One of the early findings from Friday's analog turnoff was that some stations which had switched their digital signals from UHF to VHF, such as ABC-owned WLS Chicago and WPVI Philadelphia, were now experiencing reception problems. But there were also reports from broadcast engineers of freakishly good VHF reception on Friday, for both analog and digital signals, with stations being picked up in distant markets hundreds of miles, or in some cases even over 1,000 miles, away.
For example, a Canadian viewer 75 miles north of Toronto who had been watching Ch. 4 out of Buffalo, WIBV, found an unusual replacement for that station when it signed off at 9 a.m EST Friday--Belo's WWL New Orleans, still broadcasting on analog Ch. 4.
"She called the station, and said, ‘I live in Canada, but I'm watching your morning show in my house with an indoor antenna," says Belo VP of technology Craig Harper. "So our GM in New Orleans, Bud Brown, sent her a bunch of tchotchkes--WWL mugs, t-shirts--for being our furthest viewer on the last day of analog."
Dave Folsom, CTO of Raycom Media, recounted a similar story from the GM at WBTV in Charlotte, who reported that a viewer in Kansas City, Mo., emailed him Friday to say that she was now receiving WBTV, even though it's a whopping 1,000 miles away. And WSFA in Montgomery, Ala., which switched from UFH to VHF digital, has received reports of excellent reception as far away as Ozark, Ala., some 75 miles away.
Folsom says such long-distance reception is possible due to unique atmospheric conditions prevalent in the spring and fall, a phenomenon called "ducting." He notes that Raycom staffers in Montgomery have also been able to pick up the signal of WBRC in Birmingham, Ala., which is 100 miles away, though he expects that won't be a long-term situation.
Media General also experienced long-distance reception Friday, says senior VP of broadcast operations Ardell Hill, with several stations from distant markets being picked up hundreds of miles away. Media General's Tampa station was receiving stations from North Carolina, Kansas stations were coming into Savannah, Ga., and Media General's Mobile, Ala., station was being received in Birmingham and Montgomery.
"The longer bandwidth reflects off the atmosphere, and it carries a heck of a lot farther," says Hill, giving this reporter a simple explanation of the complex ducting phenomenon. "But a lot of that has to do with the atmospherics of the day."
Besides the Toronto viewer who picked up WWL, a friend of Harper's in Waco, Tex., some 90 miles south of Dallas, was able to receive WFAA's digital signal Friday. Harper attributes some of that to WFAA's power boost and new circularly polarized antenna.
"He was picking up WFAA crystal clear, and he hadn't seen its digital prior, nor its analog signal," he says.
Since WWL is the "nightlight" station for the New Orleans market and continues to broadcast analog signals, it's possible that the station's new viewer in Toronto is still receiving the signal, if the atmospheric conditions are right.
"She still may be a viewer," says Harper. "We're hoping Nielsen will find her."