Cut Cable TV and Get an Antenna – Good Idea?

retro tvsIn the last year, four-million Americans have said so long to cable or satellite television and watch over-the-air programming for free.

That’s according to numbers from the National Association of Broadcasters, which indicate a total of 46-million people now use old-fashioned antennas instead of cable or satellite. But that’s not because it’s so trendy to go retro.

The NAB’s Dennis Wharton told Daily Finance that the so-called Great Recession “has prompted people to review whether pay-TV services are affordable in a down economic time.”

You might think of paying for cable TV as a necessity – like your electric bill or wireless service. So how are people getting by without cable?

My Love Affair With Television

I have to admit that I’m kind of addicted to television. However, I grew up in a house that was void of cable TV, and it always felt like I was missing out on all the fun stuff my friends were getting to watch.

Both my grandparents did have cable, so whenever I would visit I’d make sure to brush up on my Nickelodeon with a healthy dose of Double Dare, The Ren & Stimpy Show and one of my personal favorites – You Can’t Do that on Television (see the video clip at the end).

When I went off to college, we had basic cable in our dorm rooms. Later on in an apartment with roommates we somehow ended up with a bunch of premium channels we weren’t supposed to be getting. I’m not gonna lie – it was pretty sweet.

Later on as a completely domesticated, married homeowner – I signed up for cable again. But here’s what I quickly realized:

  • Most of what I watched regularly was on broadcast TV networks anyway
  • The few cable shows I did like were constantly in repeats
  • I found myself turning on the TV more often just because I wanted to make it worth what I was paying!

Needless to say…I am now one of those 46-million Americans who don’t subscribe to cable or satellite TV.

The Pros and Cons

Pro Number 1 – The Price…$0: Of course, one of the biggest reasons people decide against paying for TV is that it saves them quite a bit of money. You could be paying $1,000 a year or more for basic cable. Start adding premium channels and the price tag climbs quickly!

It’s easy to get lured in by those low introductory offers. But what starts up as a cheap monthly price will take a big jump after your six-month promotional period ends.

Pro Number 2 – The Good Stuff is on Network TV: Make a list of the shows you watch on a regular basis. Chances are you could be watching many of them for free. The majority of the most-watched programs still come from CBS, NBC, FOX and ABC. Not to mention – you’ve also got the CW Network, PBS and possibly other less-popular stations like MYNetwork TV. Nielsen ratings prove this point…the highest rated programs are almost always on network television.

Local affiliates may also be using what are known as digital substations to broadcast syndicated programming that ranges from classic TV shows and movies, to music videos and lifestyle programming to 24-hour local weather forecasts.

Your local affiliates are probably also airing reruns of the same shows that show up  in syndication on basic cable. Can you turn on the TV without seeing reruns of Two and a Half Men?

Pro Number 3 – There Are Alternatives: It’s very true that some cable networks have started producing some very high quality original programs. From The Sopranos and Curb Your Enthusiasm to Mad Men, Weeds and Californication, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, to Nip Tuck and Breaking Bad – there is actually a lot of award-winning compelling stuff you might miss.

But I’m a fan of all the shows listed above, and I don’t have cable. I’ve watched them on Hulu, rented seasons on DVD, streamed them on Netflix, and even mooched off of friends who do have cable. Using many of these TV alternatives means you can watch whenever you want (even without a DVR) and you don’t have to sit through nearly as many commercials.

These TV alternatives are good for network shows too. My wife and I spent four months watching every episode of Lost on Netflix streaming. It’s a show we never watched when it was on the air, but it provided us with entertainment every night for the entire summer and beyond.

Con Number 1 – Antennas Aren’t for Everyone: Hooking up those rabbit ear antennas may not work in every home.  Depending on where you live, the over-the-air signal may be strong or very weak. Some folks may need an antenna installed on the roof of their house or on the apartment balcony as well.

(Note: You do not need a specific antenna for HD programming. Even your grandma’s old rabbit ears could work. “HDTV” antennas are nothing more than a marketing ploy)

The other problems with antennas is they can be annoying. Even with digital television, there will be times when you have to get off the couch and make some adjustments by moving the rabbit ears around to improve the quality of your picture.

