual frequencies those stations used to use in the analog days. For example, WCVB still brands itself as "Channel 5", but here in the digital era they actually broadcast on the frequencies that would have been considered Ch. 33 back in the analog era.

In an "interesting" coincidence, 2.1 and 44.1 moved to VHF Channel 5.

I'm still mildly annoyed by the fact that NBC Boston branded themselves NBC10 because that's where they'd be on cable, but that has no connection to their virtual channel (8 or 15 and formerly 60.5).

Look who their parent is... Comcast. Its all about presence on cable to them

f**k WPRI who has been branding itself as WPRI10 for decades (and NBC Boston's signal overlaps!)

I've scanned more times than I can remember and neither channel 5 nor its digital station, 5.2, show up at all on my set. This is the thw fourth day of no MeTV, which is my favorite channel. Alas, even when I enter it manually on my remote and click OK it lasts less than three seconds, goes to 2.1 or 2.2, one of the local PBS stations, not to either 5. Otherwise, the local digital stations seem to work fine, including 4/4.2,/7/7.2, various 38 and 44 signals. I scan through all the selections but there's gap between 4 and 7. Empty. It's not like my set and antenna are ancient. Less than ten years old, I'd say, with perfect tuning and reception till this month. This is awful for a classic TV fan like me.

Just an odd ball idea, try punching in channel 33.2 on your remote control. May or may not work but is worth a try.

Experiencing same problem with gap between Ch's 4 and 7. Began losing channels on 9 August and have finally gotten all back except for 5....plan to try a suggestion that ABC might be redesignated as Ch 33 or 34.

I was experiencing the same signal loss after the rescan on August 2nd. I had 65% signal strength on WCVB 5 (33) before 8/2 and less than 30% after the rescan and no signal strength. I am in a fringe area 26 miles from the towers , behind a hill and pines trees and I was in the process of repositioning my CM4221 antenna as the mounting was causing cracks on the chimney. I increased the height of the antenna 24” and added and a LNA200 Winegard preamp, weight bearing load of the antenna transferred to the roof. Rescan and all channels plus more are coming in solidly. 55%+ signal strength.

I can’t say if the changes that were made actually fixed the problem or the transmitters changed their coverage patterns and the changes I did were a coincidence as of 8/17

Not sure if I should have followed the advise of resetting the TV to factory and then scan the channels. I had removed the RF cable and rescanned thinking it would clear the tuner, which did not work. Resetting the TV to factory setting may have worked.

Just my 2cents

but beginning this weekend haven't been able to get any WGBH stations, 5 comes and goes, and whenever I try rescannimg I risk losing 4. When the frequency switch happened on Aug 2 I was able to get everything back with one rescan and a slight antenna adjustment, but after a week started having issues.

Edit//I live near Symphony Hall\NU. Adam, thanks for posting this, I've been wondering if anyone was going to even acknowledge the problem.

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The Fenway only gets 7 & 56 reliably and one or two of those Dominican rebroadcast channels that I think use the same tower as 7 & 56. Unless there are helicopters overhead for the Red Sox games. Then there isn't any reception anymore. =(

"This transmission issue only affects viewers who use antennas to receive their signals, not anyone receiving NBC10 Boston on cable"

Should we sign up for cable, from Comcast, which just happens to be the same company as NBC?

Local regulators should look into whether any old ladies are being pushed to start deducting a cable TV bill from their fixed income, when digital broadcast to their antenna is supposed to keep working.

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“We don’t want to see a day when there’s a kid in Brockton, a poor kid, that wants to watch the Patriots on a Sunday night, and they don’t have access to NBC for free on their local television station and they don’t subscribe to cable,” Markey said. “We have to make sure that that kid and every adult in our region has access to free over-the-air television, universal.” - Sen. Ed Markey, 2016

In his 40+ years in Congress, our esteemed junior Senator Ed Markey (D-Chevy Chase) has often carried a TV remote in his pocket as a prop for when he pontificates about how much he has done to lower cable bills and make it easier to cut the cord.

He's now worried about being AOC'd so it might be a good time to give his office a call. Don't let the massive campaign contributions to Markey from media giants discourage you.

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Or change entirely, either way is okay with me.

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You should point to something newer than a 6.5 year old article.

I went from 40+ over the air channels to 10-12 depending on the reception after sundown. Only two of them are in English (7&56). The rest are Spanish channels. I think there are too many tall buildings and hills in the way to get a signal in my part of the city. I can't watch TV anymore as a senior on a fixed income.

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I'm in the burbs and I can't even pull up one channel that doesn't go in and out.
I had to watch Jerry Springer and Maury this afternoon on channel 56 as that was the best reception I could get. I wish the guests wouldn't shout so much!

I guess we will have to watch TV/Movies on Amazon Prime and listen to talk radio from 8 pm on (WBZ) The cost is less than cable...

