A moderately successful fix for Digital TV reception woes

Since it became the only way to watch local, over-the-air TV in many Canadian cities in 2011, people have been bedevilled by the difficulties of receiving digital TV signals, particularly those operating on lower VHF-band frequencies. This problem will remain as “cord cutters” continue to opt for free-of-charge over-the-air reception of their local stations in high definition as an alternative to expensive cable bills.

When Winnipeg local television went digital in 2011, several stations moved to higher UHF frequencies while others remained on their originally assigned frequencies:

  • CBWFT (SRC) moved from VHF channel 3 to UHF channel 51. Continues to appear as “channel 3-1” on digital TV.
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  • CBWT (CBC) moved from VHF channel 6 to UHF channel 27. Continues to appear as “channel 6-1” on digital TV.
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  • CKY (CTV) remained on VHF channel 7. Appears as “channel 7-1” on digital TV.
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  • CKND (Global) moved from VHF channel 9 to UHF channel 40. Continues to appear as “channel 9-1” (high definition) and “channel 9-2” (standard definition) on digital TV.
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  • CHMI (Citytv) remained on VHF channel 13. Appears as “channel 13-1” on digital TV.
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  • CIIT (Hope TV) remained on UHF channel 35. Appears as “channel 35-1” on digital TV.

Your biggest reception problems are going to be with CTV and Citytv, both of which remained on the VHF band. This band is vulnerable to problems for several reasons, including:

  • Many “HDTV” antennas being optimized for higher UHF frequencies.
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  • Interference from FM stations, which can create harmonic or “ghost” signals at two times their normal frequencies. Since FM stations normally operate on 88 to 108 MHz, their harmonics appear between 176 and 216 MHz — the same frequencies that TV channels 7 to 13 operate on. These harmonics will be particularly strong in south Winnipeg, closer to the towers most FM stations originate their signals from.
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  • Lower signal intensities, as CTV and Citytv operate from towers located 35 and 45 kilometres from central Winnipeg, respectively. The other stations operate from atop the Portage and Main office towers, except for Hope TV, which operates from a tower on the southern outskirts of Winnipeg.

Nevertheless, I’ve been able to figure out a way to get fairly decent reception of all Winnipeg stations, except for Citytv, which remains unreliable. Here’s how:

Start with two “rubber duck” antennas. These are old radio scanner antennas supposedly designed to cover both the VHF and UHF bands. They seem to do a decent enough job anyway. With Radio Shack being nothing more than a memory now, you might need to order these online.

 

Such antennas typically attach to BNC ports, while TV antennas usually attach to coaxial ports. You’ll need to obtain two BNC-to-coaxial adapters.

 

Next, get yourself a signal splitter/combiner like this one. Again, you might need to order one online if you can’t get one at The Source or another electronics store.

 

Finally, you’ll need a stretch of coaxial cable about two metres (6.5 feet) long. Shorter lengths might prevent you from ideally positioning your antenna, while longer lengths might not only cost you more money, but also result in a weaker signal reaching your TV. Coaxial cables marked RF-9913, RF-9914, RG-11 or RG-6 offer the best signal retention between antenna and TV, while cables marked RG-213, RG-8X, RG-58 or RG-174 are more likely to see signals weaken the further they travel from the antenna to the TV. But if you keep cable lengths down to about two metres or less, you won’t lose too much signal in any case.

 

Assemble all your bits and pieces together like this. Plug the opposite end of the coaxial cable into the TV.

 

I find that reception tends to be best when the antenna is positioned behind or under heavy furniture, like the entertainment centre housing the TV, and when the cable is touching the wall. I’m not sure why this is: perhaps this gets rid of interference somehow, or perhaps there’s less multi-path interference caused by signals reverberating off walls and furniture. (Pardon the mess — this is a difficult area to clean.)

 

Scan for channels according to the instructions appropriate to your own TV.

 

Try jiggling and repositioning both the cable and the antenna until you get good reception on channel 7, which should be the stronger of the two VHF signals in Winnipeg as they operate at about three times as much power (in kilowatts) as channel 13 does.

 

Channel 13 remains hit-or-miss. On New Years’ Day, things were working out well enough.

 

If you live in Winnipeg, you should have no problem receiving the UHF stations even if they are still listed according to their lower pre-digital channels (as is the case with CKND), as their signals are very strong and UHF lacks the interference that messes up VHF digital signals.

 

What would Jesus do if he were running CIIT, a.k.a. Hope TV? He’d do better than this, in terms of both programming and picture. Even YouTube part-time filmmakers like Dan Bell and Bright Sun Films have more professional looking feeds than this CRTC-licenced channel. If anyone at Hope TV, a.k.a. ZoomerMedia, is reading this, please bring back the classic shows from the Joy TV era.

