A Brief History of Analog Television

Broadcasting in Pittsburgh

By Glenn A. Walsh – 2009 July

< analogtv@planetarium.cc >

 

Authored By Glenn A. Walsh *** Sponsored By Friends of the Zeiss
Electronic Mail: < analogtv@planetarium.cc > *** Internet Web Site Cover Page: < http://www.planetarium.cc >
This Internet Web Page: < http://andrewcarnegie2.tripod.com/wqex/Brief_History_of_Analog_TV_Pgh.htm >
                                    2009 July

 

Pittsburgh was one of the last major cities to receive dedicated affiliates for all three major commercial networks. In fact, originally the FCC had only allocated three VHF channels for Pittsburgh: 2, 11, and 13 (the same three VHF channels allocated for Baltimore).

However, Pittsburgh civic leaders got the FCC to dedicate channel 13 as an educational channel, so only two channels were available for commercial networks.

 

KDKA-TV 2, which started as DuMont’s WDTV-3 in 1949 [when the first television network cable from the East to the Midwest was completed] became CBS when Westinghouse bought the station in 1955. There had been so much competition for the other commercial channel, channel 11, that it did not go on the air, with a NBC affiliation, until September of 1957.

Originally, it had been thought that KDKA-TV 2 would become a NBC-TV affiliate, as KDKA radio had been a NBC radio affiliate for a couple decades; hence, when channel 11 finally went on the air it would be a CBS-TV affiliate. However, KDKA-TV 2 became a CBS-TV affiliate, and WIIC-TV 11 (now WPXI-TV 11) became a NBC-TV affiliate. And, in the 1950s, KDKA radio became one of the first major stations in the country to drop their NBC radio network affiliation and become an independent radio station (in later years, KDKA radio did resume their NBC radio affiliation for a short time, as well as affiliations with ABC radio, CNN radio, AP radio, and now owned by CBS and broadcasting CBS radio programming--NBC radio was divested by NBC-TV and now operates a small network will little programming).

Shortly after Southwestern Pennsylvania's two VHF channels went on the air in 1949 (WDTV-3 in Pittsburgh and WJAC-TV 13 in Johnstown), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) imposed a moratorium on granting more television licenses. The FCC quickly realized that the number of television license applications throughout the country dwarfed the number of frequency allocations available for television broadcasting. So, Pittsburgh had to wait for additional television stations.

VHF analog television broadcasting required each channel to use 6 megaHertz of spectrum space, and there had to be at least one unused channel between television channels in the same city. Cities could have a channel 4 and a channel 5 (e.g. New York, Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles) because these two channels existed in separate television bands. Likewise, cities could have a channel 6 and a channel 7 (e.g. Miami, Denver) for the same reason.

In the 1940s, the FCC required AM radio stations to change frequencies, to allow space for additional AM radio stations. Likewise, in 1952, the FCC required television stations to change channels, to allow more television allocations throughout the country. The UHF television band was also added to meet the television station demand. This is when WDTV converted from channel 3 to channel 2 and WJAC-TV converted from channel 13 to channel 6.


Actually, in 1954 Pittsburgh did have four television stations:

2  WDTV (all four commercial networks: DuMont, NBC, CBS, ABC)
13 WQED-TV (educational)
16 WENS-TV (ABC)
53 WKJF-TV (CBS)

However, so few people had UHF receivers or converters (which allowed UHF channels to be received on formerly VHF-only television sets), the two UHF stations did not last long. It was not until 1964 April 1 that the Federal Government required that all television sets manufactured in the United States of America include both VHF and UHF receiving capability.

Channel 53 only lasted a year or so [and had a very low power]. The commercial channel 16 lasted only until 1957 and went off the air shortly before channel 11 went on the air.

Consequently, WQED-TV, which had already applied to the FCC for a second educational television channel (channel 22), changed their application to apply for channel 16.

So, after channel 11 came on the air in 1957 [for a short time affiliated with the Block family-owned Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and WWSW-AM & FM radio--WWSW-FM was Pennsylvania's first FM radio station in 1940], ABC was relegated to a secondary affiliation on channel 2. So, ABC wanted an affiliate in Pittsburgh.

Earlier, the CBS Television Network (which wanted to own a station in this top-10 television market) attempted to start a television station on channel 9 in Pittsburgh. However, channel 9 was claimed by Steubenville, Ohio, 40 miles away (which now claims to be a Pittsburgh suburb, as it is only about 25 miles away from the Pittsburgh International Airport).

So, Hearst did a study and found that a channel 4 would be available to serve Pittsburgh, but the transmitter had to be located in the extreme southeastern part of Allegheny County (Elizabeth Township). This was so that this station would not interfere with channel 4 transmitters in Columbus, Buffalo, or Washington. So, the Hearst channel 4 [affiliated with Hearst's Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, which merged with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1960, and with WRYT-AM radio which then had a classical music format] went on the air in September of 1958.

