A day to celebrate over-the-air television

TV antenna

It’s Sept. 1, 2013, exactly two years after the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission required all television transmitters in Canada’s large markets to switch from analog to digital, and Aldo Campanelli is part of a small group that would like this turned into a holiday.

Not a statutory holiday or anything, but just a day when more people can be made aware of the power of digital television received through an antenna.

“Some people still don’t understand that it’s an option,” said the Montrealer, who started using the antenna when the switch happened two years ago. He said he kept satellite service for another year and a half before getting rid of that too, saving himself maybe $600 a year.

It’s true that few people are really aware of this concept or how to make use of it. According to the CRTC’s annual communications monitoring report, only 5% of Canadians get their signals off the air via antenna, and it doesn’t break down how many of those are digital and how many are analog (in smaller markets where a transition to digital was not mandated). Getting TV over an antenna is listed as being in “decline” in the CRTC’s report.

So Campanelli and other OTA TV backers have heard the crazy stories, people asking if it’s illegal to capture local television signals without paying for them, or who don’t understand that the HD signal captured over the air is actually better quality than what you get via digital cable (because digital TV distributors compress the signal to fit more channels through their pipes).

“I’m not an evangelist,” he said. He’s not like those people who get mad at anyone who still has cable, or who whines incessantly that there’s no use for any channel that’s not a conventional TV network. He understands that some people want cable TV, for sports, premium entertainment programming or a niche specialty channel that serves their interest.

But he’s fine with seeing the occasional hockey game on CBC and sticking to the hit shows that air on CTV.

The idea for a national OTA day came through comments on the Digital Home forums. An attempt to mark it last year was made but didn’t result in much. This time, there’s some commercial help, with antenna sellers running contests and having sales connected to it.

So if you’re interested in checking it out, all you need is a TV with an ATSC digital tuner (most new television sets have them), and an antenna to plug into it (if you have an older TV antenna with the right connector, that’ll work).

With a simple indoor antenna, you’ll probably get all of the channels that are based in Montreal. An outdoor antenna might get you the U.S. border stations, or Radio-Canada/TVA/V/Télé-Québec stations from Sherbrooke or Trois-Rivières.

There’s even one analog channel, CJOH-8 in Cornwall (CTV Ottawa), that’s still receivable over the air here.

Getting the U.S. stations is a big advantage, not only because you get to watch primetime American programming (and U.S. Super Bowl commercials), but because those stations make use of digital subchannels that aren’t distributed on Canadian cable systems. They range from weather to educational programming to classic TV and movies, and they’re only in standard definition, but at least they’re all free.

Digital TV channels you can reasonably get from Montreal are as follows:

Callsign Virtual channel Actual channel Network HD?
 CBFT-DT 2.1 19.1 Radio-Canada Yes
 WCAX-TV 3.1 22.1 CBS Yes
3.2 22.2 WCAXtra (weather) No
WPTZ 5.1 14.1 NBC Yes
5.2 14.2 The CW/Me TV No
CBMT-DT 6.1 21.1 CBC Yes
CFTM-DT 10.1 10.1 TVA Yes
CFCF-DT 12.1 12.1 CTV Yes
CKMI-DT-1 15.1* 15.1 Global Yes
CIVM-DT 17.1 26.1 Télé-Québec Yes
WVNY 22.1* 13.1 ABC Yes
CFTU-DT 29.1 29.1 Canal Savoir Yes
WETK 33.1 32.1 PBS (Vermont) Yes
33.2 32.2 PBS Plus No
33.3 32.3 Create No
33.4 32.4 World No
CFJP-DT 35.1 35.1 V Yes
WFFF-TV 44.1 43.1 Fox Yes
44.2 43.2 EFFF No
 CFHD-DT 47.1 47.1 ICI (launched December 2014) Yes
WCFE-TV 57.1 38.1 PBS (Mountain Lake) Yes
57.2 38.2 MHz WorldView No
57.3 38.3 World No
CJNT-DT 62.1 49.1 City Yes

* These stations also transmit with a standard-definition version of the main HD channel as channel x.2

You can get a more accurate report through the channel finder tool at TV Fool.