 

From the earliest days of television, there has been interest in picking up American TV signals. The only one that you have a faint hope of receiving in Winnipeg is Fox affiliate KNRR channel 12-1, and its Antenna TV classic comedy subchannel on channel 12-2, which originates from a tower near Pembina, N.D. The station operates at fairly low power, so your only hope of reliable reception is by using a high-gain, south-facing rooftop antenna, preferably above the tree line. Other American stations are too far south to be received in Winnipeg, except under unusual atmospheric conditions.

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Why a forgotten TV station is a potential pot of gold

Ask many Winnipeggers which TV stations are associated with the phrases “Channel 6, Cable 2”, “Channel 7, Cable 5” and “Channel 9, Cable 12”, and they will know the correct answers: CBC, CKY-CTV and CKND-Global, respectively.

Some might even know that “Channel 13, Cable 8” is Citytv and that “Channel 3, Cable 10” is Radio-Canada, the French-language public network.

But ask Winnipeggers about “Channel 35, Cable 11”, and you’re likely to see a blank expression come across their faces.

From the arrival of the CBC’s Winnipeg station, CBWT, in 1954 to the launch of what was then known as 13 MTN in 1986, the debut of a new local TV station was always a big deal.

By contrast, the launch of Omni 11 on Feb. 6, 2006 — officially, CIIT channel 35, cable 11 — went almost unnoticed. The station, which offered a mix of religious and secular programming, had no local celebrities, weak public awareness, and not even a known studio location.

Subsequent rebrandings as CIIT 11, Joytv and finally as Hope TV — currently a (tedious) mix of religious and foreign-language programming — couldn’t get the station out of the ratings basement. In fact, the latest rebranding was a bit of a disaster. As Joytv, the station reached 70,000 viewers for a total of 84,000 viewer-hours per week in Fall 2012. In Fall 2014, as Hope TV, it was only reaching 20,000 viewers for a total of 42,000 viewer-hours each week.

As for its competitors in Fall 2014:

  • CKY-CTV reached slightly more than 1 million viewers each week, for a total of more than 3.2 million viewer-hours;
  • CKND-Global reached 596,000 viewers weekly, for a total of about 1.8 million viewer-hours;
  • CBWT-CBC reached 735,000 viewers weekly, but for 1.7 million viewer-hours;
  • CHMI-Citytv reached 372,000 viewers weekly, for a total of 729,000 viewer-hours;
  • CBWFT-Radio-Canada, which broadcasts only in French, reached 121,000 viewers weekly, for a total of 214,000 viewer hours — five times CIIT-HopeTV’s total viewer-hours!

With numbers like that, you wonder why ZoomerMedia, Hope TV’s owner, bothers to keep the station on the air.

Believe it or not, the station that even gets thumped by the local French channel in the ratings is a potential pot of gold for its owners: not for its small audience, but for the frequencies that its channel 35 over-the-air signal occupies.

When the first North American television stations went on the air in the late ’40s, only a mere 72 MHz of bandwidth was available, divided among 12 channels, each 6 MHz wide, between 54 and 88 MHz and between 174 and 216 MHz.

Since stations sharing the same channel had to be kept about 300 kilometres apart to minimize interference, and most neighbouring-channel stations had to be kept about 100 kilometres apart, it was soon clear that just 12 channels wouldn’t be enough to satisfy North America’s needs. So, starting from the early ’50s, 70 new UHF channels between 470 and 890 MHz — channels 14 to 83 — were made available to broadcasters.

This was perhaps a little much, so in 1983, the relatively few TV stations between channels 70 and 83 were required to relocate to lower channels or to go off the air so that those frequencies could be used by a new technology: cellular telephones.

The next big technological change came some 20 years later, as TV stations began to migrate from analog to digital broadcasting. With demand rising for additional bandwidth for wireless data services, and digital broadcasting making it possible for two or more broadcasts to share the same 6 MHz TV channel, channels 52 to 69 were the next TV frequencies to be reassigned.

Yet the remaining UHF channels, 14 to 51, were still seen as a wasteful use of bandwidth that could be put to better use by wireless data services. So, the U.S. is preparing to hold an auction that could reassign channels 31 to 51 to other uses, with TV stations currently operating on those frequencies being given the option to either move to a lower channel, if one can be found, or to be bought out and go off the air permanently.

Canada is expected to do the same in the near future.

The frequencies those stations operate on are so valuable that, by one conservative estimate, a 6 MHz-wide channel covering a population of 800,000 could be worth $4.8 million to $9.6 million U.S. just for the rights alone.

