Friday, November 21, 2008

So Long Analog

Okay, Confession: I have a hard time letting go of 20th century electronics. I'm sorry to see the end of analog TV--and the boxy, rabbit-eared TV’s that went with it.

I know, I know --digital will give us better sound and picture quality. Those of us without cable will get more channels, blah, blah, blah. But digital seems somehow less…human. It’s slick and computerish and lacks the endearing clunkiness of analog. I remember when CDs replaced LP's. My new CDs were shiny and compact but they gave none of the sensory satisfaction of vinyl. No more dropping the tonearm on the turntable by accident, or gazing hypnotically at the grooves going round and round at 35 rpm. Gone were the discomfiting cracks and pops, the wax blisters, the mechanical action of gears and belts. The highly individualized experience of listening to records that might skip or warble as a reaction to moisture in the air or dust in the groove, was a thing of the past.

Now the powers that be want to replace our continuously-variable electromagnetic waveform with digital for TV broadcasts. Think what this means: No more rabbit ears wrapped in tin foil or bulky channel knobs with numbers. No more standing next to the TV to help the signal come in better. Back in my day, when Mom ran the egg beater, the TV in the living room buzzed loudly with snow until we begged for mercy. Our set was frequently visited by "ghosts", whose pale images floated across the screen, and if we were lucky, we could even bring in two channels at once. Well, soon those days will be gone for good.

Once we make the big switch to digital, the fine art of interpretive TV watching will be a lost art. No more toughing out bad reception to see the latest installment of Wife Swap. If the digital signal fails, you can't jimmy with the antenna or turn the TV on its head to coax a clearer picture. Digital signals either come through or they don’t. Analog signals deteriorate gracefully, it's said. They'll leave you with a shred of something, even if it's just a fleeting shadow on the screen, or some staticky audio. But when digital signals fall apart, you get nada. Bupkis.

I have an old TV I bought at a garage sale for $35, and I have a hunch it's not digital. So today I went online and ordered my coupon for a converter. With a heavy heart. Those who have cable have already joined the other side, and can't comprehend all my wailing. But those who, like me, have always taken their TV raw and over the analog airwaves, know this is the end of an era.


  1. The transition from vinyl to CDs has removed one way for the audiophile snobs to distinguish themselves from the unwashed masses. To think that in my college days people used to get into arguments over which was the best record-cleaning system, and which was the best technique for cleaning a record. Putting a penny on the tonearm was the unforgivable sin: it immediately branded you as audio trailer trash. You would be cast into the outer darkness, where there was wow and flutter and gnashing of teeth...

  2. Marc, that's hilarious. I would love to hear more about these record-cleaning arguments. I remember feeling incredibly intimidated by the whole record-cleaning process. I never felt like I was doing it right. Oh, I was right there in the audio trailer trash camp, for sure.

  3. Trust me, if your cleaning "system" cost less than $50, you weren't doing it right.

    I'm right there with ya in the trailer park. I got a lot of mileage out of crappy turntables. When it came to listening to someone like Billie Holiday or Bessy Smith, the crackle and pop seemed to add something.

  4. Yes!! That crackle and pop on an old Billie Holiday record was just the thing. I'm thinking also of an old Edith Piaf album I had, and the stack of Al Green albums I'd picked up at the used record store. Old 70's soul music and a crackly old vinyl record is a match made in heaven.