Happy national OTA TV day.

33 thoughts on “A day to celebrate over-the-air television

  1. ATSC

    Nice of you to make a list for those considering using a OTA antenna.

    CFHD-DT has not begun broadcasting it’s program schedule. But, it is currently running a test signal with a contact e-mail displayed on the screen..

    Pointing your antenna in the right direction? You should note that all the Montreal stations transmit from Mount-Royal. Except CIVM-DT (Olympic Stadium), and CFTU-DT (Univ. de Montreal).

    The US stations coming into Montreal are all located on Mount Mansfield, VT., except for WCFE-DT (Lyon Mountain, NY). WVNY-DT is the most difficult one to get in Montreal. Followed by WFFF-DT. WCAX-DT, and WCFE-DT are the easiest.

    Also, US stations are also -DT, and not -TV as you indicated on your list.
    As for the sub-channels on US stations that are not HD, most of them from the border stations that come into Montreal are in 480i (4×3). But WCAX-DT’s 3.2 is 480i (16×9).

    Some US stations are even transmitting two HD signals instead of one (two 720p streams), but none of the stations that reach Montreal presently do.

  2. Marc

    Even with an antenna from a great location such as a high-up, south-facing window in Lachine where you can see the Adirondacks on a clear day, good luck getting WVNY and WFFF.

    1. MtlCan

      Reminder to those complaining about ABC: this is a VHF channel, so forget about your UHF antennas (Antennas Direct DB8, CM4228, etc.). Get yourself a VHF-capable antenna, and mount it OUTSIDE (on the roof, on a mast etc.) Chances are you’ll capture ABC in most of most of Western Montreal.

    2. Eric

      You will need a better Antenna. I have a Phillips outdoor compact antenna I bought for $40 at access Electronique in the West Island pointed south and I get every single channel nice and clear with the exception of 62(City) which only comes in on a clear day.

      It takes time to perfect your Antenna location and the type of Antenna you’re using. Took me 6 months and 4 Antennas.

  3. Joe G.

    Get your antennas out from inside your house, out of your windows and attics and put them on the roof where they belong and use a good pre-amp sized for your weaker stations. A CM4228HD is the size of a BBQ grill and can get you pretty much everything (even WVNY) from most of Montreal when mounted on the roof and aimed properly

  4. Jonathan

    De mon condo de Villeray, avec une antenne intérieure, j’ai pas mal tous les postes montréalais, mais j’ai fait une croix sur ceux des USA. Ce que je trouve fascinant, cela dit, c’est que les postes que je capte le mieux sont Canal Savoir et Télé-Québec! Suivis par SRC, City et TVA. Parmi les plus difficiles à capter, CTV, V et CBC me donnent parfois du trouble.

    Mais bref, je suis d’accord avec une partie du propos souligné dans ton article: la télé OTA mérite d’être publicisée et expliquée davantage au grand public. Dans mon cas, c’était un non-sens de payer pour la télé quand les 3/4 de ce que j’écoute est à SRC-TVA et sur le web!

  5. Bill Lee

    The picture is better. Using my Cathode Ray Tube Tv and a digitial converter box to rabbit ears. When it breaks up, the pictures shows a bunch of colour boxes/cubes unlike the “snows of yesteryear”

    However signal is good or not at all. None of the old good-enough signals from the old analogue transmitters.

    1. ATSC

      Yes, it is possible.
      But, you have to be close to a transmitter, and will probably only receive the strongest signals.

      You’re beter off with a real antenna.

