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Cable No More

A House Without Television

When I moved into my new house a couple of years ago, I had to do without television for several months. Fairmount is located mid-way between Indianapolis and Fort Wayne. At that point the broadcast signals are at their weakest, so that it is difficult to pick up anything on an antenna unless you erect one of those metal towers with a big dual VHF/UHF antenna on top.

I could not use the antennae on the top of the chimney, partly because I intended to tear down the antennae and cap the chimney (which I did last year), but mostly because the antennae were rusted out and no longer worked.


Then I got a high-definition television set as an XMas present. I had to stay up until four in the morning on a cold December day, drive to Wal-Mart and struggle through the mobs of bargain hunters to buy the thing. (It was an XMas present because my folks paid for the set.) But it was worth the struggle because the television set is a pretty decent piece of electronics. I can even hook up a computer to it and use the television set as a monitor, although I did not discover this for awhile after I bought it. I certainly could not use the television set as itself at first, for I had no way to get it to receive any signals.

Insight Cable

Thus I had to subscribe to cable television. The service we had at the time was Insight, which turned out to be a decent cable provider. I got the basic service, which provided me with sixty video channels (at first) and six music channels. I found that I could get additional channels as time past. I thought I was getting better service than Muncie, where I work and which gets Comcast. Comcast jerks Muncie around bigtime, even refusing to provide basic (local-station-only) service until the city council and citizenry raised a ruckus. I was, like, pointing at Muncie and laughing.

The Switch To Comcast

But, what I did not know at the time was that my Insight cable service was part of a dual ownership between Insight and Comcast. I did not know that until I learned in the spring of 2007 that Insight was selling its share of the Illinois/Indiana market to Comcast. By the end of the year Comcast became my cable television service.

Things went along as normal at first. Then the digital music services disappeared. Next certain cable channels (including Oxygen, Hallmark and the Catholic channel EWTN) disappeared into the digital ether. Finally came the price hikes which resulted in my cable television bill rising from $45/month to almost $60/month. And basic service was dropped here, too.

The Switch From Comcast

I could have put up with all this, if not for the failure of my car's transmission. Its repair entails a hefty credit card bill that I will need to pay off first. Then will come the monthly payments on a new car to replace my current car. I had to choose between cable television and paying for my present and future cars.

So, I decided on the week of 15 March 2009 to cancel my cable television subscription. I do not watch cable television all that much anymore. I use the television set as a computer monitor or to watch DVDs more than I watch cable television. Frankly, there is nothing to watch on cable anymore. It has just gotten crappier and crappier.

The Decay Of Cable Television

network decay

The cable networks make it so easy to just dump cable television, given how they have decayed a great deal over the years. (Go here for a fuller discourse.) A&E was once Arts and Entertainment, a cable BBC with commercials. So was Bravo before it became just another reality-TV network. AMC was American Movie Classics. TLC was The Learning Channel. MTV was Music Television. Tru TV was Court TV. There was once The Nashville Network during the 1980's and early 1990's.

why it happens

What happens is that a cable channel would be set up with a certain target audience: Women (see below), the college educated (A&E, Bravo), the college being-educated (MTV), Southerners (Nashville Network, CMT), geeks (Sci-Fi, G4), blacks (BET), and children (Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon). The channel works as intended for awhile. Sometimes the number of people the channel serves is too small to be profitable, forcing the channel to change focus or shut down. But most often the channel gets a change of suits who do not want to maintain the channel's original focus, who want to broaden the scope of the channel in order to make as much money as quickly as possible, or (and this is worse) who want to make an imprint in what turns out to be the evilest way possible. When that happens, the rot sets in.

syfy? what's that!?

What capped it all off for me was the announcement that the Sci-Fi Channel is becoming SyFy. Why? Because the name Sci Fi has been associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements with video games and stuff like that, as opposed to the general public and the female audience in particular. Female audience? Are there not enough channels for female audiences? The owners of Sci Fi disrespect their core audience and then try to vie for a market that is already overcrowded. Yeah, that makes a lot of bloody sense.

network execs — their own worst enemies

Cable television would be better off saving money by firing some of those bored and over-ambitious executives, especially that majority of suits who think their audiences are dumbasses. Anyway, I am tired of this. Why even bother anymore?

Weird Antenna From Radio Shack

The loss of cable means I had to use an antenna again. I am not going to build one outside. The yard is hard enough to mow as it is without another obstacle. So I need an inside antenna. As Fairmount is in the middle of nowhere, I needed a powerful antenna to drag in the signals. And by powerful I mean powered: My sister is using a regular antenna to go with her new digital converter box, and yet can get only channel 23 digital.

So I have bought a powered indoor antenna from Radio Shack. It is your typical rabbit-ears VHF antenna on a plastic base that houses the circuitry, with a UHF antenna that looks like the Overstock.com O logo. It did not catch much in its allegorical net at first because the antenna was put on top of the computer.

Then I got the idea of unplugging the floor lamp and using that as the platform on which the antenna rests. It worked much better, netting eight analog and six digital channels. The analog channels were either really local (Marion-based religious channels) or Indy channels still holding on to analog. I could not get Fort Wayne, even though it is as close to Fairmount as Indianapolis. The digital channels were much clearer: I got the ones for Indy channels 6, 13 and 23 as well as those for the local PBS station 49 (with a little O adjustment). For some reason, Indy channel 8 was not coming in on either form.

