Television and the Illusive Channel 79

Next February, so they say, all American television will go digital.  If you are not prepared, you screen will be blank.

I have no idea what this means, of course.  We have a Comcast digital box on each television, so I assume (but don’t really know) that we are protected from this major event.

Similarly, I have no idea why this is happening.  Who decided this?  And why?

But it got me thinking about television in general.

We take it for granted, of course, even as we bad mouth it.  And even if we only use it for sports events (Go, Caps! Go, Nats!) and movies, and early morning news.  Even if we are not part of those Nielson millions, who watch comedies and documentaries and mini-series and reality shows and American Idol (never watched that one, not once).

When I was very young, we didn’t have television.  We did have radio, although it was almost all AM.  There were few FM radios, which meant that we could not listen to the second games of Sunday double headers.  Frustrating, even when I was eight.

But then the Seifers next door got a small TV and we would all gather there at 4 in the afternoon to watch Texas Bruce (Hi, there, buckaroos), Tom Corbett Space Cadet, and Time for Beanie, as well as Howdy Doody and Kukla, Fran and Ollie.  If we got there early, we would watch the test pattern.

When we got a tv (I was in the third grade, I think), I didn’t go to the Seifers; I watched at home.  Our set had a 16 inch screen, and when we watched the test pattern on that set, we could see the news tape on the bottom.  The Seifer set was only 10″ or maybe 12″.

St. Louis lagged in television.  It was 1954, I think, before Channel 4 joined our only Channel 5, and much later when we got Channel 9, our educational channel, as well as channels 2 and 11.  We did have some UHF channels in the interim, but they seemed to come and go.  And the reception was never quite right (which is probably why they came and went).

The day that Channel 4 started to operate, and we could finally get CBS as well as NBC, was an ENORMOUS day in my life.  I remember that.  I also remember that occasionally we could pick up stations from outside of our area, from towns in southern Illinois, for example.  And then there was that very odd day when channel 2 from Bangor ME came in, clear as a bell.  Can anyone explain that? It was like seeing a UFO.

Well, we have come a long way from there, although we have disenfranchised some people who cannot afford cable or disk.  And it looks like, with digital, we will disenfranchise more.  Well, if television is evil, as they say, perhaps it will be good to keep poor people from access.  They will be saved from the debilitating influence of the tube.

And we, even if we are prepared for digital TV, will continue to bad mouth as we continue to watch.

Which brings me to Channel 79, which is used as a sometime second channel for CSN and MASN, two regional sports networks.  In particular, a hockey game may be moved to channel 79 from channel 10 if there is a competing basketball game, and a Nats game may be moved from channel 42 if there is a competing Orioles game.  So, the fact that on our biggest screen set, Channel 79 did not work was a neverending source of frustration.

Finally, we called Comcast and told them our problem, expecting to begin a bureaucratic run around.  But no, the Comcast lady said: I can fix that, give me the serial number from your cable box, disconnect it for 20 seconds, and turn it back on.  Presto chango, we had channel 79.  What did she do?  I don’t know, but she did it with authority, which leads me to think that she must be ready for digital even if it turns out that we are not.


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