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JOSEPH N. BELL

Poor TV Reception: Is it Technical Ineptitude or Divine Intervention?

June 03, 1989|JOSEPH N. BELL

Last week, a friend gave us a used TV set.

She had bought a new big-screen, and her old set was languishing in a closet, so she offered it to us and we accepted. I'm not sure why. We now have five TV sets for three people--and we don't really watch television very much. But we have a set in the family room, the kitchen, my office, my 11-year-old stepson's bedroom--and now in the master bedroom.

We had a set there once before and moved it out because it precluded reading. Now it appears we're going to have one there again. I've been brooding about why we didn't say thanks, but no thanks. And--in my case, at least--I think it is the hope of finding a set that will work the way it is supposed to work.

None of the four we presently have function properly, except the 11-year-old kid's set, and it poses some special problems that, while non-technical, have nevertheless turned out to be insoluble. First of all, it's impossible to get into his room because of the debris that apparently lives on the floor. And, second, it's equally impossible to move his set into more equitable surroundings because of the maze of wire on its backside that is hooked up to something called Nintendo.

The set in my office won't get Channel 9 and brings in 11 poorly. I have no idea why. It works off the same antenna as the other sets that do bring in these two channels. This is a serious problem because I watch a lot of sports in my office, and both of these channels are heavy on sports.

The other channels come in perfectly, which has precluded my taking the set to a repair shop. There must be simple solution, but it has eluded me for 2 years. I've taken to asking everyone who visits our house about this problem--whether or not he or she has technical expertise--and so far, no one has come up with an answer. Unfortunately, the Lakers play on Channel 9, which sometimes causes a viewing conflict that requires me to go to a bar where I usually drink too much. Although I've never heard faulty TV sets recognized as a cause of incipient alcoholism, this may turn up in a sociology textbook one day.

The set in the family room is intermittently fuzzy. If it was always fuzzy, I'd have it repaired. I have been told that this is probably because of low-flying aircraft. Two things destroy this theory: It is sometimes fuzzy when I don't hear airplanes, and it is also fuzzy when the other sets--that should be equally affected by aircraft--are clear. I've discovered that if I jiggle several wires in the rear of the set, the picture will sharpen up briefly. I'm working on this.

As for the set in the kitchen, it is simply too small to make out images with any clarity. Watching football on it is like looking through the wrong end of a telescope.

It has been pointed out to me numerous times that cable would solve most of these problems. The word must have gotten out to the cable people, too, because I get mailers every few days trying to shame or bully me into installing cable TV.

The implication is strong that I'm the only one in my neighborhood (and perhaps in Orange County) who has chosen to deprive his family of the riches offered by cable. That may be true. It always fascinated me that most of these mailers offer a cut-rate hook-up ("Installation for Only $9.95") that expires in 2 weeks. After which, they are back with another cut-rate offer. They also offer discounts on air fares and other inducements, but nowhere do they tell me how much it is going to cost each month for this service.

I've got to admit, though, that it isn't the money that stops me from buying cable TV. It's pure obstinacy--and the powerful feeling that somewhere in this high-tech society, I have to draw a line and defend it. I suppose I resisted buying a color TV set for many years for the same reason.

We are already awash in gadgetry of dubious value to the soul, and I don't think cable TV would be a positive influence in setting our family priorities. This is probably an admission of weakness. Given unlimited sports and new movies to watch at the flick of a dial--as those promotion pieces like to say--I'm not sure I'd be strong enough to resist them. It's always easier to let your mind desiccate than to engage it--and I see plenty of evidence that desiccation is happening to the whole society. Cable TV is the assault gun of the entertainment business.

Now they've come up with a new wrinkle. Orange County has been chosen as a test market for something called the "impulse pay-per-view" system in which subscribers can rent movies at home without a trip to the video store. Citizens whose only exercise heretofore has been to procure and return video rentals can now vegetate totally; when they dig up our civilization a few millenniums hence, they'll probably find a large portion of us seated in front of the TV set at home--watching the end of the world.

But not me. I'll be watching at the local bar. Or I'll be out looking for advice on how to get the fuzz out of my picture so I can see Armageddon more clearly.

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