For some area television viewers, the selection of channels may have dropped significantly this week. The local affiliate for NBC, ABC, and CW is still on the air but started broadcasting on a different frequency Monday, and the fix is a simple rescan of available channels.
While the changes have not had an impact on cable or satellite television viewers, users of over-the-air antennas have been warned to rescan by broadcasters and regulators for nearly three years. Those viewers have also been dealing with regular changes to television broadcasts for more than a decade.
Like many things this season, the planned frequency shift was delayed but not unexpected. Television broadcasters across the country have been changing frequencies since 2017 in an effort by the Federal Communications Commission to reallocate portions of the radio spectrum for new technology.
KTEN-TV is a Denison, Texas-based television broadcaster with a transmitter near Ada that serves the Ardmore area. The station was scheduled to shift it’s broadcast frequency down from ultra-high frequency (UHF) channel 26, part of the 500 MHz band, to UHF channel 17 by May 1, according to documents filed with the FCC.
That plan changed, however, when the consultant hired to perform the technical aspects of the transition was stalled by COVID-19. The FCC had issued guidance to stations as early as March 17 and granted a waiver to the local broadcaster by March 27.
“With the COVID situation across the country, there are only a handful of people that can deal with antennas and transmitters,” said KTEN General Manager Dave Tillery. “It’s a very specialized group of people that can perform those functions.”
The plan by the FCC to open up certain radio frequencies dates back more than 20 years. Technical broadcast standards used by television stations since the 1940s were slowly phased out at the beginning of the century and were effectively eliminated by 2009.
Many television viewers who use antennas to receive broadcasts may remember the years leading up to the elimination of analog signals. Leading up to the change, converter boxes had to be purchased to allow older televisions to receive the new broadcast signals.
Monday’s shift by KTEN was the final phase of that larger transition that has largely remained behind-the-scenes. Even before television viewers noticed the change, area medical facilities had to be notified of the frequency shifts to prevent some equipment from being unexpectedly impacted.
FCC rules allow some biomedical telemetry equipment, like remote sensors or monitors, to use similar radio frequencies secondary to broadcasters. “If interference to or from these devices arises with regard to the TV broadcast service, the devices must cease operation on that channel” read a letter sent to medical and research facilities across north Texas and southern Oklahoma, including nearly a dozen facilities in Carter County.
According to the FCC, the frequency shift by television broadcasters since 2017 has helped repurpose about 84 MHz of low band spectrum for mobile use, including wireless broadband.