An easy way exists – at least in Montezuma and Dolores counties and on the Dryside in La Plata County – to get all the Denver television you want and never miss a Broncos game.
The method is affordable if a bit old school: Put up an antenna and get your TV through a broadcast signal, these days a high-definition antenna with better picture quality than the bygone days of rabbit ears.
The Southwest Colorado Television Translator Association was established in 1979 to bring television signals to Montezuma and Dolores counties by a group of individuals who previously had banded together as a private club, the Four Corners TV Club.
In the days of the private club, donations were encouraged with the recommended annual donation at $18. Now, as its own special district, the SCTTA is financed by a 0.777 property tax mill in the district.
“Our network today is built on what guys did years ago. When this started, it was just a bunch of guys with electronic experience who said, ‘Hey, we need to get an antenna up on a mountain and see what we can do,’” said Wayne Johnson, SCTTA administrative manager.
“We’re in a unique situation in the basin we’re located. Once you get an antenna set up and see what you get in our location, it’s amazing. You get a lot of bang for your buck. If you put a translator on top of Mancos Hill at 8,000 feet or Abajo Peak at 11,000 feet, the signal is going to go 70, 80 miles.”
Now, the district also includes service to San Juan County, Utah, which means it’s able to retransmit signals from affiliates in Denver, Albuquerque and Salt Lake City to all its Four Corners members, which includes a portion of La Plata County from Hesperus south to the New Mexico line.
As an example, Johnson said SCTTA transmits signals from 14 different Public Broadcasting Service affiliates in the three different Nielsen Media Research designated market areas that are assigned to its members.
Many members use SCTTA in combination with streaming services to provide them with all the viewing options they could want – eliminating the need to subscribe to a cable or satellite delivery provider.
“We give people an option. You don’t have to subscribe to a satellite or cable provider if you can’t afford it,” he said. “People are using us for local television and internet streaming for movies. It’s a model a lot of people are using,” he said.
Asked if La Plata County could join SCTTA, Johnson said it would be conceivable but unlikely. The district would have to want to add new territory, and residents of La Plata County would have to vote to tax themselves to join the special district.
Another idea, he said would be for La Plata County to form its own special television district. But if the district was limited to only La Plata County, it would still be limited to retransmitting signals only from Albuquerque affiliates.
Another problem in La Plata County, he said, is the more mountainous terrain. “La Plata County has a lot of nooks and crannies,” he said. Signals from towers would have more “dark areas.” Still, he estimated setting up a network similar to SCTTA’s would probably serve 75% of the population.
SCTTA isn’t the only one taking advantage of the opportunities that come from broadcast signals.
One Denver station is available in Durango via a retransmitted broadcast signal from a translator on Smelter Mountain: Rocky Mountain Public Broadcasting Service.
Alex Forsett, Western Colorado regional director for Rocky Mountain PBS, said in spring 2020, Rocky Mountain PBS plans to replace its aging translator on Smelter Mountain with a new one at a cost of more than $50,000.
“It’s important to us to continue to make investments in our legacy equipment. It’s especially important in areas where it’s difficult to get internet service,” he said.
Anecdotally, Forsett said he’s heard the new equipment Rocky Mountain plans to install on Smelter improves picture quality, but the big benefit will be a more reliable signal.
The translator on Smelter is made possible by an agreement with KNME-TV, the PBS station in Albuquerque, to allow the Denver PBS affiliate to show its signal in Durango, which is part of the Albuquerque Nielsen DMA.
The same agreement also allows Rocky Mountain PBS to be shown on cable television systems in Durango and Cortez.
Amanda Mountain, CEO and president of Rocky Mountain PBS, said her affiliate has been in talks with satellite providers, Dish and DirecTV, to also allow Rocky Mountain PBS, along with KNME, to satellite customers in Montezuma and La Plata counties.
Rocky Mountain PBS has offered satellite providers to carry its locally produced content, but Mountain said the satellite systems haven’t been interested in carving special channels for that content.
Talks remain ongoing with satellite carriers to carry Rocky Mountain PBS to satellite customers in La Plata and Montezuma counties, and while Mountain said she couldn’t estimate when those talks might produce an agreement, she said she is confident everyone is committed to making it happen.
“Everyone at the table has service to the community in mind and is sincere in working to overcome obstacles that have arisen in the past,” she said.