Pleas stand by cord cutters!

Cord cutting: How I learned to stop watching crap and love the antenna

What does cord cutting mean to you? For a lot of North Americans, they only have a foggy idea of what exactly cord cutting really is.  Is it illegal? Will it actually save me money? What about my precious Bachelor in Paradise? Will I still be able to watch all of the TV programming that I love?

Let’s start with the basics of cord cutting:

  1. Cord cutting is the basic idea of completely cancelling your cable TV service in favor of using a mix of local over the air TV content and internet-based video streaming services like Netflix or Hulu.
  2. No, it is not illegal. People that are self-proclaimed cord cutters tend to talk about sticking it to the man a lot, but don’t confuse this with illegal activity. Everything on this website is 100% legal and you shouldn’t feel afraid to try anything I recommend.
  3. Cord cutting can save a lot of people a LOT of money.

The CRTC reported in 2014 that the average Canadian spent $191 a month on communication services. That’s right, A MONTH! A good portion of this is often spent on high cost cable services and internet packages. So in a typical family they spend $2,292 dollars. We can do better people!

But what about that Bachelor in Paradise? How are you going to possibly get your fix of twenty-somethings passing out in hot tubs? The most amazing thing to me is how few people know about the various ways that you can access television content (often for free or close to free). Take our scantily clad friends from Bachelor in Paradise for example:  Would it surprise you to know that in most Canadian and American urban centres that you can tune into free HD channels over the air?

Let me digress for a moment here (don’t worry it will come full circle, I promise). Remember that scene in Back to the Future where Lorraine’s dad had just set up their new television set so they could watch Jacky Gleason while they ate?  Of course you do (because it’s from one of the best movie’s ever released).

Lorraine's dad: the first to do cord cutting?

Lorraine’s dad: the first cord cutter?

Young folks might ask: “What are those metal bits on top of old TVs?” Those are rabbit ear antennas that were used to tune into VHF television signals… in the 1950’s. Of course back then you could only tune in a couple channels and the quality was like watching scrambled pornography. But that’s not the point. The point is, what if I told you that, like Lorraine’s dad, you could plug these suckers into your brand new HDTV and receive crystal clear HD channels that are even better than from cable and satellite providers? Well, you can, and you should give this a go.

I live in Ottawa and can received about 7-8 channels of HD programming including CBC, CTV, CityTV. In Toronto it’s even more and in larger cities in the US it is not uncommon to be able to access over 20 HD channels… for free. And, low and behold your precious Bachelor in Paradise is on CityTV! So, go, buy a cheap antenna and try your hand at receiving HD content as a test.

It does get a bit more complicated than the good old days with rabbit ears, but it doesn’t have to.  There are a few different types of antennas. Powered, non-powered, different shapes, ugly, more attractive, “rated for HDTV” (this BS by the way). But at the end of the day, you could literally grab an old antenna that has coaxial cable dangling from the end and screw it into the antenna input on your HDTV and you may tune into some of the great local programming. Programming that a lot of people mistakenly think they would miss if they cut the cord.

I will go more in-depth into the idea of tuning into over the air (OTA) HD television broadcasts soon in another article. There are some tips and tricks with placement and managing your expectations around what you will actually receive, but at the end of the day most people don’t even know this exists. They pay for HD cable to watch local news and a few hockey games, not realizing that the same content is already flowing freely through the air, just waiting for you to smarten up and grab hold of it.

If there is one cheap experiment to start you on your way to cord cutting mastery, it is buying an over the air antenna (or scrounging through the den for the one that you assumed you would never need again). I have used several over the past few years. The one that I had the best luck with was the Mohu Leaf 50 Indoor HDTV Antenna which doesn’t really look like a traditional antenna.  It is flat, relatively appealing to the eye and is powered by USB (something that people often have a spare on the back of their HDTV anyway). It’s not a perfect antenna, but for the money it does the job in most urban areas. OTA purists would probably be better served by something more beefy, but in my experience something like the Mohu is a good step in the right direction for would-be cord cutters.

It’s nice to be able to sit down and surf through a few channels mindlessly. And thanks to over the air HD signals, that is still possible. You may sacrifice the odd episode of Honey Boo Boo or whatever the latest abomination from TLC is, but you will get your local news. You’ll get the playoff game between the Leafs and Sens. You’ll get…  Bachelor in Paradise… Fully cutting the cord allowed me to really prioritize what constitutes good TV programming. It allowed me to stop watching crap and learn to love the antenna.

So go out there and buy an antenna, set it up at the dinner table and watch the hell out of it like Lorraines dad did. And if you have no idea what this insane reference is, first of all, shame on you. Second, go and rent Back to the Future. And third: “Say hi to your mom for me.”