  6. ant6n

    In Berlin I can pick up like 25 channels over the air with an indoor antenna that’s 15cm long – dvb-t. Here, with the rabid ears indoors I can up 2, maybe 3 channels. This whole ATSC thing is crap. And people who are rich enough to put antennas on their roos, meaning they own roos, can pay for cable or satellite as well. The poor huddling masses won’t have it easy getting lots of signals. Plus, it’s not so easy to find decent affordable antennas one can attach to a balcony etc..

    1. ATSC

      1 – Point your antenna properly, and you’ll get more channels.
      2 – Of the 10 channels in Montreal, 5 are low powered. This has nothing to do with the ATSC system. They are low-powered because there main goal is to get a must carry onto local cable. So, they don’t care if they are low-powered. The situation is so silly that in some parts of Montreal, it’s easier to get US channels with a indoor antenna than some Montreal channels.

      You need to complain to these low powered stations that their over the air signals suck. Yes, I’m talking about CJNT, CFHD, CKMI, CFTU & CFJP.

      1. Fagstein Post author

        You need to complain to these low powered stations that their over the air signals suck. Yes, I’m talking about CJNT, CFHD, CKMI, CFTU & CFJP.

        Complaints can make a difference. CFJP (V) moved its transmitter to a downtown building from the Mount Royal tower during the digital transition, presumably to save money. It has since moved back to the tower.

        Stations like CFTU, which transmits from Université de Montréal, aren’t likely to be able to afford significant changes after spending so much money on a digital transmitter. And while CJNT, CFHD and CKMI aren’t putting out the 400,000 watts that CBC and RadCan are, at 4-8kW they’re not exactly low-power either. Their signals are affected more by their antenna locations than transmitter power.

        1. Joseph A.Cyr

          Wth the CBC radiating 400,000 watts of RF from Mount Royal,I’m happy. I don’t live in a condo in close proximity to the antenna tower !!!!Some people must spend half their nights doing a lot of sweating !!!!On a foggy night there must be a lot of heart pacemakers going out of whack!!!! Cheers.Ill stay put in Fredericton,N.B. and listen to classical music on CJPX via the web!

          1. Fagstein Post author

            Wth the CBC radiating 400,000 watts of RF from Mount Royal,I’m happy. I don’t live in a condo in close proximity to the antenna tower !!

            The closest homes to the Mount Royal transmitter are 600 metres away (not including vertical distance), and they’re not condos. The closest bodies to the tower are six feet under ground.

            And unless you’re actually hugging the tower, there’s no safety risk related to RF energy.

  7. TV OTA Montreal

    I live in Pointe-aux-Trembles,18 km away from the Mount Royal Tower. I use a Philips indoor antenna 20 db and I have all the Montreal channels except CFTU-DT with a signal of 20%. But for the US channels, I receive WCAX at 60-75% and WETK at 50% are the easiest stations to receive for me.

  8. Soupdragon

    Got a Channel Master antenna installed on my roof two years ago and haven’t looked back since. I highly recommend going OTA. I get all the channels listed in Fagstein’s article and reception is excellent. Don’t miss cable at all. Pic quality really is better than cable/satellite. It’s even possible to set up Windows Media to record shows and strip out the commercials. OTA plus online services provides plenty of content. Plus it’s very satisfying not to have to pay monthly cable bills. You can give it a try for very little money –

    1. Joe G.

      According to Digital Home Canada’s Montreal forums and @MontrealOTA on Twitter two of the best antennas for Montreal are the CM4228HD and the Antennas Direct CS2V. They go for around $100 and a pre-amp may be required, best if mounted outside but can also work inside. They’re pretty compact.

  9. Robert

    I have a homemade antenna made out of metal clothes hangers and wood sitting in the attic for more than 4 years and it is just wonderful! No need for cable TV. Got myself a splitter so I can feed 4 TV’s, including my computer with a TV tuner on which I record my TV shows. Living north of Laval.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      How would Bell Fibe TV signal compare OTA signal? Which is better?