When channel 16 returned as the nation's first sister educational television station in November of 1959, Pittsburgh had five television stations, more than most cities its size:

2  KDKA-TV (CBS, Westinghouse)
4  WTAE-TV (ABC)
11 WIIC-TV (NBC)
13 WQED-TV (educational)
16 WQEX-TV (educational)

WQEX-TV channel 16 continued using the original, 1950s WENS-TV transmitter for decades until this transmitter finally died. During this time period, WQEX-TV was only permitted to transmit programs in black-and-white, as the old WENS-TV transmitter was not qualified, by the Federal Communications Commission, to transmit color programs.

However, one evening in the 1970s or 1980s, the author noticed that a program broadcast on WQEX-TV was in color! The next day, the author talked by telephone to a WQED-TV/WQEX-TV engineer about this. The author was told that, although the old WENS-TV transmitter is not permitted to transmit color television programs, due to the age of the transmitter, sometimes the color "leaks through."

When the WENS-TV transmitter finally died, WQEX-TV was off-the-air for several months, while funds were raised for a new color transmitter and the transmitter was installed.

When WQEX-TV started broadcasting with the new transmitter, it started a completely new program schedule including British situation comedies ("Britcoms"), syndicated, second-run of a few former commercial network programs (such as the hospital drama, "St. Elsewhere," which had previously run on NBC-TV), and Pittsburgh's first 10:00 p.m. weeknight, television newscast ("The News at Ten") in collaboration with the editors of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

This new program schedule included a full day of programming (but not 24-hour broadcasting) from early morning to about midnight. When WQEX-TV had originally went on the air in 1959, its school programs were sporadic. It would broadcast through most of the day, but only transmit a few programs with hours of a test-pattern between each program. When the FCC threatened to withdraw the WQEX-TV license, due to the very limited programming, WQEX-TV started a regular program schedule of weekdays from 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. and weekends from 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. This program schedule of black-and-white programs lasted until the WENS-TV transmitter died.

Channel 53 did not return as an independent channel until the late 1960s (then went dark a few years later, before returning permanently), followed by channel 22 as an independent channel in the late 1970s, channel 40 (originally licensed as channel 22) as a Christian channel in 1979, and channel 19 as a UPN channel (license switched from Johnstown to Pittsburgh, but transmitter remained in Westmoreland County!) in the 1990s.

My sister, who worked for a time at channel 11, tells me that the channel 4 transmitter is actually located in a valley, which has further impeded the channel 4 signal. Although the channel 4 analog signal could be received throughout the quad-state area, it was always the most difficult Pittsburgh channel to receive at our home, when we lived in the northern suburbs [Steubenville, Ohio's channel 9, 40 miles away, was easier to receive!).

This has been made worse by channel 4 moving to digital channel 51 (to be the highest channel allocated for broadcast television, once all of the digital conversions are complete). The WQED chief engineer told me that the low VHF channels are actually the worst for digital transmissions; so WTAE-TV does not have the option to go back to channel 4. They are now planning repeater transmitters, to serve areas channel 51 does not reach.

The WQED chief engineer also told me that he was surprised that Pittsburgh's channel 11 does not do the same thing as channel 13 is doing--return to their original VHF channel for digital transmissions. He tells me that channel 11 is almost as good as channel 13 for digital transmissions. However, channel 11, which was almost bought by NBC, is owned by Cox out of Atlanta [the same Cox family of the Harding-Cox election returns, which was the world's first commercial radio broadcast on KDKA-AM radio on 1920 November 2]. Apparently, Cox does not mind the channel 48 digital signal for Pittsburgh's WPXI-TV. Digital channel 11 has now been claimed by CW station, channel 19.

In my house, I have two televisions, each on a separate outdoor antenna pointed in different directions. I can barely receive WTAE-TV on the one digital set; usually, it is too difficult to view, if I receive any signal at all. I can receive digital signals from WTAE-TV and its weather sub-channel on the other set, in which I use a digital converter. However, there are still a fair number of people in the Pittsburgh area [particularly in the northern suburbs] who have great difficulty receiving the WTAE-TV digital channels [I now live in the southern suburbs].

Oddly, a year ago I had easy reception of the digital channels of WWCP-TV 8 from Johnstown, about 60 miles away. On a digital sub-channel, I could also receive channel 23 from Altoona, an ABC affiliate owned by the same company. Well, channel 8 decided to scrap their analog signal on February 17. And, for some strange reason, from then-on I have not been able to receive their digital channels at all!! The only out-of-town digital channels I can now receive are from WFMJ-TV 21 in Youngstown, now transmitting on digital channel 20, along with a low-power CW affiliate they placed on their digital sub-channel; WKBN-TV 27 in Youngstown (digital channel 41); and as previously mentioned, WTOV-TV 9 in Steubenville.

