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The Friends of THIRTEEN: Preparing New York City for DTV

Friday, June 12th, 2009
  • comments (30)

by Daniel T. Allen
Community Engagement Coordinator
Friends of Thirteen

The Friends of THIRTEEN is a nonprofit organization of volunteers who act as liaisons between THIRTEEN and the community to: INCREASE engagement with the station’s quality programming; PROMOTE use of its innovative educational resources; and EXPAND support for public media as one of our nation’s great cultural resources. For more information about Friends please contact Executive Director Dorothy Pacella at 212.560.2800 or Pacella@thirteen.org.

It’s finally here. After literally years of preparation America finally faces the digital television transition. From the $350,000 advertisement for placed by the FCC on a NASCAR (that crashed twice) to the four month push-back of the date, it’s been a long strange trip.

Prof. Joan Fonseca of the Medgar Evers School of Business helps a local resident learn about the DTV switch.

In order to help the city prepare for “the big switch,” Friends of Thirteen have been working hard since last fall to connect seniors to information about DTV, train volunteers, and bring together community leaders across the five boroughs.

In September last year, Friends attended “Harlem Connects,” a conference to help Harlem’s seniors get connected. The conference hosted by the Harlem Consumer Education Council made it apparent that far too many people lacked crucial information about the conversion.

In October, we convened a “DTV community coalition” here at the station for community-based organizations, city officials, activists and educators to brainstorm strategies to raise community awareness about the transition.

We’ve provided pamphlets and DVDs of the PBS program “Getting Ready for DTV” to community-based organizations and religious institutions in Russian, Polish, Chinese, Spanish and English.

Friends partnered with Saul Shapiro, President of the Metropolitan Television Alliance, to train 35 students at Medgar Evers College in Crown Heights, Brooklyn to become DTVolunteers.

The DTVolunteers program was designed as a “train the trainers” model. Once the students completed a two-hour training in late April, they paid it forward by taking their skills to the streets.

Donning their THIRTEEN t-shirts (on of the perks of becoming a DTVolunteer) the students visited local churches and senior centers, over 25 local businesses and apartment buildings to talk with Brooklynites about DTV and what they could expect on June 12th. They also placed flyers on cars in the area.

Medgar Evers students

Medgar Evers students and volunteers work the DTV info tables

Working with Prof. Joan Fonseca of the Medgar Evers School of Business, students set up tables just outside campus. Their goal was twofold; disseminate information about DTV and get people signed up for the $40 coupon towards the purchase of a digital converter box.

“The students felt empowered like they were really helping the community,” said Prof. Fonseca. “The work was not glamorous but they really enjoyed it.”

In a few cases, the students even went into private homes to help residents hook up their digital converter boxes.

Community members responded positively to the outreach efforts in the past several weeks and several residents of the area thanked the students for the help.

As the transition takes place, I know that the hard work of volunteers like the students from Medgar will pay off. Although there will be many who we were unable to reach in this vast city, I’m sure that the impact of our outreach will be felt.

Personally, I’m hoping today will be pass in and out of memory like the much-inflated Y2K scare, but just in case, 12 Medgar students will be on standby waiting to serve the central Brooklyn community over the weekend.

If you need assistance in Brooklyn, please contact Prof. Fonseca at 718.704.4638 or joanpfonseca@aol.com.


  • Kathi

    Oh, my … I was prepared ahead of time for the transition … I live in Port Washington, on Long Island … I have “lost” Thirteen and it breaks my heart!!! (I am now getting NJN’s PBS) Yikes: NO MORE Charlie Rose * Yavis Smiley for me??? NO MORE “Reel 13″ each Saturday night? I am very, very saddened…guess I could watch on my computer, but my computer is almost 8 years old and sllooow as molasses. I will keep researching this issue online & keep scanning (maybe, a miracle???)…please email me if you have any suggestions. Thank you!

  • Rachel

    Same situation here– I’ve been prepared since January. I got lots of extra channels, including Kids Thirteen, and now Thirteen is gone completely, since yesterday. I’m baffled– I thought I was totally prepared. I still have most of my other channels, but Thirteen is all I really care about.

  • Rachel

    OH. I figured it out. Crucial piece of information missing– even if you re-scanned for channels before June 12, you need to re-scan again after the switch. This seems to be the case only for Thirteen, because they couldn’t afford to be broadcasting in both formats prior to the switch. Thirteen, if this is the case, I think you are going to have to try to get the word out– some viewers may not realize they’re missing Thirteen and that they need to re-re-scan starting today. Not sure how you’re going to get that word out, since those affected now cannot view Thirteen. Anyway, after the re-scan, I’m back in business.

