Cutting the Cable (Almost)

Mary Welch Steinhoff 90th Birthday party 10-15-2011 by Matt Steinhoff_4609I was at the dinner table in Cape when Mother fired up the TV she got for her 90th birthday back in 2011 to catch The Wheel. The screen was black. So was the mood at the table. You do NOT trifle with The Wheel.

After an inordinate amount of time trying to get through to Charter customer service, I was told that the cable company had switched from analog service to digital service and that she would need converter boxes if she ever wanted to ever see The Wheel again. In the next 48 hours, I got three different versions of how many “free” boxes she could get, how long they would be “free” and how much it would cost per month when they were no longer “free.”

Earlier in the visit, I bought her a refurbished Roku HD Streaming player so she could watch Amazon Prime videos. (Brother Mark and I both have Prime accounts, but he never uses his for movies, so there wouldn’t be any conflict with her logging in under his name.) She liked the way she could start a movie on her iPad on the porch or in the living room, then pick it up on the TV in her bedroom.

Does she NEED cable?

The more I thought about the digital box rental issue, the more I wondered if she really NEEDED cable? Mark and I put our heads together and thought we could get her all the local stations with an off-the-air antenna (OTA), and she could watch other things on the Roku box. Ernie Chiles had an antenna that could be modified to do the job, but I was running short on time and decided to put the project on hold until my summer visit (when it should be really FUN working in the attic.)

Do the Florida Steinhoffs need cable?

RCA ANT751 Antenna in attic 06-28-2014That got me to thinking: if Mother could survive without cable, maybe Wife Lila and I could. Son Matt said he dropped his cable several years ago and hadn’t missed it. To prepare for saying goodbye to Comcast, I had to order some stuff.

RCA ANT751 – an antenna capable of picking up a station 37.6 miles away. I decided to do a quick installation in the attic to see if it would work. I preferred not to mount it outside where it would be exposed to salt air and hurricanes. It exceeded expectations. In fact, I got the best result when I pointed the antenna to the south, even though the station furthest from us was to the north. Neighbor Jacqie was impressed enough that he ordered one for the narrow crawlspace of his apartment. He, too, was pleased. $47.99.

RCA Matching Transformer – VH54R – Some of the antenna reviews complained that the 300 ohm to 75 ohm transformer that came with the antenna wasn’t all that great. Jacqie’s worked fine and mine would probably work well, too, being in an attic. But, since I thought I might have to put the antenna on the roof, I opted to get a better transformer to be safe. $5.34.

Roku 2 Streaming Player – 2720R – We already had one Roku, but this would give us one on the living room set where I normally watch, and one for the sewing room set where Wife Lila usually sits. This has promoted domestic tranquility like nothing else I’ve bought recently. The speakers for the living room TV are on the wall between the living room and the bedroom. Since I usually watch a little TV before turning in after finishing the blog around 2 a.m., I have to ride the volume control knob to keep the sound high enough that I can hear it, but low enough that it doesn’t blow her out of  bed. This Roku’s remote has a headphone jack on it. It’s amazing how much more you can hear through headphones than through the wall speakers. $59.99

Mediasonic HW-150PVR HomeWorx ATSC Digital TV Converter Box with Media Player and Recording PVR Function – only one of our TVs was new enough not to need a converter box. The good news is that this box is only $37.25 and it has the ability to record to an external hard drive. Since we’ve had TiVos for years, that was a nice feature. The bad news is that the remote was less than friendly and the interface for setting up recordings was even less intuitive. It WORKED, but I knew somebody in the house who wouldn’t like giving up the convenience of the TiVo.

What else did we need?

Ken Steinhoff birthday television set 03-21-2004Sons Matt and Adam bought me a monster TV for my birthday in 2004. It has served us well, but you can tell from the photos that it’s about the size and weight of a VW Bug. That’s Adam and his buddy, Jay, wrestling it into place when it was new. Taking out the cable box, hooking up the Roku and removing the TiVo wasn’t too much trouble. I managed to get the digital converter to record The Big Bang Theory, even if I hated the remote. I started binge-watching Dexter on Netflix and all was fine. I left Wife Lila on the cable until I figured out if this was going to work.

We wanted a way to get some of the stuff that didn’t appear over the air.

Amazon Prime – we are already Prime subscribers, primarily for two-day shipping, free movies, free music and the like. We’re still on the $79 a year plan plan. New subscribers will pay $99.

Netflix – this is a video streaming service you can access through the Roku box. It’s good for movies and binge-watching multiple episodes of TV shows. Adam advocates this. Requires an Internet connection and costs $8 to $12 a month depending on how many simultaneous connections you want. The first month is free to try it out.

Hulu-Plus – Matt likes it. Unlike Netflix, their business model is built on showing you two or three episodes of current TV shows a day after they usually air. I hated it. The big deal-killer was that it has commercials embedded in it that can’t be skipped. If you have been using TiVo for years and got in the habit of never seeing a car salesman or a political attack ad, you have a low tolerance for ads. It also didn’t have some of the few regular network programs we had hoped to watch. I killed it at the end of the free week. About $8 a month.

