This will be hard for some to believe, but once upon a time, TV was free.
Sometimes, I think about what it was like before we had a thousand TV channels.
It makes me recall when three little channels used to offer a heck of a lot more to watch.
I can remember the first time I saw HBO. This was the late 1970s, and it was truly amazing to see a TV channel in someone’s home that played uninterrupted movies. I can also remember a small, low-powered Georgia TV channel called WTCG worming its way onto cable and making its mark by playing old TV shows we’d already seen a thousand times.
A guy named Ted Turner owned it. He later changed the call letters to WTBS. TBS, as its now called, is currently available in more than 3 out of 4 households in the US.
Ted figured out early what it took most of the rest of us a little longer to grasp: People like familiar and comfortable when it comes to their TV shows.
During the infancy of cable, and later satellite TV, technology was exploding. So, it was natural for Americans to want to see what else someone could give us.
We were done with Leave It To Beaver and All In The Family. We were ready for edgier programming, and lots of it.
So, that’s what we got. Cable companies began adding TV channels as fast as someone could put one on the air. It didn’t really matter whether the channel was any good. In the early 80s, Regis Philbin hosted an exercise show.
Need I say more?
As the cable companies added more channels, they added more dollars to our bill each month. They’re still adding more channels. And I don’t watch most of them.
When the TV bill came recently, I looked at the amount and it dawned on me that what I owed was more than my parent’s house payment was when I was a kid. I took a moment to let that sink in and I wondered how we’d allowed ourselves to wind up with way more channels than we could ever watch.
About seven years ago, I built a Man Cave behind our house. It’s more of a shop really, but in addition to the welder, anvil, grinders and wood stove, there’s a plasma TV for watching sports with the guys.
Not wanting to pay the cable guy to come out and string more wire, I decided to put up an antenna. This was just prior to all TV channels going HD.
When TV made the switch to digital broadcasting, I was stunned at how many channels I received and how clear the picture was. It was obvious that without having to go through miles of cable, TV signals looked a whole lot better.
And once again I had free TV.
The HD antennas are tiny compared to the huge arrays required in the old days. There’s also no need now to send your eight-year-old out into a lightning storm to turn the pole so that you can pick up Red Skelton.
With Netflix, Hulu and other services now available, I find myself living through yet another transition for TV. I appreciate the local stations and their commitment to news and local programming. Somehow, they kept on doing what they were doing while the rest of us went with the flow.
I have no plans to get rid of cable. I like some of the programming a great deal. It’s worth keeping. But, the local folks also provide some great offerings.
Many of the local HD channels broadcast nothing but the old shows. So, I can watch Leave It To Beaver, All In The Family, Columbo, Hawaii 5-0, The Rifleman, or pretty much anything else I’d like.
Watching them takes me back to a less complicated era. And the shows are exactly what I need sometime: familiar and comfortable.
©2014 John Moore