  • Yael

    Just hooked up today (have had my box for ages), got loads of new channels, but no thirteen. It’s the only channel we actually watch.

  • Linda

    I added converter box in February, scanned and received channel 13 until now. I re-scanned on June 12, 13 and 14 and no longer pick up channel 13. What happened? Is there anything I can do?

  • Teri Nelson

    Have an HDTV set, an HDTV rabbit ear antenna in New Jersey. Got 13 just fine up til now. Now Nothing before and after scanning. I do love NJN but it lacks some things 13 has (had) that were convenient for me. Come back beloved station.

  • Geoffrey

    I got 13 until June 12. I rescanned on June 12, 13, and 14. Still no 13. What’s wrong?

  • Scott

    I’ve had converter boxes installed for nearly a year. I -was- receiving 13.1, 13.2 & 13.3 until Friday – then they disappeared. Rescanned – nothing. Manually added the channels and searched for signal. It IS there, but so weak it is unusable. That seems unacceptable since I’m only in Central Queens! I can see the Empire State Building from here – isn’t that where the PBS signal is originating??

  • Kathi

    …I have re-scanned several times…the first time was “the required” re-scan after 12:30pm on Friday, the 12th…I keep hoping; but still no Channel 13. How sad to lose the one station that truly enhances…I just wish they would email us or let us know on this website if a solution is in the works.

  • Blyth

    Have new HDTV, no cable, roof antenna. Receiving
    Channel 13-1, 13-2, 13-3, 13-9, 13-10. 9 & 10 have
    no programming and register as “air”. Assume for future use. 13-1 reads WNET=HD; 13-2 reads KIDS; 13-3 reads V-ME. WNET monthly program book lists
    only events on CHANNEL 13. Which one is it? Assume it’s 13-1….and will future monthly listing
    include 13-2 and 13-3?
    Further, have been unable to tape 13 programs on VCR since changeover as VCR only reard “13″ and no sub-numbers. Am I unable to record any tv shows now?
    Thanks for any help.

  • Anna

    I cannot receive 13 with my new LCD TV and amplified, multidirectional UHF/VHF antenna; however, my mother’s old TV with converter box and new amplified antenna receives all channels just fine. The FCC line has no solution. What could be the problem?

    I heard that recording with a VCR must be done in “real time,” ie, only when the program is on the TV.

  • Lynda

    We’ve had our converter box, but had to turn it off to receive 13. We now do not get channel 13 at all. This is not good!

  • THIRTEEN Webmaster

    In response to your comments above, here are answers from our THIRTEEN programming team:

    Comment:
    …I have re-scanned several times…the first time was “the required” re-scan after 12:30pm on Friday, the 12th…I keep hoping; but still no Channel 13. How sad to lose the one station that truly enhances…I just wish they would email us or let us know on this website if a solution is in the works.

    Answer: It would help us if we knew where you live and whether you are having difficulty receiving any of the other digital broadcast stations. Digital 13 is now at full power on back on 13 — digital VHF, not UHF. Your reception problem may be related to the kind of antenna you are using. This would be the case if you can now receive some digital broadcast stations (WNBC or WCBS, for example) but not Thirteen or WABC). WNBC and WCBS are on digital UHF frequencies while Thirteen and WABC are now on the digital VHF frequencies. A dual band (UHF/VHF) antenna is necessary to receive all the over the air digital broadcasters. There also appear to be some problems in some areas in our region with indoor reception, in general, for Thirteen and the other digital VHF stations. We’re looking into it to see what can be done at our end.

    Comment:
    I’ve had converter boxes installed for nearly a year. I -was- receiving 13.1, 13.2 & 13.3 until Friday – then they disappeared. Rescanned – nothing. Manually added the channels and searched for signal. It IS there, but so weak it is unusable. That seems unacceptable since I’m only in Central Queens! I can see the Empire State Building from here – isn’t that
    where the PBS signal is originating??

    Answer: Sounds as though your problem is an antenna issue — either the wrong kind (see above response) or perhaps not situated in the best reception location for the Thirteen signal that is now on the digital VHF frequency. You may want to try moving the antenna around and if possible closer to a window facing the Empire State Building.

    Comment:
    I added converter box in February, scanned and received channel 13 until now. I re-scanned on June 12, 13 and 14 and no longer pick up channel 13. What happened? Is there anything I can do?

    Again, it would be helpful to know where you are located. It sounds as though you have an antenna problem. (See responses above.)

    Comment:
    Have an HDTV set, an HDTV rabbit ear antenna in New Jersey. Got 13 just fine up til now. Now Nothing before and after scanning. I do love NJN but it lacks some things 13 has (had) that were convenient for me. Come back beloved station.

