My how TV has changed…..
When TV first became commercially available in the United States, people were giddy that they could see images from the piece of furniture in front of them.
By Marvin Baker
TV had actually been evolving since its first broadcast in 1927, and even though the BBC went on the air in 1930, commercial TV didn’t widely available in the United States until after World War II.
The first TV channels went on the air in North Dakota in 1953, and color first became available here in 1965.
Those stations, KCJB in Minot, WDAY in Fargo and KFYR in Bismarck, all broadcasted for just a few hours a day before going off the air. The next day they would sign back on.
At that time, there were still a lot of people in North Dakota who didn’t have TVs or didn’t get TV reception at all because they were living in remote areas.
By 1959, TV was on the air in Winnipeg and Brandon, Manitoba, and in 1962, TV went on the air in Regina and Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. KCND-TV also signed on in 1959 in Pembina.
That meant those North Dakota residents who were too far out of Minot or Fargo range would tune into Canadian TV, mostly the CBC, and Pembina provided ABC to southern Manitoba viewers. That brought a new dynamic to viewing since TV signals don’t check in at the border.
But by 1967, several additional stations had gone on the air across the state including WDAZ in Devils Lake that was designed to provide coverage to those in the north to the border and east toward Grand Forks.
By 1970, there were at least two channels in each of the largest cities in North Dakota, and by 1977, what is now known as Prairie Public Television expanded outside of Fargo. It took a lot of years, but today Prairie Public has statewide saturation that includes broadcasting into South Dakota out of Ellendale and into northern Minnesota with its Crookston, Minn., affiliate.
TV continued to grow albeit slowly. As an example, Prairie Public went on the air in Bismarck in 1977, and it took another eight years before ABC had its own footprint in the capital city.
All these channels were analog, and all went off the air at predetermined times of the day. WDAY signed off at 1 a.m., with the National Anthem and technical information about channel 6. When WDAY ceased its signal, most of eastern North Dakota was able to catch an hour of CBC channel 6 in Winnipeg because there was no longer a stronger signal from WDAY, and TV signals travel better in the middle of the night. CBWT signed off at 2 a.m. with Oh Canada and some video images of the Rocky Mountains. Nearly all of the TV stations signed back on at 5 a.m.
The biggest change to TV since TV itself came in June 2009 when the FCC ordered all analog channels in the United States off the air with a switch to digital programming. Some stations had already switched voluntarily, but most waited until the mandate.
And just to give you an example of how digital channels changed TV, in 2009, Minot had four TV channels. By the end of October 2018, that number had ballooned to 24 with the promise of more on the horizon. Every network was represented, and every network channel except FOX had sub-carriers meaning numerous channels could broadcast from the same tower, a feat pioneered by Prairie Public nearly 20 years ago.
Are there enough people in the Minot area to keep 24 channels on the air? It really doesn’t matter because most of the programming outside the local affiliates are using national advertising for their revenue. It’s been a huge change, and to make this even more intriguing, there are more TV channels on the air in Minot today than were available on basic cable in Minot in 2005.
But there are still some of us in the remote rural areas who miss the analog signals because occasionally, we could pick up distant channels like Melita, Manitoba or Carlyle or Yorkton, Saskatchewan, all of them CBC retransmitted at a lower power from a separate tower. Massive budget cuts forced CBC to shut down Melita and Yorkton while CKX in Brandon and CIEW in Carlyle continue to broadcast analog, but both are now affilitated with the CTV network.
Over-the-air digital TV from across the border is near impossible, but if you live anywhere near the border, you could still pick up Carlyle or Brandon.