Saving Money: TV for Free (Part 1)

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By Ed

I am definitely not a TV-hater.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that I love TV.  I just have a personal opposition to any new monthly bills - especially when it seems the typical cable or satellite bill is at least $50+ a month now.  That's at least $600 a year!   

If you too are fed up, here is the how-to on giving up your monthly TV bill, without giving up all your favourite shows.

10 years ago I would not have been in favour of burying our cable service.  In the tradition of Dickens' (or maybe Back to the Future), the Ghost of TV Future (or future self, if you are cooler with the Marty McFly reference), would suggest the following list of things to consider to my past self re: giving up paid-for TV.

If you are thinking about quitting cable/satellite, this list might interest you too:

1.  Don't quit cold turkey.   

We used to have the works, back when cable was the only show in town.  We decided one weekend after watching a Top Ten '80s Rock Band Breakup Countdown on MuchMoreMusic, that perhaps having all these channels wasn't the best idea.  There was literally always something that we could justify watching (we have a lot of interests).  We took a break from our cable before we broke up entirely.  We cut out some channels.  Then we cut out some more.  Soon we were down to basic cable.  Then we ended things.

2. Baby Steps. 

Next, we started to tinker with a mini-state antenna that Robin's father had kicking around.  They are small and not nearly as ugly as the old-timey ones.  We soon realised that most things we watched were, in fact, available free Over-The-Air (OTA).   That's when we knew we could cut the cord (figuratively speaking.  Rogers Cable had serious issues with us just chopping through their cable with a machete, so we actually just cancelled the service).

Photograph of National Geographic Doc - HDTV for Free!



3.  Over-the-Air is much better than it used to be. 

All you need is an antenna and a coax cable and you can have really high-quality TV signals for free.  All TVs sold in the past few years have built-in TV tuners for HDTV signals.  This past summer, Canada switched over to dedicated HDTV broadcasting.  The US switched over nearly two years ago.


4.  Location Matters.

Your signal will be best if you live near an urban centre.  We are about 1 hour from the CN Tower, and 2 hours from the US border, and get all the major networks, barring bad weather.  We can get most of that stuff with a Mini-State antenna.

If you're curious about what is available in your area,  check out TV FOOL It is information dense (even by my nerdy standards) so it might overwhelm you.  You don't need to understand it all, you just need to see that your address has some channels that you could likely receive consistently (ones in the green or light red zones).  It also shows which directions the signals come from (for reference in How-To parts of the next post).

Dino Dan!  Not a great picture, but you can see my TV bezel in it so you know it is legit.



5.  You won't have 400 channels. 

Do you need hundreds of channels?  We can get most live programming - sports, sitcoms, dramas - from major networks which are either available locally (US) or duplicated (Canada).  We don't get all of it, but we get enough at the right price.

As parents, we've found that 90% of TV watched in our house is kid based.  Lots of good quality children's programming is free.  In Canada, CBC has lots of kids stuff.  In our province of Ontario, TVO runs children's programming all day, every day.  In the US, PBS is your free kids' TV friend, and possibly your state too.  Our antenna brings in PBS out of Buffalo, which gives us even more options.

6.  Wade a bit, before you dive head first.

Do you still think you'd like to give the TV bill the heave-ho?  If you live in or near a major urban centre you can give things a test first:
  • Find an old pair of rabbit ears or get a cheapo antenna from The Source and try pointing it at the nearest urban centre.
  • Let your HDTV do a 'Channel Scan'.  If you get any results at all, they will only get better with real equipment (i.e. a better antenna or mounting outside/up high).  

HD NFL Playoffs

Part 2 will be a full 'how to' on choosing and putting up an antenna, but in the meantime cut your pay-for TV package back and see if you get DTs or withdrawal.  If it takes, you might be on your way to saving some (or lots of) money.  And if not, hey, I hear you.  I love TV, too.

Click here for TV for Free Part 2

How much would you save a year by cutting your cable/satellite?  What would you do with that money?

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