Cutting the CABLE just got WEIRD

ARE YOU A CABLE CUTTER? Have you growna huge beard, donned a “man bun” and shunned the modern broadcast conveniences of “the man” in exchange for hip and cheap innovations like Hulu, Roku and Netflix, all while nursing your local craft beer during taco Tuesday? If so, then you may or may not have discovered that “over the air” TV (see: free) in Jax can get … weird. How weird? Read on, hipster.

Recently, I decided to “cut the cable” and get rid of our satellite TV service. Why? Satellite is expensive and the amount of TV my family watches is not worth the cost. I must have repeated the phrase, “I don’t watch that much TV,” to the customer service rep about 100 times because they do not make it easy to cancel. I’m still getting “we want you back” junk mail from them and suspect I will even after I’m dead.

During this process, I did some research into alternatives and discovered that I could get most of the local channels with an HDTV antenna. So, in addition to relying on apps like Hulu, Amazon and Netflix, I am able to catch the local news and Jaguar games (both of which are wildly depressing), and catch everything else at my own convenience while saving money. Huzzah.

The antenna itself is ugly but you get used to it. It’s about as big as a laptop but thin and it sticks to the wall. It works pretty well as long as the weather cooperates, but your proximity to the TV station matters.

It’s a little strange, but you get used to not being able to pause or rewind TV any more. I’m halfway tempted to hook up a VCR and “tape” shows again … kidding. Maybe.

I get the major networks, the Spanish language ones and the Jesus channels (see: Pastor Arnold Murray cyborg), and your experience will vary on reception, but be warned: It gets weird — WQXT in St. Augustine, for example. 

WQXT, channel 28.2 (which on my TV is just 22-8), has no title and no other identifier other than A1A TV. From Wikipedia, WQXT is described as:

“A Class A low-powered television station in St. Augustine, Florida, with studios in St. Augustine’s tallest building, Cathedral Place, in the heart of the historic district. Its broadcast footprint covers from Jacksonville to Palm Coast.”

WQXT carries both Retro TV and PBJ, both of which are national networks that have social media accounts. The picture quality is absolutely terrible but that kind of adds to the whole “retro” feel.

They will sometimes have no sound and one time I watched in amazement as a mouse pointer floated across the screen and clicked on a file folder and then a Windows media file began to play a show. Broadcasting is complicated in 2016.

In the morning, they show “classic” cartoons. Great, right? How classic, you ask? Well, there’s Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Popeye … and a bunch of black people drawn as racist caricatures, complete with huge eyes, enormous lips and spears, singing and dancing … wait, what?

Maybe it’s an oversight, right? Nope. There’s another one. And another … there are cute little African savages, singing and dancing with bones in their noses and followed by another one with “savage injuns” whooping it up for the camera.

Holy crap.

There’s a name for these kinds of cartoons: minstrel shows. They were banned a long time ago. Why on earth would a modern TV station show these? Why, in St. Augustine of all places, where the Civil Rights Movement, though hidden, was ugly and prominent, would they show this – and to kids?

Adding insult to injury, WQXT features local ads. Mostly you get stuff like poorly done ads for a car dealership or a pizza place, but frequently you get things like an advertisement for the “complete collection of Amos ‘n’ Andy” on DVD, complete with the shucking and jiving and, “Holy Mackerel, Kingfish!”

I changed the channel and felt weird about my newfound predicament. Do other people know about this? Why is no one saying anything? It’s weird, right? Who knew?

And you can spare me the “stop being so PC!” responses because I am not in favor of censorship or banning anything; I loathe today’s PC Gestapo culture. As a publisher, I’m a huge advocate of the first amendment but I do feel that this is bizarre to say the least.

Are there no regulations for tiny broadcast stations? Do tiny local TV stations in the nation’s “Oldest City” have any ethics? Did the King and Queen of Spain order the Amos ‘n’ Andy DVDs when they came to town?

Who is doing the programming down at WQXT? I say all of this, here in 2016, when we’re getting daily doses of two extremes: brainwashed people screaming for things to be strictly PC and other brainwashed people screaming for things to be anything but PC. This is a strange time to be alive.

UHF this is not. WQXT lacks the charm of Stanley Spadowski’s Clubhouse, nor the hilarity of the Spatula City ads found in Weird Al’s spoof of small band TV stations.

The other night, I watched an ad featuring Nazis. It was a mixture of old footage of Nazis marching, Hitler yelling and gesticulating, huge swastikas and giant, misspelled words on a bright red background declaring that Hitler and Stalin once took away guns from the public. Gasp!

The ad asks:

DOES THAT SOUND FAMILIAR!? DOES THAT SOUND LIKE ANY CURRENT POLITICIAN THAT YOU KNOW TODAY?! PROTECT THE SECOND AMENDMENT! DON’T LET THE NAZIS TAKE YOUR GUNS!

And it goes on like that for a solid five minutes before you get back to your minstrel cartoons. Weeeeiiiiirrd. I’ve never seen anything quite like WQXT and I think it’s bizarre that it continues on like it does with absolutely no explanation for its offensive and kooky format. It doesn’t even wear a toupee.

I’m sure there’s a reason this channel shows racist cartoons and Hitler ads but damned if I can find one. There’s not much info about the station itself other than a few snippets about it carrying RetroTV, which is based in Tennessee.

It’s kinda funny, considering the national discourse on race is like a daily tire fire, that here on the home front we only need tune in to the local programming to revisit the “good ol’ days.” Make AmeriDUH grate again, yeah? I have to wonder just how many kids are watching these things, thinking it’s normal.

I have no desire to mend the cut cable and empty my wallet for 3,000 channels of nothing again but I also have no desire to support businesses that push quackery and bigotry and Hitler ads with bad grammar.

We may very well be experiencing the DEVOlutuion of the species on all fronts, and at an alarming rate, but that doesn’t mean we have to subject ourselves to it willingly, folks. Take a deep breath, put the phone down and change the channel.

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Cantana is an independent publisher and author living in Northeast Florida.

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