I still remember the day my wife Moira looked across the table at me, holding the satellite television bill in her hand, and said “This is getting ridiculous.” The monthly charges were skyrocketing and a comparison with the initial service bill was shocking.
Just the night before, I was fit to be tied after realizing the football game I had been looking forward to all week was blacked out. A call to the satellite company revealed that in local markets, if ticket sales sagged for the game in question, that local market didn’t receive the broadcast.
I thought it ironic that with hundreds of channels I never watch available, I couldn’t see the one program I wanted to.
“You’re right” I answered and that very day we cut the cord. I’ll admit, there was a bit of stumbling involved in going back to antenna television, but in the end it was well worth it and I wished we had done it sooner. That was nearly six years ago.
Before you cut the cord
Learning what you will gain, as well as lose, is very important before deciding to kick cable or satellite television service to the curb. In our case, I had flirted with the idea for some time and had an idea of what I was getting into. I spent a fair amount of time researching current day over the air (OTR) broadcasts on the internet and learned what I could expect.
If you are a sports or news junkie, you ought to think twice. Channels like ESPN, NFL Network, and all of the 24 hour news channels do not exist over the air. The only channels you’ll receive, depending on where you live and the reach of your antenna, are broadcast channels.
Typically, that means local affiliate network stations such as NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox. There is an added bonus though. With digital broadcasts coming online several years ago, stations now have the ability to broadcast several channels on their network. This results in additional channels like the CW, Justice Channel, and Retro TV to name a few.
If you have high-speed internet you may also seek out services like Apple TV or Roku to round out your viewing options. I don’t have that internet capability, so I stick with over the air broadcast television. But even if I had the ability, I probably wouldn’t. Those services and apps are fee-based and broadcasts don’t cost a dime to watch; other than the value of advertising you are subject to.
The obvious and most immediately noticeable benefit is out of pocket savings. Your initial equipment expense will be recouped within the first two months in most cases. After that, your savings add up quickly.
You may also find you suddenly have more time to enjoy being outside, reading or getting more involved in hobbies. I liken the experience to Neo unplugging from the Matrix.
There were unexpected benefits too. I found myself connecting more with family and friends.
Relaxing by the fire in winter, my wife and I talked more. We spent summer afternoons exploring the woods and later, we watch the sun slowly set over one ridge line, and the moon rise above the other.
It was almost like reintroducing ourselves to each other. I never realized how staring at a hunk of plastic for hours on end limited our engagement. It was like a spell had been lifted.
How to do it
You’ll need a television equipped with a digital tuner; most televisions sold today are. If your TV is older, you’ll need a converter. But to be honest, you are better off investing in a new television with the tuner installed as the cost of a converter can sometimes range near the cost of a new, modest digital television.
You’ll need an antenna; and not the little plastic square you see advertised on late night programs. You’ll need a full sized attic or rooftop antenna capable of picking up the broadcasting station’s signal. Depending on your elevation and distance to the broadcast transmitter, you may also need an inline signal booster between your antenna and the television.
Lastly, you’ll have to figure out where the transmitters are. Usually these are located around the closet urban area on high ground and in the city the affiliate is based in.
AntennaWeb.org has a tool that allows you to input your zip code or full address and estimate what channels you may expect to receive and the type of antenna you’ll need to get them. Don’t worry if you enter your zip and the results come back scarce. A lot of factors come into play in determining possible reception – terrain, distance, installation height of the antenna and so forth. And remember, it’s just an estimate.
If you select an extended long range antenna and use a signal amplifier like we do, you should have no problem receiving broadcasts. My location returned zero channels predicted, but alas, I receive seven channels on good days and five on most. That is good enough for me.
I currently enjoy all of the major networks’ programming, local news and sports for the total investment of under $200. And not a single cable or satellite bill in the mail for six years.