Your Rabbit Ears Might Not Catch All Digital TV Signals

If you use rabbit ears to watch Lost, Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty, NBA basketball, or Dancing with the Stars, you might soon find yourself staring at a black screen with a NO SIGNAL box.

That’s because some homes that receive grainy reception on analog over-the-air television might not pick up a signal from certain stations once the digital transition happens in June. Homes using indoor antennas — rabbit ears — are the most likely to be affected.

WHTM-TV, ABC channel 27, has conducted signal strength tests throughout the market and found that areas south of York, from Hanover to Red Lion, might have trouble receiving the digital signal on rabbit ears alone, said station general manager Joe Lewin. Homes farther south, in places like New Freedom and Stewartstown, Lewin said, might require an aerial antenna with an amplifier.

Over-the-air digital television is an all-or-nothing proposition, Lewin said, meaning a television will either show a picture as clear as cable, or no picture at all. It’s commonly called the “cliff effect.” When the station has held phone banks to address viewers concerns, most of the calls were about reception, Lewin said.

In some areas, “It’s going to be an issue,” Lewin said, adding that most people will need either a rooftop or attic antenna.

Congress ordered the switch from analog to digital television in an effort to free spectrum bandwidth. Originally scheduled for Feb. 17, Congress last month delayed the transition until June 12.

WITF-TV (Ch. 33) and WLYH-TV (Ch. 15) both made the permanent switch to digital television on Feb. 17, eliminating their analog signals in the process.

Since hooking up their digital converter boxes, some York County viewers have found they’re on the wrong side of the cliff effect for some channels.
Right now, WHP-TV’s (Ch. 21) digital signal can be difficult to pick up in some areas because it is sent out over a weaker frequency, said station engineer Rob Hershey. Once the FCC transition happens in June, the station will start sending out over its main frequency.

Anyone that can see WHP clearly in analog should receive the digital signal in June, Hershey said.

WHP and WHTM both broadcast in the Harrisburg area, as does WITF, meaning their signals may have to travel farther than WGAL-TV (Ch. 8), which broadcasts in Lancaster County, and WPMT-TV (Ch. 43), which broadcasts in York County.

Hershey is also the station engineer for WLYH. The first day after going all digital, the station received about 25 calls, Hershey said. The biggest problem was that viewers did not re-scan their converter box, which they need to do so the box recognizes new channels, Hershey said.

When shopping for antennas, Hershey said, it’s also important for people to realize they need one that picks up both UHF and VHF bands, since the digital broadcasts still use those bands.

John Zitnyer, of Dover Township, has lost PBS, ABC and CBS since hooking up his converter box. Now that WITF has gone all digital, he said he’s going to miss out on his favorite programs, like Frontline and Masterpiece Theater.

“The digital (picture) is a whole lot clearer, but we got more channels on analog,” Zitnyer said.

Not everyone is complaining about the digital transition.
Dale Mundis, of Winterstown, has a rooftop antenna and a large amplifier. Since setting up his converter box, Mundis said he’s been able to receive all the local channels, plus stations from other markets.