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Tower power: Antennas for TV reception gaining in popularity

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Aaron Jackson, left, and Josh Loonan of Don's Maximum Sight & Sound in Waterloo load a television antenna into a truck for delivery and installation Thursday, April 1, 2010. (RICK CHASE / Courier Staff Photographer)

Part two of a two-part series.

WATERLOO - Ken De Nault doesn't see much on television he considers worth paying for. That's why he doesn't spend anything to get the 15 to 16 channels he has at his home. 

"Why pay all that money to sit in front of something and do nothing?" he said.

De Nault uses an antenna to get over-the-air broadcast signals. This old-school method of reception is making a comeback, driving antenna sales upward.

Brian Shaw, operations manager at Don's TV Maximum Sight & Sound, said the store sells about five per week.

"We're throwing up antennas right and left," Shaw said.

Shaw credits the switch to digital television for the resurgence in this method of reception. Some people needed to upgrade their antennas to receive digital signals; others saw a chance to save money but still get multiple channels as stations broadcast multiple signals simultaneously.

"I see this as a new beginning for broadcast TV," said John Huff, general sales manager at NBC affiliate KWWL in Waterloo.

If De Nault watches television, it's usually to watch older movies, catch up on news or check the weather.

He can do all of these with signals he pulls in for free - one of the Cedar Rapids-based KCRG digital channels broadcasts weather, and KWWL has a channel dedicated to old movies and television shows. De Nault had a new antenna installed at his home this month to get better reception of the digital signals.

Some people in rural areas, beyond the service of cable, have no choice but to get an antenna if they want local television stations. Shaw said many of the city-based antenna users are looking to save money.

"More people in town are switching because of budget constraints, since more channels are available for free off the antenna," he said.

The renewed interest in broadcast television comes as competitors have shrunk broadcast's pool of advertising dollars and split the television audience. Broadcast stations receive most of their revenue through advertising and receive some fees from the networks for carrying their programming. Non-broadcast stations make most of their revenue by charging cable and satellite providers for the right to carry their signal.

While rules used to prohibit broadcasters from collecting retransmission fees, broadcasters have begun charging cable and satellite providers for the rights to carry their programming. This has led to multiple showdowns between cable companies and broadcasters. In 2007, Sinclair Broadcast Group, which operates two Cedar Rapids stations - CBS affiliate KGAN and Fox-affiliate KFXB - pulled its signals for nearly a month from Mediacom Communications Corp.

With a resurgence of over-the-air viewers, Huff said, the traditional model is still viable for broadcasters to bring in revenue.

"We're here for the communities we serve, and no one pays for that except the advertisers who choose to invest here," he said.

That's exactly as De Nault likes it.

"I don't see any sense in paying for something anybody can get for free," he said.

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