The End of Television

Months ago, or so it seems now, we were told that as of February 17, 2009, our ability to receive the television signal that has come into this house since I have no idea when, would end. In the attic of the […]

By Edie Clark

Feb 17 2009

Months ago, or so it seems now, we were told that as of February 17, 2009, our ability to receive the television signal that has come into this house since I have no idea when, would end. In the attic of the garage of this house, there is an antenna that has been there ever since I bought this house and, by the looks of it, I’m assuming it’s been there for decades. A wide, flat wire snakes through a hole in the wall into the old kitchen and, when I first moved in, I found that when I hitched it to the television, I was able to receive all three networks (ABC, NBC, CBS) plus two public television stations, one in Boston and one in New Hampshire. Reception is not clear as glass but I’m not big on television. I lived without one for years. When my mother came to live with me in her last year of life, I signed up for cable. This was back when I lived in Chesham. I knew she did not want to miss her “programs.” Service was something like $25 a month, which didn’t seem too big a price to pay for her pleasure.

But when I moved up here on the hill, cable was not available. I was told “never.” OK, so we aren’t a big population base up here! Which is why I live here. So, those few channels have been perfectly fine with me, a bit of morning and evening news, an occasional good comedy or the irresistible 60 Minutes. Frontline on PBS is terrific. Masterpiece Theater. That’s enough. I work during the day and have many evening activities. But the option of a bit of television viewing is pleasant and not something I want to give up. And what would I do without my local weather report and the all-important graphics, tracking a storm? Can’t get that on radio.

However, it appears that this really might happen. The right to receive television through an antenna on the roof has been there ever since the beginning of time, that is to say, the beginning of television. When I turned ten, my father bought the first set, a big piece of furniture with a small tube inside that took us through some of the most memorable early years of I Love Lucy, Ed Sullivan, Leave It to Beaver, which we all watched together in the evening. The Mickey Mouse Club kept my sister and me quiet while Mom fixed dinner. Occasionally my father had to climb up onto the roof and turn the antenna as if it were a precision instrument while my mother watched in the living room and called out through the window when the snowy reception had cleared. A small price to pay.

It’s always been free, this thing called television. Except for that brief interlude with my mother, I have not expanded with cable along with the rest of the viewing population. Never seen The Sopranos, Sex in the City or Six Feet Under. What I get through that old antenna in my garage has been completely acceptable, even welcome.

Now this “digital revolution,” which I’m sorry to say I don’t truly understand, is here on us. Today is d-day. To prepare, I sent in for the government coupon that would enable me to get $40 off on a $60 “converter box.” Which I did. Of course, this is not something I could hook up by myself so I bribed a friend and her boyfriend with the promise of lunch and gratitude in exchange for their help. And they came over, cheerful and willing. There was the usual round of finding the instructions in the proper language, plugging and unplugging, testing and failing, testing and failing, and finally discovering that, with the new box, I am able to receive only two channels, both of them out of Manchester, New Hampshire. So much for globalization.

That leaves me with only two options, one which I’ve resisted since day one: get a dish. I don’t want to spend the money and I can’t afford another monthly bill, particularly in times like these. I don’t have that much need or desire for all those many channels. I looked into a dish at one point when I thought it would be a good thing for me to have high-speed internet service (I have dial-up which, like the cable TV situation, is not a matter of choice) and they advised me that the only place they could put the dish would be smack in front of my house, i.e., smack in my view. No thank you. The other option, obviously, is to do without.

So now the government has extended to deadline for “The End of Television in Rural Areas” to June. But, alas, some of the stations I now receive have decided that, due to the fact that they have invested so much in this big changeover, they are going with the deadline anyway. That’s today. I bid a fond farewell and shed a small tear for two fewer options. Now I’m down to four channels.

Now what? I’ve got the converter box all primed and ready to go. I’ve got another coupon for the other TV (I didn’t want to buy two until I knew what one would do) and that expires today. What a mess. I’ve heard that the option, even with a converter box, will void and networks will blend into cable or satellite, which will signal the end of a long run of “Free Television.” There are a lot of us out here who cannot or will not pay the price. Maybe we’re just that much better off.