Monday, April 13, 2009

Tower chasing

One of the many positives about living in this part of the country is the variety of tower chasing one can pursue.

What does that mean in English?

Simply this: We who are obsessed with broadcasting in its many forms often enjoy visiting transmitter sites and seeing what these behemoths actually look like. Back to my first sentence, this means that I have the opportunity to drive around and view towers in several different areas. Sometimes these transmitters are even in different TV markets and I don’t have to put in several hours’ driving time to enjoy the variety. Back in the desert southwest there might be hundreds of miles between full-power transmitters and those are usually grouped together on a mountaintop. But with the rolling prairie terrain of Northwest Kansas/Southwest Nebraska TV stations locate their towers in numerous places and often not together. In fact the only transmitter tower in this region which shares two stations’ antennas is the stick between Kearney and Hastings which houses KGIN-DT and KHGI-DT. All the others are on their own.

So, with this explained, I headed out of town three Saturdays ago and made a leisurely drive to North Platte.


Why not? I haven’t been there yet and this is a nearby burg that is considered its own television market, albeit one of the smallest in the country. In the bottom ten for sure. That was part of the appeal even though I knew I wouldn’t be there during the timeframe in which they air the local newscasts (actually that should be newscast, singular, which I’ll explain in a moment). Still I knew I would get a shot at seeing the DTV transmissions in that area and as a curiosity factor learning what else occupied the dial on the analog side. The FCC database indicates there are numerous translator and low-power stations in that vicinity. How could I resist?

Once I arrived in town and got my fill of Kentucky Fried Chicken (they don’t have one in the town in which I live and sometimes I find myself jonesing for Original Recipe) I parked in the Menard’s lot and set up my gear. Antenna on top of the truck, power up the Macbook inside.

Rather disappointing. The scan picked up only KPNE-DT, the local NET station. No KNOP. All my information on this market showed KNOP already has shut off analog and is digital-only on channel 2. WIth the rabbit ear setup I was using in an outdoor, unobstructed area I should have been able to see that station. Oh well, no matter. The analog tuner brought in a few signals but none that are worth going into detail here.

A short while later I headed out of town but rather than leave the way I arrived I chose to head west on I-80 to the town of Sutherland. (Yes, there was a small part of me that wanted to stay on the interstate all the way to Cheyenne but real life and responsibility beckon.) I turned south on Nebraska 25 and received a nice surprise. On the west side of the highway about 7 miles south of the I-80 connection was the stately transmitter tower of KPNE-DT and KPNE-FM. Imposing, I thought to myself. No wonder I could pick up their signal a good 25 miles away as the crow flies (my distance estimate to where I did my TV watching earlier).

Near the town of Wallace I pulled off onto the shoulder and again tried the DTV stick. This time only KPNE-DT’s signal showed on the indicator. Why did I try for another catch at this location?

I was nearing the transmitter tower for KWNB-DT, the ABC affiliate in this part of the state. I was hoping to see their DTV signal from this area, but no go. No problem, I thought. With each mile I’m getting closer to their tower.

You see, KWNB is licensed to the town of Hayes Center. Hardly a town, at that. The official highway marker lists the population as 240. I figure this might be the smallest town in the United States that has a full-power, VHF, major network-affiliated TV license. And this is not new, KWNB has been in existence since the 1950’s. But all of that time it has been a satellite station of KHGI in Kearney. (For a time, there was a third station in the mix, KSNB in Superior, located in the south-central area of Nebraska very close to the Kansas line.) My only guess is that the FCC decided that a station in this area would be beneficial for all the small towns that were otherwise many miles from anything resembling TV. This also may have been from the era before cable TV.

In doing my research I learned the tower is adjacent to Highway 25 just to the north of Hayes Center. Since I wasn’t able to see their signal from Wallace I figured the only thing left for me to do was to head to the tower itself and power up again.

I did just that. And you can be flippin’ sure I got the signal this time. Yet I also learned some intriguing things. First, the transmitter tower itself isn’t all that tall, not nearly the height of KPNE. Second, there is no marker or sign that indicates to whom the tower belongs. Most of the other transmitters I’ve seen in this part of the country have either the station logo or at least the call letters somewhere on the building. Here, nothing. Of course, when you’re in the middle of nowhere maybe you don’t need to bother.

The third interesting piece is this: Their PSIP identifies the station as “KHGI-13.” I was under the impression that the FCC mandated stations to keep their old channel number as the identifier under PSIP. Therefore it should have read: “KWNB-6,” or “KWNB-DT.” Since I am not a broadcast engineer I don’t have much of guess as to the misidentification other than to guess it might be a result of the signal being microwaved to this location from KGHI’s transmitter site.

Next time I’ll be sure to bring the camera. I did snap a couple of pics with my cell phone but as you can see the quality leaves something to be desired.

And taking more pictures always justifies a return trip!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Letter from Kansas

Been a while (that happens sometimes in this blog) and I assign blame for that on my not-much-changing everyday life and lack of creative juices. I refuse to post just for the sake of posting and if this blog ever becomes one of those "today my little baby did this" sites I will end everyone's misery post haste.

What I will do on occasion is write about my exploits in which I travel about and use the Macbook with the DTV stick to give folks an idea of what signals can be picked up where. Regular readers know I tried to install an outdoor superlarge VHF/UHF combo antenna but was unsuccessful in picking up any kinda-sorta nearby signals. Turns out they weren't near enough.

But no problem. If I can't bring DTV to me, I will go to it! My next post will contain an account of driving through west-central Nebraska with varying stops on the way.

Other stuff? Since we're getting a last blast of Old Man Winter here (at least I hope), this was another of those stay-indoor type of days. I made a large pot of green chile and at mealtime I added some green from the Xtra hot bag to my bowl. I am merciful to the Geogal, she doesn't have the heat tolerance I do.

The bag was accurate. Two bites and I felt as if I consumed New Mexico-grown tear gas. I doubt I have anything left in my sinus cavity now. And the chile could not have been better.