      An over-the-air HD signal is always going to be as good or better than what you get on digital cable, satellite or IPTV. The difference is the compression that the distributors do to get as many channels through as possible. Some channels are more compressed than others. Of course, most viewers don’t really notice the difference unless they’re freeze-framing or it’s a highly compressed channel with a lot of fast movement.

      1. Steve W

        OK, I thought there might be no compression with Bell Fibe TV. I was aware there was compression with Digital Cable & Satellite. Apparently there’s no delay with watching live events on Bell Fibe TV(as with satellite & cable).

        1. Fagstein Post author

          Apparently there’s no delay with watching live events on Bell Fibe TV(as with satellite & cable).

          TV always has a delay in it. It varies, and has various causes (usually involving encoding and decoding, or transmission, of the signal), but it will never be instantaneous. What Bell Fibe has managed to do is reduce the delay caused by changing channels, so it’s nearly instantaneous.

          1. Steve W

            Something I only noticed this year(unless I’m imaging things), there’s now a long….long delay on live Als radio CJAD broadcasts even compared to Satellite TV or Digital cable. I’m listening to radio broadcasts of live Als games on regular tabletop radio. & I’m getting a delay of close to 5 seconds on CJAD radio, compared to watching the same game on TSN TV with Satellite tv(Shaw Direct). In previous years, it was the other way around(there was always a delay on TSN TV when watching on Satellite tv or Digital cable of several seconds compared to listening to same Als games on CJAD radio).

  10. New Digital

    I bought a new outdoor antenna 8-bay but I put it on 2nd floor the same place as for the Philips antenna. But now I have CFTU-DT at 53%. And the signal of the US channels are more powerful, like WCAX at 80%,WETK at 60%. If I put it in the roof I get more channels like NBC,FOX and PBS (Mountain Lake).

  11. Robert

    The new ICI channel is on the air as of November 26 2013 and that brings my total of free channels that I get at 19. Global is the only one locally with a sub channel and they waste it by broadcasting identical content as their main channel.

  12. Robert

    There is a problem with the new ICI channel here. On my sets with the digital converters I get NO AUDIO.

    On my brand new Sony 32 inch , the audio comes and goes. What’s going on ? My converter boxes are the Channelmaster CM7000. This happens ONLY on channel 47.

    You would think that they would get their act together before going on the air !

  13. In the woods

    Bonjour à tous,

    I live 85km from Montréal with a mountain in front of me. I have a 75 Mile Range HDTV 8-Bay Antenna Channel Master (CM-4228HD) on the roof and I receive all the Montréal, US and Sherbrooke channels!


    Just got rid of my Illico subscription. Couple with Appel TV and Internet streaming resources / Illimited internet bandwith… we are all set.

    Don’t worry, jump in OTA, the change en vaut la chandelle..

  14. Robert

    The big problem here in Quebec is finding an antenna installer. There aren’t many to choose from and they want you to buy their antennas. It’s a different story in Ontario. Some installations like tv towers are not for the do-it-yourselfer.

  15. Robert Anstee

    In The Woods, What area are you in may I ask and how do you receive WVNY ABC and WFFF FOX with that antenna ?

    Did you install it yourself, or did you have it installed by someone ?

  16. Robert

    OTA television has not progressed here as quickly as in the United States due to pressure from Pay TV. In fact they now control broadcast TV thanks to inept decisions made by the CRTC. They now have the CRTC in their pocket. As proof, look at the United States – many areas with dozens of channels free over the air. Some areas approaching 100 channels or more. Pay TV here doesn’t
    like competition and that’s why we are way behind the Anericans in this regard. Consider this, everyone in Canada today for the most part
    living in an apartment building or Condo is a “Pay TV Prisoner”.

  17. mely

    I live in Westmount and I get only 4 channels (src, cbc, tva, and ctv) with a philips digital paper thin antenna…. Any suggestions?


Leave a Reply