How did it work out?

Ken Steinhoff birthday television set 03-21-2004Two days before the end of our Comcast cable billing cycle, I called to cancel our service. A very nice woman tried to tell me all the wonderful things we were going to miss, and I countered every argument. “Look,” I said, “it boils down to simple economics: we pay you about $84 a month for service; we pay TiVo about $21 bucks a month. We can pocket almost all of that money after a one-time outlay for equipment and a miniscule monthly charge for streaming services.”

“How about if I can get you down to $19.95 a month, plus $3.99 each for your two converter boxes. Would that make you stick around for 12 months?”

Wife Lila was giving me the thumbs-up in the background. It was worth that to keep her TiVo.

 Re-inventing the wheel

TV wiring 06-28-2014We opted to keep her office computer on the antenna in case the cable goes out, but I needed to reinstall all my equipment. To make a long, painful story short, I ran into snags. One of them was trying to get in behind the monster TV to plug stuff in and trace wires.

I told Wife Lila, “When I get the $50 million check from that Nigerian prince, the first thing I’m going to do is get a modern TV that weighs 13 pounds, not 13 tons.”

“The check should be here any day, and a new TV is less than $300, so go for it,” she said. (She was probably counting on my life insurance to kick in if the prince didn’t.)

I sent Matt an email telling him that he could have a really good TV set if (A) he carried it off and (B) helped me hook up all the pieces/parts.

He and Sarah of mileage log fame came by Saturday. We were holding Grandson Malcolm, who spent the night with us, as a hostage. Matt convinced me that we should disconnect everything, get it all plugged in, then see if it worked. In a mere four or five hours (without a single trip to Radio Shack or Best Buy), he had it hooked up, configured properly and doing all it was supposed to do. That cost both of us new TVs.

So what about Mother?

I learned that you can get good quality pictures with an antenna. Her stations are a little further away than our stations, but I’m still going to try mounting the antenna in her attic first. If that doesn’t do the job, then I’ll go on the roof or get a stronger antenna. She never has recorded shows, so that won’t be a factor. Since I don’t need the digital converters I bought for our sets, I’ll pass them on to her.

Disclosure: All of the links I provided are for Amazon. That’s where I bought my stuff. If you click on the link to make your purchase, I get about 6% of whatever you spend without it costing you a penny. All my research, trials and tribulations should be worth that much to you.

Last minute thought: there are some excellent resources out there to help you pick the right antenna based on where you live. I found a guy in the TV department at Cape’s Best Buy to be knowledgeable. Here are some websites, too:


Jo Ann Bock’s Book

Jo Ann Bock at Tom Nuemeyer book signing 03-14-2010I photographed Jo Ann Bock at Tom Neumeyer’s book signing for his photo documentary book, Cape Girardeau Then & Now back in 2010.

When Mrs. Bock wrote Around the Town of Cape Girardeau in Eighty Years, she asked if she could use one of the photos on the back cover of her book. I didn’t hesitate to give her permission. She sent me a copy of the book in return. I was pleasantly surprised to see she had some extraordinarily nice things to say about a piece I wrote about her husband, Howard Bock, when he died.

Mr. Bock Changed my life

Howard Bock CHS 23In the curious way that things in Cape are intertwined, Mrs. Bock was my Cub Scout den mother and knew I was interested in photography. When I got to Central, her husband was in charge of the Tiger and Girardot photo staffs and asked if I’d like to join. That was, indirectly, the start of my photography career.

We saw different slices of time

Jo Ann Bock BookHoward and Jo Ann Bock were getting married (1950) just about the time I was getting born (1947), so we view Cape through slightly different lenses. She stayed in Cape, except for a few years, and I left in 1967, although Cape has never left me.

In the introduction to one of the chapters, she says, “Sometimes a person will ask why I didn’t mention this place, or that person, or recall a special event. My answer is that memories take different directions with people.” Maybe that’s why even though she and I plow the same ground, we come up with different crops.

Her view of Broadway

Vandeven Merchantile Company 1967She and a city directory did a good job of creating a list of businesses and residences along the Broadway corridor. We have some memory overlap on some long-time businesses like Vandeven’s and the movie theaters, but a lot of places she remembers were long gone when the 1960s came around.

Here’s a partial list of what I found along Broadway between Kingshighway and Main Street.

Library and Courthouse

Cook kidsids playing in courthouse fountain on Cape Girardeau's Common Pleas Courthouse grounds June 29, 1967She and I both spent a lot of time in the Cape Public Library when it was located on the grounds of the Common Pleas Courthouse. Unlike these kids, she “never felt right about playing in the fountain with that soldier staring down at me.”

Just for the record, the soldier that stared down at her was smashed by a falling limb. The pieced-together original lives at the Jackson Courthouse, and a replacement casting stares down at children today. Maybe the new one would be less intimidating.

The George Alt House

Trinity Lutheran School neighborhood c 1966We both served our time in the George Alt House, turned into Trinity Hall by Trinity Lutheran School.

