My mom is a rebel and a non-compliant consumer of an ancient era. She never owned a computer, often deprograms her TV’s remote control (how she does this remains a mystery to me but it may be a ploy to get me to visit more often) and she absolutely refuses to go Cable. She feels very comfortable in the world of the four major VHF broadcast networks and still calls UHF channels “Those new, foreign stations.” If she knows it or not she and tens, maybe even hundreds of thousands or millions of her fellow citizens are about to become the great American forlorn souls as analog television quietly blinks off the air for the last time in February 2009. Before disaster set in where she could not watch her favorite Britcoms, I went to work to bring her technology up to speed and into the modern digital era.
To get my mom up and running with her analog antenna and TV I purchased two Analog to DTV converter boxes at my local big box electronics superstore using the Government co-pay program. As many of you know the Government subsidizes the purchase of these converters to the tune of $40.00 each and assists each American in purchasing two of them for their use in the digital conversion.
SIDEBAR: This writer found that $40.00 covers about half of the purchase price. In general, everywhere I shopped within normal retail channels I could not find a box for under $79.99. This was supposed to be painless to those citizens who could not afford cable and were only able to receive analog TV through an antenna so the selling price came as somewhat of a shock.
I brought the devices to mom’s home, dutifully hooked-up the converter box judiciously following the instructions, half in English and half in Spanish… then I saw it. I read the part of the manual that said an Eight year old could do this. I knew I was in real trouble after reading the words “Easy Setup.” I have to say that auto setup and electrical hook-up was pretty painless but that is about where the painlessness ends. Oh, My throbbing temples.
The headaches came when the little black box auto tuned to about 20 Spanish speaking channels, 10 channels of God TV and a bunch of Infomercial stations with picture and sound that is as solid as a rock and as sharp as a serpent’s tooth. One would think this is a good thing–solid picture and sound–what more could one want. What it neglected to tune to were two of the eight major digital channels in the area. Not a good thing, especially for mom.
Now understand that mom speaks no Spanish and while she is not Godless, at 93 she doesn’t really need some, ten different, sweaty evangelist to talk down to her about the ravages of sin while asking her to dig deep into her pocket and send him all her pictures of dead presidents that appear on all of her dirty money. She already has 103 Juicers, 117 Air Ionizers, a Pocket Fishing Rod and enough Cubic Zirconium jewels to start her own mine. The Infomercial channels are definitely not in her best interests.
Back to the headaches. This thing was pumping out a good signal and all was right with the world but unwanted channels aside, this gizmo would only tune to six of the eight local digital channels. Where are the other two high powered, local digital channels you might ask? So did I. So did mom considering several of her favorite TV shows are on those channels. I told her that they seem to be off in the cosmos somewhere with no ability to sweet-talk them into her TV. I got freeze frames and the infamous broken-up boxy image because of weak signals on two of the “found” local channels too. How can this be? I am in the suburban area of a major broadcast market and I am only 8 miles as the crow flies and in direct line of sight to the transmitting towers of these stations. They are all high powered and the towers are located in the same “Antenna Farm” within a couple thousand feet of each other. I can see them with my naked eyes on a clear day. Why can I not tune these two major channels?
At this point, without missing a beat, mom stared me down and said, “Well, fix it. You’re a television engineer.” Woe is me… Not a good day for the guy who is supposed to be knowledgeable of all things technological. Not a good day for the little black box either as I began to approach it to perform a lateral adjustment with a finely calibrated 30-pound sledge. Visions of my mom bragging to all her neighbors about what a smart son she has began to fade.
Now for the brass tacks (or rusty tacks, depending on your outlook). Mom’s roof antenna is upwards to 45 years old so it don’t owe nobody nuthin’. It is half in the trees and the wind has caused many crashes into the surrounding foliage categorically stripping off many of the elements from the antenna mast. Over time, every once in a while mom would find them on the ground around the yard and think God sent her little aluminum plant supports from heaven. I never lead her to believe that that was not true. This delighted her to no end as she tied everything from tomato plants to creeping Ivy to the little hollow silver rods.
The long and short of all this is, me thinks mom needs a new antenna. Just goes to show you how forgiving and robust good ol’ analog was. It too just goes to show you that, even to a technology savvy installer frustrations can overcome any hope for success. Nothing is easy. Murphy was right. I can tell already that it is going to be a long hot summer. -33-