In 2009 there will be no more free television signals. Analog television, that is those televisions which pick up signal through the air like radio, will go static in 2009, ending the first era of television.
When I was a kid, each and very house in America had a television antenna standing next to it. They were as ubiquitous as clotheslines and mailboxes. It was a sign that you owned a television, and those who didn’t were somehow diminished. It’s hard to imagine a day and age when everyone did not own a television. No one owned more than one, at least not where I lived. Most antennas were turned by hand, to better pick up one of the three stations we could get in town. We upgrade to a motorized antenna turner and the box on top of the television made a chunking noise as the antenna turned. Clunk! Clunk! Clunk! And the next program would slowly come into focus.
I remember the first color television I ever saw. It was at Mark Kelly’s house. They were the first family on the block to get a color television, and one of the first shows to have color was “Gunsmoke”. After so many years, maybe three or four of black and white, all of a sudden James Arness and Amanda Blake were colorized. I didn’t like it. I thought it was too much. All the flashy color distracted from the story, I thought. It scared me. I thought that if the program was in color and you owned a black and white television then you wouldn’t be able to see the program.
Television once ran from about six in the morning until eleven at night. There were no late night shows at all. If you got up early on Sunday morning you could watch the “Test Pattern” which was a black and white portrait of an Native American face from a side view. Having all three channels we could discover there was nothing on in a matter of seconds. Channel four? Nope! Channel Nine? Nope! Channel Ten? Nope! Let’s go outside and play. Unless there was a horrific rainstorm, or it was so cold that parents wouldn’t let us out, we kids were always outside. Television just didn’t have anything to offer us.
I remember thinking cable would never catch on. Why would anyone pay for television when they could get it free? The first cable companies offered up to thirteen stations. Thirteen! That was incredible! It was in the mid 70s when I saw cable for the first time. So many channels and so little on. Little has changed, it’s just that people are willing to pay more for it now.
Analog television is coming to an end. I’ve outlived it. I’m one of the last antenna turners, one of the last people who remember when all television was black and white, one of the last people to say they didn’t own their own television until they were in their thirties. One day, people will look back at analog television and wonder how anyone could survive with so few channels and how people could live without so little to watch.
I wonder how cable will die?