2008.03.05 Antennae still standing

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

When I’m out walking, I’m often glancing up. I wonder if people notice and wonder why. What I’m looking for is the presence (or absence) of a TV antenna.

It’s just something I find interesting, one of the many odd things I find interesting.

The dwindling number of people in the U.S. who still use their TV antenna (at least the number who still aren’t cable subscribers) stands at 14 percent.

As a member of a household that still has a functioning and useful antenna, I’m in a very small minority.

I think it’s interesting to see how many antennae are still standing and to look them over. Is it a massive, multi-fingered piece of metal standing tall alongside their house? Is it one of those small jobs that probably never gave the best of service? What sort of UHF antenna is included? Is there a rotor motor to spin the thing around? Is there a strong, tall tower or just a small, utilitarian antenna attached to the chimney?

So now you know, I think about these things now and then and I thought about antennae quite recently when I was directed to the website Obsolete Skills.

One of the lost skills listed is this: Tuning in TV stations by using an antenna rotor. You turn the knob and wait for your program to look good. And of course you overshoot it and have to turn back the other way, overshoot it again, etc., until you finally get it right.

But that was for people with a functioning rotor. When we moved into this house—OK, for the first 14 years we had no TV at all—we inherited an antenna with no rotor control.

For us, it was a matter of climbing the antenna and yelling directions out the window. Did that really happen? Maybe I only saw that in movies, but I do recall yelling down into the basement to someone connecting the broken ends of the antenna cable, getting it just so for the least amount of “snow.”

We still use the antenna and it works just fine, depending on the weather. Remember those days, all of you in the 86 percent with cable?

Another obsolete skill listed is the now mysterious task of adjusting the rabbit ears on top of your TV set. And how about these two: Adjusting the vertical and horizontal hold; adjusting the TV color and hue. And when was the last time you got off the couch to change channels? That answer is obvious: It was the day you lost the remote.

Television repair is another old skill on the list. I hadn’t thought about that, but I guess it’s true. There used to be more repair places around. Maybe the sets are more reliable now. Maybe people just throw them away rather than pay the cost of repair.

An obvious obsolete skill is dialing a telephone. We have a dial phone in the back of the Observer and sometimes when I walk by I dial it just to hear the sound. It’s like an old friend.

There’s a very funny thing about the obsolescence of dialing. Many times when  you listen to a recorded message on the phone, the person tells you to “Dial 1 to place an order, Dial 2 to speak with a representative,” etc. Nobody but oddballs like me can dial anything, and if I tried to dial 1, it wouldn’t work.

Under the “C” grouping of obsolete skills is the act of changing the ball or the ribbon on your Selectric typewriter. I’m feeling more and more obsolete as I read through this list. We still have a typewriter. It’s electric. We’re not so old fashioned as to own a manual typewriter.

This ancient beast still gets used every year about this time for college scholarships because there are a few organizations using the nearly obsolete approach of printing applications on paper rather than creating fillable electronic versions. Do they think there’s still a typewriter in every home?

Programming old car radios by pulling out the button, figuring a square root with paper and pencil, writing e-mail offline, smelling a freshly mimeographed test paper, waxing cross county skiis.

Wait a minute, I still use wax and I wish I could still crank my car window by hand since the up/down switch is malfunctioning.

 This list will continue to grow, of course, some for the good and some that make you long for days gone by.

As I look up, I wonder why no one is out collecting all that obsolete scrap metal.

  • Front.nok Hok
    GAMES DAY—Finn Molitierno (right) celebrates a goal during a game of Nok Hockey with his sister, Kyla. The two tried out a variety of games Saturday at Stair District Library’s annual International Games Day event. One of the activities featured a sort of scavenger hunt in which participants had to locate facts presented in the Smithsonian Hometown Teams exhibit. The traveling show left Morenci’s library Tuesday, wrapping up a series of programs that began Oct. 2. Additional photos are on page 7.
  • Station.2
    STRANGE STUFF—Morenci Elementary School students learn that blue isn’t really blue when seen through the right color of lens. Volunteer April Pike presents the lesson to students at one of the many stations brought to the school by the COSI science center. The theme of this year’s visit was the solar system.
  • Front.leaves
    MAPLE leaves show their fall colors in a puddle at Morenci’s Riverside Natural Area. “This was a great year for colors,” said local weather watcher George Isobar. Chilly mornings will give way to seasonable fall temperatures for the next two weeks.
  • Front.band
    MORENCI Marching Band member Brittany Dennis keeps the beat Friday during the half-time show of the Morenci/Pittsford football game. Color guard member Jordan Cordts is at the left. The band performed this season under the direction of Doyle Rodenbeck who served as Morenci’s band director in the 1970s. He’s serving as a substitute during a family leave.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.

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