CAWTHON'S CATHARSIS - The TV Finger of Fate Awaits Us In February


By Jack Cawthon

If you suppose we don't have enough problems in this country, just wait until February when television stations begin transmitting with a "digital signal." The digital signal I am most familiar with is the one used by Morgantown drivers when cut off in traffic. Come February, I feel sure that a similar signal will be given to us by our "cable providers" only it will be done electronically. (Henceforth, for my purposes "cable providers" will include satellite signals as well.)

Not to worry, the government tells us, as if that isn't reason enough itself to worry! When both the cable companies and the government tell me that I will be taken care of, I can assume only that I will be taken. The government is bailing us out of our financial mess, remember, with $700 billion, which, surprisingly, isn't enough we now find. Can you say trillion, with a T?

Television is an escape from the gloomy economic mess, providing one doesn't drink, just as the movies took minds off the Great Depression.

It isn't that we have been warned enough. We keep seeing reminders - where else but on television - that viewers with antenna or rabbit ears (which I think means indoor antenna, but may indicate physical features of the viewers as one never knows with government regulations) will need a "converter" to pick up the new signals.

All I know about converters comes from the fiery Methodist revivals I attended when growing up in Gilmer County. We had some great ones competing with the Baptists. The Methodists always won out in dry spells, as they didn't need as much water as the Baptists.

But the converter one needs for television is different, although I prefer to stick with the Billy Graham method as prayer may be needed before this event is over. You need a converter if you have an older set that picks up only analog signals over the air or through the woods. I don't know an analog from a hickory log, and probably most folks don't, which is an advantage to both the government and the cable companies who do and will gladly replace one with the another, well, for a slight fee.

Here's where the government comes in, at least openly. If you need a converter, supposedly you can get a coupon for $40 credit to buy one. Then, you go to Walmart, or whatever, to spend an extra $20, or so, and, eureka, you await the great moment, fully prepared, or so you think. Know how to program that sucker? You just don't plug it into the TV and sit back watching American Idol, or other great fare. No, you must punch something that gives you a "menu" and proceed from there. Here again, I'm out of the know, as the only menu I am familiar with is something you find on a chalkboard in finer restaurants. You may be forming the notion, if you are as technically challenged as I am, that come February some of us will be in deep snow, not only on the roads, but on our TV screens with perhaps ghostly images of George Bush, past, present and future appearing, making those that bugged Scrooge warm fuzzy apparitions.

And just as I supposed, this month I received the joyful news from Comcast, the big cable company that services many of us (inside joke for farmers) that, shades of February, rates will be going up—again.

And if you want all the extras that digital offers, send more money. They even offer a "digital starter" which may be similar to a buckwheat starter where you throw in some yeast and watch it rise, only here you throw in some money and watch it rise more.

I grew up in the fringe area of Gilmer County, both socially and with TV. In the early days of TV, we could pick up only a couple of channels in black and white, with mostly white representing snow. But whatever came in we watched. Even the test signals, a geometric pattern of sorts by which you could adjust your set, proved interesting when nothing else was on, as most stations signed off at midnight and didn't come back on until noon or so. (Some of us long for those test signals to return as an improvement over current programs.)

I resisted cable for several years, as we received pretty good antenna signals from the Pittsburgh stations, but fearing that my family would be impaired by a foreign culture I finally hooked up to cable. I found that I couldn't select only the channels I wanted to watch, but had to take a "package." Now, I could care less about the Food Channel, the Shopping Network, or the far too youthful MTV. Nor, after trying it, did I want the so-called Comedy Central, as its comedians seem to need four-letter words to be funny. Remember Jack Benny or George Gobel or Bob Hope? Probably not if you are a (bleeping) thirty-something.

I'm not a prude. I've been around journalism, or about as close as anyone would let me get, and I belong to a couple of hunting clubs where I have heard comments that would make even a hardened professional journalist blush, but I don't like being bombarded with off-color when I'm watching cartoons. The governor of Illinois should find a place on the Comedy Channel, as he is the laughing stock of the country already, and he won't be bleeped as much there as on network news.

We are told that, among other reasons, all of this change will benefit us with more channels (huh?) and make room for more of those obnoxious cell phone users who, I am sure, through later generations will have their own rabbit ears which evolution has provided by adaptation to the jammed-up-against-their-ears cell phones.

But wait! Help is on the way by our ever alert Senator Jay Rockefeller. (Now worry, if you haven't begun yet.) He has proposed legislation to move the fateful day of reckoning to June. (I hope that is June 2025 as my statute of limitation on life should be expired by then.) Maybe Jay isn't up with technology either, as we are both about the same age. But he has people. All those people, however, may be busy programming secret listening devices to hear what we are saying as Jay has something to do with Senate Intelligence (double huh!!). But, hey, maybe he heard through the grapevine connected to the voters.

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