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PBS explains problems with its signal strength



Published: Sat, January 24, 2009 @ 12:09 a.m.

By Shelby Schroeder

WNEO PBS’ digital signal goes full power.

YOUNGSTOWN — Digital television-ready residents anticipating a quiet night in the warm glow of “Antiques Road Show” may have been unable to find it — or any PBS programming in the Mahoning Valley — until this week.

The Salem-based PBS station WNEO 45 hit the digital airwaves earlier than mandated, on Nov. 21. But because of low broadcast power, many residents were without the channel entirely until Thursday, when the station increased its signal strength more than 11 times.

When the switch was first made to digital, the signal strength was just 44 kilowatts.

“We found there were holes in the lower output,” said Amanda Donatelli, marketing and communications specialist for WNEO. “Some of the areas that have been affected are Austintown, Brookfield and Canfield.”

But according to the station’s official request to the Federal Communications Commission to maximize its signal strength, those communities weren’t the only ones experiencing problems receiving WNEO. After the station switched from analog to digital broadcasting, it received about 150 calls and 66 e-mails concerning the change from Youngstown and western Pennsylvania customers.

Residents already prepared for the digital transition Feb. 17, and all of those still using an analog signal, were out of luck.

And though the problem of choppy or nonexistent digital signals appears to be nonexclusive to stations in the Valley, other PBS broadcasters said they avoided problems with planning.

Kelly Martin, the public information coordinator for PBS station WOUB 21 in Athens, Ohio, said her station broadcast with a 500-kilowatt digital signal from the start because station officials knew a lower signal would not reach its full customer base. The geography of the Athens region, which is similar to that of the Valley, would interfere with signals, she said.

“Topography does make a difference,” Martin explained. “Any time — with any broadcast media you use — you go over a large hill or a big valley, you’re not going to get the signal as well.”

WOUB switched to digital in September 2006, long before other stations were prepared for the transition.

The station even conducted an aircraft fly-over study to monitor the signal strength and ensure area homes would receive WOUB and two subchannels.

After the FCC approved its application, WNEO proceeded with increasing its signal.

Donatelli said the station has called about 20 of the residents who registered complaints to inform them of the upgrade. Of those, only one still had difficulty receiving a signal, which Donatelli said could be attributed to an ineffective set of rabbit ears.

“The main thing we’re telling people is to re-scan for channels,” she said. “After they’ve done that process, they should be able to pick us up clearly.”

Donatelli also suggested that residents direct their antennas toward the station in Salem. If successful, she said, two channels will be available: 45-1 and 45-2.

sschroeder@vindy.com


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