 Con Number 2 – It Stinks for Sports Nuts & News Junkies: I’ll admit I do miss watching SportsCenter, and even wish I had access to a 24-hour news network. If you’re really into sports, you’re going to miss out on watching some of those events from the comfort of your living room recliner. However, you can still head out to sports bars, restaurants or your buddy’s basement if you’re desperate. When it comes to news, the articles, blogs and video content available on the internet will satisfy every newsy’s appetite.

Con Number 3 – Channel Surfing Isn’t as Fun – If you’re favorite pastime is kicking back with the remote and flipping away – you might miss that about cable’s hundreds of channels. With free over-the-air TV, I’ve got a total of  13 stations to flip through.

But this could also be a positive! How many times have you started roaming through channels during a commercial break and forgot what you were watching or never found your way back again?

Have you decided to cut the cable, or is it too hard for you to part ways with all those channels? Leave a comment and let us know.

Next week we’ll take a look at what the future of television might look like and why a la carte cable might become a reality! So check back for that article soon!

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Image: Salvatore Vuono /

+Kasey Steinbrinck writes about personal finances, consumer news and the U.S. economy for Check Advantage. Visit the online check printer’s website today and view their most popular checks including a big collection of Classic Checks and plenty of  other Cool Checks.


  1. I have wanted to “cut the cable cord” and rid myself of my ever rising, exorbitant satellite bill, but wanted a simple, straight forward alternative. The first step was an antenna. After research, the Mohu Leaf received the best reviews, hands down, of any indoor antenna. I purchased 2 (1 per TV). After finding the “sweet” spot (read the directions about where to mount your Leaf) on the wall and detecting the channels the results for both TV’s were incredible and pictures clear as a bell (nothing like the old “rabbit ears”). Now I receive all the network and local channels free. And for those of you like myself who still wanted to have the convenience of recording and watching your shows whenever you like, Tivo makes a DVR that is antenna compatible and gives you access to a huge amount of streaming content via Amazon, Hulu Plus, Blockbuster and Netflix. There is a monthly fee to use the Tivo service ($20 at the writing) but it is FAR LESS than any cable or satellite package. So if you want to “cut the cable cord” and receive free OTA HD signals, watch them at your convenience and have access to a vast amount of streaming content this is an easy, cost effective way to do it.

    • I didn’t know there were DVRs you can use with antenna only TV. That’s interesting. The $20 a month seems a bit steep, especially since you’d have to pay for all those other streaming services in addition. You can stream those services through a BluRay or PlayStation for free. So the only thing you’re getting from TV is recording your local network affiliates. Maybe I’d consider it for $10 a month…but still.

      By the way – I agree with you on quality with an antenna. Many times the picture from the over-the-air signal is better than what you get from the cable company.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. B McCormack says:

    I finally convinced hubby to cut the cable. The antenna works great and we are in a good area for strong signals. The sports he is missing is a definite drawback. But I can connect our laptop to the TV and stream from ESPN360. We are happy with the replay feature and want to avoid any subscription, so we cannot see everything he wants, but enough to not have to hit the sports bars…
    The biggest drawback for me is the commercials… we almost never watched live TV before. So we broke down and got a streaming Netflix subscription. I have 3 kids and they have no understanding of when a new episode airs. So Netflix is great for them and no commercials!
    The next step maybe to get an antenna compatible DVR so we can fast forward those commercials from shows we would tape off out TV…. I have only just started researching, but there are 2 that I know of that require no subscription fee. The upfront cost of the unit is steep, however… so this may be a luxury we do without…
    It feels great having no cable bill! I am glad more people are considering it. Thanks for your article!

    • You are very welcome. Thanks for commenting!

      We have Netflix too, and as a result my 2-year old also has no idea what commercials are all about. When we watch normal TV and a commercial break comes up he says … “All done?”

  3. My husband and I have been contemplating cutting the cord – we currently bought an antenna from Radio Shack and are trying it out on one of our TVs before actually doing away with cable. Our only concern is internet access, so we would still have to use AT & T for that. Our signal is ok for the antenna. We may have to put one on the roof, old style. Our friend recently did this and says he is very happy with antenna TV, yet he does pay for internet service separately, still cheaper than the cable packages. Thanks for the article, will share with my husband for reassurance.

    • Yes, depending on where you live – getting over the air reception can sometimes be tough. There are people who just don’t have a choice. Looks like the cost of a rooftoop antenna is between $100 and $200. Not sure how hard they are to install yourself or how much to have it done.
      Let us know how it works out for you guys!

      Thanks for stopping by, Lisa – glad you liked the article!

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