Mixed signals: Mountain residents not receiving DTV broadcasts

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By Pamela Lawson

Free television reception could be a thing of the past for some mountain area residents when analog TV signals stop emanating from Lookout Mountain in February 2009 and the switch to digital signals is complete.

In fact, some mountain residents who have already installed digital converters are failing to get the digital signals, because a new DTV antenna on Lookout Mountain is not broadcasting in our direction.

Denver’s primary television stations have been broadcasting analog signals from Lookout Mountain for more than 50 years. But starting in February, all over-the-air television signals will be digital, as mandated by the federal government.

In theory, after the switch, most viewers will still be able to receive free over-the-air signals using an antenna — all that’s required is a digital tuner or digital-to-analog converter. But a few mountain area residents who have already installed the new converters are experiencing a disruption in service rather than improvements, they say.

One Conifer man is “incensed” that he has no access to Channels 4, 7, 9 and 20 after installing a converter.

“I hook up my converter box to see this new wonderful high-definition signal, and I get Channel 2, but I get nothing on 4, 7, 9,” said the Conifer resident, who requested anonymity. “I get Channel 5 from Cheyenne, Wyo. — it was perfect — but no Channel 11, 9 or 20. Zero signal.”

For the last 25 years, he has had good reception from the antenna on his house, he said. He expected the conversion to be smooth, but that wasn’t the case.

“I called 4, 7 and 9 ee they told me they know about (the problem). They said Jefferson County did it,” the Conifer man said. “I called my commissioner for the first time. I said, ‘What’s being done?’ ”

The answer to that question is simple: What can be done has been done, as far as Jefferson County is concerned.

The back story involves a complicated rezoning case (now resolved) between the county and a consortium of television stations.

When the stations were seeking to install their new digital antenna on Lookout Mountain — the location of other antennas from media outlets — they faced local opposition. The case, which began in 1998, covered about nine years. It involved multiple lawsuits and multiple county commissioners, and it required federal legislation to resolve.

But, finally, the new digital antenna began broadcasting from Lookout Mountain in May. It replaced a temporary lower-power digital antenna broadcasting from downtown Denver that had once reached many Jeffco residents — and some of those residents are now without a digital signal because the new antenna doesn’t transmit in the same direction.

Marv Rockford, a spokesman with Lake Cedar Group, the consortium of stations with the new DTV tower on Lookout Mountain, said the tower’s alignment was a response to the neighbors’ concerns.

“This is not the fault of county government,” Rockford said. “It was a decision that the broadcasters made — one of many — trying to be responsive to the concerns expressed by some residents about a west-facing signal.”

The tower was engineered to transmit to areas more toward the north, south and east than the west. And that decision now affects some residents west of the tower in Evergreen and Conifer.

That back story might be of little comfort to residents who are simply trying to get good television reception. But it may provide clarity for how to move forward. Protesting at this point would be fruitless; seeking productive solutions is now the last resort.

According to a TV consultant for the Lookout Mountain tower, the cause of a lost signal in 99 percent of the cases is due to the resident not having the antenna pointed the right way or not calibrated accurately. The consultant suggests that residents contact local television stations about the problem to seek possible solutions.

Jefferson County has posted contact information on its website for that purpose. And residents are being urged to visit the HDTV Colorado website provided by the consortium for more details. It directs people on ways to receive $40 coupons from the government toward the purchase of converters, among other tips.

An unknown number of Evergreen and Conifer area residents have reported not receiving the digital signals.

“We have had four or five people who have called so far,” said Tim Carl, Jefferson County’s director of development and transportation. “(They say), ‘OK, I lost the signal, what’s going on?’ ”

Besides the most recent problems, mountain terrain has always played a role in interruptions, Rockford said.

Some people have never received good television signals with analog antennas due to gaps and dead zones, and that problem is not likely to change with the new system.

And it’s hard to predict just how many may ultimately be affected by the DTV transition.

Television stations are taking calls about lost signals and giving residents tips on how to calibrate or adjust antennas. But if residents are unable to resolve the situation, they may be forced to seek alternative solutions to television reception such as satellite or cable services.

“Some may say, ‘I have done everything you told me,’ ” Carl said. “Unfortunately, those individuals may not be able to receive free over-the-air digital television.”

Fore more information, visit, www.hdtvcolorado.com or http://www.co.jefferson.co.us/news/news_item_T3_R1024.htm.