After Hours

Geek Trivia: Lucky number (thirty) seven

For what official purpose was UHF channel 37 removed from service for television broadcasts in North America -- a justification that was markedly different from the commercial spectrum auctions that describe nearly every other U.S. phase out of TV channels?

Three Dog Night taught us that one is the loneliest number, and though most music fans would insist the rock trio was waxing philosophic on the nature of romance, you could make a snarky argument the group was also singing about U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) television channel assignments. (Okay, maybe not.) For you see, once upon a time, there really was a broadcast television "channel one" in the United States, but more than 60 years ago, it was legislated away.

From 1938 to 1948, VHF channel 1 was a viable, sanctioned television broadcast frequency in the United States, though exactly which frequency range was covered by channel 1 changed twice during the decade. The precursors of contemporary broadcast stations such as WNBC in New York and KCBS in Los Angeles, along with several others, broadcast originally as channel 1 television stations. This was an experimental period, however, and for much of that time, the FCC allowed certain radio services and television stations to broadcast on many of the same VHF radio frequencies. This meant that radios would sometimes pick up television audio, and TVs would sometimes pick up radio broadcast audio. After World War II, U.S. TV broadcast stations multiplied, exacerbating these issues.

By 1948, the FCC realized that its policy of allowing television broadcasts and radio communications to share certain VHF radio frequencies was no longer tenable, and the line of demarcation the agency drew between radio and TV signals left channel 1 in radio's range rather than television's. Thus, from 1948 onward, no broadcast television station in the United States could legally transmit on channel 1, and no U.S.-marketed television receivers would be manufactured to receive broadcasts in that range.

While this may appear a mere odd footnote in TV broadcast history, channel 1 is far from the only TV broadcast frequency that the FCC gaveth, then tooketh away. While in most cases, the channel ranges that were rescinded were auctioned off for commercial usage by competing broadcast technologies, in at least one case -- that of UHF channel 37 -- a decidedly non-commercial enterprise was the motivation for denying television activity on the allotted frequency.

FOR WHAT OFFICIAL PURPOSE WAS TV CHANNEL 37 REMOVED FROM SERVICE IN NORTH AMERICA?

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About

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

34 comments
oldbaritone
oldbaritone

Many of the words were not selected because of their numbers, rather, the numbers were selected because of the words. Neighborhoods had their telephone exchange, and the numbers were assigned to the exchanges. Notice that the numbers 1 and 0 do not have letters - because 1 and 0 were used for direct-dialing (a revolutionary concept) and because 1 and 0 were the second digit of area codes. So "MUrray Hill"7-0700 was really in Murray Hill! For abbreviated dialing within your own neighborhood, you only needed to dial 5 digits, sometimes only 4. The old step-by-step rotary exchanges (does anyone remember rotary-dial phones?) had "dropped digits" for in-exchange calls. To dial "PIoneer"8-6618, you could dial 748-6618, or just 8-6618 was enough if you were in the PIoneer exchange. The digits "74" were dropped if dialed first." And if you listen to "Modern-Old" movies, produced now but set in the 1910s or 1920s, you may hear the character ask the operator for a number beginning with "KLondike 5" - which when you look, you'll see that it's the fictitious "555" exchange - And THAT exchange (555) moved into film and song after the 1981 top-40 hit "Jenny, Jenny" by Tommy Tutone. Phone subscribers all over the country who had the misfortune to have the number "867-5309" were plagued with prank calls for months. The 555 was used following that song for use in entertainment so that legitimate subscribers would not be bothered.

docotis
docotis

I'm old enough to remember our first phone number,a party line (no, not that kind) The number was 21004. After that came the HE (hemlock) prefix. Now we have to dial the whole ten numbers to make even a local call. An also interesting fact is that only Phila PA (of major cities) has a channel six TV station. The non-commercial broadcasters on the low end of the FM band causes havoc with channel six. Since these FM stations are mostly colleges and big cities have a lot of colleges... trivia

labguy5000
labguy5000

All of the current analog channel frequencies are not being reclaimed by the FCC. After the switch to digital broadcasting is complete, the new digital signals may or may not be located back at their former frequencies. Some but not all of the stations currently using VHF channels for analog broadcasting will move to the UHF band. No matter where their signal is located, the stations will be able to retain their original channel designation. A station using analog channel 2 will still be able to call itself channel 2, even if it ends up where the analog channel 34 is now. In addition, digital stations operating at this time may be moved to different locations after all analog ceases. Confusing?