That might sound like pocket change by TV business standards, but it might be easier to take the money and run than to move to a new channel — a move that would require stations to spend large sums of money on engineering studies and on installing new or additional transmitters and antennas.

Especially when local TV stations are struggling to make any money. A financial summary published by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) earlier this year showed that conventional television stations last made a pre-tax profit in 2011, with collective losses exceeding $226 million in 2015.

Three Winnipeg TV stations operate within the 20 channels* being eyed for an eventual Canadian bandwidth auction: Hope TV on channel 35, Global on channel 40 and Radio-Canada on channel 51.

Global does well enough in the market, even assuming that it’s a loss-leader for owner Corus Media, that it might consider moving to a lower channel. The station had originally been expected to remain on its historical channel 9 frequency after the 2011 analog-to-digital transition, using channel 28 only temporarily; but instead requested channel 40, perhaps realizing the higher frequency might have greater future value.

Radio-Canada, on channel 51, could easily share channel 27 with CBC Winnipeg without losing its high-definition picture, allowing the higher channel to be sold off for data use if CBC-Radio-Canada so chooses.

But Hope TV, the little-watched TV station with no local studio and no local personalities? The station that is little more than a rebroadcast of an obscure religious cable network — the ultimate waste of bandwidth, and a sin for which a Toronto TV station was stripped of its licence? The station that gives us the oddity of the Van Impes? It might just be worth their while to take the money and run if and when they get the chance.

* – Excluding channel 37, which is not used for broadcasting in the U.S. or Canada. This small gap in the UHF band is used for scientific purposes.

 

If viewers are cutting the cord, then CTV Winnipeg needs a new channel

CTV Winnipeg Bad Signal

Maralee Caruso anchoring CTV Winnipeg’s 6 p.m. newscast, July 19, 2013.

Why pay for cable television when you can get most, or even all, of what you want online? It’s an increasingly common sentiment in Canada today: a market study released earlier this month showed that 16 percent of Canadians claim to do all of their TV viewing online.

Online TV viewing is poised to continue eating into conventional stations’ audiences in the coming years. Not only is more viewing being done on wireless devices, but WiFi-compatible Smart TVs — which allow viewers to switch effortlessly between cable/satellite, local over-the-air TV and web sites — are now becoming commonplace among retailers.

But even without a cable or satellite subscription, there will be times when viewers will want to watch live local TV, particularly for news and sports. Reaching these viewers, who will no longer be as few or as poor as non-cable/non-satellite households usually were in the past, will matter.

That’s where a little problem crops up for CTV Winnipeg, which has long aired the market-leading newscast.

When Winnipeg’s six local television stations shut down their old analog transmitters and went all-digital in 2011, four wisely moved up to the channel 14 to 51 UHF band. UHF frequencies are easier to pick up using the small, discreet antennas that mobile devices come with and that people prefer to have in their homes. These higher frequencies are also less susceptible to interference.

Two stations, however, remained on their original VHF channels: CTV Winnipeg on channel 7, and Citytv on channel 13.

This meant lower digital conversion costs for them, but left their stations on frequencies that were vulnerable to interference from thunderstorms and household appliances, with this interference having the same effect as telephone line static does on a dial-up Internet connection. These lower frequencies also require unsightly larger antennas: at least 84 centimetres (33 inches) across for proper channel 7 reception.

As the following video taken on Friday, July 19 shows, reception of most local TV stations using an indoor antenna in south Winnipeg was good to excellent. Even Cityty was coming in nicely, thanks either to a living room window that faces directly toward their transmitter west of Winnipeg or perhaps the station’s relatively high channel 13 frequency.

The exception was CTV, which suffered from poor signal quality and continue to do so all weekend. (As of 10:30 p.m. Sunday, an attempt to tune in CTV using an indoor VHF antenna facing south toward the station’s Ste. Agathe transmitter generates a “Weak or No Signal” message.)

CTV Winnipeg was pre-approved during the digital switchover preparations to use UHF channel 46. Had it taken up this option, it would never have had the reception problems it will now have among the cord-cutters trying to tune the station in on channel 7.

Channels 25, 28, 42, 43, 48 and 49 are also approved for use in Winnipeg.

The seemingly less-afflicted Citytv also has an option to use channel 32.

Two stations in Ontario, CHCH Hamilton and CBOFT Ottawa, have already dumped their old VHF channels in favour of UHF after receiving complaints that their original channel 11 and channel 9 signals, respectively, were unwatchable.

A U.S. site refers to other stations using the same channel 7 frequency as CTV experiencing serious reception problems. This includes WSVN/7 in Miami, which applied for an “emergency” power increase on the day after the U.S. digital switchover in June 2009, even though the station was operating at higher power at the time than CTV Winnipeg does today; and WLS/7 in Chicago, which moved from channel 7 to channel 44 after receiving 1,735 phone calls in a single day complaining about reception problems.

