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Broadcast Television: In Praise of a Relic

The latest incarnation of Apple TV has again fired up the “cut the cord” talk – killing off your obscenely-priced cable or satellite subscription.  The stranglehold is broken.  Cutting the cord is absolutely a trend.

Apple TV, for example, has now joined more than 100 other devices that support Netflix streaming, which allows unending access to a huge library of programming direct to your television.

Wired just issued a complete guide, fronted by Joel McHale (from NBC’s Community and E’s The Soup), about how to watch all the best stuff without cable or satellite.  Here’s another how-to-live-without-cable-or-satellite from (not as fun as McHale’s).  A Google search produces at least a dozen more.

What you want, when you want it, as often as you want it – it’s easier than ever and doesn’t require a $100 cable bill.  Just a little bit of new hardware, a high-speed internet connection, maybe some new software, some non-cable and non-satellite programming subscriptions …

Just don’t tell me it’s about saving money.

Broadcast tower television digital signal high definition

Go old school: harness high definition television in its cleanest form with a $10 antenna or even a paperclip - compliments of your local broadcaster.

High definition television in its cleanest, purest form is always available to you at no cost.  The signal gets no better than straight out of the air.  No expensive hardware to purchase (because you already own that 42″ HDTV).  No cable, no satellite, no high speed internet, no Hulu, no Netflix … no subscription required of any kind.

Digital broadcast signals are in the air and all you need to harness them is a $10 antenna (though a large paperclip will often suffice).  Again, high definition television in its cleanest, purest form can be brought into your home at no cost.

  • Yes, you’re limited in programming.  In most areas, though, you’ll get a dozen channels or more between primary and sub-channels, from such content providers as PBS, NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, Univision, Telemundo and others.
  • Yes, you’re giving up some precious control, subjecting yourself to a linear broadcast with incessant commercial interruptions.
  • Yes, it’s ludicrous to imagine cutting a high-speed internet subscription.
  • Yes, you may want to augment your options with a sub-$10 Netflix subscription.

But … over-the-air television is absolutely free.  Right now.  All the time.  And it’s nearly 100% stupid-proof … just plug it in and turn it on.  It’s the true essence of passive entertainment.

If your mobile device was equipped with a DTV tuner, you could have it all available wherever you go – without paying for mobile internet access.

I know this sounds like the ramblings of your grandfather, but the point remains: if your argument and motivation for “cutting the cord” is financial, you must celebrate the role your local broadcaster plays in entertaining and informing you.

High definition television in a linear form is a relic.  And it’s absolutely free.

Ceremony: A (De/Re) Construction

A few weeks ago, I was wandering around YouTube and came across a fantastic cover of a fantastic song.

A responsible approach to a cover involves a deconstruction of the song to identify its elements and its essence, to truly understand it.  The cover itself is its reconstruction in a new form reflecting the covering artist’s perception of its elements and essence.

In this process, a song can be liberated from the conceptual bounds of the original writing and performance, including its original time and place.  New life and style are invested into and hung upon the song-as-framework.

Back to the story:  the song is “Ceremony,” written by Joy Division but perhaps more associated with New Order.  It’s really the best New Order ever sounded – clean, post-punk, four piece, no keys. Radiohead absolutely pulls out all the strengths of the songs with their extremely respectful treatment.

If you’re not familiar with the relationship between Joy Division and New Order, a quick summary: Joy Division’s 23-year-old front man Ian Curtis commits suicide on the eve of the rising band’s first US tour.  All original members, including Curtis, agreed to rename the band if any member ever left, so the three remaining members carry on as “New Order.”  More history here.

The Radiohead cover inspired this post, which includes the cover, a live performance from 1981, a Joy Division recording (extremely low vocals), and the song set to film shot on Super 8mm 20 years ago.


First, the cover:


Second, a live performance from the Ukranian National Home in New York City from November 1981 (their 11th US show, a year and a half after Curtis’ suicide):


Third, a Joy Division recording of the song set to historical photos:


Finally, a fine tribute from Super 8mm film – beautiful color and architecture:


In general, I don’t much care about a song’s lyrics.  In addition, I find most vocals mixed too far in front on most non-instrumental recordings.  Regardless, here are the lyrics written by Ian Curtis:

This is why events unnerve me,
Define it all, a different story,
Notice whom for wheels are turning,
Turn again and turn towards this time,
All she ask’s the strength to hold me,
Then again the same old story,
Word will travel, oh so quickly,
Travel first and lean towards this time.

Oh, I’ll break them down, no mercy shown,
Heaven knows, it’s got to be this time,
What she heard, these things she said,
The times she cried,
Too frail to wake this time.

I break them down, no mercy shown,
Heaven knows, it’s got to be this time,
Avenues all lined with trees,
Picture me and then you start watching,
Watching forever, forever,
Watching love grow, forever,
Letting me know, forever.

Thank you, internet, for connecting me with all this material and allowing me to share it so easily.

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