TV stations are ending their analog broadcasts today. It’s hard to believe that, for many people, TV signals have been transmitted and received in the same way they were the day I was born. You would think that the delivery system of the dominant cultural and entertainment device in American society would have changed tremendously over 50 years.
For much of my life I watched TV through an antenna set-up, and Kish and I had a TV with an antenna as recently as the early 1990s, when we had an old black and white unit in our kitchen. Cable obviously is a better transmission medium, but I still think something was lost when we switched away from the antenna system. In the old days the TV signal could be affected by all kinds of occurrences outside of your control. Reception quality always seems to be inversely related to the importance of what you were watching, so if it was the Moon landing or the last minute of a tie football game you could always count on the screen to fill with snow. People would develop all kinds of approaches to improve the signal — usually involving minute adjustments of the “rabbit ears” and ultimately requiring them to be held by an individual who then could not comfortably watch the program. (Even more precise adjustments were required to tune in to the local UHF station using the bottom dial of the set, which had a few stray numbers on it.) When you finally got the set tuned you felt a real sense of accomplishment. And, if you couldn’t get it tuned and had to give up in frustration and play outside or read a book, that probably wasn’t a bad thing, either.