Remember when TV was free?

Old-TelevisionThere was a time, way back in history, when TV was free. You probably find that hard to believe but I remember it, I was there – and I’m not that old, regardless of what my kids say.

Wow two channels

To be totally honest, in England, where I grew up, there was a small annual license fee but that was all you paid. That money went to the BBC to pay for the programs and there were no advertisements. Later on the ITV network came along and they paid for their programming by selling commercials.

We had a couple of rabbit ears* built into the back of the set which was all we needed for a beautifully clear, crisp black and white picture. It continued like that until I moved to Canada at seventeen. I think they still have the TV license fee in England but they also have cable and satellite fees as well so I’m sure they are no better off than North America. If you live there please let us know by leaving a comment below.

North American TV

North American broadcast TV has always been paid for by commercials. Several times an hour Speedy Alka Seltzer or the Ajax White Knight would come on screen to sing to us while we had a quick bathroom break or headed to the kitchen for a sandwich. Does the increase in the number of commercials over the years account for us all getting so fat?

Rabbit ears were fine for local stations in Toronto but across Lake Ontario, in Buffalo, USA was where the TV action was. If you held the rabbit ears in just the right position (usually standing on a chair in the corner) and peered through the snow you could just about make out the picture.

The Outer Limits and Twilight Zone were not available on local Toronto stations. I had no choice but to install an antenna. Not just any old roof top antenna but a super ten foot wide monster mounter on a rotor atop an aluminum tower that soared twenty feet above the roofline. Full 360º rotation was controlled from a box that sat on top of the TV. I could pull in twenty or more stations from cities on both sides of Lake Ontario. The antenna wasn’t free but TV still was.

The Wonderful World of Color

Of course not all the stations were perfectly clear. The ones that were furthest away looked like the Buffalo stations when all I had was rabbit ears. And naturally they were the ones that had all the best programs. Fortunately cable was now available in our area and it was only a few dollars a month. Worth every penny to get clear crisp reception on our brand new Zenith – works in a drawer – colour TV.

The years passed, the cable services – and the prices – increased. More and more stations with less and less content. New series would come and go at an ever increasing rate. Most of them disappeared before we had a chance to watch them. Episode counts for a season shrank to thirteen, then less as shows got rerun during the season.

TV From Space

That’s OK, satellite TV had evolved from the giant ten foot dish that had to be embedded in concrete to a small light two foot dish you could mount just about anywhere there was a clear view of the southern sky. Only $49.95 a month and you got stations from all over the country plus specialty channels for sports and movies. You could even pay a little extra and watch new movies before they came out on VHS tape. We didn’t need to go out to the movies so often so we were actually saving money.

Time passes and the reality show was born, cheap TV even compared to game shows. You got to watch people eating bugs while you were eating your supper. Viewers lost interest, ad length and frequency increased, cable and satellite rates went through the roof and even with 500 channels there is still nothing worth watching.

It’s Dead Jim

I remember when TV was great and free. Does TV have a future? HBO still manages to crank out a decent series once in a while but I’m not willing to pay over a hundred dollars a month for a couple of hours entertainment – how about you?

* Have you ever wondered why rabbit’s feet are considered lucky. The bunny had four of them and it sure didn’t do him any good!

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