Month: February 2011

57 Varieties

When I was a kid we got three channels on the TV.

Three channels on a good day.

Three channels if the weather was just right.

My dad was what today we call an “early adopter” of TV technology. I have photos that he took in the mid-’40s when he got his first television. The pictures are of a test pattern being broadcast from across Lake Michigan in Chicago. It was the middle of the day and the only “programming” was a test pattern. And he was thrilled to have it.

From the TV in his living room to wires through the wall to a big aerial on a pole, he was pulling in signal from across the waters.

Decades later in another house and with a different set, he had connected an aerial to our house, complete with a “rotator” that would control a motor to rotate the antenna for the best reception. Only problem was, living in the boondocks like we did, the “best” reception was not much different from the “bad” reception.

From our home in rural Michigan I yearned for TV from Grand Rapids. We could pick up, though weakly, the NBC station in G.R. But the ABC station only visited our living room on those rare occasions when sun, moon and karma aligned.

All that said, we did have TV. I still got my TV and developed my addiction early. Whether it was The Muppet Show, Space 1999 or Ironside, I yearned for whatever the magical box had to offer.

I have memories of going with my dad to Radio Shack to test tubes and get replacements. I always hoped that replacing just the right tube would bring a clearer picture, brighter colors and less interference.

It was not to be.

My aunt and uncle who live in Grand Rapids had early cable television. Even though the only thing their household was interested in on TV was sports, I would look forward to the crystal picture they’d get. I didn’t care about the food, pool table or other activities going on as long as I could have access to the cable tuner (which was a metal box with a lever that slid left and right to select channels – all of which was connected to the wall with a big, heavy cable).

When it was time to get my own apartment, the top requirement on the list was access to cable. Cable. It’s a very generic word but in our culture has come to mean a service and technology of delivering high quality television programming. It’s such a simple word but I still very much remember the excitement that built as moving day approached.

I was working for low wages at a newspaper, going to college part-time and making a car payment. But after having signed a deal for about the cheapest apartment in town, I went to Montgomery Ward to buy myself a TV. I was still living with my parents then and took it home where my dad and I admired it. It was connected to nothing and still had Styrofoam clinging to it, but was admired the possibilities that it had to offer.

On moving day I couldn’t wait to finish unloading crap into the apartment. Everything was hastily brought in but the primary thing to unpack and set up was the TV and the cable.

It was like stepping into some other form of reality. From the perfect picture and sound to the variety of new and interesting programs, life took on new meaning on that day.

Years passed and I later added satellite TV to my life. I started with DirectTV and later ended up with DishNetwork. Yep, I’m one of those junkies that has a $100+ monthly bill for programming. In fact the package I subscribe to is called “The Everything Pack.” So, apart from the porn and NFL channels, I get it all.

Tonight we turned the TV off because there was “nothing on.” That of course isn’t strictly true. There are thousands of options at this very moment, but nothing that interests us. Or that is fresh and new.

And we’ve got a digital video recorder (DVR) with many dozens of hours of programs on it. But none of those are a fit for our current mood.

So, yeah, like The Boss says, “57 (or 100s) of channels and nothing on.”

They now offer streaming services that allow you to order up programs on demand. But so far that has held little appeal for me. I want new stuff. I don’t want a rerun or a movie. I want a good 30-minute episode of “something good.” So until they invent the type of artificial intelligence that knows what mood I’m in and what type of action/drama/comedy/adventure escape my mind desires, I’m still stuck.

So decades have passed and technology has taken great leaps, but am I really any more ahead now than back when The Waltons was ending and I found nothing else on the aerial? Maybe not…but I still want my MTV.