    Answer: Another possible antenna problem — please check to make sure that your rabbit ear antenna is a digital VHF antenna. Thirteen was on the UHF digital frequency up until last Friday, so it sounds as though your antenna is for digital UHF reception and not digital VHF reception. A dual band (UHF/VHF) antenna would be a good solution.

  • Snowbody

    Blyth – Unless you have a VCR with a digital tuner (also known as ATSC) you need to plug the output of the converter box into the VCR, and you can only record the channel that is currently selected on the converter box.

    Some higher-end VCRs and related devices (e.g. Tivo) have the ability to control an external box via infrared (they include an emitter that you point at the infrared sensor of the external box). The feature was targetted at proprietary cable and satellite boxes, but depending on which converter box you got it might work there too.

    But probably you won’t be able to do that. Most likely you’ll have to set the converter box in advance to the right channel (some of them are programmable to switch to particular channel on a particular date and time). As for the VCR, depending on which cable and jack you use, the channel to program on the VCR will either be “3″ or “AV” or “AUX”.

  • Ken

    Hi PBS!
    Like so many of your viewers I too am having a problem. I have a brand new digital television that “received” all local channels (2 – CBS,4 – NBC,5 – FOX,7 – ABC,9 – WOR,11 – WPIX, & 13 – PBS) before June 12, 2009. I live in northwestern Morris County region of NJ, on a mountain top and have an external rooftop antenna.
    After 6/12/09 I “rescanned” my television and now receive 13-1 WNET-HD, 13-2 KIDS, 13-3 V-ME, 58-1 WNJB-DT, 58-2 NJN-2, 58-3 NJN-AV, Channels 2 & 4 simply respew the DTVanswers video continuously.
    here did local stations 2,4,5,7,9,11, and 13 go? And how do I get them back?
    Please post or respond to my email ASPA at bigeasy@comcast.net
    Thankyou,
    Ken

  • compleint

    I have cable on both TV why is Channel not playing went order local channels play and I am missing many programs

  • Jgarbuz

    For those who are no longer receiving Channel 13, you probably require a better antenna. The indoor antenna I use now is the Wineguard 3000. It cost about $60-$70 dollars. But even so, you have to sometime roatate it depending on the time or weather. A regular cheap VHF/UHF antenna probably won’t do it.I had one but it would not pick up 13. The Wineguard 3000 does, so I recommend it if you can afford the $60-$70. Requires slight assembly, not difficult.

  • Charlie B

    I agree with the others that my DTV setup (in western Queens) gets all VHF stations but the 13s. When the Comments reply, “it would be helpful to know where you are located,” who should we be telling and by what medium?

  • Matthew

    I’ve had the converter box installed for 6 months. Prior to the switch on 6/12/2009, I was receiving 7.1, 7.2, & 7.3, 11.1 & 11.2 and 13.1, 13.2 & 13.3 until Friday – then they disappeared. Rescanned – nothing. Manually added the channels and searched for signal. It IS there, but so weak it is unusable. That seems unacceptable since I live in Passaic County, New Jersey I can see the Empire State Building from here – isn’t that where the WABC, WPIX and WNET (PBS) signal is originating?? What is going on??

  • Nathan Szyszko

    The FCC hotline says from my location zip code 11219,I need an attenuator. The high uhf stations are drowning out the digital vhf stations 7,11 and 13. The converters don’t work properly.My set does have the numbers for 11 and 13. !1 was there awhile then disappeared.13 has not appeared at all. The entire conversion process was and is a disgrace. There was no quality control on the converters and no testing of the signals. This entire hdtv process was and is a plot for America to go cable and spend 50-60 a month. The FCC did not test properly that the digital vhf stations would work. As an aside Leonard Goldenson,the founder of ABC picked Channel 7 because he suspected the lower frequencies (2-6) would be eliminated. Until the Freedom Tower is up there will be no improvement. The engineers knew that digital would not work properly in New York City without cable.The concept of a hybrid digital vhf and uhf was and is an error.Talk to the engineers.I am not about to buy more antennas and converters.

  • Nathan

    Good article in TV Newsday about the fallacy of VHF in the DTV world. Any thought of petitioning FCC for a UHF number

  • Greg

    My girlfriend, who lives in Bayside, Queens, seems to be having a similar problem with the “new” digital VHF broadcasts (PBS, ABC). She uses an amplified VHF/UHF indoor antenna, but still cannot pick up the VHF stations. She picks up most of the UHF stations just fine.