RealGem
RealGem

Radioastronomers don't broadcast, they receive. So reserving things for radioastronomy broadcasts is a bit of a misnomer ... observation might be a better word. There are always exceptions, though. Broadcasts have been made, sort of "hello galaxy" messages, but that's not what channel 37 was reserved for.

dfborkowski
dfborkowski

Three Dog Night (the rock group) to the best of my knowledge was NOT a trio. Their current website shows six musicians, and in the late 60's they released an album called "Seven Seperate Fools" that I think had seven band members.

turbinepilot
turbinepilot

My Grandmother's telephone had a faux diamond glued to the middle of the dial. I had always thought that was an elderly lady's attempt at decorating a rather plain-looking phone. After reading your article, Jay, I finally understand that her phone number wasn't 344-xxxx, it was DIamond4 xxxx! Thanks, Jay, for clearing up a 40 year old mystery.

cfolster
cfolster

So, if there's anybody/thing in outer space who chooses channel 37 as their listening range - they, and we, will hear nothing! Do we periodically send out pings on that channel just to prevent such an unlikely scenario that someone is looking for us, but we cannot be heard?

tjsobieski
tjsobieski

A very famous 2 letter exchange was PE(nnsylvania) 6 5000

MISDude-E
MISDude-E

I pretty much delete all my other TechRepublic signed-up-for spam as its stuff I already know or is speculation on stuff I feel I already have a better opinion on. However it's always interesting read from you, Jay. So don't stop and keep them coming. It is appreciated!! Thanks.

crossconnects
crossconnects

Channel 1 frequency band 50-54 MHz did not go to commercial interests, but is part of the amateur radio spectrum. With digital television most broadcasters are vacating the lower channels due to propagation sometimes allowing distance stations causing interference with local stations.

MGP2
MGP2

When I was a kid, if someone asked my grandmother her phone number, she'd reply "It's Pawtucket 49344. It just always struck me as funny to hear someone state their phone number in that manner.

tjbud
tjbud

- and its a major city! :p It was interesting tuning in the Channel 6 audio on the FM dial (don't remember exact frequency), and also listening to FM radio on Channel 6's audio...

tjbud
tjbud

I remember my family's phone started as "RAndolph 5". My dad even kept the old phone with the number on the dial for many years (He was long-time in the telephone industry... I wish I'd grabbed it). Anyway, just thought I'd zing you with another "wrong thread" :)

seanferd
seanferd

I glossed right over that.

tjbud
tjbud

... of singers - with a backup band they added AFTER not doing so well without (but before they hit pay-dirt). --- thanks AllMusic.com

seanferd
seanferd

they are "listening" for astronomical radio sources, such as stars. I don't think pinging would be of much use, except on timescales on the order of tens or hundreds of years or more. Unless the aliens happen to be hanging out very nearby, in which case they could easily raise their radiative power, and the freq would hardly matter at all. Or they could just stop by for lunch.

read
read

This sounds like a very good starting point for a sci-fi short story.

fred.wagner
fred.wagner

We're sending out so much traffic on every channel BUT 37, and the whole spectrum, it would be hard for anyone somewhere else to miss us! Did you see the movie Galaxy Quest ? The aliens had been watching Star Trek, and expected the stuff they had seen on the show to actually work - thought it was a documentary....