Why you might soon be able to kiss your cable or satellite provider goodbye

It was one of the ugliest campaigns that Canadians ever witnessed outside of an election campaign.

On one side were the country’s cable TV companies, calling on Canadians to fight the “TV tax”, which would force cable customers to pay a monthly surcharge to support their local TV stations.

On the other side were the country’s TV networks, calling on Canadians to help “save local television”, which the cable companies had charged their customers to watch without passing anything along to the content provider.

That was two years ago.

Relations between the cable operators and the TV networks have been tense ever since. But technological change might be about to bring back the acrimony of two years ago.

Here in Canada, the Sept. 1, 2011 switch to digital television went almost unnoticed by most people, less than 10 percent of whom receive their TV signals over the air.

Yet the broadcasters are in a powerful position to change that balance.

Right now, Canadian broadcasters are using digital TV at a fraction of its full capacity. They’re using it the old-fashioned way: one channel, one signal.

Go just south of the border to Grand Forks, however, and you’ll find digital television being used much differently.

For example, Prairie Public Television carries four program streams on each channel. On subchannels 1 and 2, you’ll find the usual PBS programming that you’d find on cable channel 3 here in Winnipeg — one in high-definition, the other in standard. On subchannel 3, you’ll find a channel with programs of interest to the station’s Minnesota audience. On subchannel 4, you’ll find a separate lineup of educational programming and documentaries.

ABC affiliate WDAZ carries its normal feed on subchannel 8.1, plus the CW Network on subchannel 8.2 and weather information and the audio from a Fargo radio station on subchannel 8.3.

Fargo NBC affiliate KVLY (formerly KTHI on Winnipeg’s cable dial from 1968 to 1986) carries its standard feed on channel 11.1 and a national general -interest specialty network called This TV on subchannel 11.2.

These subchannels are used inconsistently across the United States, however. Go a few hours down the highway to Duluth and you’ll find that the subchannel programming is totally different.

That’s because the U.S. networks own relatively few of their affiliates, preventing the networks from creating new national networks that can be tuned in over-the-air in every market, coast-to-coast.

The Canadian networks don’t have that problem. Tune in CBC, CTV, Global or Citytv and you’re most likely getting your signal from a local transmitter owned and operated by the national network.

Thus, if they wanted to, the networks could bypass the cable and satellite companies and deliver their specialty channels over the air in every major market in Canada, with a lineup which might look something like this:

Winnipeg

3.1 Radio-Canada Winnipeg (Standard)
3.2 Radio-Canada Winnipeg HD
3.3 RDI (all-news)
3.4 Artv (arts/culture)
3.5 (Optional audio or subscription service)

6.1 CBC Winnipeg (Standard)
6.2 CBC Winnipeg HD
6.3 CBC News Network
6.4 Bold
6.5 Documentary

7.1 CTV Winnipeg HD
7.2 TSN
7.3 CTV Two
7.4 Much
7.5 CTV News Channel

9.1 Global Winnipeg HD
9.2 HGTV
9.3 Showcase
9.4 Slice
9.5 Food Network

13.1 Citytv Portage/Winnipeg (Standard)
13.2 Citytv HD
13.3 Sportsnet
13.4 OLN
13.5 G4 (or optional audio/subscription service)

35.1 Joy TV Winnipeg (standard)
35.2 Joy TV HD
35.3 Vision TV
35.4 ONE
35.5 (Optional audio or subscription service)

Before that becomes reality, however, there are two things left to do.

The first is for digital tuners to become commonplace in your mobile and handheld devices. Handheld digital TVs are already on the market, and adapters which would allow people to watch the news or sports on their iPhones while riding the bus or sitting in Starbucks are on their way, so that day is not far off.

The second is for the stations to upgrade their signals to the same standard used by cellular providers — something they should have done during this year’s digital transition, but didn’t always do.

Global’s signal now transmitting from high above Portage and Main already meets this standard, covering all except for the outer edges of Winnipeg with a signal equivalent to what you would need to get reliable indoor cellphone coverage.

The CBC’s signal is expected to be even stronger once the Mother Corp. sorts out the problems it’s been having with its antenna atop the Richardson Building. Weaker, but still adequate signals, are or will be available from Joy TV and Radio-Canada.

CTV’s and Citytv’s signals, however, aren’t up to standard. First of all, they’re still on the VHF band while everyone else is on UHF. VHF is roughly the digital TV equivalent of using a 2400-baud dial-up modem on a static-laced phone line in the high-speed Internet era, or trying to make money playing rock music on AM radio. VHF just won’t cut it.

