People Are Shocked That TV Signals Over The Air Are Free And Legal

Image courtesy of Great Beyond

Were you aware that you can get some local major network channels for free, without having to pay for a cable or streaming service subscription? If you were, you’re ahead of 30% of adults, most of them young enough that they wouldn’t remember the fuzzy, rabbit-eared past.

According to The Wall Street Journal, that statistic comes from a survey commissioned by the National Association of Broadcasters, a trade group for broadcast stations, who are the ones paying for the transmitters that put out the signals that now only a minority of Americans use.

Antennas aren’t the latest victim of millennials’ wide-ranging killing spree. If you grew up with cable, then became a cord-cutter who gets TV programming through streaming services as an adult, this whole “over-the-air” idea might seem kind of exotic and possibly illicit.

“They don’t trust me when I say that these are actually free local channels,” the seller of TV antennas at a swap meet in California told a WSJ reporter.

There always have been free channels, of course, but the changeover to digital broadcast signals led to a lot of confusion among consumers, since they had to buy decoder boxes to keep receiving signals over the air. Even Consumerist was desperately trying to educate people and keep them from signing up for cable that they didn’t need.

The digital broadcast changeover apparently led to a common misconception that the government had actually turned broadcast signals off in 2009. Even the son of one of the industry executives who worked on the legislation that switched us over to broadcast signals told the WSJ that he was under the impression that broadcasts shut down in 2009.

There are disadvantages to broadcast signals, of course. You can’t use a DVR from a cable company, and may need to buy an antenna to catch the signal.

The advantage is that unlike Hulu or the networks’ apps, you can get TV news from your local affiliate. Also, it’s free. The biggest advantage has to be that it’s free.