Old is new again

I watched a lot of television when I was a child. A lot.

It was like angels singing when we first got cable. I recall coming home for lunch and being able to watch The Flintstones. I’m not exactly sure, but this probably put my age at about seven years old. Cable back then wasn’t like the cable we know. There certainly were not a zillion stations. Heck even basic cable now has far more selection than there was back then.

It was also different because it was a disaster. Cable kept going out. You can imagine that my parents weren’t pleased to be paying for a service that often didn’t function. They got rid of it and installed an antenna tower with a rotor. There was no cable box of course, but there was a rotor box. You’d tune the TV to the correct channel, and then turn the rotor to the correct position. This would turn the antenna to face the correct direction. You can imagine how this would wreak havoc with channel hopping and timed VCR recording! But we didn’t have a VCR or a remote control for the television, so it was fine. An antenna was a particularly good way to get television signals because of where we lived. We could easily pull in Toronto and Buffalo stations. There was quite a selection to choose from.

At one point my folks even had a second antenna installed with its own rotor so we could have two televisions in separate rooms, each able to watch what they wanted.

This all ended when my parents moved. They build a house in a new subdivision and it was time they got modern and left the old technology behind. It’s largely worked for them but what it offers in selection, it withholds in quality. An antenna pulling in a strong signal is certainly going to look better than a compressed cable or satellite signal. My mom made the jump to digital HD cable last year. I’m not sure she’s all that impressed with it, but man does Wheel of Fortune look good!

This brings me back to my own situation. I came home last Thursday to find myself without cable. I’d cancelled it and enjoyed nine days of free service, so I can’t really complain. But you know what? It’s different without it. I would often make a meal and flip on the news or something to occupy my mind while I eat. I can’t do that any more.

So I’ve been researching over the air broadcasts. There are two transmission towers serving my area and unfortunately, I do not have line-of-sight to either one. The tower with my favourite stations is just behind the building next door to me. Some people on the Internet have suggested that I still might be able to get a usable signal. Given that I know no one with an antenna larger than set-top rabbit ears, I don’t have the benefit of anyone’s experience to draw upon. I decided to just give it a try.

20090823_cm4221hdI ordered an antenna last week. I won’t get mounting hardware until I can determine if it’s worth installing on my balcony. It’s not a huge expenditure, costing only $55 plus $15 shipping for the Channel Master CM-4221HD pictured to the right. I’m really curious to see what kind of signal it’ll be able to pull in. It’s a UHF antenna so the reception of channels 2–13 will likely be very poor at best. This is fine however, as most of the stations I’m interested in are channels above 13.

I steered toward a UHF antenna for another reason as well. Digital broadcasts are all UHF, so when Canada’s analogue television shutdown occurs in August 2011, there will be no VHF television broadcasts. When that time rolls around, all I’ll have to do is purchase a digital tuner box (or a new television) and I’ll be able to continue onwards.

The antenna is 84 cm tall and 63 cm wide (33 inches x 22.5 inches), which will work just fine on my balcony. If I keep it, all I need to do is strap the bottom portion of a 2 metre mast tube to a vertical support of my balcony railing, and attach the antenna to the upper portion. With the stations I want broadcasting from the same transmission tower, the antenna doesn’t even need to rotate.

I will certainly receive far fewer channels that I had with cable. I don’t want much TV anyway. I may end up watching even less, but I would like the opportunity to watch some. Once the hardware is paid for, it’s hard to argue with a monthly fee of $0.

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