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Digital antenna offers good reception on a budget


While my wife Loretta, my brother Andy, and I were taking the weekend of October 12-14 in the head of Blair Branch at our old homeplace in Letcher County, our other brothers, Keeter (Keith) and Steve rolled in on Saturday evening. Steve and I watched the other two achieve something that I would not have believed if I hadn’t seen it with my very own eyes.

The backdrop to this story is that, upon our arrival, there was a digital TV antenna and a 25-foot coil of coaxial cable lying on the front porch. A 12-foot-long section of 2-inch PVC pipe was propped up against the side of the house beside the porch.

Andy explained to Loretta and me that Steve has been paying $90 per month for cable TV for the house even though he hasn’t lived in it for decades. Steve still, after all these years, pays for water, electricity, cable TV to the fully-furnished house. Since cell phones came into being and towers were erected that actually send signals into the head of the hollow, he reluctantly dropped the telephone land line service.

Nobody actually lives in the place but visiting friends and relatives from parts all over often use it for sleeping quarters. Loretta and I usually spend one or two weekends a year. Andy is there half a dozen times each year as are various and sundry cousins and family in-laws. I fondly call it Hotel Steve.

Anyway, Keith decided that paying $90 each month for cable television that might get watched fewer than a dozen hours a year was ridiculous even though Steve insisted that “somebody might want to watch something while they’re up there.” My youngest brother is the most accommodating person I’ve ever known.

But my brother, Keeter, is probably the most stubborn person in my acquaintance and he was determined to save Steve over $1,000 a year by getting free digital television into the house in the head of Blair Branch so that Hotel Steve guests would, at least, have “something to watch” even though it might not include ESPN and HBO. It’s not like Hotel Steve is trying to compete with Holiday Inn.

Before they tackled the antenna installation, we regaled Loretta with tales of running solid copper TV wire more than half a mile to the top of the mountain behind the house. There’s also a mountain in front of the house but it’s closer, in terms of walking distance, to the top of the rear one even though it’s a bit higher in elevation than the front one. It’s also much steeper.

In our youth, the only way to get television reception was to have an array of antennas, one for each of the four possible stations, erected on top of the mountain. We also had to have electronic signal amplifiers called boosters that transmitted the station signals through the wire and down the mountain to the TV in our home.

If a bird decided to roost on the wire or a tree limb fell on it or the wind blew hard enough to make the wire criss cross and short circuit, we were out of television until someone ran up the mountain and figured out the problem. You have not truly suffered great disappointment unless you’ve had an owl take roost on your TV wire near the top of the mountain during the last 10 minutes of a Bonanza episode and having to wait until next Sunday night to find out if Little Joe made it out alive.

It took Keith and a very skeptical — as-I-was — Andy less than half an hour to mount the antenna onto the PVC pipe, secure it to the porch rail and point it toward approximately where we thought Hazard should be located. Ten minutes later the cable was disconnected and the antenna co-ax attached to the back of the TV. Less than 5 minutes after that Keith had discovered adequate signals for six different stations.

Unlike the “snowy” reception of our youth, the pictures were as tack sharp and actually of better quality than what the pricey cable had been presenting. According to Keeter, the antenna was providing five more channels than anyone really needed. But Steve said he couldn’t cancel the cable until Monday because the office wasn’t open on Saturday.

As I said at the beginning of this column, I would not have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.

I have no idea if Steve has actually had the cable disconnected. He’s probably worried that somebody will be staying in the house when UK is playing a ball game and he’d hate it if they missed a chance to watch it because he hadn’t paid the cable bill!

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