TV DX’ing

One of my early hobbies was TV DX’ing, this involves receiving a signal beyond the range that it could normally be received.

See Todd Emslie’s TV FM DX Site for some good information about how to go about it.

That said, I used a somewhat different approach. For starters, I was fortunate enough to live near the crown of one of the highest ridges in Seattle (Maple Leaf Ridge), and this height right off gave me a significant advantage.

My best VHF setup involved a Wineguard deep fringe Yagi antenna with a mast mounted pre-amp and Beldon 300 ohm Twinax downlead feeding a specially mangled Magotbox black and white television. I had intentionally narrowed the IF bandpass of this television which provided a less sharp picture but allowed reception of signals that otherwise would have been lost to noise.

I also very carefully tuned the tuner of this television for optimal performance. There were tweaks for each channel and I very carefully aligned each for optimal performance. This particular set had a nuvistor type tuner. Nuvisters were very small vacuum tubes that were in a metal case and about the same size as many transistors of that era. They had excellent characteristics for this application because they were low noise, high gain, and tolerant of strong signals and not as easily overloaded as many solid state tuners.

With this setup I could receive channel 2 from Vancouver BC, Portland Oregon, or Spokane. The fact that Spokane was receivable at all with the Cascades in the way is a mystery that to this day I do not understand, but it was weakly but regularly receivable. It was very snowy and even the audio was noisy but there was enough signal to get station ID.

The signal level did vary considerably hour to hour and night to night and often very late at night it would get strong enough to actually be watchable. Spokane is probably around 240 miles to the east as the crow flies, but the Cascades is in the way. So I don’t know how the signal managed to get to me.

Then CBUT, channel 2 in Vancouver, about 100 miles to the north came in like a local station. It was watchable always. Channel 2 from Portland also was receivable, better than Spokane but never as clear as Vancouver.

Chanel 12 from Bellingham, maybe 70 miles or so north, was also consistently fairly good. Occasionally multipath was a problem with channel 12 from Bellingham even though the antenna I had was quite directional. The directivity of the antenna was better on the lower frequencies however, being able to totally separate channel 2 from Vancouver, Spokane, and Portland.

I was able to receive channel 6 from Victoria BC, CHEK television at the time, and channel 8, but I don’t recall the call letters for channel 8, however, these were not totally clean like channel 2. I could sometimes receive channel 6 and 8 from Portland as well (KGW and KOIN) but really pretty ratty most of the time, sometimes not at all. For a brief while there was a channel 10 I could receive from there but then it went to UHF I think.

In Spokane there was also a station on Channel 4, but we had a local station, KOMO in Seattle and it never seemed to go off air back then so never had the opportunity to try to receive Spokane. The few times it did go off I couldn’t receive anything.

This was pretty much what I could get normally on VHF, I had a similar setup for UHF except that I used a 4-bay bowtie antenna with a reflector. We only had some UHF repeaters in Seattle up between channel 70-83, before those frequencies were deallocated as television channels. The PBS station in Tacoma used to be on channel 62, and I could receive it clearly. There was a UHF station in Vancouver, can’t remember the channel or calls but it was receivable normally but not clean, some snow. This was the norm.

The only UHF DX I ever got worth mention was on a few days I was able to pick up a 100 watt UHF translator in Vancouver. This was rare but did occasionally happen and I thought it was impressive that 100 watts could make the trip at all.

VHF is another matter though, I received numerous stations via numerous modes of propagation. We had a local channel 13, KCPQ I think it was at the time, but it would go off the air during the night. One morning I got up early, had the antenna pointed south (13 was normally in Tacoma back then) and I did receive a signal but it was not the normal programming, instead Bozo the clown cartoons were on. When it identified, I was surprised to find out it was in Eugene Oregon. It was extremely foggy that morning and all I can figure is that there was some powerful troppo-ducting happening.

I received channel 2 and 3 from many locations over the years, including channel 3 from Winnipeg Canada, don’t remember the call letters, I remember it being all in french, and New York WCBS channel 2 (from Seattle), but most commonly I received stations via skip in the mid-west.

During some peak solar years I have had E-skip MUF open up all the way to channel 12, but never succeeded in getting station ID’s on these high channels.

I wish I had formerly recorded these at the time but haven’t. But it was a fun hobby and if you are interested you might want to pursue it before everything goes digital. With an analog signal, you can still make it out even with a poor signal-to-noise ratio, but if a digital signal isn’t good enough for a low bit error rate and correctable, it isn’t usable so I think the opportunity for this hobby will end with the analog era.

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