Cord Cutting in North Idaho

Back when we lived in “the state that shall not be named”, one option for people cutting the cord was over the air television; however, here in North Idaho that option may not be available. I say “may” because I don’t really know and have yet to get an authoritative answer. Nobody that I have met here talks about television and virtually nobody has an antenna on their house (except the old abandoned one down the road from us).

I checked a few antenna apps on my phone, and they rendered very different results. One by RCA says that we might get one channel while another says we might get as many as 29. A few websites claiming to know give yet other results between these two numbers.

At least part of the confusion seems to be the issue of “line of sight.” Here, “line of sight” to any media market broadcast signal is zero. Mountains prevent line-of-sight and digital signals don’t get to bounce off the atmosphere the way their analog predecessors did. Instead, any signal here will be available as the result of a repeater.

My wife misses her Gordon Ramsey shows so I still have incentive to figure this out. I’d rather not subscribe to Hulu again now that it is owned by Disney. Disney took over 100 percent of Hulu’s ownership by buying out Comcast at the end of last month. I considered a Fox subscription but again, this is likely a Disney property by another name. Figuring out what is really Fox and what is Disney is a murky proposition.

I decided to try an experiment just to see if broadcast television was available here. I bought an antenna at Wally World and attached it to a long board and stuck it up in the air. I ran a coax cable to our TV. Surprise, I got stations, but my signal strength was about 60 percent. I tried routing the television signal through our over the air TiVo that we had previously used and got bubkes. TiVo needs a signal strength over 90 percent, or it will not function; thus, it was just an out-of-date brick. Siad brick was sent to the landfill.

So, is Broadcast TV Available in North Idaho? The short answer is yes.

Here is how to receive live broadcast TV and record it using your computer as a DVR (digital video recorder).

First download the Antenna Point app on your phone. It will show you where to point your directional antenna—most of them that you will purchase are this type. In my case it was south and slightly west. The app cost was free because they are hoping to sell you one of their antennas.

As mentioned above, I bought my antenna at Wally World in Sandpoint. It had a range of about 70 miles. The enclosed amplifier didn’t make any difference in my signal strength testing, so I didn’t use it in the final install. The antenna cost was about $70.

I made a 15-foot antenna mast and attached it to our utility shed. On Amazon search for 5′ Ft Galvanized Steel Antenna. I bought three of the 5-foot pipes. I didn’t want a traditional antenna because they wanted guy wires and a concrete base or attachment to your roof and guy wires.

To attach my antenna mast I also bought Skywalker 6” Heavy-Duty Wall Mount brackets.

The mast pipes were $18 each and brackets were $25.

I hooked-up a 100’ outdoor coax cable to the antenna, ran it under my house, and up to my Internet router. Search for 100′ Feet, White RG6 Coaxial Cable. The  cost was $25.

Then on Amazon I purchased a tv tuner gizmo that connects to your internet router. Search for SiliconDust HDHomeRun Flex 4K ATSC 3.0 NextGen TV: 2/4 Tuners HDFX-4K. This tuner can get up to four stations simultaneously. It is the best you can buy and works with Plex Server software. More on that in a minute. The tuner price was $200.

After researching, I decided to go with a Plex Server since it can be purchased for a flat fee and is playable on just about any device that you might own including PC, tablet, smart phone, smart tv, etc. Plex Server is software that can be run on Mac, Windows, or Linux systems. Generally, it works on Intel and AMD CPU’s but not ARM processors. Plex will auto-sense the TV gizmo that I recommended above. It is connected in the Plex app under Live TV setup. Enter your zip code and you’re mostly done. Once the TV guide is updated, just click show you want to record. Plex will also play any movies saved on your device whether ripped commercial movies or ones stored on your device that were made by a camera or smart phone. Lifetime Plex subscription is $120. This includes all tv listings and many other features. Search the internet for how-to instructions or help with any questions. Setting up any music, photo, or video libraries should be done prior to connecting them to the Plex Sever.

Total project cost was $500. Now my wife can DVR Gordon Ramsey shows and not subscribe to Fox’ streaming service.

Oh, we get the following 29 channels; 25 of which are unique:

StationHD Channel Number
True Crime Network2.2
Court TV2.3
Me TV4.2
H & I4.3
Start TV4.4
PBS Kids7.4
The Grio22.5
Antenna TV28.2

The PBS related stations appear to be in different cities but much of the programming is the same, except broadcast times vary. Also, KHQDT3 seems to be nonexistent.

So, Yes Virgina, there is broadcast television in North Idaho. Whether it is worth your time is a decision only you can make.

Oh, lastly, if you do go the Plex route, please tweak your recording options before you try recording something important. I had to dial back the quality just a tad to get the live TV to record and sync audio and video correctly. Snow is in the forecast for next week, so I have yet to learn how much ice and snow affect the TV signal.