Notes From Hairenik
May 22, 2006

For several months I had been complaining to my wife and friends that I could no longer tune in CNN at home. This problem seemed to have been resolved when unexpectedly it started coming in loud and clear on Friday evening. The reception I would say is about 90 percent clear, with some distortion along the outlines of headline text and an occasional, soft buzzing hum. Hopefully, the clear reception is permanent.

I live near Republic Square, and have always been able to pick up CNN very clearly. When I was living there for eight months in 2002 I only received some static in the signal occasionally on overcast days, but usually any problems I had were cleared up after moving around the inter-video component connection wire I used as a makeshift antenna. This continued to be the case until about six months ago, when I noticed that the signal’s quality gradually began to decline. By the end of March I was so frustrated with the by then snowy black and white reception that I purchased an indoor antenna, basically a small black box made from cheap plastic with the familiar telescopic retractable metal spires you see on nearly all TV antennas screwed to each side of the thing and a square swiveling part resembling a miniature radar dish in the center. Just below that on the base of the antenna was a round knob that when turned clockwise delivered a somewhat better picture depending on the position step—the antenna favored the 4:00 and 10:00 positions best. This seemed to have been a solution as the color returned, but a few weeks later the black and white fuzz appeared on all the steps. Repositioning the base in different places along the top of the TV set to which it was affixed by four suction cups as well as lowering and raising the spires did nothing.

One day, after having smashed the antenna into oblivion only a few nights beforehand on my living room hardwood floor, I decided to install an outdoor antenna to the left of the balcony overlooking Nalbandyan Street, next to which the TV is placed. I noticed a three-foot thin pole bolted there to the tufa wall of the building, which I guessed would accommodate an antenna. So along with my friend Karen we visited the Vesta electronics store located on nearby Sakharov Square to purchase one. There were two choices, a V-shaped three-spoked antenna about four feet in length meant to be positioned horizontally, and a large rectangular metal thing which had many small parts and looked like a piece of junk. Both cost 6000 dram, or about 14 bucks. We tried the V-shaped antenna, as the salesmen insisted it was the best bet, and found that almost all tunable channels, including two Russian channels I didn’t know were available as well as a few Turkish stations, came in crystal clear. Only CNN came in fuzzy, with no color. They told us to position the antenna so that it pointed directly towards Yerevan’s communication tower perched high on the Nork-Marash slope, which we did. Despite the fact that the top of the tower is visible from my apartment there was still no CNN, so we took the V-shaped antenna back to try the rectangular one. That thing barely picked up anything clearly, and CNN was just a screen of snow, not even audible. The next day Karen and I reinstalled the V, figuring that maybe something would change regarding CNN’s reception by fine-tuning it on the TV. No dice—just fuzzy black and white reception with static-laden sound. Turns out that Vesta also had problems tuning in the station, as well as one of my neighbors, who resorted to perching their antenna on the roof, and apparently receives a very clear picture. Karen lives on the 9th floor of an apartment building in “Raikom” which is in the northern Arabkir district, and picks up CNN perfectly.

I as well as arguably thousands of others in Armenia rely on CNN as the only available English-language news service that primarily gives world news. The news is read clearly and at a reasonable, comprehensible pace, unlike the machine-gun rapid fire monotone banter heard on most Armenian TV news programs, delivered by some anchors with speech impediments. Furthermore, the European edition of CNN that is broadcasted is virtually identical, if not better, to the CNN news that I grew up with in the US with solid, reliable no-nonsense reporting, before it became a variety show a few years ago with anchors giving their personal, melodramatic commentary after nearly every story read.

I had been suspicious about CNN’s gradually degrading signal for a while, guessing that the people who exclusively broadcast the news network, whoever they were, worked out a deal with one of the companies offering cable television services in Yerevan, notably Super System, which had advertised on CNN aggressively in the past. I heard from someone that Armenia TV was responsible for CNN’s broadcast in Armenia. A visit to their Web site affirmed this, as well as the fact that a joint-venture with the Cafesjian enterprise owned the station. The “About Company” page revealed that not only does Cafesjian have a stake in Armenia TV, his organization also runs several affiliated media companies, including one that produces “BizBreak” commercials that usually appear in the middle of a CNN news segment, a film production company, and not surprisingly, owns Super System. So my suspicions were proving to have some merit, although unproven.

So I decided to write a letter to the only general email address I could find on the site. The title was “Restore CNN's broadcast signal” and it read as follows:

Hello Armenia TV/CS Media/Media TV,
I am writing you regarding the transmission of 24-hour
CNN broadcasting in Armenia. I am an American working
and living in Yerevan. When I first arrived in late
2004 CNN was being tuned in very clearly in
downtown Yerevan. Since then, especially in the last
four months, CNN's broadcast has significantly
declined to the point where the transmission is barely
It is now practically impossible to watch CNN, even
with a properly installed outdoor antenna. I see a
faint picture now without color, using a new outdoor
antenna, whereas 6 months ago I received a fairly
clear picture with no antenna installed. I live near
Republic Square and my antenna is pointed towards the
Yerevan communications tower, yet the picture is very
faint without color, and the sound is poor. My
neighbors have the same problems, even with installed
outdoor antennas.
Can you tell me when you will repair your transmitted
signal of CNN so that I and thousands of others in
Yerevan can watch it properly? Realize that the
"BizBreak" advertising is also suffering since
outsiders living in downtown Yerevan cannot watch the
ads or the news for that matter. 
Please let me know when I can expect to watch CNN
clearly once again. 
Christian Garbis
Writer, Yerevan Armenia

I waited a few days but didn’t receive a response, so I sent the email again. Each time I CC’ed a different PR-related contact. I didn’t receive a response from my second letter, either.

Was the restoration of the signal a few days ago coincidental? Probably so, although I would like to think my letter had something to do with it. But it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that now hopefully anyone with a decent antenna in Central Yerevan can once again tune in the station. Long live CNN!