Digital disadvantage

There seems little flexibility in digital radio transmissions. They seem loud and clear or they seem unavailable. The boundaries of coverage seem very sharp.  Rather than gradually fading, the signals seem to disappear as though a switch had been turned off.

The satellite television options are much more flexible. Every BBC channel seems available via a Freesat box bought from Argos. BBC Northern Ireland is among the options. The state broadcaster in the Republic of Ireland RTE is not available, despite it being closer. The absence of RTE is explained as being something about royalties or payments to presenters.

But satellite television demands hardware, a dish, a box, an appropriate television. Gone are the days of having any old set and improvising aerials and fiddling with knobs and anticipating getting a voice or a picture.

Can anyone imagine watching Sky using a coaxial cable and a wire coat hanger? Could anyone find that they could watch Premier League football or Test Match cricket by standing in a different part of the room holding the indoor aerial in the air? It is difficult to imagine that a rising generation will ever have someone tell them to stand still so that they can watch the programme.

In teenage years, television still came in two formats: the UHF signal gave a picture formed by 625 lines, primitive compared to the digital pictures with which we are now familiar, but considerably more refined than the 405 lines of VHF. The advantage of VHF was that the signal seemed more flexible.

VHF meant it was possible to receive no less than four different ITV channels. HTV West, HTV Wales, Westward and (if the weather conditions were right, Southern). VHF was the option for those with old sets and no aerials.

My father seemed almost to take a pride in being able to watch television without having incurred the expense of an outdoor aerial, which would almost have certainly blown down in a winter storm.

He taught me that if the UHF signal was poor, or altogether absent, then switching the television to the VHF channels there might be a chance of doing something for a signal.

I was proud to be able to attach a spare length of aerial cable to a wire coat hanger, and hang the coat hanger on the handle of the metal window frame, and to plug the cable into the set and be able to watch programmes. Not the choice available on satellite, of course, but better than no choice at all, and at a fraction of the cost of new technology.

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