Chapel Hill: Opinion

John A. Sharpe III: Going retro appealing and economical

By John A. Sharpe III

John A. Sharpe III
John A. Sharpe III

These days media overload causes so much stress and expense it’s tempting to yearn for just reading the paper and listening to the good ol’ radio.

There are those of us who are old enough to remember the days when most folks received television and radio signals from an outside antenna, while subscribing to the paper for more in-depth news.

As a former copy desk chief at the Durham Herald-Sun, Carl Boswell, said in the mid-1980s, “If it can’t wait for the morning paper, it’s too late anyway.”

So from time-to-time, there are those of us old codgers who pose the question, “Are we really any better off since the advent of the Internet and cell phones?” … There are significant costs underlying this question.

It’s certainly understandable how someone in business might need Internet connectivity on a smart phone – but how much do others really need it?

In recent discussion with a technical service representative for a smart phone service provider, I learned a couple can save about $65 a month by “going retro” – talk and text service only.

There’s even an argument that one would be better off with just a land line because of the way cell phones pose such a hazard for distracted driving – but the wife prevailed for cell phones service with her concern about the need to call in the event of emergency.

We also decided to keep broadband Internet service with the cable company because we enjoy e-mail and browsing the Web.

The discussion about whether to keep cable service for the TV remains ongoing. In talking with the cable company, I found one now can have Internet service only and that purchasing a “bundle” of services is no longer required.

Savings figure at about $90 a month by “cutting the cable” and using an antenna for local, broadcast HDTV and FM. … Antenna parts may be a little harder to find now that Radio Shack is out of business. However, other vendors such as Home Depot and hhgregg still seem to have good availability.

So altogether, that would be a savings of about $155 a month by “going retro.”

However, because most radio and TV signals are “line of sight,” reception quality with one’s own antenna may vary greatly depending on location and proximity to broadcasting station transmitting towers.

For example, at a downhill location in Hillsborough, an attic antenna delivered great FM reception – but only WUNC for TV (the attic installation was chosen to avoid permitting problems with the homeowners’ association). Obviously, reception should be better with uphill locations.

Problems may be similar with apartments, although some older complexes may have pre-existing wiring for their own antenna system, even if it is no longer used.

Meanwhile, newspaper and magazine subscriptions remain a more relaxing source of news because of the way one can pick and choose the stories one wants to read as well as when to read them.

Some evidence also suggests that children may perform better in school and develop better social skills when faced with fewer “electronic distractions.”

John Sharpe lives in Hillsborough.