CTV’s problem is compounded by the fact that their transmitter is so far south of town — watch for a tall tower just off Highway 75 next time you’re passing Ste. Agathe — that even if they switched to UHF, they would have to crank up the power to half a million watts or more to match Global’s signal quality in Winnipeg.

The same goes for Citytv, which operates from out near Elie. Both stations might want to consider scouting out the rooftops of Winnipeg’s high-rises as potential second transmitter sites.

But once that’s all been sorted out, many Winnipeggers might find themselves cutting the cord.

Several Manitoba communities set to lose service after Digital TV switchover

Forget the Government of Canada ads about “clearing the snow” from Canadians’ over-the-air TV reception after this week’s digital TV switchover in Canada’s big cities. Some Manitoba communities will have nothing but snow thanks to some little-publicized changes the TV stations are making.

Manitoba’s TV stations aren’t just changing to digital. Many of them are reducing power and some are moving from tall rural towers to city rooftops, reducing their signal’s range.

  • CBC and Radio-Canada used to broadcast from a 324-metre (1,063-foot) tower near Starbuck, Man at 100,000 and 59,000 watts respectively. They’ll be moving by October to the roof of the Richardson Building, and reducing power on their new UHF frequencies to 42,000 watts and 7,600 watts respectively.
  • CTV will be staying put on their Ste. Agathe tower, south of Winnipeg, but reducing power from 325,000 watts to 24,000 watts on Channel 7.
  • Global has moved to the top of the former CanWest building in downtown Winnipeg, and is now on UHF Channel 40 with a power of 25,000 watts. They formerly operated from the CBC’s Starbuck tower at 325,000 watts.
  • Citytv will be continuing to broadcast from its Elie tower, west of Winnipeg, but will reduce power from 325,000 watts to 8,300 watts on Channel 13.
  • Joy TV will continue to broadcast on Channel 35 from their tower just off St. Mary’s south of the Perimeter, but will be reducing power from 22,000 watts to 6,000 watts.

These power reductions are based in part on some controversial calculations made by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, which oversaw the 2009 digital transition south of the border.

Even though digital TV should require less power than traditional analog TV to produce a watchable picture, many critics argue that the Commission grossly underestimated the power needed for a station’s signal to overcome the challenges of the urban environment, where signal-absorbing trees and buildings and interference from machines and appliances take their toll on a signal.

When the U.S. switched to digital in 2009, some stations frantically sought power increases or to move from the Channel 2-13 VHF to the Channel 14-52 UHF band as it became clear that their digital signals weren’t strong enough to penetrate the urban jungle.

Since there have been a lot of hits on this blog over the past few weeks from people with questions about digital TV in Manitoba, here is a pre-emptive response to the questions some of you will have as to why you can no longer receive your favourite stations — and some suggestions on what you can do about it.

And if you want to get a better idea of what you should be able to receive where you live, check out Your Guide to Digital TV in Winnipeg and Southern Manitoba.

If you live or have a cottage in Gimli/Winnipeg Beach…

  • Radio-Canada Manitoba will remain weak in Winnipeg Beach, even with a rooftop antenna, and will become virtually impossible to receive in Gimli. You’ll probably get better results pointing your antenna east toward their Channel 11 analog transmitter near Fort Alexander.
  • CBC might still have a so-so signal in Winnipeg Beach if you have a rooftop antenna. This signal will become very difficult to receive in Gimli. (Hint: If you point your antenna ESE, you might pick up a weak analog signal from CBC’s Channel 4 Lac du Bonnet analog transmitter. If you point it north, you might pick up another CBC signal on Channel 10 from Fisher Branch.)
  • CTV reception will be very poor, even with a rooftop antenna. (Hint: Viewers north of Inwood might be able to get a weak CTV analog signal on Channel 8 from the station’s Fisher Branch transmitter.)
  • Global, Citytv and Joy TV will be very weak in Winnipeg Beach, even with a rooftop antenna, and will be virtually impossible to receive in Gimli.

If you live in Morden/Winkler…

  • CBC and SRC will become virtually impossible to receive, even with a rooftop antenna. Currently, Morden is on the outer edge of the station’s rabbit-ears range, and Winkler is in the station’s rooftop-antenna zone.
  • CTV and Citytv’s signals will lose strength, and might be difficult to receive with an indoor antenna in the middle of town. Both stations currently offer moderately strong “Grade-A” analog signals or better.
  • Global should be virtually impossible to receive, now that it has reportedly shut down its old analog transmitter.
  • Joy TV will be difficult to receive.

