ODTV: WJW Power Mystery Solved?

(This is a full reprint of an item posted on our Ohio Digital TV blog.)

The biggest post-DTV transition story in Northeast Ohio is the surprisingly anemic performance of WJW/8 “Fox 8″‘s new signal on VHF channel 8, its old analog channel.

As it turns out, the signal may be less powerful than pretty much everyone thought, including us, and WJW’s digital channel 8 appears to be operating not at the approved post-transition power level of 30 kW, but at 11 kW instead.

Yes, you read that right.

It took us about a half-hour going through WJW’s FCC application records, but we’re pretty confident we’ve figured that out. Follow along with us, to see if we’ve reached the proper conclusion. As always, especially in engineering matters – with only FCC records to work from – we could be wrong.

The key that unlocked this mystery for us was the station’s “License to Cover”, which tells the FCC that WJW is indeed operating “pursuant to automatic program test authority” on its construction permit for digital channel 8. That was filed Monday, so it’s information we didn’t have before now.

It appears that the “license to cover” filed Monday, however, was to cover the original 11 kW construction permit granted in March, 2008 (file number 20080311AAN)…not the construction permit modification to increase to 30 kW, which was granted in June, 2008 (20080620AHI).

We’ve previously referenced this line from the station’s April transition update (caution: FCC filing form all upper case ahead):

WJW PLANS TO USE ITS CURRENT CHANNEL 8 ANALOG ANTENNA FOR DIGITAL TRANSMISSION AFTER IT CEASES ANALOG TRANSMISSION AS OF JUNE 12, 2009. THE STATION HAS PURCHASED AND TESTED A NEW INTERIM DIGITAL CHANNEL 8 TRANSMITTER AND PLANS TO USE THAT TRANSMITTER AT FULLY-AUTHORIZED POWER AS OF JUNE 12, 2009, WHILE ITS ANALOG TRANSMITTER IS BEING CONVERTED TO DIGITAL, AFTER WHICH WJW-DT WILL SWITCH TO THE CONVERTED ANALOG TRANSMITTER FOR DIGITAL TRANSMISSION.

From our digging into this, it now appears to us that “fully-authorized power” refers to the 11 kW CP granted in March of last year, not the 30 kW CP modification granted a few months later.

The problem?

We’re not hearing ANYTHING from either inside South Marginal, or from the station in public, that the 30 kW facility is coming any time soon…despite its approval one year ago.

You’d figure that if this was the case, WJW would trumpet it loudly. But word that a facility improvement is in the works isn’t found anywhere we can see on the Fox 8 website.

The latest word on DTV on Fox8.com is in this article promising “New DTV info” for viewers, which basically amounts to a procedure meant to “unstick” the previous WJW-DT facility on digital 31 from converters boxes and tuners. That does indeed happen, depending on the tuner, and it looks to be a solid procedure to clear out the converter box’s memory.

But…the web article contains nothing about a power increase.

If WJW has talked about it on “Fox 8 News” or anywhere, we haven’t seen it. There are just 24 hours in a day, and we can’t watch every single local newscast.

The problems receiving WJW have made both major local newspapers, and have been talked about extensively right here on the OMW Blog Network. (Hey, that’s a pretty good name for the OMW and ODTV combo…too bad we didn’t think about it back in April!)

Again, if WJW was in the process of upgrading, and putting its modified construction permit on the air, one would think they’d say something about it…if only to give viewers who’ve lost the station over the air, some even in Cuyahoga and Summit counties, some hope for the near future.

As such, we can’t even speculate that the situation will change soon…though on FCC paper, it looks like the path is still there.

The 30 kW CP MOD, as it’s called, specifies a June 12, 2009 expiration date…but we don’t think that means anything for such facilities. It clearly shows up a “post-transition” permit, which is why we think the date is automatic and doesn’t mean anything. We could be wrong.

Anyway, if anyone at South Marginal is reading this, that’s a hint.

You may or may not like us, but if we’re wrong, you have to set us straight…and more importantly, notify your lost viewers that an increase in power should help bring back reliable reception for areas in your primary coverage area that can’t receive Fox 8 over the air. Your obligation is to them, not us.

And as for those viewers, you have an obligation, too.

You need to call WJW, and tell them you can’t receive their signal, even in a traditionally strong signal area. You need to complain, and make your voice heard. When you can’t pick up a station, even in areas as close as Shaker Heights (in Cuyahoga County, at last check), the converter box does not notify the station.

Be prepared for the “you don’t have the right antenna” speech, and at least have a modest indoor VHF/UHF combo antenna in place.

Tell them that you’re a 10 minute drive down I-480 from Parma, and that you should reasonably expect not to have to mount a roof antenna up there on your home for a station that you could pick up with a paperclip back when it was on digital RF channel 31.

And yes, tell them you’ve read that they are not operating with their maximized FCC power of 30 kW, and ask them why not.

Or, do nothing, and hope that the folks at Local TV get the message when WJW starts losing ratings points compared to stronger local competitors.

OK, so that last one is a bit of hyperbole, as the Cleveland market has about 80%-ish cable/satellite penetration. Those folks (we’re certainly in that 80%) have not lost WJW or any other over-air local station.

But anyone who watches the local TV ratings wars knows that WJW, WKYC, WOIO and WEWS fight like junkyard dogs over slim ratings margins. Even if the DTV over-air only audience in Northeast Ohio is only about 20 percent, every viewer counts.

We repeat, if a power increase is coming for their over-air signal, WJW needs to tell viewers, now.

Our only “ray of hope” on this is that the 30 kW increase would happen sooner rather than later, and WJW is just hoping that viewers will keep rescanning their converter boxes or tuners, find it, and be happy. But if viewers couldn’t pick up the new signal to begin with, it won’t magically appear when the power increases.

If we’re wrong, we need to be corrected. But we have reason to believe that even outside the FCC records we’ve cited, we are correct about the 11 kW power level that WJW is currently using on digital channel 8…

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