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Washington Voices

Cutting cable finds good reception

Sat., July 26, 2014

It wasn’t too long ago that TV was free entertainment. One need only put an ugly antenna on top of the roof and, voila, ABC, CBS, and NBC, the overseers of the TV waves back then, were in living rooms around America.

Today, cable and its gazillion channels are the norm. For years we were tethered to cable’s umbilical cord until three months ago when we cut lose the chain that satisfies the couch potato syndrome and headed into the unknown.

In short, we dropped cable. We kept Internet – one has a certain responsibility to the gadgets bought. But cable and the endless channels never watched but paid for, plus HBO, Starz and Encore that we did watch but paid extra for, were gone in one fell swoop.

We’re not sitting around twiddling thumbs or espousing the “I don’t need TV” mantra because it’s simply not true. We like television and its myriad of hi-def fantasy, sci-fi, action, and romantic comedies but our cable bill, despite scrimping and cutting all sorts of premium channel corners, continued to rise. We finally decided this Game of Cable and it’s ruthless cast had to go.

We searched the shelves at the local big box electronics store and asked too many questions as we tried to wrap our brains around the concept of reverting to antenna. I had visions of an oversized metal arrow on the roof or outdated rabbit ears attached to our modern HD screen until the salesperson pointed to a 12-by-12-inch box. Antennas don’t have to go on the roof, he explained, they can sit inconspicuously in a window, behind a curtain. We learned about beamwidth and clear-stream and long-range digital antennas that, we were assured, would bring in the local channels not only free of charge but also in HD brilliance.

I had my doubts. After all, that’s why we had cable. And you know the adage, nothing’s free. So when the crystal clear picture appeared with color so vibrant it hurt my eyes, I figured that, in time, the picture would dull and go fuzzy and we’d be squinting to watch our favorite shows and news anchors.

So far, so good.

My clever TV fanatic husband lives by the motto “more power” so along with the antenna came the Amazon Fire TV gizmo. It took me a week to get comfortable with it; took my husband five minutes. He particularly likes talking to the remote when searching for a favorite movie or television show. Be warned, however, when stepping into this realm, it’s a short jump to other streaming subscriptions like Netflix, which, admittedly, we spend many evenings watching commercial-free.

This transition isn’t without its flaws, but thus far we haven’t experienced the frantic desire to race back to cable that many cautioned would happen within a week. In fact, free local TV coupled with streaming is very doable.

Nevertheless, as the late Gilda Radner said, “It’s always something” and that holds true to the new-but-old TV adventure we’ve embarked upon. Recent ads have been warning about unhappy cable companies who want the government to shore up the free TV loophole.

With free enterprise comes angry monopolies. It’s not surprising. It is disappointing and frustrating and, well, you know the adage – nothing’s free. Guess the cable companies want to make sure it stays that way.

Voices correspondent Sandra Babcock can be reached by email at Previous columns are available at columnists.

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