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Channel 6 quadruples signal to improve reception

6ABC, which faced withering criticism when thousands of over-the-air television viewers lost reception on June 12, quadrupled its TV signal over the weekend.

6ABC, which faced withering criticism when thousands of over-the-air television viewers lost reception on June 12, quadrupled its TV signal over the weekend.

The emergency signal boost was granted under temporary authority by the Federal Communications Commission and will last six months. A 6ABC official said the station will seek FCC permission to make it permanent.

On June 12, the nation's TV stations ended their use of analog signals in favor of digital signals. The switch improved picture quality, but for viewers using traditional over-the-air sets and rabbit ears, it also led to problems receiving 6ABC.

Viewers should rescan for the station on their digital-converter boxes. Some people still may not receive the station because of malfunctioning converters or poorly functioning antennas, said David Dombrowski, an FCC electronics engineer in Philadelphia.

The weekend's action confirmed that the FCC underestimated the necessary digital-signal strength in engineering models. Those models, experts have said, were based on outdoor antennas, which many homeowners in the Philadelphia area lack.

Experts also warned for years that low VHF frequencies, which 6ABC uses, could be problematic because of interference from FM radio stations and electric-power lines.

6ABC has the top-rated local news show, Action News, and carries Oprah Winfrey's show and several popular afternoon soaps. 6ABC viewers who prepared for the digital transition felt misled when they lost TV reception June 12.

During the testing phase before June 12, the station used a temporary UHF frequency, which requires a different antenna, so many viewers anticipated no trouble when the digital switch occurred.

When 6ABC shifted back to its usual VHF signal during the final transition, the reception problems became all too apparent. (VHF stations in Boston, Chicago and New York, in addition to Philadelphia, have had some of the biggest problems in the over-the-air digital transition.)

All over the region - Drexel Hill, Center City, Frankford, Media, South Philadelphia, the Northeast, Perkasie, Haddonfield, Camden and Little Egg Harbor - people reported losing 6ABC reception and said the problems could force them to cable TV.

6ABC's Web site was flooded with complaints, and thousands called an FCC hotline. Some said 6ABC kept its old frequency to save on electricity costs.

Hank Volpe, director of engineering at 6ABC, said today that saving money on electricity had nothing to do with its digital-channel position.

"Everybody is looking for a villain, and there is no villain," Volpe said.

6ABC would have liked another frequency to broadcast in digital, but it "reluctantly" accepted the position it had, Volpe said. Taking another frequency would have forced four TV stations in other markets to accept new frequencies, as well, he said.

With the power boost over the weekend, 6ABC will broadcast at about the same signal level in digital as it did in analog, Volpe said.

He added that he did not believe the power boost would interfere with FM radio stations or TV stations on the same frequency in New Haven, Conn., and Schenectady, N.Y.