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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


Cutting the cord on the cheap...

Posted 5/12/20 (Tue)

There’s been a lot of talk lately about “cutting the cord” on cable and satellite TV. They’ve become so expensive that people are reverting back to over-the-air television.

But there is a consequence to doing this and apparently there isn’t a solution.

If you want to cut the cord in North Dakota, you have choices wherever you live. TV stations are found in Dickinson, Williston, Minot, Bismarck, Jamestown, Ellendale, Devils Lake, Pembina and Fargo.

In some cases you can get TV from out of state. For example, if you live in Pembina or Walhalla, you can watch TV out of Winnipeg. If you live in Bottineau, TV comes out of Brandon. If you are in the Crosby area, Regina TV is available. If you live along the southern border, you will most likely pick up TV from Rapid City or Aberdeen.

But there is a dilemma in cutting the cord in North Dakota and it’s nothing more than a weak link in a chain.

A number of companies that once supplied TVs and accessories, have gone out of business. Others, that catered to DIY cable enthusiasts have scaled back to where they only handle very basic items.

But here’s the real problem. If you live in a deep fringe area such as Bowman, LaMoure, Langdon, Columbus, Beach or Hankinson, you’re going to have a hard time finding the proper equipment to make sure you get quality TV.

You can purchase antennas for anywhere from $25 up to $900. But many of the deep fringe and deepest fringe antennas, made by reputable companies like Winegard, Channel Master and Solid Signal, have discontinued many of their best performing equipment.

So here you have a situation in which the trend is to cut the cord, yet when you do, you can’t find the equipment you need.

It gets better. Let’s assume you spend a lot of money on an antenna. You live in a valley that happens to be 80 or 100 miles from the nearest TV tower. So you get the antenna, unpack it and analyze the contents only to find out there’s a cheap, usually Chinese made balun worth maybe $2 on the antenna you just spent $400 on.

The balun is the item that is attached on one end to the antenna and on the other to the cable.

How are you supposed to enjoy HD TV when the receive equipment is going to be junk. It doesn’t matter how expensive or what quality your antenna is, it’s only as good as its weakest link, or balun/matching transformer.

I challenge you to find a good quality balun for TV.

Wade Antenna manufacturers one of the best quality TV antennas. It uses high quality baluns on its antennas, but try to find just the balun. Good luck.

If somebody wants to make some money, they should bring high quality, consumer-grade TV receive equipment back into the marketplace. The American people are so hungry for good quality TV. We have to get our football games, soaps, crime dramas and comedy in high definition. And if we don’t, we’re disappointed and angry.

It’s just hard to believe that you could have an expensive TV, an expensive antenna and it’s a cheap balun mounted to the antenna that is the only thing holding back the best reception.

There are a few people out there who are smart enough electronically to build themselves a balun that would perform like no other. They can solder capacitors and diodes. Most of us can’t and so we’re stuck.

I’m going to pin the blame on Channel Master for this. Channel Master made a professional grade balun called a  CM-3203 that cost $19 and was as solid as the price.

When you call up the Channel Master website, you’ll see the description, the specs and the price. You’ll also see “temporarily out of stock.” Unfortunately, that temporary is now more than a year.

Don’t fear, Amazon has it because Amazon has everything, right? It’s on the Amazon database, but there again, you get the message, “this item is currently unavailable.

The industry should at least manufacture quality accessories to go with quality equipment. Not everyone wants to depend on a $2 part when they’re watching a $3,000 TV.

But how do you get the industry to change? I know what you’re thinking, but if you consider all the wide-open spaces in Montana, Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Alaska, North Dakota and western Nebraska, it represents a lot of people who watch TV from a fringe area.

So this is to call on companies like Winegard, Channel Master, RCA, Radio Shack and Sylvania to come up with better accessories.