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Local TV: Viewers increase, space for it shrinks...

On a recent weekend, we noticed a woman of our acquaintance watching the Barbra Streisand movie “Yentl” on television. And she regularly watches “Mary Tyler Moore”, “Bob Newhart”, “MASH”, “Emergency”, and other classic TV shows on Me TV, Retro TV, and Antenna TV.

The viewer has access to the full suite of multiple premium movie channels from HBO, Showtime, and Starz, as well as premium movie channels from Turner Classic Movies, AMC, Fox, and others. But she was watching the movie on a local TV digital “subchannel” – Channel 32-3, on the “THIS” network, free, from an antenna.

And, it turns out, she is watching more local TV than she has in twenty years, as the TV channels being broadcast locally have risen from the five that were available a third of a century ago to about 30. Yes, some 30 free over-the-air channels, right here in Portland. Many come in perfectly on today’s version of a set-top rabbit-ears antenna; a few require a good outdoor antenna, but even with a weak signal, today’s digital transmission gives you perfect pictures, and many of them are in high definition.

What’s ironic about all this is that while the Federal Communications Commission made space for a huge number of TV channels in creating the service in the 1950’s – TV tuners used to stretch from Channel 2 to Channel 83 – the federal agency has recently decided people aren’t much into watching local broadcast television anymore, and have been taking away bites of the TV band even as audiences are actually rising around the country, and here in Portland. TV antennas are selling much better than they have in many years.

While the “digital TV transition” was underway in the past decade, the TV band stopped at Channel 69, with the top 13 channels auctioned off for government revenue, sold for other purposes, including cellular telephone use.

Originally, the FCC planned to place all digital TV channels on the UHF band. But, by the time the transition was complete, TV stations were allowed the choice to retain their old channel or convert to a new UHF one. Now, the feds are talking about moving all the UHF stations downward, many into the VHF band perhaps, in order to carve out more of the TV band for other uses, and cram them side-by-side as much as possible.

Where it will stop, nobody knows. The FCC is actually planning to let TV stations give up their channels altogether for a share in the money the government would get by auctioning off their channel. This is supposed to be voluntary, and we would expect most TV stations would want to stay in business.

But if you haven’t taken a look at local digital TV recently, you are missing out on perfect pictures and a wide variety of programming – all of it free. Even if you have cable and satellite, you are missing some programming that those services don’t carry that is available to you locally without charge – as that woman we observed already knows.

If you would like to know more about what is available – you will not find it in published TV logs, which tend to concentrate on what you have to pay a provider for to see – here is the current Portland TV channel list…

2-1 KATU-2, ABC, high-def

2-2 “Me TV”, classic TV shows

6-1 KOIN-6, CBS, high-def

8-1 KGW-8, NBC, high-def

8-2 KGW news, weather, local shows

8-3 Estrella TV (Hispanic)

10-1 KOPB-10, PBS, high-def

10-2 Alternate KOPB programming

10-3 All the OPB radio services

12-1 KPTV-12, Fox, high-def

17-2 America One network

22-1 KPXG-22, Ion Network, high-def

22-2 Qubo Kids’ network

22-3 Ion Life network

24-1 Trinity Network

24-2 Church Channel

24-3 JCTV

24-4 Enlace (Hispanic)

24-5 Trinity Kids

27-2 Retro TV, classic TV shows

32-1 KRCW-32, CW Network, high-def

32-2 Antenna TV, classic TV shows

33-3 THIS Network, movies

36-1 3ABN Network

37-2 Azteca TV (Hispanic)

42-1, 42-2, 42-3, repeats KPXG channels

46-1 KGWZ – KGW’s weather radar, 24/7

47-1 Univision (Hispanic), high-def

47-2 Mundo Fox (Hispanic), high-def

49-1 KPDX, variety, Perry Mason, high-def

For those with cable or satellite, what’s being broadcast locally is a free supplement to what you’re paying for. If you can’t afford pay TV, there’s a now decent variety here, over the air, to keep you informed and entertained.

Let’s hope the FCC keeps it all free and available for you to receive.

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