If you live in Portage la Prairie…

  • Radio-Canada Manitoba will become extremely difficult to receive, even with a rooftop antenna. Currently, Portage la Prairie is on the outer edge of the station’s rabbit-ears range.
  • CBC Manitoba will only be putting a very weak “deep fringe” signal into Portage. Currently, Portage is on the outer edge of the CBC’s rabbit-ears reception range.
  • CTV reception will only be satisfactory with a rooftop antenna.
  • Now that its analog signal is reportedly off the air, Global will be very difficult (if not impossible) to receive in Portage. Portage is just outside the western fringe of Global’s digital TV coverage area.
  • Joy TV will be extremely difficult to receive, as Portage will be on the extreme outer edge of its digital reach.

If you live in Selkirk…

  • CTV and Citytv’s signals will lose some strength, and might be difficult to receive with an indoor antenna in the middle of town. Both stations’ current analog transmitters cover Selkirk with a moderate “Grade-A” signal.
  • Joy TV might also lose some strength, with its analog “city-grade” signal being replaced with a digital signal that might not be strong enough to overcome the ground clutter in the middle of town.

If you live in Steinbach…

  • Radio-Canada Manitoba, CBC and Global will all drop from good to marginal indoor reception in Steinbach. Signal quality will depend on how many buildings, trees and other obstructions there are between you and the transmitter.
  • Citytv will be even worse, as Steinbach sits right at the point where any realistic hope of receiving Citytv with an indoor antenna ends.

If you live in Winnipeg…

  • Citytv might be difficult to receive in the eastern half of the city if you’re using an indoor antenna. Signal quality will depend on how much ground clutter — such as buildings and trees — there is between you and the Citytv transmitter.

Incidentally, the stations aren’t necessarily to blame for coverage reductions. The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, the federal agency which regulates the airwaves in Canada, invited public comments on both Global’s and the CBC’s plans to reduce rural coverage — and no one objected.

Your Guide to Digital TV in Winnipeg and Southern Manitoba

(Updated May 20, 2012 with more realistic coverage maps and updated information on KNRR’s directional antenna.)

As Winnipeg’s TV stations prepare to shut off their remaining analog transmitters for good, there have been many visitors landing on this blog seeking information about digital TV. Thus, I’ve decided to put together this guide meant to help those who are getting ready for the digital switchover.

You’ll notice that the maps below are colour-coded.

Orange zone — Deep Indoor strength: Very strong signal. Should be fairly easy to receive in most homes and offices if you’re using the right antenna (i.e., a larger VHF antenna for CTV, KNRR and Citytv, and a smaller UHF antenna for the others). Signal might be less reliable in areas where people generally don’t spend much time watching TV anyway, such as elevators and parkades, or in areas with a lot of electrical and mechanical interference on the VHF channels. (Signal strength: 90+ dBu at 95% of locations, 99% of the time)

Magenta zone — Residential Indoor strength: Strong signal. Generally strong enough to penetrate the interior of most homes. Reception should be good for CBC, SRC, Global and Joy TV, all of which operate on UHF; VHF stations CTV, KNRR and Citytv might require the use of a good-quality VHF antenna with the rods lowered to horizontal and at a right angle to the transmitter. On the VHF channels, it’s best to have the antenna as far away as possible from refrigerators, air conditioners, microwave ovens and other appliances that might cause interference.  (Signal strength: 80-89 dBu at 95% of locations, 99% of the time)

Light Blue zone — The “Maybe Zone”: Use an outdoor or attic antenna pointed toward the transmitter for best results.  Or, if you’re using a hand-held device, try going outside. Indoor reception might be good in signal-friendly areas, such as rural and low-density suburban areas, or on the transmitter side of a high-rise. Indoor reception will likely be more difficult in inner-city areas and in the depths of the urban jungle. (Signal strength: 70-79 dBu at 95% of locations, 99% of the time)

Dark Blue zone — Rooftop Antenna Recommended: This signal generally won’t be received well inside a building unless you’re in a low-density suburban or rural area and near a window facing the transmitter. UHF channels might still come in reasonably well if using a hand-held device outside of the urban jungle. A rooftop antenna pointed toward the transmitter should offer more favourable results.  (Signal strength: 60-69 dBu at 95% of locations, 99% of the time)

Grey zone — No Indoor, Hit-and-Miss Outdoor: The signal will be quite weak in these areas. Don’t count on any indoor reception, or even on getting good results with an outdoor antenna in the heart of the city. You might get good reception, though, using a rooftop antenna in low-density suburban and rural areas.  (Signal strength: 50-59 dBu at 95% of locations, 99% of the time)

CBC Winnipeg (official call letters: CBWT) abandoned its long-time home on a tower located near Starbuck, Man. and relocated to a transmitter located at Portage and Main in downtown Winnipeg. Since the lower channels are vulnerable to interference — which causes mild static or squigly lines to appear on analog signals, but which can seriously mess up digital signals — CBC moved up to Channel 27  on the UHF band, but will still show up on receivers as virtual channel 6.1. Reception remains good in Winnipeg.