The Channels I Can Pick Up

analog channels

Both Marion channels are religious: 51 comes from Indiana Wesleyan University, and 57 from the big Baptist church on the west side of town.

digital channels

Channels 6 and 13 each have subchannels for news and weather. Channel 49 subscribes to a digital channel called Creative.


I had hoped that the antenna would work better than my sister the editor's. But no: It worked much better than that. I have two sets of digital stations (6 and 13) that give me news, weather and sports. And I have the digital PBS station in WIPB 49, which is good as I watch The NewsHour and Washington Week on Fridays.

The analog stations are less important. They will be gone after this June, except the Marion stations, because they are exempt from the digital requirement due to their low power. But I am disappointed that I could not get the digital broadcasts of channels 8 and 20; they ought to be as receivable as 6, 13 and 23. Too bad for them.

I will have to construct some kind of platform for the antenna to rest on, so that I can use the floor lamp again.

Update (10 July 2009)

As I feared, the Sci Fi network has changed over to SyFy, as I saw on the television of my sister the teacher (the only sibling who has cable now). Great, my sister gets the Polish Syphilis Channel.

The O antenna is not working as I had hoped. Now that the transition to digital broadcasting come about a month ago, I am getting fewer channels because digital signals are weaker than analog ones. I basically get channels 6, 13, 23, 29 and 59, all from Indianapolis. The signal for channel 49 (the Ball State PBS affiliate) is hard to pick up from the antenna, and what I do pick up often freezes and has pixel storms.

I have read up on outdoor antennas and have become partial to the Winegard SS-2000, which can pick up digital signals from the Indianapolis/Muncie area from where I live. It should work even better once the antenna is mounted next to the roof and wired to the cable lashup I already have. This is part of an overall reworking, in which my phone, network, and cable TV cabling will be encased in flexible conduit. But that will be for later this summer.

Update (25 December 2009)

The results from the smaller antenna were so poor that I decided to incorporate a television antenna into my summer project to run cabling from my living room to the upper room of my house via conduit.

The project originally involved that Winegard SS-2000. On learning that the antenna would be inadequate for such an out-of-the-way place like Fairmount (as the local American Legion lodge learned the hard way), I had a larger roof antenna installed. It pulled in digital signals (and some analog ones) like nobody's business. Here is what I can receive at the end of 2009.

Update (30 December 2009)

I wrote this a month or so ago after looking at the Slashdot poll of 7 November 2009. It is too short for a separate page, and too apropos to leave out of this one. — aw, 30 December 2009.

Sometimes I regret having dropped cable television. But then, I remember why I dropped it — Comcast. And my determination returns. Then I remember the Polish Syphilis Channel, and its famous quote The name Sci Fi has been associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements with video games and stuff like that, as opposed to the general public and the female audience in particular, and my determination is set in ferro-concrete. And I don't even have a basement. And there are plenty of women-oriented cable channels out there without the PSC trying in vain to dilute the market waters.

Anyway, Slashdot put forth the following poll.

Science Fiction Shows and Movies Should Stop…

Hollywood denizens of the type described by Brain Bendis in Fortune and Glory try to wrap their mediocre mercenary and mendacious minds around science. Think about it, and you will see the folly of translating science fiction to the screen both big and small.



Caitlin Clarke, of blessed memory, was the lead female role in Dragonslayer, but even I would not think of regarding Dragonslayer as a classic motion picture. Yet, it was one of the first non-classic movies to appear on AMC, when it was still calling itself American Movie Classics. This began with a change of suits in the early 2000's; I discovered this when I started getting appreciation e-mails every time AMC broadcast Dragonslayer. The downhill slide had just begun.


The Nashville Network was exactly that: A network about country music and Southern life and sports (including NASCAR) from its founding in 1983 through the mid-1990's. The mutation began when Viacom bougth the network in 1995. Then it abandonned country music entirely for Country Music Television (CMT), even dropping the name for simply TNN. Over time it transformed itself into a general (young) men's network, even broadcasting Star Trek shows for a time. It finally dropped the TNN acronym for Spike TV in 2006.

As for CMT, it looks like that channel is starting down the road took by TNN:

Reruns of several shows that seemingly have little or nothing to do with country music (or have only a bare connection to southern culture) air or have aired recently on CMT, including MTV's Two-A-Days, VH1's Hogan Knows Best and (currently) Trading Spouses and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (the latter is shared with TV Land). On September 27, 2008, the first Lethal Weapon film aired on the network.

A female SyFy? Why?

The presence of Lifetime, Oxygen, WE and even Hallmark, is proof enough that there is no need for another channel chasing women's eyeballs. Besides, any of these four channels can provide whatever science-fiction women may want. Oxygen has in the recent past shown the Resident Evil movies with Milla Jovovitch.

Anyway, Madre has since informed me that SyFy has gotten perceivably worse since the July changeover.

Written by Andy West on 23 March 2009; updated on 10 July 2009, then on 25 December 2009.