Why Channel 37 Doesn’t Exist And What It Has to Do With Aliens?
Even though television broadcasting has evolved from analog to digital, one thing has not changed since UHF’s debut in 1952…There has never been a station on Channel 37!
That channel, in fact, throughout its history has always transmitted only a static signal.
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Even television has its own story worth telling, especially if it offers points of interest also related to the history of radio astronomy and mass psychology… Let’s not be intimidated by the technical terms and try to find out together.
Bandwidth for television in the United States was allocated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1937, solely in the VHF (Very High Frequency) band, across 18 channels.
American television broadcasting began experimentally in the 1930s with regular commercial broadcasting in cities such as New York and Chicago in 1941. Efforts at TV broadcasting on any channel were drastically curtailed once World War II began, due largely to lack of available receivers.
The end of the war brought rapid expansion in the nascent broadcast television industry. Thirteen VHF channels was found to be insufficient to support the desired expansion of broadcast television across the United States.
Interference and channel crowding in densely populated areas (such as the eastern mid-Atlantic states) was a particular problem.
So, 1952 was the year that the FCC opened up the television system to use UHF, or Ultra High Frequency signals. The practical effect of this addition of bandwidth was that the total number of potential TV stations increased dramatically, from 108 to 2,051, overnight.
The first UHF applications were granted on July 11, 1952, and the frequency corresponding to Channel 37, that of 608-614 MHz, was assigned to 18 locations in the Northeast, grouped in an area of a thousand kilometers radius, in which there were cities such as Danville, Illinois, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Toronto, and Washington, DC… For all intents and purposes, a 1000 km radius from Eastern Illinois covers the entire East Coast except the state of Florida.
However, for reasons that are not always clear, this band was never given to the many television stations that requested it at the time. This state of affairs continued until the end of the fifties, when the situation began to be further complicated by an unexpected fact.
In 1959, in fact, the University of Illinois was completing at Danville the construction of the first large radio telescope of those times.
But here it is worth stopping for a moment to talk about it in more detail, as well as spending a few words on the growing importance in that period of radio astronomy research.
The Vermilion River Radio Observatory (VRO) was a research facility operated by the University of Illinois from 1959 to 1984, featuring a 120 meters linear parabolic radio telescope.
Located near the Vermilion River, the site was about 72 km from the university campus, near Danville, Illinois. Work began in 1959. Once the natural ravine was shaped, it was covered with asphalt and wire mesh, forming a reflector aimed by the Earth’s rotation to sweep the sky. A wood trestle 47 m high was built at the reflector’s focus to carry the receivers. The array was configured to allow phasing adjustments to sweep 60 degrees of sky. The facility was suitable for conducting survey work over large areas of sky, but could not be used to study specific targets.
The array mapped a significant portion of the northern hemisphere’s sky, allowing the compilation of a catalog of astronomical radio sources. The most notable source discovered by the VRO is active galactic nucleus VRO 42.22.01, the prototype for BL Lacertae objects.
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