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Over-The-Air Viewers: Broadcast TV Requires A Rescan

Composite photo Dave Lucas / Public Domain

If you watch free over-the-air TV, you'll likely have to re-scan channels over the weekend, as certain stations are switching frequencies.

The Federal Communications Commission says some local television stations nationwide will be changing frequencies to help open up airwaves for new high-speed wireless services. Only viewers who receive their local channels using a TV antenna will be affected, around 72 million Americans nationwide, according to the National Association of Broadcasters.

Rescanning only applies to people who receive their local channels using a TV antenna. Cable and satellite subscribers are not affected.

Jean Kiddoo Chairs the FCC's Incentive Auction Task Force.   "What we do here at the FCC is make sure that we're using the nation's airwaves as efficiently as possible, and we identified the TV broadcast spectrum as an area that we could use more efficiently if we packed the stations in tighter into the airwaves, and that way free up space for wireless broadband services, mobile broadband, high-speed high-capacity services that consumers are always demanding more and more of to do their streaming and other apps, new 5G services that are coming online."

And while your TV tells you that it is receiving Channel 10 or Channel 17, Dan Viles, general manager at Albany's WYBN Channel 14, says you're actually watching "channel something-else."    "If I'm on Channel 10 - they call the signal you're on your RF, and your physical channel RF is 24, and you're moving to 26, once your TV tuner has done that 15 minute thing with re-scan, and you can see it, it's a little bar that gets bigger and bigger as it find more channels,  once you've done that, all the data that your TV set (which is very much part computer right now) needs to tune in the channels is that data.  

Today or tomorrow, if the weather holds up like this, this is perfect weather to tune in because it's so clear. The bigger question is, 'should I re-scan every three months or six months,' and the big answer is a resounding 'yes,' because in the last five years, we went to eight channel, the people at Channel 10 went to four channels from three, the people at Ion went to six channels a couple of years ago. People keep adding channels because the compression of the signals, the bits and bytes keep getting smaller, and they can add more channels."

People still using a digital converter box won't need to re-scan: most models scan automatically.

From now until midnight, Ion TV's WYPX in Amsterdam is testing its new digital channel 19 transmitter located just outside the city of Albany, which will appear as Channels 55.1 through 55.6 . Again, Viles:  "They're going from being in a big hole, in a big valley, down in a big hole over there toward Gloversville and all that area, to up on top of the plateau, so they're gonna lose some coverage to the far west, they'll lose a little bit maybe in the Adirondacks above 'em like Speculator, but they're gonna come into Vermont now, into the Berkshires, cause remember they're full-power so they get more punch to get out there."

Kidoo says anyone who's purchased a flat-screen TV has had to scan channels, but if you've forgotten or need help…   "Our website at fcc.gov/TVrescan has information about why we're doing this and what's happening and how to re-scan. And we also have a dedicated call center that we've made available seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. Eastern Time. Help available in English and Spanish at that call center. 888-call-FCC, which is 1-888-225-5322."

The FCC's Consumer Toolkit offers guidance on TV frequency changes for people who use an antenna to watch over-the-air television.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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