So Many Choices, So Little Time, by Rich Paschall
When both television and I were young, I recall that we only had four stations on most of the time with one added in sometimes. The network affiliates for CBS, NBC, and CBS, channels 2, 5, and 7 were on day and night but not overnight. They ended around midnight most days. I think the broadcast day ended with the national anthem followed by the infamous television “test pattern.” We also had the independent channel 9, WGN, as in “World’s Greatest Newspaper.” It was owned by the Chicago Tribune.
My memory of television from the mid-’50s to the mid-’60s is in black and white. There were no colored televisions and no remotes. In fact, I was the remote if either parent was watching television at the same time as I was. “Change that to channel 2,” my father might say. “But dad I am watching this,” I might protest. “Change it.”
A problem then, which still persists to this day, is that channel two was hard to get via broadcast television. Back in those days, I might have to stand at the television adjusting the antenna for a long time in a vain effort to capture a good image on channel two. Fortunately, it bounces off a satellite to our house now for the living room television. I don’t even try for it in the bedroom.
WGN was very important in our lives for noontime (Bozo’s Circus), after school (Garfield Goose), and baseball. WGN carried the home games for the Chicago Cubs and the White Sox. There were no road games on television. We had the radio for that. They also carried plenty of Three Stooges programming and old movies. For some reason, I do not find the Three Stooges as funny today as I did back then.
A few hours a day might include educational television on channel 11, NET (National Educational Television). It was the predecessor to PBS and ran until 1970. The few hours of programming usually included adult education classes that did not interest us. One of its last program efforts continues today, Sesame Street.
All the TV channels were on VHF (very high frequency) channels 2 through 13. Channel 1 VHF had problems conflicting with radio bands and was ultimately eliminated. Can you imagine just 12 television channels? Along came UHF (ultra-high frequency) television channels. The problem was that we did not have a television that had these higher channels. In fact, almost no one had such television sets as these channels started to get added. This was good news for television makers. Locally Zenith, Motorola, and Sears were selling a lot of new televisions. By 1964, television makers had to include UHF channels.
We needed channel 32 WFLD as in Marshall Field. It competed for broadcast rights for some White Sox games. It is now the FOX affiliate. Channel 44 became a party to the first pay-per-view with OnTV. If you paid the subscription fee, you could get a box to unscramble a broadcast signal. It was the predecessor to Cable. OnTV might also include Sportsvision. When WGN started picking up road Cubs games, the White Sox tried a number of television options. I recall there was a black market for those subscription boxes for your television. Clever guys with a little electronics skills figured out how to put them together. No one could imagine actually paying for some channels. Now we have a long list of UHF channels. If you get them, you know there is a limit to that too. Channels 13 to 82 were for UHF but channel 37 frequency was ultimately reserved for radio astronomy. Can you imagine having just 80 channels?
As the years wore on and options increased, we awaited cable in the neighborhood. We just could not imagine that they could wire up every home in a big city. That would take years we thought. The city was divided up and handed off to several companies who paid the city fees to run around and put new cable everywhere, mostly using existing telephone poles. We got Group W for our neighborhood. It’s XFinity now but I dropped them for satellite.
Now there are more channels beamed into my living room than Captain Kirk could ever imagine. After all, he had a flip phone. I am not sure of the number of Spanish channels, but neither was my Colombian roommate John. He watched most things on his iPhone.
The Bluray player I have had for a few years now is hard wired to the router, and I can get a variety of services via the internet including Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, Opera TV store (Vewd) where you can connect a variety of other apps. It also has YouTube. Since the Bluray is connected to 40-inch television, I am now wondering why I was not watching “Bad Buddy” there.
I bought a 24-inch television last year for the bedroom. I confess I did not know all of the features when I bought it. It is connected to the internet via WiFi as well as to broadcast television with a flat antenna. The remote has buttons for six services including Prime which I have. Prime will connect me with Here, which I also have. There is also a button that has “Watch Free TV+” and it will find you all categories of television on a variety of services. The number of apps can take you all over the world.
I can not possibly watch all of the channels I can get in English, not to mention all the Spanish channels John did not watch. I have now discovered that YouTube and other platforms have opened us up to television from a number of countries. I found Chinese television series via YoYo English Channel and a popular Thai series on GMM TV. There are seemingly unlimited options in just about every language. With my limited French, I can watch the news on France 24 and other channels.
If you are willing to invest in a VPN (Virtual Private Network), you might be able to access broadcast options from other places not now available to you. I ran through a server in Thailand and watched some trailers on WeTV. Your connection will be encrypted end to end so probably more secure than what you have now. I am paying on average just over 6 bucks a month for that.
Now changing the channel means more than walking to the set and moving a dial a couple of clicks. It can literally mean moving to the other side of the world.