Category Archives: News

Here Come the Converter Boxes – UPDATED

Got my TV Converter Box $40 Coupon for my 1995 Sony TV upstairs the other day. Already spent it on a dandy DigitalStream DSP7700T from Newcast Distributing in Calabasas. In mid-May they were out of product.  Similarly, I tried to buy the Channel Master box at Fry’s, but they weren’t ready to take coupons yet. For the system to be five months into the coupon program, there seems to be a lot of ramping up yet to do while our coupons approach expiration.


Wikipedia has an exhaustive, if sparsely detailed, listing of Coupon-Eligible Converter Boxes. Take a good look at the specs available.

The first thing I notice in comparing models is that not many provide analog pass through. Too bad for the two remaining full-power analog English language, seven full power Spanish stations, and at least five lower power foreign language stations serving the San Diego market. The NTIA didn’t think of this in making the specifications?

My DigitalStream box bypasses analog when you turn off the power. That’s okay.

So I can at least take advantage of DTV’s better color processing and feed the component or at least Y/C (S-video) ports on my TV–right? Nope, not unless you buy the Channel Master CM-7000 or Apex (for which I could find no active distributor).

What about Smart Antenna processing for our market that has four major mountaintop transmission sites? A few boxes list that feature, but what consumer is going to know to look for it? Or look for a Smart Antenna?

So what did I get for my $41, including tax, shipping, and coupon discount? The DigitalStream DSP7700T found all the local digital stations with a broadband log-periodic pointed at Tijuana from Kearny Mesa, plus it found KCBS and KNBC off the back side! KNBC was on the edge of its capabilities, though. The menu is attractive, it includes a signal level bar readout, closed captioning, EPG titles, and stereo audio. I was most amazed by the reception under obvious multipath conditions since KGTV 25 and KFMB 7 were perfectly decoded off the side of the Blonder-Tongue UHF log.


I bought a second box, the Zenith DTT900, for $24 ($60 + tax – $40 coupon). No analog bypass or S-video, but it runs cooler. Hooked up to my 9dBi gain log-periodic and got all locals plus just about every LA station that didn’t have a San Diego co-channel. They faded somewhat later, but one might be able to overcome that with a gain antenna.

I also learned that Dish Network is offering a $40 box through their dealers with a net cost of sales tax only. Not bad. They want to ratchet up their customer base during all the box confusion.

Radio Shack’s website now lists four boxes including the DigitalStream I bought elsewhere.

A few calls have come in at work. Interestingly, most ask if we have a digital channel. Our web FAQ has been well buried by the station’s webmaster, so I can sort of understand.

A Little Help From Our Friends

Many thanks to the sponsors who help make our local chapter successful. To date, these vendors have each contributed cash to our treasury this year:

  • Computer Modules,
  • JVC,
  • Microwave Radio Corporation,
  • Piper Digital,
  • Western Technical Services,
  • Willy’s Electronics,
  • Broadcast Connection,
  • Dielectric Communications,
  • Grass Valley Thomson, and
  • Bext

We’ve received additional support in the form of valuable door prizes and accommodations from TV Magic, Rohde & Schwarz, WireCAD, SCMS, and Sangean Radio.

Our costs are sufficiently low enough that the chapter hopes to make a donation this year to the Ennes Scholarship Fund that helps put a deserving broadcast technology student through college.

FM Jammer Taken Down

A call from a listener Friday, February 15, led Clear Channel’s local Director of Engineering, John Rigg, to go on a treasure hunt.

He was told that when listening to KHTS 93.3 MHz in a car on interstate 805 east of the University City neighborhood in San Diego, they heard a loud fluttering noise. The noise, also taking out 93.1, could be heard jamming 93.3 as far away as Kearny Mesa.

John and RF specialist Stephen Frick grabbed their spectrum analyzer and a yagi and headed out to track down the interference. It didn’t take Steve and his directional antenna long to find a possible source of the signal off Whipple Avenue just three blocks away from the freeway. A tall mast and suspicious antenna loomed some 70 feet above a home in the neighborhood.  John knocked on the door there and was loudly told from inside that no one was home.

John called the FCC’s local office Monday. As early as Wednesday, an inspector told him that the owner of the antenna was known from previous contact, and after conducting a home visit, the jamming noise disappeared.