CBWFT 3.1 coverage area

CBWFT (SRC) Channel 3.1 coverage area (© lrcov.crc.ca, Google Maps)


SRC, the French language equivalent of the CBC, also spent most of its life on the low end of the VHF dial since going on the air in 1960 as CBWFT on Channel 6, then switching to Channel 3 a few years later. Like its English-language sister station, Manitoba’s only French-language TV station now operates from high above Portage and Main at Channel 51 (virtual channel 3.1) on the UHF band. Indoor reception remains strong in Winnipeg, but varies elsewhere. Reception is reported to be quite good throughout Winnipeg.

CKY 7.1 coverage area

CKY (CTV) Channel 7.1 coverage area (Copyright lrcov.crc.ca, Google Maps)

CTV Winnipeg (a.k.a., CKY-TV) has not moved to the UHF band, opting to stay on its longtime Channel 7 VHF frequency. This could have both advantages and risks for the station. The advantages lie in the fact that over-the-air viewers do not have to invest in new UHF antennas in order to continue receiving the station. But as noted in the comments section, many viewers are having difficulty picking up CTV due to interference and the transmitter’s distance from the city.

Some VHF digital stations also fear being at a disadvantage as new handheld and mobile Digital TV devices come on the market in the near future. CTV Winnipeg still has the option of applying for a UHF channel, however. Reception should be better in the southern half of Winnipeg than the northern half.

CKND (Global) Channel 9.1 coverage area

CKND (Global) Channel 9.1 coverage area (© lrcov.crc.ca, Google Maps)


Global Winnipeg (a.k.a., CKND) was the first Winnipeg TV station to make the transition to digital in 2010. Like the CBC, Global’s digital signal originates from Portage and Main at Channel 40 on the UHF band (Virtual Channel 9.1). Reception has been reported to be very good in Winnipeg.

CHMI (Citytv) Channel 13.1 coverage area

CHMI (Citytv) Channel 13.1 coverage area (© lrcov.crc.ca, Google Maps)


Like CTV, CityTV (formerly known as 13 MTN, and later the A-Channel) is taking its chances on the VHF band, remaining on the Channel 13 frequency it has called home since going on the air in October, 1986. They’re running at only 8,000 watts, versus 24,000 watts for CTV, so their signal is hit-and-miss throughout Winnipeg.

CIIT (Joytv) Channel 35.1 coverage area

CIIT (Joytv) Channel 35.1 coverage area (© lrcov.crc.ca, Google Maps)


Joy TV is to Winnipeg television what CKJS is to Winnipeg radio — it’s there, but most people are only vaguely aware of its existence. It’s really just a specialty channel that can be received without a cable or satellite subscription. But, if you’re a fan of Joy TV’s religious programming and reruns of The Waltons and The Rockford Files, you’ll be happy to know that this station, which began broadcasting in 2006, is still on Channel 35. Indoor reception is definitely better in the south end of the city than the northern half.

KNRR (Fox) Channel 12.1 coverage area

KNRR (Fox) Channel 12.1 coverage area (© lrcov.crc.ca, Google Maps)


Poor old KNRR never had much luck. It was imminently about to go on the air in 1982 when something went wrong, causing the station’s launch date to be pushed back to 1986. In the interim, Canadian broadcasting regulations had changed in such a way as to effectively block KNRR from getting a slot on Winnipeg’s cable systems.
Thus, trying to pick up the then-independent KNRR’s diet of Star Trek and movies became something of a sport for Winnipeggers in 1986, who then only had seven English-language channels to watch on cable TV unless they subscribed to pay TV — which even then brought the total number of choices to no more than a dozen channels.

After missing the U.S. digital switchover deadline and being forced off the air for four months, KNRR began offering the first digital signal to extend more than a few miles north of the Canadian border in October 2009. But KNRR’s signal is too weak to be received with any reliability in Winnipeg — one local Digital TV enthusiast recommends a 40-foot mast in your backyard for best results. (This might not be so popular with your neighbours, though.)

If you live in Morden, Winkler, Morris or Altona, your luck should be considerably better, particularly with a VHF antenna pointed toward Pembina.

Note that to receive digital TV over the air, you will need either a newer TV set that is capable of receiving ATSC signals or a special converter box — not necessarily the same kind of box provided by your cable company — hooked up to your traditional TV set.

* – Images source: Communications Research Centre/Google Maps.

Technical assumptions all based on F(95,99) at 9 metres above ground.

