The Last Few Analogue TV Stations In North America

Analogue TV is something that most of us consider to have been consigned to the history books about a decade ago depending on where in the world we are, as stations made the transition to much more power and frequency efficient digital multiplexes. However some of them still cling on for North American viewers, and [Antenna Man] took a trip to Upstate New York in search of some of them before their final switch-off date later this year.

What he reveals can be seen in the video below the break, an odd world of a few relatively low-power analogue TV stations still serving tiny audiences, as well as stations that only exist because their sound carrier can be picked up at the bottom of the FM dial. These stations transmit patterns or static photographs, with their income derived from the sound channel’s position as an FM radio station. While his journey is an entertaining glimpse into snowy-picture nostalgia it does also touch on some other aspects of the aftermath of analogue TV boradcasting. The so-called “FrankenFM” stations sound much quieter, we’re guessing because of the lower sound carrier deviation of the CCIR System M TV spec compared to regular FM radio. And we’re told that there are more stations remaining in Canada, so get out there if you still want to see an analogue picture before they’re gone forever. Where this is being written the switch to DVB was completed in 2013, and it’s still a source of regret that we didn’t stay up to see the final closedown.

Does your country still have an analogue TV service? Tell us in the comments.

 

36 thoughts on “The Last Few Analogue TV Stations In North America

    1. The last hopeful from NY state area is the Bancroft CIII-TV-2 on channel 2, so if you wanna screw around with 5 Meters of dipole, you might just catch it before shutdown (schedule to be “by now” but no definite off air date given)

  1. South Africas national broadcaster still makes use of analog TV, even though the move to digital was announced 13 years ago, with the stated goal of the public tv operators broadcasting in digital by the following year (2008) and the switch off of analog tv broadcasting by the end of 2011. One year after the announcement our department of communications announced the digital migration policy, with a timetable showing a 4 year delay from the original proposed dates (digital broadcasting started 2013, 100% digital by 2015)

    As the majority of tv owners in SA had old (analog) tvs, the governments plan was to rollout set top boxes the handle the receiving/decoding of the digital signal, that tv owners could just connect to their existing tvs. Households earning below a certain amount would get the box free, and some other households would be subsidised. By 2018 as part of phase one of the rollout plan, half a million set top boxes had been installed and about 390 000 boxes were still sitting in a warehouse waiting to be distributed/installed.

    The same year, the set-top project was abandoned by government, having cost taxpayers R10 billion ($658 million in imperial measurement land currency) The process had mired in controversy for years, with evidence emerging of impropriety in the process, as well as arguments breaking out over whether the boxes should be unconditional access, conditional access or encrypted boxes (or some combination)

    The one side, a group that included e.tv (a privately owned free-to-air tv station) as well as a faction of Namec (National Association of Manufaturers in Electronic Components) and the SA Communication Forum, was arguing for a full control system with conditional access and encryption, whilst the other side argued for unconditional access.

    The unconditional access groups arguments were that adding conditional access to the set-top boxes was expensive and therfore not in the public interest, if e.tv (the conditional group) had conditional access then they could offer payed tv services while receiving government subsidies, and that decoders with conditional access would only benefit established white owned manufacturers, harming newer black owned manufacturers.

    So here we are in 2021, still broadcasting analog tv, which is causing issues for telecommunications as there is spectrum put aside for digital tv, that is not being used, whilst the 3 largest telecommunications providers (MTN, Vodacom and Telkom) are fighting over spectrum allocations and sueing the SA telecoms regulator ICASA.

    As a friend of mine says “Issa mess !”

  2. To this day I’m still upset we don’t have analog AND digital TV coexisting. So much so that I just gave up on television altogether. You see, where I live I’m less than 5 miles from any of the TV towers but I’m also in a place where we have so much reflected wave energy that we don’t get a clear signal even in the best of weather. And weather is really the only reason I had a television in the first place. Whenever we’d hear of a tornado warning in the area, I’d turn on the TV, tune it to a local station with good reporting, and then crank the volume so we could hear it in the basement. No, local radio ain’t worth even trying to use as none of them have nearly as good coverage and reporting as the TV stations did. We had bad ghosting pre-digital but the audio came through clear, BUT then when digital was the only option we actually lost 3 channels entirely and the other 3 are unwatchable due to constant break-ups. No, antennas don’t fix it.

