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This month the editor gives some expert pointers on what seems to be a lost art -- how to get local TV!

A part of the "social distancing" quarantine we have all been experiencing since early March has been a big upswing of "cord cutting", as those who have subscriptions to cable or satellite TV services have reduced their expenses by cutting back on those subscriptions, and trying to use local free local high-definition TV and "online streaming" to replace it.

And, those who have been trying to get those four dozen local TV channels being broadcast free over the air in Portland have sometimes had problems. We've been helping to fix those issues and get the channels, and there are three main things causing most of the problems. This month your editor offers some expert tips on what they are, and how to fix them, in case they're problems you've run into also.

First, YOU HAVE TO SCAN FOR CHANNELS. Before digital TV came along around twelve years ago, TV sets had tuners that automatically tuned all the potential channels, and you'd find whatever channels you could get simply by tuning around. You can't do that anymore, with these new digital TV sets. You won't get any channels on them at all until you go into the Menu and Scan For Channels (or similar wording). The TV set is now a computer, and the tuning process requires that the set hunt for the available channels, and find them, before you can tune in any of them. Oh, incidentally, last fall, KATU-2 finally changed the channel it was broadcasting on from 43 to 24. (It no longer matters what channel a station broadcasts on – the set will assign it the number the channel says it has, and will put it there on your set, regardless of where it really is.) We told you repeatedly about this impending change last year – channels 6 and 24 had to go through this process also in 2018 when the FCC sliced off all TV channels above 36, and auctioned these frequencies off to wireless companies, with the idea of speeding up your cell phone signals. We mention this, just in case you haven't received Channel 2 since sometime last fall! To get it back, all you have to do is "Scan For Channels" again!

Second – If you Scan For Channels and only get three of them – Channels 8, 10, and 12 – the problem is that you haven't gone into the menu of the TV set to CHANGE THE INPUT SETTING from "Cable" to "TV" (or "Antenna"). You see, most sets are shipped preset to "cable mode", since the manufacturers think it is more likely you will connect to a cable system than to an antenna. And, all the TV channels on cable systems above Channel 13 are on different frequencies than the original broadcast channels. After you reset the input to "Local TV" or "Antenna", you'll have to Scan for Channels again, before the TV set finds all those other channels – including Channels 2 and 6! Third – after you perform both the above steps and see what you get, you should receive most of the stronger local TV stations, if not everything available. If you don't, or if you want the lower power signals also, CHECK YOUR ANTENNA. If nothing at all is connected to the antenna input of your TV, in fact, you still might not be getting anything! The simplest TV antenna is one of those cheap flat wall panels you hang on your wall and connect to your TV – or, the traditional "rabbit ears" type – or some other type of table-top antenna. The antenna you use needs to receive both VHF and UHF stations, and may or may not come with an amplifier to help strengthen the signals before they enter your TV. If the set-top antenna has a metal screen behind it, or behind part of it, the signal needs to be coming in from the opposite side than the screen, for best results. Most of the TV signals you are trying to receive are broadcast from that string of 1,000 foot towers on top of Sylvan Hill north of the summit on Highway 26 (the Sunset Highway). This is important, because if the antenna you are trying to use is "directional" – which means it enhances the signals coming from one direction by reducing the signals coming from the opposite direction – then the way you aim the antenna is important to getting the best results.

If you are using an indoor antenna, moving it around a bit might help get some stations you are not getting – but could also weaken others you already get. Experiment a bit, for the best results. And those flat wall-hanging antennas should have the flat side set more or less at right angles to the direction to Sylvan, since they receive best when the flat side is facing where the signals are coming from. Connecting a table-top antenna to each set is pretty easy for anyone to do – and you can get them locally at places like Best Buy, or by mail-order from reputable suppliers like www.solidsignal.com

But if you are getting fewer channels than are out there in Portland, and want better and more stable reception – and, if you are willing to do a little do-it-yourself-ing – an external antenna should do the trick. This could be mounted indoors, in your attic – or, better still, outside the house on a high surface, like a roof. If the external antenna is a flat panel design, that flat surface has to face Sylvan for best results. (The antenna panel would be at right angles to where the signal is coming from.) If it is a vertical antenna with "bow tie" elements, it is designed mostly for UHF, and you may need a second antenna to pick up Channels 8, 10, and 12 (although Channel 10 has a repeater on Channel 28, and you may receive it that way). But if that antenna also has a screen behind it, the side with the screen needs be on the side facing AWAY from Sylvan for best results. And, there are still antennas available locally and by mail-order for outdoor use that have a horizontal boom with many elements both for VHF and UHF; these are often the best and most sensitive antennas you can buy. On these antennas, the horizontal boom needs to be in lined up with, and pointing straight at, the towers on Sylvan – with the larger elements at the back end, and the smaller (and UHF) elements at the front end, pointing towards Sylvan. You would be surprised how many rooftop TV antennas there are around Southeast that are NOT pointing in the right direction! Some are pointing backwards, and some are aimed sideways with respect to the towers on Sylvan, and those would have the worst reception. A couple of tips if you are installing an external antenna yourself: For over fifty years, the best-built TV antennas, in our own opinion, have been by Winegard. They're worth the money. When you buy an external antenna you need to get something to mount it with, because most do not come with a mast and mounting hardware. Make sure you get something that will securely mount the antenna; a "chimney mount" and a ten-foot mast are often the easiest to install, and you wouldn't need to add guy wires to hold it up.

You need to connect the antenna to your TV (or to a "splitter", to distribute the signals to more than one TV); and for that you will need coaxial cable (RG6 type), a bit longer than you think you'll need, with fittings installed on both ends – you may be able to get this cable at a local hardware store, and they often sell splitters, too.

If you have had TV cable service in the past, their wiring into the house to all the TVs can be reused – just connect your coaxial cable to the INPUT of the splitter that the cable guy put on your house, and reconnect the TVs to the cable connections inside the house. (But do keep all the TVs on "Antenna" mode!) If you have any questions or problems, feel free to call THE BEE – 503/232-2326. And enjoy free local TV – in Portland, all four dozen channels of it!


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