The way TV was meant to be

Sunday, February 21st, 1999

When people notice that our television doesn’t connect to a cable in the wall or a dish on the roof but to a set of good old rabbit ears, I get up on my high horse and say "around here, we get television the way God intended, out of the air." They, of course, look at me as if I’m nuts, and say "don’t you want to watch CNN? The History Channel? MTV?" Well, I travel a lot and am in places with cable enough that I get more than my fill of Comedy Central and E! and Ultra-Headline News and ESPN-whatever and VH-1000. I’m fine, thanks. Couldn’t eat another bite.
What I don’t say is that I’m not very impressed with what Media One has to offer our neighborhood, and until they install fiber on our street and sell high-speed internet access along with countless channels of home shopping, I’d rather watch TV the way it’s "supposed" to work, ghosts and all. Actually, it’s not supposed to have many ghosts, but in an urban area filled with lots of shiny buildings that reflect radio-frequency energy, that’s what you get. So, for us, if we set up to get WSB and WXIA well, WAGA and WTBS suck. We get used to watching multiple Greg Madduxes (Madduxi?) on the mound. Sometimes, watching Monica Kaufman is less painful if she’s accompanied by her ghostly twins.
Yeah, I know, I’m rationalizing. The ugly truth is that television in and of itself doesn’t work that well (you heard it here first) , and people with any source of income at all (including some friends with huge piles of debt and zero disposable income) put cable on their necessity list, right up there with water and electricity. "I work hard," they say, "and this I do for me." It’s only when you start looking at the service with an anti-monopolistic, Consumer Reports-y eye that it doesn’t seem as if you’re getting that much for your dollar. How much was basic cable when the service first came to Atlanta in the early 80s? $7.95 a month. How much are you paying now?
And for those of you patiently waiting for digital television, I’m afraid I have another paragraph of pessimism to pass on. The good news is that ghosts will be a thing of the past. The bad news is, like so many things digital, your picture will either be perfect—or nonexistent. Early reports of folks trying to get their new-definition pictures out of the air (the way…oh, never mind) say that you’ve got to aim your fancy digital antenna right at the transmitter you’re trying to receive, or you’re screwed. Some cities have all their TV transmitters on one central high-place (the World Trade Center, for example.) Here, we’ve got to point at the Carter Center (roughly) for WSB, Briarcliff Road for Fox 5 and WATL, and…well, you get the idea. And plans for cable systems to transmit the digital signals are still in the very, very sketchy stages.
Kinda makes you want to rent a movie and forget about the whole thing, right?