    1. Yep, there were advantages to analog, shame they didn’t (at least in North America) keep VHF analog for repeating major stations, and UHF for all the digital crap. (I mean considering the amount of bandwith on UHF and the number of stations broadcasting on it there would be no problem with overcrowding.)

    2. We don’t have both simultaneously because there isn’t enough radio spectrum available. Not when UHF frequencies are prime real estate for broadband wireless internet service from cellular carriers. Wireless microphones have also felt the squeeze.

    3. There is some future hope. The new ATSC 3.0 standard uses a method of modulation that is far more resistant to multipath interference than the current ATSC 1.0. Some cities already have ATSC 3.0 broadcasts on the air; more will follow this year. So far the tuners are mostly found in high end TVs like LG’s OLED line, but standalone tuners (including one from Silicon Dust that supports watching over your home network) are available.

    1. I’ve tried this, trying to get a signal to small portables just across the desk, that didn’t have antenna or composite inputs, just built in whip, and it didn’t work. Tried various combos of modulator, VCR, 6dB amp 10dB amp, rabbitears and dipole… and I just a little while ago figured out why… the noise above the thermal noise floor on channels 2, 3, 4 is relatively huge, around 25dB then you’ve gotta allow about 6db for the receiver noise figure. So assuming your VCR or modulator would do enough above 6dB for a receiver to see anything and probably 10-12 to get a good pic, then you need another 30dB or so for just starting to detect it and another 10 maybe for the pic to be clear. So you can’t even get across the bench without a really stout amp.

        1. You can get a good 30 feet at UHF with little to no antenna.
          Stacking two signal boosters together in series can work fairly well, you usually get distortion at the top end of the adjustment on the cheaper ones. With a little fiddling around it can produce quite a clear image.

      1. I collect small portable analog TVs and when I get a new one I hook up a series of adapters, hdmi to composite, composite to cable/RF, then feed the resulting signal into an RF signal booster with and antenna attached to the output. Works like a charm on channels 3/4. Was testing an old Casio handheld lcd TV just the other day with this set up. It even produces a pretty good signal.

        I use a magnetic CB antenna attached to my drop ceiling as an TX antenna. Obviously it’s not tuned correctly for TV frequencies but it works.

        1. I think I have an old scart/composite to RF modulator somewhere, old stock from when Maplin went under, because when things are reduced to 5% of their retail value, including the store shelving, you can’t really say no. Needless to say, profits were made on eBay and parts bins were well stocked that year. They are pretty useful bits of kit, if I’m honest, most of the old TVs that come my way get stripped for goodies these days. I used to like making the odd oscilloscope but these days I just see flybacks and large fresnel lenses ect.

  3. I miss analog TV. Used to have a tiny radio that I got at Modell’s the sporting goods store for $10 (yes, TEN) and it received VHF TV audio so I could listen to my programs while out and about.

  4. There’s also Amateur TV, run by HAMs. Most of that is still going to be analog. Still quite low powered. I bought an agile modulator off of ebay a while back, but can’t really use it amplified and useful due to my close proximity to an Air Force base. Repurposed it to run video off of a Raspberry Pi through the old cable lines in my house. Nothing like running your own TV channel!

    1. Although amateur TV uses low power levels, they’re usually higher than the 4W ERP that one station in the video used. A typical setup will use an amplifier in the 50W class and a 10dB gain antenna; that won’t quite add up to 500W ERP because of feedline losses but could easily be 250W ERP. A signal like that should be much easier to receive than the 4W signal if the station’s antenna is aimed in your direction.

      The catch is that amateur TV does not operate at normal TV frequencies, it operates in the amateur bands. The most common frequency is around 430 MHz; there is also some amateur TV around 910 MHz. An old school analog TV would require a converter to receive those. A newer cable-ready TV can receive the 430 MHZ frequency directly.

      Hams are also doing some work with digital broadcasting. Most of it is using the European DVB-T standard rather than the American ATSC standard because equipment to produce it is far more affordable. (Fairly affordable ATSC modulators are now available but that’s a recent development.) Most TVs sold in the US do not have DVB-T tuners, but you can use one of the ubiquitous RTL-SDR dongles (with its original driver, NOT the driver that you install to use it as an SDR) to watch. You may need an LNA (low noise amplifier) as well; the noise figure of an RTL-SDR is not great.

