For the past couple of years, I've had an HD television antenna that allows me to pull in all the over-the-air broadcasts in the metro area. When I mention this in conversation, some people are surprised to hear that any channels are still broadcast over the air; those who knew that there were still free over-the-air broadcasts are usually surprised to hear that the picture quality of the primary network stations over-the-air far exceeds what they see on cable or satellite; and those who knew about over-the-air broadcasting and its improved picture quality are almost always surprised when I tell them that there are more than sixty area channels that I can pick up with the antenna.
Now this doesn't mean that there are fifty channels that I'd want to watch. The channel count includes stations that broadcast in French, Korean, Japanese, and Spanish; it includes a number of religious-programming stations; it includes some shopping channels; and it includes some channels that you'd normally watch for only a few minutes, such as weather channels. (That's not surprising, though; cable and satellite have hundreds of channels, but I'll bet that 90% of my viewing involves no more than fifteen of those channels). Over-the-air broadcasting, however, does include some channels worth watching that are not currently available either on satellite or cable. One such channel is 34.3, Atlanta's Get TV affiliate.
Get TV is a classic film channel that is available in several cities (and on a few cable systems) across the country, including here in Atlanta on WUVG-DT 34.3. If Dad were alive, he's love this channel; it has lots of great Westerns from the 1930s and 1940s, along with a mix of other genres. Some of the films are more recent than that—they're showing the Dean Martin Matt Helm films, for example, and Anatomy of a Heavyweight—but the important thing is that they're showing films that aren't in heavy rotation on other channels. I watched most of Square Shooter, a 1935 Tim McCoy Western, this afternoon, and would have kept watching the next film if I hadn't been committed to do something else.
Picture quality varies widely on broadcast TV; while the major stations like WSB, WAGA, WXIA, and the like are broadcasting at full strength in beautiful HD, other stations are squeezing in as many channels in as little bandwidth as possible, resulting in some pretty pixellated broadcasts. Even worse, some of the stations are working on a shoestring budget, showing worn-out prints with blown-out video details and muddy audio tracks. But Get TV is not one of those channels; the picture quality was superb, the prints were clean, and the sound was crystal clear.
There's also a retro nostalgia to watching over-the-air television; I remember when I was a kid in Rome and we relied on a large antenna, a tall mast, and a finicky rotor to pull in signals from Atlanta and Chattanooga. Had someone told us back then that everyone would pay a monthly fee to watch those channels, we would have thought they were crazy; now I've rediscovered the immense amount of free entertainment that's all around us if we just install an attic-mounted antenna to pull it in!