KGTV Gets New CE

New York native Andrew Lombard joined McGraw-Hill’s KGTV as the new Chief Engineer. He follows Ron Eden, who has been out on disability lately due to health problems.

For the past 8 years, Andrew served as Director of Engineering at WPTZ and WNNE in Burlington, VT-Plattsburgh, NY, a Hearst-Argyle Television company.

When pried for personal information, he listed his accomplishments: "Bringing two HDTV stations on line; regionalizing 2 stations and five remote locations into one control, monitoring, and programming location; being among the first to adopt compressed ASI streams over microwave; progressing stations out of tape-based to server-based video editing and transfer; and turning a small town TV station into a first-rate facility.

Andrew says he started 24 years ago in satellite electronics in the Air Force in Sunnyvale CA. After four years, he landed his first TV job back home in upstate New York at WCFE-PBS. And he’s done everything from mobile teleproduction, to cable origination, to DTH satellite ops.

He says he loves sailing, motorcycling, and country music. He has a family back in New York that will join him this spring.

Andrew also said he looks forward to joining the SBE chapter this year since he didn’t have a local chapter in the neighborhood back east.

KFMB-DT to Move to Channel 7

Midwest Television announced this week to enthusiasts on the forum that KFMB-DT will broadcast digital TV on channel 7 beginning in March. The station will give up channel 55, the spectrum it has used since 2001, to MediaFLO, a Qualcomm division that transmits mobile multichannel television and has purchased from the FCC the rights to use channel 55 nationwide.

In order to temporarily occupy channel 7 VHF, Qualcomm worked with KFMB, incumbent NTSC channel user KABC in Los Angeles, and the FCC. They were able to obtain an experimental license for a period that will expire February 17, 2009, when KFMB-DT will occupy only its elected channel 8 with an ATSC signal. The experimental license will require two renewals since they are granted on a 6-month basis.

According to Rick Bosscher, KFMB RF Supervisor, the complicated agreement between these parties includes some protection for KABC. The KFMB VHF 16-panel Delta Wing array antenna made by Dielectric beams in a cardioid pattern with a sharp null in the direction of KABC’s line-of-sight Mt. Wilson transmission antenna. KFMB-DT 7 will initially sign on with only 47 kW ERP from a new Harris CD Platinum VHF transmitter. After they retire the Comark channel 55 transmitter, they will install additional PA cabinets to bring the ERP to 140 kW maximum from the easterly lobe. When they move to channel 8 next year, the antenna will be rotated to place the null toward the ocean, and used only as a standby. They will use the older top-mounted omni-directional slot antenna as primary. At that time, power will settle at 14.9 kW ERP.

In order to support the VHF panels, the 1954 vintage tower had to be substantially reinforced, and new one-inch guy wires installed to the top. Travis Donahue of Wireless Infrastructure says their company may have “put up more steel than made up the original tower.”

As part of the deal, KFMB Stations Director of Engineering Rich Lochmann says they will provide space for MediaFLO channel 55 transmissions on a neighboring tower at their Mt. Soledad  site.

Additionally, Rich says, LG/Zenith will use the new VHF ATSC station to test their new set-top boxes in the San Diego County terrain.

When the February Nielsen ratings sweep is finished February 28, the station will publicize the transition for digital viewers, then, if all goes well, the switch will take place March 6.

The added transmitter required substantial electrical power planning and rework, and Bosscher says Juice Electric did a great job supplying the power while everything stayed on the air.

The experimental permit for the project raised some eyebrows among technical observers. It’s not publicly known whether the permit was coordinated with Mexico. Temporary, scheduled use of spectrum operating outside parameters of standard FCC rules traditionally involves a Special Temporary Authority permit issued by the FCC’s Media Bureau rather than an  Experimental Permit issued by the Office of Engineering and Technology (OET). Details of the permit were not published on the internet but were available by visiting the OET in person. MediaFLO has obtained numerous experimental permits to broadcast its mobile television in the San Diego area during its product development phase.

The author of this article, Gary Stigall, is Director of Engineering for Bay City Television, dba XETV FOX6, owned by Mexican broadcaster Televisa Corporation. He previously worked for KFMB Stations for 13 years.