  • ‘ex-Friend’

    (a.) New Jersey Friends of Thirteen … no more!
    (b.) WNET channel 13 OTA analog reception in central New Jersey … no more!
    (c.) WNET channel 13 carriage on cable by Comcast et al in central New Jersey … no more!
    (d.) WNET channels 13.1/13.2/13.3 OTA digital reception in central New Jersey … how and when?

    Apparently the scope of your coverage area has been gradually shrinking much to our dismay and disapointment. This deserves executive attention and communication to and for the benefit of former viewers/members such as ourselves. Please … establish a dedicated web page to explain these service reductions, both over-the-air and via subscription, and what if anything is being done by WNET and/or the FCC to remedy this predicament.

  • Nathan

    DTV transition not so smooth in some markets
    Jun 22, 2009 11:47 AM, By Michael Grotticelli

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    Michael Copps, the FCC’s acting chairman, said, “There will be a period of adjustment as we all figure out how to make this new technology work in the real world.”

    The DTV transition continues into its third week, with antenna and reception glitches plaguing viewers and stations with low VHF channel numbers mainly located in large Northeastern cities.

    When the remaining 971 full-power television stations went digital on June 12, it was expected there would be sporadic problems throughout the country. That prediction turned out to be true. Only the locations were wrong. Rather than Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Dallas and Austin — the least prepared DTV cities — the most significant problems turned out to be in Northeastern urban areas.

    In Philadelphia, for example, thousands of over-the-air viewers could not receive the signal of WPVI-TV, channel 6, an ABC O&O and the leading station in the market. There were also reception problems with WHYY-TV, channel 12, the public television station in Philadelphia. Similar problems occurred with stations in New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

    In Chicago, WLS-TV, channel 7, another ABC O&O, and WBBM-TV, channel 2, had significant complaints of reception problems. In Washington, D.C., WUSA-TV, channel 9, and WJLA-TV, channel 7, disappeared from many viewers’ screens. In New York City, where nearly 11,000 viewers called with problems, many apartment dwellers lost reception due to improper master antennas on the roofs of their buildings.

    FCC officials have held meetings to discuss a potential solution to the reception problems. In some cases, stations may have to increase power levels or add translators to extend the signal to more viewers. However, in cities like Philadelphia, the FCC is afraid to boost the signal of WPVI because it could lead to interference with FM radio stations in Philadelphia, or TV stations in other markets.

    A key part of the problem is focused on the lower channel numbers in the VHF frequency band. More than 480 stations across the country are now airing broadcasts on VHF frequencies. Only 216 stations were operating on those frequencies before the transition.

    This is the case in Philadelphia, where WPVI broadcasts on channel 6 in the VHF band, adjacent to many FM radio stations. WHYY broadcasts on channel 12. Other Philadelphia TV stations — the ones without trouble — broadcast in upper VHF or in the UHF band.

    Similar reception problems were reported in the VHF bands in New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. It is now believed that the FCC inaccurately forecast the necessary signal strength for VHF in the lower channel range.

    “We are looking at all available options to resolve these issues,” said Michael Copps, the FCC’s acting chairman. He said the commission is discussing issues with individual stations and has bolstered its staff in the problem areas.

    Copps noted that transition continues and will go on for a long time. “The DTV transition is not a one-day affair,” he noted. “There will be a period of adjustment as we all figure out how to make this new technology work in the real world. Some consumers still need to get converter boxes. Others will have to move or adjust their antennas or perhaps even buy more powerful ones in order to receive the channels they should be receiving.”

    On June 12, the day the analog shutdown occurred, New York City led with 11,000 callers, the largest number at the FCC call center. Number two was Chicago at 6526, followed by Los Angeles with 5473, Dallas-Fort Worth at 4329, and Philadelphia with 3749. The total number of calls last week was nearly 900,000. About 4000 staffers handled the calls, the FCC said.

    About 28 percent of the calls concerned the operation of digital converter boxes that many viewers of over-the-air broadcasts needed to connect to their TV sets, while 26 percent reported not being able to receive specific stations and 23 percent with broader reception issues.

    A key issue involved antennas. Viewers need combination UHF/VHF antennas to get all digital stations. Wally Grotophorst of Hamilton, VA, was a good example of the problem. On Friday, he lost the Washington-based ABC and CBS stations, channels 7 and 9, which he could pick up digitally before the transition.

    That’s because those stations, like dozens of others, switched their digital signals from the UHF frequency band to the VHF band as they cut their analog signals. However, Grotophorst’s antenna, like many others branded as “digital” and sold over the past few years, was designed only for UHF reception. Grotophorst said the move to VHF spectrum was news to him, and the stations didn’t mention it in their educational materials.