I tried to watch most of the Pittsburgh area analog sign-offs. Most channels just went off the air, maybe briefly mentioning the digital conversion. A few of the channels did broadcast a NAB short infomercial, in both English and Spanish, after their official sign-off regarding how to use digital converters.

KDKA-TV 2 aired the "High Flight" poem, while showing a USAF jet flying. Many years ago, several television stations [including channel 53 in Pittsburgh] used to air this spot at their sign-offs [before all television stations went 24 hours]. Then, KDKA-TV did a short montage of scenes from the last 60 years of analog broadcasting of KDKA-TV and WDTV [this probably came from a spot prepared for their 60th anniversary last January].

So, KDKA-TV had the nicest sign-off of their analog signal. However, not one station signed-off, on 2009 June 12, with the National Anthem!!! It may be that the young people running these stations today have no idea that the National Anthem was used for sign-offs years ago!!!

 

Due to topography, Pittsburgh has one of the highest cable penetrations in the nation. Hence, conversion to digital television has not affected as great a percentage of people in the Pittsburgh market, as in other major markets.

 

Some months ago, I had a long talk with the chief engineer of Pittsburgh's educational channel [and the nation's first community-sponsored television station] WQED-TV 13. He told me that, due to the differences in digital transmission, channel 13 was the very best channel for digital television [while channels 2, 3, and 4 were the best for analog transmissions]. Consequently, after a temporary duration of transmitting on digital channel 38, WQED-TV had planned to return to channel 13 by August 18; that deadline was then delayed to October 18 and now has been delayed until November 19 [when people will have to re-scan their televisions to receive WQED-TV].

Their sister station, WQEX-TV 16 [now with a commercial license transmitting the NBC home-shopping channel ShopNBC, due to financial difficulties with educational television] will move from digital channel 26 to WQED-TV's channel 38, on August 18, since channel 38 is already "built-out" for digital transmissions. They chose not to keep channel 16 for financial reasons, nor channel 26 as KDKA-TV 2 is now licensed to channel 25 and they still fear possible interference problems in the future. Still, the chief engineer stated at a WQED board meeting that the transmission range of both WQED-TV and WQEX-TV are considerably extended due to the new digital signals!

 

Chronology of conversion from analog to digital television broadcasting –

 

2009 February 17 (original conversion deadline):

12:30 p.m. EDST:   WTRF-TV 7, Wheeling WV (now digital channel 7)

11:59:59 p.m. EDST: WWCP-TV 8, Johnstown PA (now digital channel 8)

WTOV-TV 9, Steubenville OH (now digital channel 9)

WQEX-TV 16, Pittsburgh (digital channel 26 until approx. 2009 Aug. 18: digital channel 38)

WPMY-TV 22, Pittsburgh (now digital channel 42)

WPGH-TV 53, Pittsburgh (now digital channel 43)

 

2009 March (late March):

WPCB-TV 40, Pittsburgh (now digital channel 50)

 

2009 April 1 (early morning, not at Midnight):

WQED-TV 13 (55TH anniversary of nation’s first community-sponsored educational television station)

                   (digital channel 38 until approx. 2009 Aug. 18: digital channel 13)

 

2009 June 12 (rescheduled conversion deadline):

12:06 p.m. EDST:   WKBN-TV 27, Youngstown OH (now digital channel 41)

11:35 p.m. EDST:   WJAC-TV 6, Johnstown PA (now digital channel 34)

11:59:59 p.m. EDST:

KDKA-TV 2, Pittsburgh (now digital channel 25)

WTAE-TV 4, Pittsburgh (now digital channel 51)

WPXI-TV 11, Pittsburgh (now digital channel 48)

WPCW-TV 19, Pittsburgh (now digital channel 11)

WFMJ-TV 21, Youngstown OH (now digital channel 20)

 

Very shortly after KDKA-TV 2 and WTAE-TV 4 shut-down  their analog transmissions, both stations restarted analog broadcasting and began airing a National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) public service announcement (PSA), of approximately nine minutes in length, which instructed viewers regarding the digital television conversion process and how to obtain the necessary equipment to watch the new digital transmissions.

 

KYW-TV 3 did the same thing in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that only one television station per market was authorized to run an analog transmission, with the NAB PSA.

 

KDKA-TV 2 ran two NAB PSAs, back-to-back, in a continuous cycle. The first PSA was in the English language; the second PSA was in the Spanish language. Both WPMY-TV 22 and WPGH-TV 53 had done the same thing following their digital conversion on 2009 February 17, through the end of February. Although both WPMY-TV 22 and WPGH-TV 53 are now owned by the Sinclair Corporation of Baltimore, the NAB PSAs on each channel were not synchronized with each other.

