Yes, it’s still possible to get free television.
Three years ago, Joey Baker was considering purchasing a satellite television receiver for his cabin on the family farm east of Emerson.
Baker was hesitant to spend the money, given his family actually lived near Little Rock, and was at the cabin only occasionally.
A friend suggested he try an outside television antenna.
Like many, Baker was unaware television reception using an antenna was even still possible. The analog-to-digital television conversion in 2009 confused many, and gave some Americans the impression that over-the-air television reception no longer existed.
After some research, Baker spent about $60 online for an antenna. He mounted it on a 20-foot pole, and found he could pick up several stations in high-definition (HD), all for free.
“It works wonderful,” said Baker.
“It’s kind of ironic,” he added. “We have cable TV at my home in Bryant, but it’s not in HD. But my farm house reception is HD, and it’s free.”
Afterwards, the “TV for free” news spread through Baker’s family.
“I’ve had four relatives put up the same antenna,” said Baker.
The relatives, scattered from Lake Erling to Shongaloo, have also had good results. “They’re just amazed,” said Baker. “Now they think I’m a genius. Little do they know.”
Baker receives Channels 3 (ABC), 6 (NBC), 12 (CBS), 21 (CW), 24 (PBS), 33 (Fox) and 45 (MNT), all in Shreveport.
Additionally, he receives KTVE, Channel 10, the NBC affiliate licensed to El Dorado/Monroe.
Even better, most of these stations have subsidiary channels. For instance, KTBS, Channel 3, in reality has three channels: 3-1, 3-2 and 3-3. While Channel 3-1 is the main, HD, ABC-affiliated channel, Channel 3-2 gives weather coverage around-the-clock, most often displaying local live radar. The third channel, Channel 3-3, usually airs repeats of KTBS newscasts, very convenient should you have missed the original broadcast on Channel 3-1.
The antenna Baker purchased is a UHF-only antenna made by Antennas Direct (Model 91XG).
The fact that Baker uses a UHF-only antenna is significant for the Columbia County area. Beginning in 2009, every television station in Shreveport now transmits on a UHF frequency. (This is also true for KTVE, Channel 10, whose broadcasting tower is near Huttig, Arkansas.) If the Shreveport market is all you’re interested in receiving, a UHF-only antenna (versus a VHF-UHF combination antenna) is all that is necessary, and indeed is preferable.
(Note this is not true for the Little Rock market. There KETS, Channel 2, and KTHV, Channel 11, still transmit in the VHF band.)
In any case, purchasing the right television antenna is important for residents of Columbia County.
When her satellite television receiver went out recently, Jane Freppon of the Walkerville community was told a new receiver would take several days to arrive. Though she knew it was possible to receive over-the-air television out of Shreveport, she and her husband Jerry had never put up an antenna.
As a short term solution, she purchased a small indoor TV antenna. It didn’t work.
That’s not surprising, considering Columbia County’s distance to the Shreveport TV transmitting towers. It is 57 air-miles from Channel 12’s tower to the Square in Magnolia. That’s on the fringe of the signal’s line-of-sight coverage.
Those in the “do-it-yourself” crowd should be aware it’s possible to build your own antenna. An online search for “homemade DTV antenna” will bring up a number of sites with antenna construction plans.
The use of antennas to receive over-the-air television is now on the rise, after plummeting immediately upon the analog-to-digital conversion in 2009. According to a June report from the research firm GfK Media & Entertainment, 19.3 percent of American households get their TV from broadcast television, rather than cable or satellite. That’s up from 14 percent in 2010.
The main advantage is that it is free. An obvious disadvantage is that there are fewer channels available. While the major networks are broadcast over-the-air, most other channels are available only via cable or satellite.
There are a few other disadvantages as well, principally caused by the fact that the signal is now digital, which occasionally causes confounding problems that were absent with analog television.
With digital television, there is never any “snowy” reception. There is either a crystal clear picture or none at all. Unfortunately, the “none at all” scenario makes troubleshooting the problem difficult.
Digital television broadcasts, like digital signals everywhere, consist of a stream of 1s and 0s. As long as all the 1s and 0s arrive at the receiver in a proper manner, the video and audio can be reconstructed and sent to the screen and speaker.
In the case of over-the-air television, this process is occasionally interrupted.
Consider what happens when a thunderstorm is nearby.
In the old days of analog television, lightning would cause interference that would present itself on the screen as a sort of white flash across a portion of the screen. It was annoying, to be sure, but the content of the programming could generally still be followed.
In the case of digital over-the-air television, energy from the lightning strike reaches the television antenna along with the intended television signal, and causes interference with some of the digital 1s and 0s. When this happens, the screen goes blank, freezes, or stutters.
There is also another type of interference that can cause certain channels to be blacked out for long periods of time, for seemingly no reason. And, in the digital age, it’s very difficult to diagnose.
Here’s what happens: When certain (usually rare) weather conditions exist, television signals can be trapped between layers of the atmosphere, travel over the horizon, and be received hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles away.
In the old analog days, if you were watching, say, Channel 3 at the same time a different, distant Channel 3 started to also be received, it was usually possible to see the interfering Channel 3’s picture floating like a ghost in the background over the local station. It made watching less pleasant, but could usually be tolerated.
These days, when that happens, the interfering station causes the digital television to be unable put all the 1s and 0s from the local station back together in the proper order. As a result, the TV screen goes blank, or says something such as “No signal.”
Worse, and what’s most maddening for the typical viewer, is the fact there’s no simple way to know what’s causing the problem.
One way to possibly find out is to instruct the television to do a scan for channels it can receive. If it finds distant stations that aren’t normally received in your area, you’ve likely discovered the problem. But then, with most digital televisions, to get back to where the television was, and remember the local channels, you have to rescan the channels at some later time when atmospheric conditions have returned to normal.
Occasionally there are problems with opposition to outside antennas in “planned communities.” If someone wishes to install a television antenna in such an area, and encounters this problem, they should be aware of the Federal Communications Commission’s “Over-the-Air Reception Devices Rule,” which prevents such restrictions.
Written to enforce a provision of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the rule bans “restrictions that impair the installation, maintenance or use of antennas used to receive video programming.” It was later expanded to also include renters, giving them rights to set up antennas within areas they control, such as a patio.