Luddite or Geek?

Here’s a question: if you spend the occasional Saturday morning, or even all day, messing with old technology to keep it working, are you a luddite or a geek?

That’s what I’m wondering about myself after spending the morning in our attic, adding one more piece of equipment (a small RadioShack pre-amp) to try to get the antenna setup in the attic to pull in a distant station. (The what? You might ask.)

Yes, we still pull our TV in over the airwaves (or I might say, we do again). We cut our cable long before the switch to digital over-the-air TV signals (did you miss that, oh cable and satellite users?) The expense of cable wasn’t justified by the lack of time and lack of interest we had for its programming, though we will admit to watching some cable series after the fact from Netflix.

We live in (or actually near) a historic district, so the idea of putting an antenna on the roof wasn’t in the mix. We could, but we’d rather not. However, we learned that a good antenna in your attic can work — and it does well enough to pull in our closest stations. There have always been some that are a bit of a challenge, though. PBS (one of our favorites) is one. So awhile back, I added a second antenna in the attic, connected with a Join-Tenna from Channelmaster that separates the signals so one antenna only receives our PBS station, and the other one receives everything else. (I see a lot of these are now on clearance for about $4, so I don’t know how long they’ll last.)

Everything was fine until our local ABC station went off the air suddenly. I don’t mean we stopped receiving them, but that they stopped broadcasting. With a week’s notice, we realized we’d need to do something, especially since it is one station that broadcasts Alabama football and since we’ve started watching Once. Other than that, we could probably live without the channel — we don’t watch a lot of TV. Fortunately, we could sometimes pick up Birmingham/Tuscaloosa station (33).

That’s where RadioShack came in. I knew I could get a pre-amp there and get it right away, not next week. So to give it a try, I bought one for less than a month of cable would cost, and hooked it up. First I connected it to our main antenna, leaving out the Join-Tenna setup. It worked well, and seems to bring in ABC better than it had (we tested right before I made the change, and it was breaking up (pixelating) before, but not after, though the signal is only marginally better). Of course, the fear is that tonight, during the game, the signal won’t be quite good enough, but we’ll see!

Once I knew that was working, I changed the connection in the house so the preamp was connected to our distribution amp (this sends the signal to two rooms and boosts it slightly again). It still worked, but both ways PBS wasn’t getting  a very good signal. Finally, I put the Join-Tenna back in the mix. All is well, though PBS still ain’t the best. Here’s the setup:

Antenna-Main and Antenna-PBS both connect to Join-Tenna. The Join-Tenna connects to the prep-amp close to Join-Tenna, from there coax cable goes to the power supply for the preamp, which then connects to the distribution amp, which send the signal to 2 (up to 4) TVs. Our antennas are boom antennas that are about as big as our attic will hold. Once, I even took a TV into the attic to adjust the main antenna to the absolute best position without having to shout down to someone in the house. I may have to do that (or shout) with the PBS antenna if I want to get a better signal there.

If the RadioShack preamp doesn’t work or doesn’t last, I’ll probably look for ChannelMaster or Winegard, since they get better reviews. But in a pinch, RadioShack had something I didn’t need to ship. I could get a more powerful preamp or one with less noise (though that doesn’t seem to be a problem).

The only other improvement I could make is to put the antenna outside, attached to the house or up higher on a boom. As long as I can avoid that, I will. And for now, everything seems to be working. So am I a geek because I spend time wiring, reading about equipment, etc., or am I a luddite for trying to keep old over-the-air broadcasting working for as long as it’s still available? If it’s any consolation, we also have a Mac mini hooked to our TV, and we get a lot of our entertainment streaming online. And then there’s that other technology that our whole family (besides the dog) loves: books. Maybe I am a luddite after all.

Published by Kendall Dunkelberg

I am a poet, translator, and professor of literature and creative writing at Mississippi University for Women, where I direct the Low-Res MFA in Creative Writing, the undergraduate concentration in creative writing, and the Eudora Welty Writers' Symposium. I have published three books of poetry, Barrier Island Suite, Time Capsules, and Landscapes and Architectures, as well as a collection of translations of the Belgian poet Paul Snoek, Hercules, Richelieu, and Nostradamus. I live in Columbus with my wife, Kim Whitehead; son, Aidan; and dog, Aleida.

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