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Washington Voices

Sports lovers can’t escape rabbit ears

This summer we tried to kill the rabbit. That is, the ears attached to our television.

While our schedules don’t leave a lot of room for the boob tube, we love our sports. College football, March madness, adventure races and the Olympics are all family favorites. Unfortunately, sports aren’t the same when you miss half of the play.

Like a pet, we’d stroke our amplified rabbit ears, pulling them this way and that to find the sweet spot for each channel. Sometimes this worked but over the last few years reception quality has declined.

When we could get a game we’d try to stay stationary until the commercials, lest the screen freeze during a fast break to the basket. This proved more difficult than a three-point buzzer buster. It’s hard to not jump and yell when your team makes an interception. It’s impossible when the referee calls an erroneous personal foul against your favorite player as if he were watching the game in low definition.

To magnify our reception frustration, the programming quality has also degraded. More and more games have left the free airwaves, like emerging athletes waving goodbye to the minor leagues for the big bucks of the majors. As a result, we’ve missed a lot of touchdowns, overtime rallies and photo finishes. It’s started to feel like sports TV is for the upper echelon only – those willing and able to pay the price.

As readers may remember, we’re a frugal family. Over our 20-year marriage Curtis, and I have paid for television twice. The first time was in 1997, when we lived in the middle of nowhere with no programming available over the airwaves. After two months of cable we cut it off, too broke and busy to flip through the channels and complain that nothing was on. I read a lot for the next six months. Then we moved back to Spokane and resurrected the rabbit ears.

In 2008, we tried again after splurging on a high definition television. What were we thinking? I immediately developed a technology crush on our DVR and the remote’s commercial fast forward button. The show options seemed endless. I got reacquainted with old movies and invested hours with new ones. I watched badly dressed people get new wardrobes and lived vicariously as the wealthy shopped for vacation homes.

As with anything new, these shows eventually lost their luster. But the sports remained sensational. We’d watch our favorite college teams play without having to yell, “Move your arm. You’re messing up the reception.” Instead, we yelled AT the TV. “Score!”

We also expanded our active viewing obsession, watching random endurance or adventure races that eventually inspired us to get off the couch.

About a year into our programming contract we began running 5K fun runs together. A few months later, when we realized our family of five could enter a race for about the same price as our escalating satellite bill, the whole viewing experience soured. As soon as it was cheaper to pay a penalty than the remaining months of our contract, we ended it. We revived the rabbit ears.

But we missed our sports. Searching for alternatives, we discovered what turned out to be a lucky mistake. For over a year we watched otherwise unavailable sporting events on ESPN3, through a computer attached to the TV. This wasn’t without its issues. Some games buffered so long we missed entire plays. Others were so blurry I had trouble telling the teams apart. Still, it was better than nothing and cheaper than spending a couple of hours at a local restaurant, which we did from time to time.

Then, this summer ESPN3 blocked us for not having a cable or satellite account. Facing a fall of almost no Oregon Duck football and hearing our son’s pleas to watch professional soccer, we signed a two-year satellite TV contract with a company claiming to have the best sports programming available.

“Yes,” the customer service representative assured me, “I’m sure we’ll carry Pac-12 networks. We’re great for sports.”

I should have known that anyone who puts fairy wings on Peyton Manning isn’t a true sports fan, or fan of the armchair athlete. Once I finally figured out our programming package I realized I should have scouted the options more thoroughly. I’m regretting our decision more than the team owner whose first-round draft pick gets injured pre-season.

We don’t get Pac-12 networks and had to add onto our package for professional soccer. I may have gotten red-carded the last time I called customer service. As for my rabbit ears, they’re still attached to the TV, in no danger of a team trade. The only way to watch a game on Fox is over the airwaves. The rabbit lives on.


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