 

WTAE-TV 4 ran only the English NAB PSA in a continuous loop. However, their transmission was underwritten by the Comcast Corporation of Philadelphia; an announcement of the Comcast sponsorship occurred between each airing of the PSA. The commercial underwriting of the WTAE-TV 4 broadcast of the NAB PSA may be the reason two channels in Pittsburgh were permitted to air the NAB PSA.

 

On 2009 June 17, from 7:00 to 11:00 p.m. EDST, KDKA-TV 2 pre-empted the analog NAB PSA transmission for commercial-free simulcast, with the KDKA-TV digital transmission (on digital channel 25), of continuous coverage of major thunderstorm activity, including the effects of the thunderstorm on Pittsburgh’s East End.

 

Transmission of the NAB PSA, on both KDKA-TV 2 and WTAE-TV 4, terminated on 2009 July 12 at 11:59:59 p.m. EDST.

 

WTAE-TV 4 ended the 2009 July 12 analog transmission with the following:

     Official station sign-off during the playing of an instrumental version of the National Anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner” (audio), while showing pictures of Pittsburgh;

     Short clip of Looney Tunes cartoon, where characters say “Goodbye;”

     Traditional Looney Tunes ending, “That’s All Folks!”;

     Test Pattern (black-and-white) for very short time;

     Station went off-air.

 

The week of 2009 July 13, the United States Senate held hearings for the confirmation of Presidential nominee Sonia Sotomayor to be an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. As usual, several cable television channels carried live, gavel-to-gavel coverage of this event. No commercial radio or television broadcast network carried this event, live and gavel-to-gavel. National Public Radio (NPR) carried summary broadcasts of the event, later in the day, but not live, gavel-to-gavel coverage.

 

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), through “The News Hour with Jim Lehrer,” did carry live, gavel-to-gavel coverage of these confirmation hearings when Sonia Sotomayor was part of the hearings; later hearings, after Ms. Sotomayor left the hearing room, were not covered live, gavel-to-gavel. WQED-TV broadcast the PBS coverage on digital channel 13.3 (a.k.a. “The Neighborhood Channel”). The Neighborhood Channel title is derived from the popular and long-running PBS pre-school children’s television series, “MisterRogers Neighborhood,” which was produced by Pittsburgh-native Fred Rogers and Family Communications, Incorporated at the studios of WQED-TV 13.

 

In past years, before digital broadcasting was implemented, special broadcasts such as Senate Confirmation Hearings, would be aired on WQEX-TV 16, allowing WQED-TV 13 to continue regularly-scheduled programming. Such special broadcasts included all-night broadcasts of transmissions from the Voyager II spacecraft, as it passed the planet Uranus, and a few years later  the planet Neptune. This was another advantage of Pittsburgh being the first city with two educational television stations.

 

WQED-TV now airs three digital channels, on digital channel 38; they will convert these channels back to digital transmission on channel 13 by or before 2009 August 18. Channel 13.1 is the traditional “main” programming channel, which includes programming from the PBS network. Channel 13.2 (a.k.a. “The Create Channel”) includes programming from the new PBS “Create Channel” network. Channel 13.3 (“The Neighborhood Channel”) includes programming from the 55-year-old archives of WQED-TV. Since channel 13.3 runs primarily reruns, pre-emption of programming for special events is not as critical. WQEX-TV 16 (currently airing on channel 26, but moving to digital channel 38 once WQED-TV vacates that channel) now operates on a commercial license, still owned by WQED-TV, and airs home-shopping programs of the ShopNBC network. All WQED-TV and WQEX-TV channels air 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Several low-power television stations continue broadcasting in Pittsburgh on the UHF band in an analog format:

Channel 35 - Shopping channel: jewelry

Channel 47 - Trinity Broadcasting System (religious - Christian)

Channel 59 - WBGN-TV - Independent

Channel 61 - Shopping channel

Channel 69 - Shopping channel


By the beginning of 2010, only two analog channels remained (channels 35 and 69). WBGN-TV 59, the low-power independent channel which broadcasts on several other low-power channels around the Pittsburgh region (including channel 66 in Beaver County, the very first WBGN-TV channel), converted to digital broadcasting by 2010. By November of 2010, no analog television channels were broadcasting in Pittsburgh.

 

gaw  2009 June 17; updated 2009 July 24; updated 2009 Oct. 24; updated 2011 Jan. 20.

 

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Authored By Glenn A. Walsh *** Sponsored By Friends of the Zeiss
Electronic Mail: < analogtv@planetarium.cc > *** Internet Web Site Cover Page: < http://www.planetarium.cc >
This Internet Web Page: < http://andrewcarnegie2.tripod.com/wqex/Brief_History_of_Analog_TV_Pgh.htm >
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