PICAN. That was the intended purpose of broadcasting back in the dawn of the radio and TV era. That everyone would have equal access and opportunity to watch news, sports, and entertainment. And coupled with the Fairness Doctrine, news would be as unbiased as possible, showing different sides to an issue.
That’s what I was told in my first broadcasting classes back in the early ’80s. Later in the decade, the cable companies, Wall Street, and Reagan’s cronies decided otherwise. The Fairness Doctrine was repealed. And somewhere along the line, the rules about how many outlets per market could be owned by a given company (back at the dawn of time in my freshman year, it was any combination of papers, radio and TV stations totaling up to seven) were blurred or obliterated. So much for balance and diversity.
And now we have Fifty Seven Channels and Nothing’s On thanks to cable and dish providers. Well, more like a couple of hundred in some localities. How many of these channels serve the PICAN is beyond me. Some of the channels I wouldn’t mind, such as Starz for their adaptations of Philippa Gregory’s novels about the Plantagent dynasty, or HBO for “Game of Thrones.” But pay for programming with no redeeming value like “Honey Boo Boo” or propaganda like certain news outlets? No. That was never supposed to be part of the plan.
There are times when cable is needed. My paternal grandmother lived in western Massachusetts in a pretty small town about six miles south of the Vermont border. Between the remoteness and the mighty shielding power of the granite mountains, any kind of decent over the air TV signal was an impossibility. With the help of (very) basic cable, she could get the stations from Albany (40 miles south), Boston (three hours east) and New York (about three and a half hours southeast). It provided her with news, entertainment, and her Red Sox games. I think we had a choice of twelve channels. Gram mostly filled her days by reading the paper, visiting her friends and relatives within walking distance. TV was limited to her quiz shows and a handful of series. That’s all she needed.
That was back in the ’70s. The ’80s opened up a wild west of commercial broadcasting options, and not all for the better. Not unless you’re an ad agency or a retailer looking to brainwash consumers. Convenient, yes, but at a high price to one’s purse from the pressure to buy, psyche, and the environment.
We–Hubby and I–don’t need much more ourselves than what Gram had. With just our converter box and antenna, we get PBS, CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, WGN, and a slew of indie outlets and substations. There are two classic movie channels we enjoy. One of the substations runs “Star Trek” six nights a week. We invest in DVDs of our favorite programs. We both have channels we like on YouTube. Sometimes when nothing appeals to me, I do this really crazy thing called READING A BOOK.
In this post-PICAN and Fairness Doctrine world, making deliberate, conscious choices takes on new importance. Do your research on broadcasting options in your area, and choose wisely.
I know I’ve posted this before, but I feel like it’s time to revisit John Denver’s cover of “Spanish Pipedream (Blow Up Your TV)” again. Somehow, it just seems to fit.