Goodbye, TV.

"WBTS-LD" (the official call sign for "NBC 10") is a "low-powered" station as it is. Their transmitter is 11.2 killowats (kW), and is limited by law to 15 kW. (By contrast, WHDH, the former NBC affiliate in Boston, transmits at 1000kW.)

During the Stanley Cup finals I had more luck pulling in NBC from WJAR out of Providence than I did NBC 10.

I still can't understand what NBC was thinking when they pulled the plug on WHDH.

I still can't understand what NBC was thinking when they pulled the plug on WHDH.

They wanted to buy WHDH, Sunbeam told them to take a hike, so they continued to build their own station anyways.

I watch more WHDH than I watch NBC Boston these days. 7's great now, I like watching local tv news so there's often a live news broadcast when I'm ready to watch the news.

"We don't want to keep paying broadcast retransmission fees to WHDH for a network we own."

I doubt that Scamcast lowered its "broadcast TV fee" to reflect the fact that they own the NBC affiliate in the Boston area now, though.

I can't imagine anyone subscribing to cable to get NBC Boston, though. Their newscasts are even more unwatchable than NBC's network programming.

What, you mean you don't enjoy watching Christa Delcamp struggle to read the words on a teleprompter every morning?

Lately, I've been totally unable to get their signals - both 38 and their secondary stations - at all.

Ask the Manager!

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And can afford $5/month, Locast might be an option if you only care about the primary local channels (i.e. the main ones like 2.1, 4.1, 5.1, etc. and not the digital subchannels like MeTV, Cozi, Laff, etc.). You can watch Locast for free but they will throw up a message trying to get you to donate the $5/month every 20 minutes or so, sort of like the old PBS telethons.

Locast is a bit like Aereo except it's set up as a non-profit digital translator which hypothetically is an exception carved out in copyright law. They can't do DVR but the picture quality is good if your internet is good, too.

I *want* the digital subs...they provide the content that i wanna see. I dont care much about network stuff, except local news.

But not my nicer model. I have one of those flat panel ones that can be stuck to the window with velcro. My lesser antennae was not able to get 2, 4 15, 44, etc

I have rescanned a few times. My channel 5 disappeared, but I found it on channel 33 and 34 (CVB/ MeTV), but it does not come in good. I agree the PBS channels are iffy at best. I seem to have gotten some new stations in the Channel 27s. I do not have QVC or HSN anymore (sadly, I rather like those shopping channels!). Hoping that things will get back to normal, I really like the antenna TV option. My antenna is a wire with a little 'tag' at the end of it. I forget the name of it but I have had it for several years and it does a good job.

Update:

I decided to try a new antenna, a small plug-in amplifier with rabbit airs and I was able to put it way up high and near a window.

Before connecting the new antenna however, I scanned (with no antenna connected twice, once for air and once for cable. Then connected the new antenna and scanned for air one more time.

Success! Decent reception and I am picking up the court tv.

So, don't give up yet.

Radio waves [TV, Cell phones, Wifi, Bluetooth, GPS, etc] have these basic properties [among others]:

  1. All Signals get weaker as the move away from the Transmitter. Typically the signals decrease in power proportional to the square of the distance [Inverse Square Law]
  2. Lower frequencies generally go further and are easier to transmit and to receive

The reason for this frequency or equivalent wavelength behavior [wavelength is associated with the frequency through a constant c == the speed of light] is that most stuff effecting the propagation of electromagnetic waves aka Radio Waves is related to the dimensions of absorbers, scatter-ers [reflectors] measured in terms of the wavelength.

UHF wavelengths are typically around 1 arms length which is 1/10 the VHF wavelengths -- thus the distance to the "VHF horizon" is effectively much longer. We typically call UHF and above frequencies -- Line of Sight frequencies -- in other words if you can't see the transmitter from your receiving antenna -- you are out of luck!

However there might be something between you and the transmitter which might be a "mirror" -- e.g. metal objects which are so good scattering RF that you can effectively get signals around corners. Now these scattering objects are again effectively scaled by wavelength so the UHF and even higher frequencies do better at scattering as the objects can be of reasonable size.

As a result if you don't care how the signal gets to you -- the UHF might fare better amidst a cluster of tall buildings than VHF. Of course this scattering can screw up things if multiple paths can get the signal to you with different delays. Its also possible for Radio Waves to penetrate through holes -- again scaled by wavelength -- so once again if you are inside a metal building -- generally bad for RF -- the windows on the building will work better as apertures for UHF waves than longer VHF wavelengths.

So the simple answer is that there really is no simple answer -- but the best guidance is that VHF works better in the open and UHF works better in the downtown unless you can directly see the VHF antenna.