Jay Garmon
Jay Garmon

Sentiments like these are much appreciated. Though don't be so hard on my fellow TR bloggers; they're a good bunch, by and large.

realvannewkirk
realvannewkirk

ok, being in the cable industry, I have to take issue with the frequency given for ch37. 1-54Mhz is return frequency, with each channel occupying a 6Mhz band, skipping 88-108Mhz which is used for fm radio. That would put ch37 at around 288MHz, not in the 600 range. This caught my attention because in this area, internet downstream runs over ch88 which is in a mid 600 range.

blieffring
blieffring

Channel 1 would "skip" when upper atmospheric conditions were right and interfere with other cities' channel 1. VHF police radios would skip in the spring and fall generating fun news stories. Most radio stations went off of the air at night. It was fun to listen to open channel radio stations on that frequency that went to full power at sunset. The internet is encountering ISP limits, outages, and dropped packets from bandwidth limits that is turning internet surfing into a ham radio exercise.

misceng
misceng

One enterprise beat all others to PLU6237. It was a plumber

darpoke
darpoke

As a Family Guy fan from London, I have to say, that is *awesome*. You didn't by any chance attend James Woods High? :-)

seanferd
seanferd

My brother had some very old phones like that in a house he bought. We hooked them back up, but you couldn't dial out (touch tone service). Post in whatever thread you like, but you'll get more interesting stuff in the proper thread, and those following that thread would like to hear from you. :) I do realize that those posting on tel exchanges ended up here via the Quibble link. I think it is a bit confusing, the way it is set up. Cheers!

dfborkowski
dfborkowski

OK. I stand corrected. However, why are the "other" members referred to as "backup band" when, as you say, the original three singers were not doing so well beforehand? Seems like the tail is wagging the dog here !

tjbud
tjbud

they were watching Galaxy Quest. Apparently you missed that very important plot point.

support
support

In staying with the Family Guy..... There once was a guy from Pawtucket, .... and believe me, the stories about him are greatly exaggerated... (borrowed somewhat from Peter Griffin) :)

darpoke
darpoke

I love the musical numbers he's done with Stewie, and the way they rag each other, the one when he borrows money from Stewie - off key. And the one where he works for Stewie is *so* cute. Call me dark, but I love the exploration of his forbidden love for Lois, too - "I would eat your poo" :-) [Edit: grammar, then pluralised 'number']

Poodoo999
Poodoo999

Reminds me of the scene where Brian is sunbathing on the front lawn (did he think his fur was going to get darker?), martini close at hand, while the family is packing up to drive to New York for some Boy Scout thing for Chris. One of them (Lois?) asks Brian if he wants to go and he says "No, New York is a lot like Prague, sans the whimsy." I love the comparison of New York to Prague, as well as the idea that Brian has ever even been to Prague. And then there's the whole Brian searching for his mother and finding out she's an end table incident - priceless!

darpoke
darpoke

Actually, to get serious for the first time in this thread, I think you have a valid point but it depends what you consider 'childish'. For me the attraction of Family Guy in particular is the marriage between slapstick cartoon and biting satire, often on targets that many other platforms wouldn't dare touch. They don't always hit the mark dead on and sometimes overstep the line but I'm just glad that someone's out there doing it on the bleeding edge of comedy. As for the somewhat meandering train of thought (if 'meandering train' isn't a complete oxymoron - there I go again), while it speaks to a child's miniscule attention span I also think it speaks to a tech's dynamic ability to match patterns (useful in diagnosis and analysis of issues) and think outside of the conventional box (useful in designing and problem solving). Not that other industries don't require those skills, but, you know... I don't see many politicians that I think would watch the show, you know? Maybe that's the problem with governance. Man, I can't get a leash on my cognitive puppy today.

Tom
Tom

Just a thought, but has anyone else entertained the idea that all of us working in IT, or at least become members of this forum, are overgrown children? I mean how does telephone frequencies become Brian swearing at another dog? (not that i am above childish cartoon references) The scene that ran through my head as soon as family guy was mentioned was Quagmire ordering Jennifer Love Hewitt a "roofy-colada"

darpoke
darpoke

I was reminiscing just this morning about the bit where Lois is driving Brian somewhere and he's in the back looking out of the window when he says to Lois, "Hey! There's another dog in that car. *There's another dog in that car!!* Hey, hey you! Other dog! F*** you!!!" He might be sensitive and cultured with a mild drinking problem but hey, he's still a dog...

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