Scanning the airwaves

As Clevelanders, we are used to “whiteouts” during winter snowstorms. Whiteout imagery outside the windshield reminds me of what showed up on our TV screen when fiddling with rabbit-ears to get a good reception in the good old days.

When the “analog” broadcast ended in mid-2009 with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandate requiring all TV stations broadcast exclusively in a “digital” format, blocky (geeky term: pixelated) imagery on the TV screen equated to poor reception. Many were already on cable or satellite TV service so never saw change.

Increasing cable and satellite TV subscription prices combined with the streaming revolution brought forth by the disruptive innovation we know as the internet, aka the cloud, have created a growing interest in “cutting the cord.”

It is true that cutting the cord involves utilizing streaming but with the current state of spotty availability of CLE local channels – i.e. traditional network channels like WKYC Channel 3 (NBC), WEWS Channel 5 (ABC), WJW Channel 8 (FOX), WOIO Channel 19 (CBS), and WVIZ Channel 25 (PBS) to name a few – by streaming service provider offerings, it also considers utilization of the over-the-air (OTA) digital programming that is free.

Gone are the rabbit ears of yesteryear, replaced by – literally – an antenna that looks more like a piece of paper that can be stuck on the wall or window facing the direction of Parma where many TV broadcast towers are located. Just search Amazon or Best Buy website with term “digital TV antenna” and you’ll see them listed as low as $20! But before you even spend $20, there are other prerequisites to maximize the chance of enjoying free OTA programming.

First, visit the website to input your street address to see what kind of OTA programming, i.e. what channels, your address is theoretically able to receive.

Second, you’ll need to determine if your TV set has a built-in “ATSC tuner.” This ATSC tuner’s functionality is akin to the set-top box that cable and satellite TV service providers lease you but ATSC tuners are specifically made to receive OTA programming.

If your TV lacks a built-in ATSC tuner, another search using the term “digital converter” on Amazon or Best Buy website should list these ATSC tuner set-top boxes from $30 and up. To connect the ATSC tuner set-top box to your TV requires an available HDMI connection on your TV. Most recent TV sets come with multiple “inputs,” sometimes referred to as “sources” depending on the TV manufacturer, and usually labeled as HDMI 1, HDMI 2, etc.

Assuming you meet the prerequisites and make your procurements, other than hooking up the antenna to the built-in ATSC tuner or to the ATSC tuner set-top box, you will need to “scan” the airwaves once to have the tuner memorize the frequencies of the digital channels it can receive. This procedure is similar to programing your car’s radio and assigning your favorite stations to the preset buttons for easy station-hopping on your commute.

Tak Sato

Strategist and technologist with almost 30 years of experience in the private sector. Holds Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Science and Executive MBA from Cleveland State University.

As Founder of the Center for Aging in the Digital World, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit empowering seniors with digital literacy, Tak connects the dots to help people utilize appropriate technology in their personal and professional lives.

Read More on The Digital World
Volume 12, Issue 2, Posted 9:47 AM, 01.21.2020