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.

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