Stay of Execution

Anyone who’s been around me for more than a week or two in my house has seen my eyes light up at the prospect of far off TV viewing. I just love the spring and summer when the weather and the ionosphere conspire to produce just the right conditions to watch TV from Wisconsin. Or Florida. Or Montana. Or Arizona. Or Cuba.

However, the move to digital TV here in the States will really foul that up. Oh, the propagation that allows those things to happen will still be there, but the telltale signs won’t. With analog signals, you can see other strong signals start to bleed through, and when there’s several on the same channel, there’s a glorious whine that is reproduced nowhere else in nature. It’s fun, and is one of my earliest memories of playing around with radio (well, TV is technically radio, right?). With digital signals, I imagine the only heads-up you’d have is unexpected blockiness, or perhaps other kinds of interference that won’t be real obvious as signs of long distance TV signals coming in.

And I’ve been counting down the days until the mandated switch to digital, with woe and despair. This week though, the President’s wish was granted, and analog TV got a four month stay of execution. Yippee! Maybe Barack likes chasing long distance TV signals too. 🙂

So now we have what could be the perfect storm. Many stations already have their plans in place to switch to digital, cut the analog umbilical cord, and stop feeding two transmitters and possibly two transmitter sites — our local ABC affiliate was showing commercials tonight indicating that they will be turning off their analog signal at 11.59pm on the old cutover night. I say, let ’em do it.

Here’s where the perfect storm comes in. Some stations probably will keep their analog transmitters live through June. I’m sure many won’t. It’ll just depend on their plans. But for those that do, they’ll be entering a time when tropospheric ducting and E-layer ionospheric conditions could bring some of those far off signals to me… without having to fight some of the local (and local-ish) stations just to see the far off stuff. In particular, it’ll be interesting to see what our stations on the VHF channels do (channels 2, 4 and 5).

If they all move in a couple of weeks, it could be a DXers paradise around here for four months. From what I can tell, the only VHF station that will shutdown on February 17th will be channel 4. That’ll help, leaving both channel 3 and 4 available for some of that long haul stuff.

And the last bit of silver lining? Canada doesn’t complete its digital transition until August 2011, with Mexico having started, but not completing the transition until 2021. Quiet, mostly abandoned VHF bands, and targets within one E-layer hop from here may make for some pretty cool stuff over the next few years.

Sit back kids, and help me watch for Star Trek in French from Quebec, and futbol from Mexico!