      1. So if you flip your TV over to cable and leave it connected to the antenna, you might see something around channel 58 or 143,144 on the cable tuner in analog??

        I have got a DVB-T PCI card also, so I can just hook that up to a UHF antenna and try my luck with that too around those freqs?

    2. In Australia, most of the ATV work is done using DVB-T, often via a repeater with an input in the 23 cm band and an output in the ATV section of the 70 cm band (around 445 MHz). Most digital set-top boxes can receive this (with wildly varying success).

      I have an old ATV transmitter that I could theoretically use for AM-VSB analogue TV, but I need to get the associated filters working as the sidebands would extend well outside the band otherwise (esp. at the 18 watt output).

    1. Boredcasting. Got rid of the TV 10 years ago. No regrets.

      PS. In Russia, digital TV was kinda a mess. Standards changed before rollout, so – if you had ‘DVB-T, adapted for Russia’ TV – it doesn’t work, because DVB-T2. Also – most stayed with analog, until most analog channels were switched off in 2019 or so.

  5. DX-ing with analog TV was easier than it is today with ATSC. Just point the antenna and scan. Not being aimed at the transmitter exactly resulted in a bad picture, which turning the rotor could improve on. From the Toronto area, the farthest I received was WEDU channel 3 in Florida. It was a very poor signal with nasty fading, but good enough and long enough to make out the callsign. At VHF-lo, the propagation is very different than at UHF, where temperature inversions would bend signals over the horizon regularly in spring and fall.

    1. Did some goofing around with ATSC, and here’s what I figured… firstly convertor boxes seem more sensitive than TVs, though I don’t have a large sample size of either. I do think there might be an advantage in not having the RF stuff in the same box as the pixel foundry, so bit better for noise or something. Only one ATSC capture card do I have, and that’s not very sensitive. So whatever you’re using procedure is about the same… punch in a channel number, no pic, bring up the channel info display, now if you don’t have a signal strength gizmo on there, then find something more congenial to doing this. Okay, now watch the signal strength, if you’ve got one bar there, or it blips up every now and then, there’s a station you’re getting a little bit of something from… so rotate your antenna slowly… takes a second or two for the digital bits to lock to the stream and decode the picture, so just do it real slow… seeing if the signal peaks…. but you might notice a blocky picture come in first. If you get a couple of bars in one direction, no pic, then it might be 180 degrees the other way. Anyhoo, if you’re getting something tweak the antenna back and forth a bit real slow, remember the ~2 second lag.. Now wait, even if it’s all “tiled up” with garbled audio. DXes tend to fade in an out a bit, so if you wait a few minutes, it might suddenly “pop” in giving you clear audio and clear enough picture to ID the channel. Yay… now here’s the advantage of a convertor box, you can tape it or record on vid capture card easily, because you can monitor on RF output and record off AV or vice versa. Rinse and repeat on next channel.

      If you’re trying to dig up stuff on channels you know are strong, then you’ve gotta have the antenna pointed 30 degrees or more off that strong signal, and still you might not get rid of it. In fact I think you’re only going to have any luck “nulling out” more distant very powerful stations, rather than closer stations that come in strong just because you’re near them. Also you might have to get your TV or box to forget that channel. You can see what you might get on sites like tvfool dot com, but that is not updated these days it seems. Now I was “paying attention” during the switchover period, and it seemed to me it’s actually easier to get “something” on ATSC for a given transmitter power than it is for analog. Even though it’s more like blind mans buff to find the signal. I started getting mostly clear picture with a little tile glitching off transmitters that were 90% snow with a few shadows moving it in on analog. Even got some that there seemed no sign of on analog. Then down in the basement on analog, there was only 2 stations coming in clear enough to be useful for workbench TV tinkering, but on digital (right during changeover when only existing broadcasters went digital before reallocations etc) I’d get 5 channels come in clear enough to watch on bare minimum rabbit-ears type antenna.

      However, as things went along, either powers were reduced to economise, or because they were going further and interfering with co channels further away, or because FCC said so. Then what also happened is that some broadcasters made their antennas directional, to use their power all in one direction. Either to increase signal in core areas with reduced power, or the interference thing.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.