Needles Remains One Of The Nation’s Last Areas With TV Yet Available By UHF

Fully a generation after traditional VHF and UHF broadcast television became a vestige of American life, a sizable cross section of the city at San Bernardino County’s extreme east end remains committed to receiving its daily culture, entertainment and news through the ether.
The Needles Community Television Club, along with similar entities in southeast Nevada and northeast Arizona, have perpetuated right up to the present their members’ abilities to receive at exceedingly low cost over the air television programming that runs cable subscribers approaching $1,000 per year.
In February, those club members collectively agreed that the tri-state collective will maintain the translator system located in the Black Mountains near Oatman in Arizona for at least another year.
Moreover, it was disclosed at the annual confab held this year on February 17 at the Elks Club in Needles that the system has switched over to a digitized system via ultra high frequency (UHF), which includes the Phoenix NBC affiliate channel in high definition. The system now features 37 channels available by means of a UHF antenna. High definition broadcasts are viewable only by means of a high definition reception television outfitted with a digital tuner, though the signal can be viewed in standard resolution by a television using a digital tuner. Virtually all new television models utilize digital reception. Older television sets must be augmented with a converter box to change the digital signal to analog. Such converter boxes are no longer being manufactured, but can be found for around $50 to $100.
Somewhat ironically, traditional broadcast television remains a staple in one of the county’s most remote areas because initially television broadcasts did not reach there. The U.S. Federal  Communications Commission designated a portion of the VHF (very high frequency) band for television in 1941 on channels one through six. During World War II, channel one was removed and used only for war purposes.  In 1945, channels seven through thirteen were added. Subsequently, a portion of the UHF bandwidth was allotted to television stations to meet  the demand for additional over-the-air television channels in urban areas.  In 1983, UHF channels 70–83 were taken away from TV broadcast services. As cable and satellite television service saturated most of the country, the use of the portions of the VHF and UHF spectrums reserved for television broadcasting throughout the United States ended and those bandwidths became available for relicensing or sale after a transition period, which ended June 12, 2009 in the United States.
More than a half century prior to that, however, the Needles Community Television Club was founded in 1958, serving the communities of Needles, Mohave Valley, and Topock-Golden Shores. Because surrounding mountains blocked VHF and UHF line-of-sight signals, Needles and the Mohave Valley across the river in Arizona were unable to tune in television stations. Local officials on both sides of the Arizona/California border enlisted technicians from Kingman, Arizona to conduct tests from around the region to set up “translators,” i.e., signal repeaters that allowed locals armed with a UHF antenna to get television broadcasts on their TV sets.
After experimentation, trial and error led technicians to determine that the ideal spot for the translator was atop the Black Mountains near Oatman, Arizona. The club in partnership with Mohave County operated ten channels that are received over the air by means of a simple antenna. The number of available channels has more than tripled.
Even with the advent of cable television and satellite TV service, the club and its service persisted because of the expense of such in-home services and the consideration that cable service is not available in many outlying areas. In another irony, broadcast television provides Needles residents with programming that can be one hour, or in some cases two hours, ahead of the television fare in the rest of Southern California.
The television club membership fee has not changed for 62 years, with $10 dues going to maintain the translator facility, which must be replaced every six to eight years at an approximate cost of $20,000. Those interested in maintaining their membership in what is the oldest continuously operated TV club in the country for 2020, or those outside the club wishing to enlist as a member, can do so by forwarding by U.S. Post a $10 membership donation prior to April 30 to the club’s treasurer, Bruce Pocock, 214 Fairway Dr., Needles, CA 92363; or in care of Eileen Hartwick, NAPA/Big O, 949 W. Broadway, Needles, CA 92363. Checks should be made out to The Needles TV Club.
Club brochures are available at Big O Tires/NAPA Auto Parts in Needles.

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