About TV Rabbit Ears

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Rabbit ears have been around since the inception of television broadcasting, and for many years were the only way people could watch TV in their homes. Rabbit ears are antennas that receive over-the-air TV broadcast signals. Standard rabbit ears are comprised of two moveable metal rods (that resemble rabbit ears) attached to a base. The rods are attached to a wire inside the base that is connected to the antenna input of your TV.

Early Limitations

  • In the 1940s and 50s, TV viewing options were severely limited unless you lived close to a big city. Even then, choices were limited, since TV broadcasting was just beginning. Being able to receive three to five channels was about all you could hope for. And, trying to get the stations to come in clearly was also an adventure. Many a family member had to jiggle the rabbit ears, or even stand and hold them just right for the picture to come in. Sometimes a piece of foil wrapped around the end of the rabbit ears improved reception.

Cable TV

  • As the population moved to more rural areas, the need to bring TV programs to larger numbers of people led to the invention of cable TV in the late 1940s, according to the FCC website. In the early days, cable TV consisted of a very powerful antenna capable of receiving signals from the broadcast stations in the big cities. Cable companies then connected homes to this antenna with coaxial cables for a small fee. Cable TV was gaining in popularity. Rabbit ear usage, while steady, was definitely being challenged.

The 2009 Digital Mandate

  • In June 2009, the Federal Communications Commission mandated all over-the-air broadcast stations stop analog programming and begin broadcasting digitally. Digital Television offered TV viewers more options and better picture and sound quality. It also meant that HDTV signals could now be received over the air. The downside was those without cable could no longer receive TV signals using their current rabbit ears or roof antennas unless they also used a digital converter box. The government made the converter boxes available by offering rebates or vouchers to aid with purchase.

Digital Tuners Reincarnated

  • As TV technology improved and digital tuners became the norm, the need for converter boxes lessened. Older analog TVs are no longer in production, so they will eventually disappear as they wear out. While TVs are getting better and cheaper, cable TV costs are steadily increasing. A story on shopping evaluation experts NPD estimates monthly cable bills will average about $123 per month by 2015, and rise to $200 per month by 2020. These costs mean that many people are seeking other ways of watching TV, including a modification of the old favorite -- rabbit ears. Rabbit ears combined with a wireloop or bowtie receive free HDTV signals to enable watching favorite network shows. Programming that used to be available only via cable are also available using media services like Netflix, Hulu and AppleTV.

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  • Photo Credit Péter Gudella/Hemera/Getty Images
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