A bunch TV stations got a windfall from the FCC’s spectrum auction. Some got so much they opted to go off the air forever and take the money and run. Altogether, 987 TV stations must change channels.  


The spectrum auction raised $19.8 billion dollars for the government. 175 TV stations that gave up spectrum, auctioned to mobile/wireless companies, were compensated for selling off the spectrum to a tune of $10 billion dollars. T-Mobile, Dish, and Comcast (among others) bid a total of $7.3 billion for the spectrum for future plans.

Even if you live in Chicago, you may never have heard of WWTO in Chicago. It’s owned by Trinity Broadcasting — or I should say — was owned by Trinity Broadcasting. They agreed to sell it in the auction and got $304 million dollars for it. Nationwide, 36 stations will get more than $100 million. 11 noncommercial stations (think local University or PBS stations) got $100 million or more each.

Stations will have some time before they must move or vacate this channels, so don’t expect it to happen right away. For those moving to a new channel, viewers that watch on cable or satellite will likely see no difference whatsoever. Here’s an example: The station I work at now is Channel 31. When the digital transition happened, we moved to Channel 32 but viewers never noticed. A device called a PSIP generator tells your TV to tune to Channel 32 when you want Channel 31. You’ll never notice because it still tells you it’s channel 31. If you are on cable or satellite, it’s likely channel 1006 or 1031 already anyway and that won’t change. So if we move to a new channel, it may not impact you at all.

If you watch over-the-air (without sat or cable), you’ll need to re-scan. The stations will announce when it’s happening so you can do it. But regardless of what channel it is, you’ll still see it as the same one you’re used to.

Here’s the list of who got what and which stations are going off the air. Keep in mind that many of the stations that say they are going off the air will be giving up the current spectrum. Many of them will be able to stay in business by partnering with a different channel in town (some co-owned) and sharing the spectrum.

Spectrum can be split to carry multiple signals. That’s why you may see a station broadcast several networks on digital sub-channels. For some owners that had two stations in a market, they’ll shut down one, but moving the programming over to share the spectrum on the first station. One would be the primary channel (such as 12.1) and the other would be the secondary channel (such as 12.2).