While longer wavelengths are easier to transmit and receive, they also require larger antennas with longer elements. In particular, low-VHF (RF channels 2-6) frequencies, 54-88MHz, require antennas that are 6-8ft. wide--which makes them unpopular among HOAs, historical societies, and even some municipalities. Consequently, most OTA antennas manufactured today make no attempt to support low-VHF channels; in order to minimize their visual impact and maximize their potential customer base, some don't even support high-VHF (RF channels 7-13, 174-216MHz, which require antenna elements that are about 3ft. wide), and limit themselves to UHF frequencies.

Prior to this market's recent repack, only WENH (NH PBS) was broadcasting in the VHF band, on high-VHF channel 11. Fortunately, only a small number of channels have now joined it: WPRI 12.x (CBS Providence) on high-VHF 7, and WGBH-HD 2.1 and WGBX-HD 44.1 (PBS Boston) on low-VHF 5. So if a rescan isn't bringing back these particular stations, the problem is likely that your antenna simply isn't capable of receiving signals in those bands.

I've had the same challenges as others with the rescan. Prior to the rescan I could pull in strong signals for all the locals except WFXT, and I'm out in Rutland. After the 8/2 rescan however WBZT went from strong to a single bar/disappearing. Then on 8/12, all the channels were reduced. Last night everything seemed to be back and WBZT was back to full signal strength. Unfortunately WFXT seems to go good durning the day but down to a single bar or no signal at night. It doesn't appear that WFXT has moved to the new higher power station yet, if it has it has made it worse than running on the lower power station. Any one have any insight with WFXT? Locast has been great the last couple of days...

Watching the Pats game last night and all of a sudden Plex reported the dreaded weak signal. Switched over to locast to finish watching the game, thank God for that app. Re-scanned this morning and completely lost all Boston stations with the exception of channel 7. I've never had an issue with CBS in the past. Do they switch over to lower power on nights and weekends? That seems to be when I have all the problems. Will try rescanning Monday morning.

In Leominster, since Saturday night, get occasional glimmers, sometimes watchable, of all but Channel 5 if I place the antenna in just the right place and angle. Even moving a tiny bit can lose what little signal there is. But this afternoon when I turned it on to check if it has gotten better, if I use the remote on the converter box, the channels scroll continually, need to use the button on the box, and when I pressed menu, similarly though I pressed it once, it kept going and started to Auto Scan, which I didn't want and can only stop by turning off the box. Is anybody else having this issue?

8/2/19 - Completed AutoTune to be able to receive Ch5 ABC.
8/9/19-Just past midnight CBS Boston Ch 4 "Channel Not Available".
8/10/19 @ 8pm - Lost broadcast signals for all channels (2-1,2-2,4,5,10,15) except for NBC Boston 7-1 and Fox 25-1. Turned off TV, turned back on & then no signal for Ch25 & then Ch 5 was back. Re-did AutoTune, only 11 channels found, Ch 7 still only major channel ok, had 21 before. Performed Update Scan, only 9 channels found & still only Ch 7 working along with a few >55 channels. Then did Exhaustive Scan and still only 9 channels found. Changed antenna position ( combo rabbit ear VHF/Circle UHF + 12-position rotary dial), did another AutoTune & found 17 channels. Channel Scan Update still only 17 channels. Different antenna dial position & AutoTune got only 15 channels.
8/11/19 - Finally found antenna position and dial detente that resulted in 23 channels found. Lost Ch 2-1, gained 2-3, still no Ch 4 or 5 or 25, and gained several UHF high number channels I never watch. UpdateScan still 23 channels found.
8/12/19 - Re-did AutoTune and now 25 channels found with almost all with 100% Signal Quality & at least 81% Signal Strength. Ch 4 now ok but still no Ch 5 or 2-1 or 25. Tried different rotary dial position, did Update Scan, and then had 28 channels.
8/16/19 - Changed antenna location & rabbit ear position and now able to receive Ch 25 and all of the other channels up to Ch 56. Did UpdateScan but no new channels found. Did 2nd UpdateScan and only 22 channels found,but no major ch's lost.
Am still trying different rabbit ear antenna positions and locations, and different rotary dial positions on my Jensen TV620 VHF/UHF/FM antenna to try and receive Ch 5 Boston ABC.

In the middle of all this rescan foofaraw, my trusty DTA converter box was failing. I replaced it with a box from Walmart. The old box had 2 options for scanning: SCAN NEW or SCAN ADD. SCAN NEW basically starts from scratch, and gives the channels found. If it didn't get a particular channel, you could 'fiddle' with the antenna and then run SCAN ADD which looked for additional channels, WITHOUT AFFECTING the existing 'found' list. The new box does not have this option, so that rescanning might find some but lose others. It does have a MANUALSCAN option, but no useful directions to use it, and the final sentence of the subject advises using AUTOSCAN, which, of course, has the problem of losing channels.

(DTA box from Ematics AT102)