Saturday, October 24, 2015

Adventures In Free Rabbit Ears TV

TV in bedroom, with antenna.

I recall rabbit ears. Years ago, it was the way that my family got TV. That was back in the 1960s.

They were tall, maybe 3-feet long, and sensitive. To watch a particular TV station required rotating the antenna and then playing with the angle of the “ears” until everything more or less settled on a grainy black-and-white image with so-so audio.

And that’s the way it was for many years. At some point, maybe when we moved to Muscatine or maybe in our later years in Clinton, we upgraded to a rooftop antenna and earned better reception.

But for many years, it was just the rabbit ears. I recall that it was a rare day—maybe when the atmospheric conditions were just right—that we got an IPTV signal in Clinton. We mostly subsisted on the Big 3 network affiliates from the Quad Cities. I watched the moon landing, mankind’s greatest technological adventure to date, on grainy black-and-white images courtesy of rabbit ears in our living room in Clinton.

Can you say “Capt’n Ernies Cartoon Showboat?” How about “Acri Creature Feature?”

The first antenna was OK, but no channel 9.
Anyway, those antenna days have suddenly returned. The local cable system in Cedar Rapids finally wised up and digitally scrambled their signal, so you can’t get the first 13 channels for free just by plugging in your cable. I don’t really blame them. But I had just purchased a small digital TV to replace a failing TV in our bedroom, so I was interested in getting some TV signal—without paying a cable TV bill.

At Menards while buying some fall flower bulbs, I saw a display of a cheap digital antenna for $8 or so, and I purchased it. We plugged into our new $99 digital TV, and voila, we did indeed get several stations: Channel 2, Channel 2.2, IPTV (3 channels) and an ION family of channels, as well as Home Shopping Network.

However, that left out Channel 9, and I am interested in that station. Better local news and “Modern Family” both come from that source. A quick check of the KCRG web site revealed the truth: You need rabbit ears. The $8 antenna is more like a plastic tray. So, we’re going to party like it’s 1969.

My wife and I were shopping in Target tonight, and I ended up over in electronics. And for $10, there it was, a GE rabbit-ear antenna.

Innovative TV technology of the new century.
So we bought it, and I plugged in. The stations that we got with the $8 antenna seem to come in slightly better. ION breaks up now and then, but who watches ION? We get duplicate IPTV channels with the new antenna, so there is no doubt Dowtown Abbey will be available in January (honestly, that was a large part of the motivation for the whole project for both my wife and I—we need the comfort, months in advance, that we won’t miss what the Dowager Countess will say).

I noticed that if I “play” with the modern rabbit ears, it tends to mess up whatever station it’s on. With the digital channels, most of them are best left alone—no rotating or adjusting or fiddling with the antenna. They come in crystal clear or pretty much not at all.

So we’re back in business—we can have our morning news and our shot of IPTV when we want it.

Still, it does feel a bit weird. Honestly, rabbit ears?