The Curious Tale of Channel 37, the unused TV channel

Do you know the history of Channel 37? If you answered "no" to that question, well, we're here to tell it to you. Channel 37 is actually an Ultra High Frequency (UHF) television channel that is unused. However, this is not due to the fact that no one is interested, far from it.

Channel 37 has been deprived of broadcasting in the name of science. The frequency band it occupies is indeed very important for radio astronomer researchers. The scientific community has indicated that the use of this television channel could interfere with the observations made by their radio telescope.

The Curious Tale of Channel 37, the unused TV channel
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In 1960, a group of radio astronomers from the University of Illinois (USA) submitted a request to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that Channel 37 never be used. After many complications, they were finally successful.

Danville radio telescope

Radio astronomy is an important branch of science. It is thanks to her, among other things, that researchers have been able to make important discoveries about the Universe. For example, radio astronomy has demonstrated the existence of pulsars, radiogalaxies and quasars.

However, these discoveries could not have been made without the use of radio telescopes. It is precisely because of one of these instruments that Channel 37 could never be used. The radio telescope we are going to talk about here is based in Danville, Illinois. It was created after a discovery made by a radio engineer named Karl Jansky, who at the time worked for Bell Laboratories.

In 1931, the latter observed strange interference in radio waves. After a thorough investigation, he concluded that these disturbances were of extraterrestrial origin and originated from the center of the Milky Way. Following Karl Jansky's discovery, researchers began to take an interest in radio astronomy.

After World War II, other scientists began new research in radio astronomy. These include George C. McVittie, a British cosmologist who founded the Department of Astronomy at the University of Illinois in the 1950s, and George Swenson, who helped build the Danville radio telescope.

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An important frequency for radio astronomy

Danville's radio telescope was built in an area that allows it to operate at a frequency of 610 MHz. The region in which it is found is very important to researchers. It provides access to two other frequencies which are essential to radio astronomy, namely the 410 MHz and 1.4 GHz frequencies.

The emergence of television channels

The researchers were able to take advantage of this window of observation for a short time before something came to threaten their studies. In 1952, the FCC began to democratize the use of the UHF. This led to the emergence of many TV channels. From 108, they quickly increased to 2051.

Channel 37 is one of the television channels to have emerged during this period. The latter occupies a UHF frequency band from 608 to 614 MHz. Unfortunately, the frequency band it uses overlaps that of the Danville radio telescope. The use of this channel therefore risked endangering future observations by radio astronomical researchers.

It should be noted that in 1959 the International Telecommunication Union drew up a list of frequencies which were important for scientific research. Those used by Channel 37 were part of it.

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The researchers won their case

After learning of the existence of this television channel, scientists from the University of Illinois appealed to the FCC. In 1960, they requested that the use of Channel 37 be reserved for the Danville radio telescope. According to George McVittie, other scientists thought he would never get FCC approval:

“Most of our radio astronomer friends had said to us, 'Look, you two, Swenson and McVittie, you're crazy. You mean you're going to ask the American public to ditch a TV channel for science? Has anyone ever heard of something so absurd? ""

At the time, no one was using Channel 37 yet. That didn't stop the FCC from denying their request. However, she changed her mind in 1963 after stations began contacting her to access the TV channel. In October 1963, she then banned the use of Channel 37 in the United States and encouraged Canada and Mexico to do the same. In 1974, the FCC adopted a 10-year moratorium on the allocation of stations to Channel 37, which then became permanent.

In the end, the scientists won their case. This channel is currently unused in the United States, Canada, Mexico and part of the Eurasian region.

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