    In New York City, where many apartment buildings share a common master antenna on the roof, viewers discovered that only VHF antennas could receive channels 2 through 13. Before the transition, this didn’t mean much. On June 12, however, that changed when tenants could not pick up UHF stations.

    The problem was compounded when most stores in New York City sold out of antennas quickly, leaving the city’s first shortage of TV antennas in decades.

    A Time Warner cable technician, several hours late for an appointment last week, told one New York City apartment dweller that the cable provider has been swamped with new subscribers in the days since June 12. He said cable installers were working overtime to accommodate the influx of new cable subscribers.

    Some DTV reception problems were resolved by having viewers “double rescan” their converter boxes in order to find the new digital TV channels, the FCC said. Volunteers discovered that simple scanning was sometimes not enough. Double rescanning can clear the box’s memory of saved channels. These earlier scans may have saved channel information that is now incorrect.

    The FCC last week posted five steps to do a double rescan for a converter box or digital TV. First, the box must be disconnected from the antenna. Then the owner rescans the tuner without the antenna connected. After that, unplug the tuner from the electrical outlet for at least one minute. Finally, reconnect the antenna and power, and rescan again.

    The FCC also warned that in addition to making sure one uses a VHF/UHF antenna, that the antenna must be located properly. Usually, that means it should not sit on top of the TV set, but by a window. If that doesn’t work, a rooftop antenna may be needed, the FCC said.

    The commission also announced that 121 stations are providing analog nightlight service in 87 markets. The service, which provides DTV transition information and emergency news and weather, will remain in effect for 30 days after the transition.

    The Nielsen Company said last week that 2.5 million households had no over-the-air television signal two days after the transition was complete. Though there were slight ratings declines during that time, Nielsen was reluctant to blame the DTV transition. It could be, the company said, the result of warmer weather or fewer major sports events on the air.

  • John

    WNET 13 will never get another cent from me if they cannot resolve their incredibly weak digital signal. I have a plasma Panasonic and a Terk vhf/uhf antennae with signal booster. I have disconnected, unplugged, and rescanned numerous times. Occasionally I regained 13-1 only to lose it the next day. Prior to the transition I received 13 with 80% signal. Now I am lucky to get 40% and that disappears also. I have set up the antennae by compass setting from antennae web that for me should be 161 degrees. I get all other stations from 161 and 168 degrees perfectly with signal of 80 to 95%. I even pick up WLIW at 123 degrees with a 60% signal. There is no other conclusion that the signal from WNET 13 is to weak to travel 19 miles to NJ.

  • Sebastian

    We had 13-1, 13-2, and 13-3 since June 14 (after rescan). It disappeared 5 days ago (July 5th), and we’ve been unable to get it back.

    We have a Terk VHF/UHF antenna with signal amplifier, and Zinwell Converters with excellent reception for most other channels. (We also lost 9 at the same time).

    There seems something utterly wrong with the curious fact that the signal problems disproportionately affect PBS stations in major metropolitan areas.

    I find it difficult to believe that there are any mysteries regarding the physics and technology of broadcasting a bunch of digital TV signals, when we can have millions of mobile phones downloading and uploading videos, and do all kinds of other stunts at the same time. It’s 2009, for crying out loud. I don’t buy the ‘we have to figure this out’ bs.

    I think the FCC has been asleep at the switch, and we have to realize that almost none of the stations have any vested interest in a good quality over-the-air signal, since they generate revenue through all the other delivery methods.

  • Sara

    I also lost only channel 13 with the switch. After getting the converter box in February, I was receiving 3 channels 13, and lost them all in June. This is a huge disappointment as it was my favorite channel and I cannot afford to buy special antennae just to “try” to see if that works.

  • Barry Hecht

    We had no problem receiving thirteen after the switch until about a month ago (May 2010). Now it is only sporadically viewable. What happened?

  • Lourdes

    I was not receiving channels 7,11 & 13 and I thought all I would need would be an additional VHF indoor antenna since I have a rooftop antenna. Never mind that I cannot receive channel 4 which is in UHF. Before June I was receiving all channels. After reading about double re-scanning, I tried it. And sure enough, I gained 7 & 11 but alas, lost 5 & 9. And this never resolved the issue with channel 4 & 13. Meanwhile, I have an old TV in the bedroom with its attached rabbit ears and on that TV I can receive all of the above. I can’t find a reasonable explanation.

  • Ira

    Yesterday I noticed I was not receiving OTA 5, 7,11,13 and probably more. I rescanned. No luck. I don’t think anything changed with my setup but I’ll keep checking. I have 4.4 then skips to 25. Nothing in between. Used to be a lot there.