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Television antennas making a comeback
North America finding dozens of channels available for free over-the-air

February 15, 2015 By Phil Anderson

As television continues to grow and evolve, an old standby has resurfaced around Topeka and other parts of the nation — the outdoor antenna.

Many people have ditched cable and satellite television in favor of free, over-the-air TV channels. Some are supplementing that with programming available on the Internet.

The result is people who wouldn’t have given a TV antenna a second thought a few years ago are now scooping them up, cutting their bills and finding many hours of programming to keep them entertained.

Dave Pomeroy, 72, who is a frequent bicycle rider, said he has seen an increasing number of antennas being placed on houses as he pedals around Shawnee County.

“It’s something that’s up-and-coming,” Pomeroy said. “I’m not seeing them by the thousands, but they are starting to pop up. It was disappearing, but with new technology, it’s coming back.”

Not everyone who is going the antenna route is doing so because of the cost of cable or satellite, or because they can’t afford it. Some are making the choice simply because it works for them.

Pomeroy, a former program director for KTWU, channel 11, Topeka’s PBS station, estimates his family has saved in the neighborhood of $10,000 since cutting ties with local cable providers several years ago.

With his rooftop antenna, Pomeroy said, he is able to pull in about 45 channels, including over-the-air signals from Kansas City-area stations, including channels 5, 4, 9, 41, 19, 38 and 62 — all of which are in high-definition and none of which are available to Topeka viewers on cable or satellite. Most are available in high-definition.

Many stations are offering multiple sub-channels through a setup known as “diginets.” The programming on diginets can focus on everything from old movies to classic TV shows to weather.

Pomeroy said subchannels that are available locally include MeTV, on 13.2 and 9.2, which broadcasts shows like “Alfred Hitchcock,” “Hogan’s Heroes” and “The Beverly Hillbillies”; Cozi-TV, available on 41.2, which runs classic shows like “Dragnet,” “Lassie” and “Roy Rogers”; Antenna-TV, on 4.2, which runs shows like “Three’s Company,” “WKRP in Cincinnati” and “Mr. Ed.”

Topeka-area residents can also pick up a number of movie channels, including Movies!, on channel 29.2, WROB, channel 26.1, and PBS-related cultural and how-to programming.

It isn’t surprising Pomeroy uses an antenna for his TV signal. When he was a student at The University of Kansas in Lawrence in the 1960s, he helped pay his way through college by selling antennas to professors who wanted to pull in KCPT-TV, the public TV station in Kansas City, Mo.

Those were the days before cable and satellite providers opened up a whole new world of viewing options for residential customers.

“The option is there,” Pomeroy said. “I think a lot of people don’t know they have that option.”

“There’s quite a few people who use antennas. I think there’d be a lot more if they knew they had the option.”

Yet, Pomeroy said, he read a study a few years ago that indicated people who receive 300 or more channels from cable and satellite providers end up watching only about eight of them.

For some people, like Pomeroy, it makes little sense to pay $100 or more a month for cable and satellite services when they can watch TV for free.

There are drawbacks, of course: premium programming found on channels like ESPN, CNN, HGTV aren’t available on an over-the-air basis.

And reception of some channels has a lot to do with geographic factors, such as hills, valleys or tall buildings.

But when an over-the-air digital channel is received, Pomeroy said, its signal is clean and crisp.

“If you get the signal, it will be a good one,” Pomeroy said. “No snowy picture, no ghosts. If the signal isn’t strong enough, the picture will become digitized on your TV.”

People considering whether to switch from cable or satellite to antenna can find plenty of information on the Internet — including which antenna would be best for their area.

Indoor antennas typically are good for local stations, while rooftop or outdoor antennas usually are needed to pull in distant stations.

Pomeroy said people can have both antenna and cable or satellite service, using an A-B switch to go back and forth between the two.

DeWitt Harkness, president of Wolfe’s Camera Shops Inc., 635 S. Kansas Ave., said demand for antennas decreased substantially after local cable systems began offering high-definition broadcasts.

Harkness said he doesn’t foresee antennas “ever being anything other than an alternative for people who can’t buy cable.”

Frank Honn, product manager at Wolfe’s, said people do come into the store on occasion looking for an indoor antenna — the store doesn’t sell outdoor ones anymore. In most cases, he said, the indoor antennas are used in rooms that have a TV but no cable connection.

Still, the possibility remains that the demand for antennas in locations like Topeka may hinge on the fact most people have cable or satellite service and don’t know antennas are still an option.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t know they can do that, yet they’ve had the capability of being able to do that for a long time,” Honn said. “The only time I get someone wanting to get an antenna is when they’re sick of paying their cable bill. That’s the main time.”

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