Sunday, January 13, 2013

You'll Ruin Your Eyesight, Kid

It's well after midnight on a summer day in Kansas City, Missouri. I'm tucked in bed, watching the late movie -- on WTTE, Channel 28 in Columbus, Ohio. I don't know why it's coming in on this particular night, or why I'm not picking up any other distant stations. I would expect KDNL in St. Louis and WAND in Decatur, Illinois to pop up on the dial.

Pulling in long-distance television became a boyhood hobby in the early 1980's. I grew curious when we started picking up KQTV in St. Joseph, Missouri on the big Zenith downstairs, connected to an outdoor antenna mounted on the chimney. I had a much smaller Midland color set with rabbit ears in my bedroom, but that was enough. One summer night, with some fine-tuning knob adjustments and antenna fidgeting, I picked up WIBW and KTSB from Topeka, about 75 miles west.

Those stations I could pick up just about any night. Under the right atmospheric conditions which caused tropospheric propogation (like severe weather), I could do much better. Pretty soon I picked up KOAM in Pittsburg, Kansas and KODE in Joplin, Missouri. Then came KETV in Omaha, KTVH (now KWCH) in Wichita, KRCG in Jefferson City, KCBJ (now KMIZ) in Columbia, Missouri, and KOMU -- site of my future first TV broadcast news gig.

TV-DX, as it's known, irritated Mom because of all the snowy, static-filled pictures I was watching: "You're going to hurt your eyes!" I was too young to care, and I was getting better at making the big DX catches. By the time I was in High School, I'd logged Iowa Public Television, KHGI in Kearney, Nebraska and WFLD, WPWR and WCIU in Chicago along with about two dozen other stations. My little brother's GE television proved more sensitive to distant signals than my Capehart, so I would use his set to do some of my work. Sometimes a Canadian or Mexican station would blast in on Channel 2, but I could never verify the call because the signal was too wavy. So for record-keeping purposes, Columbus' WTTE stands as my reception record.

When I moved to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, I would occasionally pick up the Corpus Christi stations on the little Capehart, and maybe San Antonio, Houston or Waco. When I moved to Tucson, my TV-DX days were done because that Capehart was finished.

Digital TV has ended a lot of TV-DX reception because of the difficulties of decoding a weak digital signal. TV tuners reject the signal rather than throw it up on the screen in a pixelated, scrambled jumble. The hobby isn't dead, gathering from the Worldwide TV-FM DX Association website, just a little more challenging.

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