Note: This post is not about the band TV on the Radio.
This Friday, June 12, TV stations nationwide will cease broadcasting analog signals and switch to digital-only broadcasts. That’s fine with me. I have a digital television, and I have cable anyway, so it won’t affect me. At least that’s what I thought. Only recently did I realize that one of my favorite ways to enjoy television will go away. Starting Friday, I can no longer get TV on the radio.
As a kid in the 1980s, I enjoyed the same TV shows my friends did. But I also loved listening to old time radio shows, most of which I checked out from the library on vinyl records. I especially enjoyed comedies like Burns and Allen, Fibber McGee and Molly, Abbot and Costello, Jack Benny, and the Great Gildersleeve. I couldn’t get enough Dragnet, or Dimension X. In my head, as I pictured whatever action was happening in the show, I also imagined the studio where it was recorded, the actors with their microphones, the audiences at the comedy shows, and the sound effects man simultaneously adding door slams and footsteps in real time. Theater of the mind was so great, I wished I could have been around when these shows were still on the air. The library only had a few episodes of each program. Why didn’t radio networks do this sort of thing anymore?
For my Bar Mitzvah, someone gave me a gift certificate to the Sharper Image. There were so many cool gadgets to choose from, I had trouble deciding. I considered the telephone in the shape of a bulldog whose mouth moved in sync with the person you were talking to. That would have been a riot. But then I saw the Sony Tap Tunes Shower Radio that received AM/FM and TV Audio. A radio that gets TV signals? I had to have it.
I didn’t use the radio in the shower as it was intended. Instead, I put it next to my bed. At night, I went to sleep listening to Johnny Carson or, if I stayed up late enough, David Letterman. During prime time, I could stay out in the living room and watch TV with my siblings, or I could retreat to my bedroom and listen to a sitcom while I did my homework (on those rare occasions when I did my homework). It’s true that some jokes or plot twists didn’t work without the visuals, but I could make sense of most shows. It was never my prime way of enjoying television, but it was a great supplement.
Years later, when I moved to New York, the radio came with me. I lived in a tiny apartment without a TV for the first couple years and the radio was the only way I was able to enjoy TV programs. When I took up running, I bought a walkman so I could listen to music while I exercise. I was pleased to discover a walkman model that received TV signals. I sometimes brought it to work and listened to Ed Koch on The People’s Court during my lunch break. (Unfortunately, daytime TV is just as bad without the visuals).
Today, that original Tap Tunes shower radio is still with me in my apartment. I’ve finally moved it to its intended destination, the bathroom, where it mostly plays the local NPR station while I shower. It’s rarely tuned to TV. But I also have a bedside alarm clock that gets TV audio, so I can still tune in at night. In the two weeks that Conan O’Brian has been hosting the Tonight Show, listening to him as I go to sleep has already become a tradition, and I only have a few days left to enjoy it before all my TV radios stop working.
Is there a future for TV on the radio? There are already so-called “HD” radios that receive digital broadcasts over AM and FM. Could they be expanded to receive TV audio as well? And if so, what kind of reception could I expect without needing a rooftop antenna just for my alarm clock radio?
This wi-fi clock radio by Aluratek may be my best compromise. It gets thousands of internet radio stations, and allows you to add your own, so I could listen to one of the streaming Old Time Radio stations found on-line and pretend that I live in the 1950s. But even with all the options that internet streaming provides, I’ll still miss the ability to listen to live TV on the radio.
Previously: Idea: “CSI: Drive Time”