Soon after the introduction of television broadcasting, the demand for additional stations in urban areas motivated the allocation of ultra high frequencies (UHF) to provide additional non-interfering channels. The majority of the 165 UHF stations that begin telecasting between 1952 and 1959, however, did not survive.
Under the All-Channel Receiver Act, FCC regulations by 1965 would ensure that all new TV sets sold in the U.S. had built-in UHF tuners that could receive channels 14–83. In spite of this, by 1971, there were only about 170 full-service UHF broadcast stations nationwide. In the United States, the UHF stations gained a reputation for being locally owned, less polished and professional, not as popular, and having weaker signal propagation than their VHF channel counterparts.
Ultimately, in addition to providing TV service where VHF channels simply were not possible because of the limitations on the technology, UHF-TV also became a means to obtain programming that was not being provided by the “Big Three” commercial networks. For example, there were educational services like the Public Broadcasting Service, religious broadcasting, and Spanish language or multilingual broadcasting that all relied primarily on UHF channels to offer programming alternatives.
The proliferation of cable and satellite television and the digital television transition have contributed to the quality equalization of VHF and UHF broadcasts. The distinction between UHF and VHF characteristics has declined in importance with the emergence of additional broadcast television networks, and the decline of direct OTA reception. The number of major large-city independent stations has also declined as many have joined or formed new networks.
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