A walk down Main Street

107 Main St Cape Girardeau MO 10-20-2009 - Hecht's Mrs. Bock takes us for a walk down Main Street, reeling off a list of businesses that are mostly not there. In fact, the only business still in operation is Zickfield’s Jewelry. Hecht’s is gone, as is Newberry’s, where she worked in the infant clothing department for 15 cents an hour.

Here’s a page where I posted photos of many of the businesses I remembered from my era. The current generation will think Main Street was nothing but bars and antique shops with a little art thrown in.

Hurrah for Haarig

Meyer-Suedekum 03-29-2010_2679That’s the name of her chapter covering the Good Hope / Sprigg area. She drops names like Hirsch’s for groceries, Suedekum’s for hardware, Cape Cut Rate for drugs and the anchor, Farmer’s and Merchants Bank. If she mentioned Pure Ice, I must have missed it.

Music and Majorettes

Homecoming 34Mrs. Bock devotes several chapters to the Cape Girardeau music scene: choirs, operettas, plays, the Cape Choraliers, the Girardot Rose Chorus, and local dance bands. She also mentions being a Central High School majorette in 1946.


SEMO Fair Groscurth's Blue Grass Shows MidwayShe and I both spent time at the district fair, both as kids enjoying the rides and exhibits, then later covering it for The Southeast Missourian.

Bring on the Barbecue

Wib's BBQ Brown Hot (outside meat) sandwichThis chapter touched on two of my favorite barbecue places: the Blue Hole Garden and Wib’s.

 Parade of Photographers

GD Fronabarger c 1967You don’t serve as a high school publication adviser and a Missourian reporter without running across that strange subset of humans (some would debate that human part) called photographers. She was suitably enough impressed with us that she devoted a whole chapter to photographers she knew and worked with.

One-Shot Frony, AKA Garland D. Fronabarger, was one of the most unique newspaper photographers I ever ran into. His gruff exterior covered up a gruff interior. He got his name because he would growl around a pipe or cigar clenched between his teeth, “Don’t blink. I’m taking one shot,” push the shutter release and walk off.

Paul Lueders, a Master Photographer who shot almost every school group and class photo for years, was the opposite of Frony: he was quiet, patient and willing to take however long it took to get his subject comfortable.

She mentions several other professional and student photographers who crossed her path over the years, then launches into two pages of such nice things about me I thought maybe I was reading my obit.

How do I get a copy?

Jo Ann Bock Book backIf you grew up in Cape, you might find yourself between the pages of Around the Town of Cape Girardeau in Eighty Years. She manages to work in more names than the phone book. So, how do you get copy?

The book is available on Amazon for $15.49. It’s eligible for free shipping though Amazon Prime, so if you sign up for a 30-day free trial of Prime by January 10, you can save some money and get it in two days.


Hubble Creek on the Rise

Children play in Hubble Creek in Jackson's City ParkI’ve written before about how Dennis Scivally Park and Hubble Creek in Jackson’s City Park were my go-to places for wild art. I still can’t resist going back there anytime there has been a heavy rain so I can see the water cascade over the low water crossing.

These youngsters are “down at the creek” in the 1960s.

Video of mini-flood

News of torrential rain in Southeast Missouri and a news brief that the city of Jackson is collecting old Christmas trees to combat bank erosion along the creek jogged my memory that I had shot some video in the park on Halloween 2013 after a heavy rain. I’m sure the water was a lot higher during the recent downpours, but this is the best I can do.

Like the video I did on the Bollinger County artesian well, listening to the water is worth 1:17 of your life.

Amazon Prime Promo

Laurie Everett in Annie Lauries's Antiques 03-18-2010I support buying at local businesses like Annie Laurie’s Antiques, but I like the convenience of online shopping at Amazon rather than schlepping all over town going to Big Box stores. A year or so ago, Kid Matt let me piggyback on his Amazon Prime account so I could get free two-day shipping on most items I ordered. (More about that later.)

Advantages of Prime

  • Free two-day shipping on millions of items with no minimum order size
  • Unlimited instant streaming of 41,000 movies and TV episodes. (This turned out to be a surprise benefit for me. I turned into a binge watcher for TV series that I hadn’t bothered to watch when they were first shown. I found myself watching shows on my iPad sitting at the dining room table instead of the TV.)
  • Borrow one of over 350,000 Kindle titles a month for free.
  • Invite as many as four household members to share your free two-day shipping benefit

Special Amazon Prime promotion

From December 26, 2013, through January 10, 2014, you can sign up for a free 30-day trial of Amazon Prime. After the trial, a membership costs $79 a year. You can cancel anytime in that 30-day period, so if you want to order a bunch of stuff and gorge yourself on 41,000 movies or TV shows, then bail, that’s OK.

This link will take you there

Why am I excited about this? I get a bounty of $10 for everyone who signs up for the trial, even if you decide it’s not for you after 1 day, a week or on the 30th day.

I will warn you that after my trial, I found I got $79 a year worth of benefits and kept my membership. (I see it’s set to renew on December 30 of this year.)

Of course, it helps me if you do your Amazon shopping through that big Click Here button at the top left of the page. Thanks to you folks who did your holiday shopping through the Big Button.