Getting Over-The-Air Quad Cities’ Television Channels

All of the Quad Cities area commercial television stations are broadcasting full-power, high-definition television signals but if you are relying on an antenna to receive the over-the-air signals, there are some important things you need to know, some of which may be causing you to get some of the stations and not others.

Signal Strength – As a condition of its license from the federal government, stations are required to measure their outgoing signal strength several times each day and report those findings directly to the FCC.   It is important to note that, under normal operating conditions, there is really no appreciable fluctuation in the strength of the outgoing signal.   It is our experience that “reception” issues are almost always a result of the equipment and/or the processes you are using to receive our signal. 

UHF/VHF Signals – Prior to the analog shut-off in 2009, all televisions stations were broadcasting on a UHF frequency (Ch. 13+)assigned to them by the federal government.   But for some stations, that channel assignment was temporary.  In June 2009, hundreds of stations around the country had to transition to another permanent channel and for a number of reasons, some chose to move back into the VHF part of the spectrum (Ch. 2-13).   Here in the Quad Cities, while all of the other stations in our area are broadcasting UHF signals, WHBF-TV is broadcasting a VHF signal.  Since, at one time, all stations were UHF, many UHF-only antennas were marketed and sold that are incapable – or at least ineffective – of receiving a VHF channel.  And so, it is critical that your antenna is able to receive both UHF and VHF signals.  

     Signal Characteristics – VHF and UHF signals have differing characteristics.   UHF antennas are generally weaker and don’t travel as far as VHF signals.  VHF signals, on the other hand, do not travel through structures as effectively as UHF signals.   In other words, when a UHF signal hits the walls of a house, for example, they pass through with little impact to the signal. When a VHF signal hits the walls of a house, it tends to ricochet and refract and weaken significantly.  As a result, the further you live from the signal origination source, the less likely it is that an indoor antenna will be sufficient to reliably receive a low-band VHF signal.  An outdoor antenna is strongly recommended for the reception of a VHF signal (WHBF).  

Antennas – If you are utilizing an indoor antenna, the type of antenna in use can be important too.  We have found that the flat, rectangular antennas are not very effective, while what we call  “hoop-and-rabbit-ears” tend to work the best.  Also, with digital signals, electronic signal boosters are ineffective at best and may actually inhibit your ability to receive area signals. In most cases outside the immediate metro, your best bet is to utilize an outdoor antenna.

Signal Origination – KWQC, WQAD and KLJB are each broadcasting from locations in Orion, IL and KGCW from Seaton, IL.   WHBF-TV is broadcasting from a tall tower in Bettendorf, IA near the corner of Middle Road and Devils Glen (behind Whitey’s).   If you are using an outdoor antenna, depending on your location, antenna orientation may be a factor.  The UHF element of the antenna should be pointed toward Orion and the VHF portion toward Bettendorf.

Signal Quality – Unlike the analog signals that preceded them, digital signals are generally an “all or nothing proposition”; Either you get a clear signal or you get no reception at all.   So even though you are seeing nothing, you may be very close.  The switch to an outdoor antenna would be the easiest and most effective solution.   Short of that, a different antenna, or adjustments to the current antenna could make the small difference necessary.

Channel Scans – It is also important to note that digital tuners of all kinds do have a tendency to “drop” channels from time to time. For that reason, regular channel scans are always a good idea.  Something else you might try is what we call a system re-boot in which you a) disconnect your antenna cable from your television/converter box; b) Scan for channels with no antenna attached (this should effectively re-set your TV/converter box to ‘factory settings’;  c) Unplug the television/converter box from the power source for five minutes (this will re-boot its systems); d) Plug the device back in, reconnect the antenna and re-scan for channels. 

For sound advice on your antenna needs, we have been recommending a call to Kevin at Warren Electronics in Moline at 309-743-0383.