A little lesson on how free TV works, with side notes on wise use of credit cards, too

A couple of months ago we presented, on this page, one of our periodic reports of how using a TV antenna can give you more channels than it ever did before – and now even gives some people a good reason to drop paid TV service. Most folks around here can get over 40 channels, some in high definition, with a wide array of TV choices – and it's all free.

However, a couple of August national news reports have led us to believe we may have been taking too much for granted in giving you this information. One was a nationally-distributed story from the New York Post headlined, "Millennials don't know how credit cards work: Survey". The other story was distributed three days earlier by the Wall Street Journal, and was headlined, "Millennials Unearth an Amazing Hack to Get Free TV: The Antenna". The latter story revealed that readers in this younger age group were highly skeptical that there could be ANY way to get TV without paying for it.

Before we get to explaining the matter of free TV, we should answer questions you might have about what this same group of people did not understand about credit cards. Here are those findings: 6% of those surveyed actually believed that missing a credit card payment would "improve" their credit rating; 17% said missing a card payment would have no effect on their credit score. 36% have maxed out their credit cards, 48% carry cards with balances on which they are charged high interest rates – but they don't care, and don't know what the interest rate they are paying is. 25% of them carry three or more credit cards, although experts say three or LESS is what people should carry, since carrying more cannot help your credit score, but certainly can tempt you to run up lots of bills. Just in case you, too, thought those things, be assured that missing credit card payments torpedoes your credit rating, and will cost you a lot in fines and interest – and a lower credit score can keep you from buying things you may want, like a house or a car; and can even make it harder to rent an apartment. This national survey was conducted by LendEDU, a website that provides information for student loan refinancing. The researcher, Mike Brown, called some of the results "shocking". Okay, now on to free local TV. For the entire history of television local stations have been transmitting a high-powered signal anybody can receive without paying for it, and they still are. This should not be surprising; that is their actual business. Getting paid by cable and satellite systems to carry that signal to subscribers is a relatively new profit center for them, but their main business is still selling advertising and broadcasting programming to local residents.

Television is a form of radio; radio is a form of electromagnetic radiation. Does that sound dangerous? Heck, every single thing in the entire universe that is warmer than absolute zero transmits some form of electromagnetic energy – even you! It's called "heat", in your case – a form of infrared light. The entire radio spectrum includes not only radio and television, but heat, light, ultraviolet light, X-rays, and gamma rays.

So, your free television, just like free radio, is simply modifying a force of nature to carry information, and sending that information to you. (Your Smart Phone is just a radio walkie-talkie, you know.)

And to get free TV, all you need is some kind of antenna to intercept the signal. In a metropolitan area like this, even a set-top "rabbit ears" sort of antenna can get you most of the stronger signals, but a more complex antenna – mounted higher up, and preferably outside, and oriented toward the transmitters at Sylvan just above the zoo – can get most of even the weaker local signals.

The Wall Street Journal article also reported that some who were aware that TV "used to be transmitted free to antennas" thought that it had stopped doing so when we had the "digital TV transition" a decade ago – even though much publicity said otherwise at the time, and the U.S. Government even subsidized "digital converter boxes" so that those with the old analog picture-tube sets could keep on receiving the new signals.

Today's flat screen digital TVs come with the new digital tuners built in; all you have to do is connect some kind of antenna, and then go to the TV set menu to "scan for channels" in order to find and watch them. (You won't get them without that scan.)

Because of those new digital signals, local TV stations you receive over an antenna now give you perfect pictures, some in high definition – and a lot more of them too, since a single channel can now transmit several channels in the same space that just one of the old analog TV channels used to need.

Here in Southeast Portland, you can receive one station – Channel 22 – which has SEVEN channels embedded in its signal, and one of them is in high definition; the familiar local network stations (2, 6, 8, 12) have three or four channels each, with one each in high definition; Oregon Public Broadcasting's Channel 10 has two high-definition channels, one standard definition channel, and several radio audio streams, all part of the signal on Channel 10.

Nostalgic for TV shows from the past? You'll find them on MeTV (Channel 2-2), Cozi TV (Channel 12-2), Antenna TV (Channel 32-2), and Retro TV (low power Channel 27-1). Plus one of the most fascinating is called "Decades" on Channel 6-3, which mixes a wide variety of classic TV shows (in marathons) with movies, and with CBS documentaries about key events of the past half century.

Movie channels? Try "This TV" on Channel 32-3 and "Get TV" on Channel 6-2. There are also movies in various genres – among them "Grit TV", oriented towards men (Channel 49-4), and "Escape", oriented towards women (Channel 49-2).

Other local specialized channels: "Bounce TV" for African Americans (Channel 49-3), "Laff TV" comedy (Channel 12-3), "Crime and Justice" (Channel 8-2), three different TV shopping channels offered by Channel 22, and "Comet TV" – a science fiction station – on Channel 2-3.

There are several Spanish TV channels, and quite a few religious TV channels. Plus even more variety! If you already watch these TV channels from an antenna, "re-scan for channels" now and then, since if there are any new ones, you won't get them unless you do.

So, yes, there really IS free local TV – just as there always has been! Even if you receive pay television from a cable, satellite, or telephone company, you might still want to hook up an antenna to the tuner of your flat screen digital TV, because some of the channels we told you about are NOT available on paid services, and that's how to get them.

So, just in case you didn't already know all that, now you do.

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