It may seem like good, free television programming would be unlikely in Summit County, on account of the picturesque Rocky Mountains running block on airwave contact with the outside world. In fact, over-the-air channels available to Summit County viewers are one of the best-kept secrets, especially since Aug. 1, when Summit Public Radio & TV completed upgrading their three analog signals to digital TV (DTV) format. The upgrade allowed for a significant expansion of free, over-the-air TV channels, plus the addition of High Definition (HD) broadcasts in Summit County. A member-supported nonprofit group founded in the 1950s, SPRTV rebroadcasts Denver-area television and radio stations free of charge from a station atop Bald Mountain (commonly referred to as "Baldy") overlooking Breckenridge. Compared to last year's programming, Summit County viewers now can enjoy The CW Network, ION Television, ION Life and Qubo in addition to the former lineup of ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and KCFR (audio only). Pending permission, the group also hopes to rebroadcast DTV Channel 8.4 in the future."While the analog-to-digital TV signal conversion was FCC mandated (and mostly paid for with federal grants), we're thrilled that this transition has resulted in a major increase in the channels available to those residents and visitors in Summit County who wish to receive their TV programming over the air," said Sue Greene, Summit Public Radio & TV president.The expansion was done in two stages - first Channel 10, followed by Channels 8 and 12 - said marketing director Brian Duchinsky. "Gary, our vice president of engineering and site maintenance, basically purchased the new gear we needed, mostly under a federally-funded program specially to aid the transition to DTV, hauled it all up to Bald Mountain and installed it." Many factors contribute to how well DTV can be received, including antenna type and location. Older non-digital-ready televisions may require an analog-to-digital converter box, and older non-HD-ready tubes may not properly display HD programming. "Folks who can receive our DTV signals may also appreciate some improvement in picture quality of our high-quality, standard definition programming, primarily through a reduction in image noise," Greene said. Channels 8 and 10 remain standard definition, albeit higher quality.Converters may be purchased at big box or online retailers, or ask for the manager's digital-to-analog TV converter box discount at Radio Shack in Frisco, 821 Summit Blvd, (970) 668-4731. "Be sure your box has the 'analog pass-through' feature so you can continue to receive the old analog signals - while they last," SPRTV's website advises. Visit www.sprtv.org, soon to be upgraded, for more technical details. "Of course, there's a dramatic improvement in picture quality when folks receive our High Definition programming, now available for the first time," Greene said. "The kids/family-friendly Qubo channel was a particularly nice addition," Duchinsky said."At SPRTV, we've always subscribed to the notion that diverse programming offers our Summit County listeners and viewers more opportunities to learn and experience new or different ideas, cultures and musical expressions than might be 'naturally' available through free, over-the-air local offerings," said Duchinsky, who nonetheless admitted that his household does not watch a ton of TV. On whether Summit County viewers should watch more TV now that more stations are freely available, Duchinsky replied, "We might easily hypothesize that Summit County viewers of our free, over-the-air antenna TV watch less television overall, as the numbers of stations we rebroadcast is a fraction of what's offered by cable or satellite TV providers." Still, he said, "It's up to each Summit County viewer to decide what type of television, if any, best matches their lifestyle and viewing needs."To learn more, Summit County residents, second-home owners and residential property managers are invited to email firstname.lastname@example.org; include name, physical address and contact info.For schedules and program descriptions, see: www.kwgn.com (The CW Network), www.iontelevision.com (ION), www.ionlife.com (ION Life) and www.qubo.com (Qubo). For info on SPRTV, visit www.sprtv.org.