CBC seeks to reduce rural Manitoba coverage, and doomsday prophets survive Global TV challenge

Portage and Main might be renowned as the windiest street corner in Canada. It could soon be the street corner most heavily bathed in electromagnetic radiation as well.

A few months ago, this blog reported that Global Winnipeg’s decision to move its transmitter 30 kilometres, from a CBC-owned tower just off Highway 2 near the village of Starbuck to the roof of the Canwest tower at Portage and Main, would mean that any rural Manitobans living more than 60 kilometres from Winnipeg and not yet on cable or satellite would have to switch by September 2011 if they want to keep watching the station.

Now it turns out that the CBC itself is also abandoning the Highway 2 site, and moving both its local English and French-language television transmitters to the top of the Richardson Building.

As with Global, this means that large parts of southern Manitoba will no longer have access to CBC Television without a cable or satellite subscription after the mandatory switchover to Digital TV at the beginning of the 2011-2012 television season.

According to the CBC’s application to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), their English signal after that date will only extend south to Morris, north to the southern edge of Lake Winnipeg, west to about half-way between Elie and Portage, and east to La Broquerie and Richer. The French signal will cover a slightly smaller area.

If you live in Portage, Morden, Winkler or Emerson and don’t have cable or satellite, you won’t have a CBC signal to watch after Aug. 31, 2011. Even if you live in Beausejour or St. Malo, you’ll need to replace your rabbit-ears with a rooftop UHF antenna if you want to continue receiving a reliable CBC signal without having to pay for cable or satellite.

Yes, that’s right — a UHF antenna.

Channels 2 to 6 — at the low end of the VHF band — are hostile places for a digital signal. That bit of interference caused by your parents’ electric carving knife or by an atmospheric disturbance causing TV stations in Tennessee to suddenly become receivable in Manitoba can make a complete mess of a digital signal.

Channels 7 to 13 — the upper end of the VHF band — are a little more interference-resistant. But UHF channels 14 to 51 are the most interference-resistant of all.

So UHF has gone from being television’s skid row — inhabited, according to longtime industry stereotype, by low-budget stations that made just enough money so that the station manager could hire an exterminator once in a while to get rid of the rats and roaches — to being the coolest neighbourhood on the dial, in less than a generation.

There’s just one hitch: most outdoor aerials in Manitoba were designed for VHF, not UHF, which could cause reception problems.

If approved by federal regulators, CBC’s English TV signal will be moving from channel 6 to channel 27, while the French-language service will be moving from channel 3 to channel 51 by next year’s Labour Day weekend. The deadline to make any objections known to the CRTC is October 26.

CBC Winnipeg Digital TV Coverage Area

Click here to find out if you'll still be able to watch CBC Winnipeg without cable or satellite after Aug. 31, 2011, and to find out if you'll need an indoor or outdoor antenna to do it. (© Communications Research Centre Canada, http://lrcov.crc.ca/main)

In other local television station news, the CRTC has dismissed a complaint about Jack Van Impe Presents, a paid-time religious program aired on Global Winnipeg. This stemmed from a 2009 complaint originally filed with the station and the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council by an unnamed viewer, who claimed that the program is “inappropriate for daytime hours when children could be watching, as they will be traumatized”.

In particular, the complainant was irked by the impication that “only Christians will be saved when doomsday comes in 2012” and that “anyone who is not Christian will suffer a horrible death”.

In their weekly program, Michigan-based televangelists Jack and Rexella Van Impe present their case that Barack Obama and the European Union are harbingers that the world is imminently about to experience “the rapture”. When this happens, according to the Van Impes, selected Christians will suddenly disappear into Heaven, leaving everyone else behind to deal with the resulting chaos.

As the following excerpt from a May 31, 2009 broadcast shows, these doomsday scenarios are frequently interrupted by sales pitches for DVDs:

Jack: Well, as you know, Kissinger said we are preparing Obama to create the new world order and Brown is pushing Blair, really his enemy in the past in the U.K., to become the first permanent president of the European Union because he says “I want Blair to be a partner with Obama in the creation and architecture of the new world order.”  Every sign that you hear, every sign from Revelations chapters 6 to 18 occurs during the reign of the leader of the new world order.  It’s the final sign.  I can’t emphasize it enough.

Rexella: All right.  Friends, we need to be focussing on the fact that the Lord could come very, very soon.  That is good news.  We’re going to get on with more global headlines in just a moment.  But let me just say that, whoa, you want to get your call in right away.  We’re really trying to get them out as fast as we can [holds up DVD].  New World Order Rising, our wonderful offer of the week.

Rexella Van Impe explains the Rapture in this ’90s video*
(Yes, the ’90s really were that cheesy.)

* — Too bad they couldn’t make that plane swerve erratically through the sky for dramatic effect!