Early TV Stations Got the Low Channels

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Early TV Stations Got the Low Channels

Postby jon » Thu Oct 09, 2014 9:00 am

It did not always hold true, but when analogue television originally began in earnest, the first television station in an major market area usually got the lowest channel.

This comes to mind as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of many of the early stations. In Edmonton, it was Channel 3 and Calgary Channel 2. CBUT-TV was Channel 2 in Vancouver and was B.C.'s first licensed station; KVOS-TV in Bellingham was actually on the air first, and Vancouver residents had been watching Seattle TV before that.

Seattle's first station, which became KING-TV, was assigned Channel 5 in 1948.

An interesting exception is KATU-TV in Portland, which got the City's last available VHF channel when they signed on in 1958, and was assigned Channel 2. Why? My personal guess is that Vancouver was originally considered too close for two full power stations to co-exist without interference. And I do remember watching Jack LaLanne's syndicated show quite clearly on KATU before CBUT signed on in the summer when conditions are better for regional skip. This from a Burnaby location with no line of sight to the South.

Lower channels were better, delivering a better signal for less power. In fact, the first TV stations were on the air before the U.S. entered World War II, and were assigned frequencies around 42 MHz. TV as it existed after the War began on Channel 2 around 55 MHz. It was not so much that the lower frequencies were needed for other things, but that Shortwave Skip was a bad thing, causing interference, and even a small amount of interference really played havoc for a received television picture.

There is a big gap between Channel 6 and 7 for FM and commercial (taxis, etc.) use, and a smaller gap between Channel 4 and 5, which explains why KOMO-TV and KING-TV could co-exist in the same market. In the early years, there was a major OTA reception benefit to being on Channel 6 or lower, and early stations really pushed to be there.
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Re: Early TV Stations Got the Low Channels

Postby Tape Splicer » Thu Oct 09, 2014 2:55 pm

jon wrote:An interesting exception is KATU-TV in Portland, which got the City's last available VHF channel when they signed on in 1958, and was assigned Channel 2. ..... I do remember watching Jack LaLanne's syndicated show quite clearly on KATU before CBUT signed on in the summer when conditions are better for regional skip. This from a Burnaby location with no line of sight to the South.


When we lived in New Westminster in the late "70;s and early '80's I recall picking up the signal from KATU 2 Portland ... CBUT 2 was off the air (this was when Western Cable still picked up the signal OTA). The KATU signal was picked up at the the "head end" in South Surrey and carried down the cable.

When my parents and I lived in Victoria in the early '50s we were able to catch all the Seattle stations with "rabbit ears" The hardest station to catch was KTNT (now KSTW) Tacoma as KVOS was a much stronger signal.
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Re: Early TV Stations Got the Low Channels

Postby drmusic » Thu Oct 09, 2014 4:15 pm

There was a necessary amount of separation that led to a market like New York, for example, getting channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13. That left Philadelphia's network affiliates on 3, 6, 10, and 12. And there are similar examples elsewhere. (4 and 5 do not require separation because they are in different bands). I'm not an engineer, but this is my understanding. (Another early station that got channel 2 was CKCK in Regina, also 60 this year.)
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Re: Early TV Stations Got the Low Channels

Postby jon » Sat Oct 11, 2014 9:13 am

Tape Splicer wrote:When we lived in New Westminster in the late "70;s and early '80's I recall picking up the signal from KATU 2 Portland ... CBUT 2 was off the air (this was when Western Cable still picked up the signal OTA). The KATU signal was picked up at the the "head end" in South Surrey and carried down the cable.

I wasn't aware of that, but I do recall mentions in a cable company's CRTC submission, around 1973, that their head end, around Cultus Lake, was far enough from CBUT, and directional enough, to get good enough reception of KATU to make it feasible to offer it to customers. The CRTC turned them down.
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