Helping viewers understand delays in channel access

To the Editor:

In response to Sean Mulkerrin’s piece, “As cellphones gobble bandwidth, TV stations change frequencies” [The Altamont Enterprise, July 25, 2019], I wanted to provide more insight for our neighbors who watch over-the-air TV with an antenna.

As chief engineer at WMHT (PBS), my team and I have talked and emailed with hundreds of viewers over the last month — we’ve found that providing an explanation of what’s really happening has helped many viewers understand why they’re not able to see some of their favorite channels.

Having been directly involved in this “repack” project for two years, we went from being ahead and making great progress toward the Aug. 2 transition, to very quickly being behind and trying to play catch-up to get the work done.

There have been a great number of challenges to address, but the locally affected broadcasters and their corporate teams have been working together to move to full-power operation on our new channels as quickly as possible without compromising the safety of our tower crew, or the temporary equipment keeping each station on the air.

The infrastructure used to carry the signals from our transmitters to the antenna is being updated to handle our Federal Communications Commission-granted power increases, and to best handle the wavelength and characteristics of our new frequencies. This portion of the project entails removing old equipment, prepping the tower and indoor facility for the new equipment, physically installing close to 600 feet of new transmission line, and installing a new signal combiner that will allow three UHF stations to send their signals to a common antenna atop the shared tower.

At the same time, the Albany market has four of the 113 stations having made the transition on the Aug. 2 “Phase 4” deadline — with the other FCC phase deadlines quickly approaching in other parts of the country, bottlenecks with tower crews and transmitter installers forced us to find other temporary solutions to get our new channels on the air (so not to interfere with other stations outside of our immediate area that also made the transition on Aug. 1 or 2).

As of this writing, WMHT, WTEN, and WCWN are all operating at reduced power. The work continues on the main components of our transmission paths, which will allow all three stations to get to our fully-licensed power output. In the coming days and weeks, we’ll be gradually increasing power, which will help push the signal to many parts of the area that are presently experiencing reception issues.

Matt Saplin


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