When broadcast television flipped from analog to digital in June 2009, those old “rabbit ears” became museum pieces.
But over-the-air commercial channels didn’t go away. In fact, they are booming. Beyond your local ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and PBS channels are dozens of free “subchannels,” such as a Channel 4.2, available to most homes. Folks living near large cities can find many of these networks.
Better yet, most subchannels offer programs that target a specific audience. So, if you love old Westerns, classic sitcoms or game shows, they’ve got you covered.
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Your old outdoor aerial antenna will work but likely needs a coaxial cable to connect it to a modern TV, or a digital antenna can be purchased at most department stores or online for as little as $10. And your television likely is set up already to receive high-definition digital signals if you purchased it after 2006.
What to watch? Here’s a breakdown by genre.
Westerns for binge-watching
If you yearn for a return of Marshal Matt Dillon, Rowdy Yates, Lucas McCain or Hoss Cartwright, you can’t go wrong with Grit, a subchannel from Scripps that bills itself as “Television with Backbone” and offers a daily schedule of old Western favorites. You can also turn to getTV, from Sony Pictures Television, where Saturday is all about Westerns and early afternoon has a daily block of Western programs. Weigel Broadcasting’s Heroes & Icons (H&I) also features a Western block during early morning hours, and its subchannel MeTV airs classics including Bonanza and Gunsmoke during the week.
Comedies to keep you chuckling
Looking for a laugh? Almost any time of the day, you can find plenty of reruns to choose from. RewindTV, from Nexstar Media Group, is all about comedy, offering up shows like Mork & Mindy, Wings and Designing Women. Nexstar’s AntennaTV is also a honey hole for laughter with reruns ranging from Hazel to Welcome Back Kotter.
NBCUniversal’s Cozi airs classic sitcoms from the NBC library such as Frasier and The Nanny. Weigel Broadcasting includes a hefty offering of sitcoms on Decades, such as Petticoat Junction and The Odd Couple, as well as classics such as M*A*S*H and The Andy Griffith Show on MeTV. Laff, from Scripps, has more recent reruns in its quiver, including Night Court, Home Improvement, and That ’70s Show.
Action and adventure from the ’80s onward
If you are looking for shows to get your heart beating faster, H&I includes a daily lineup of shows such as Walker, Texas Ranger; Nash Bridges; and MacGyver. Charge! from the Sinclair Broadcast Group also focuses on action with shows such as Magnum P.I., Knight Rider, CSI: Miami and CSI: NY. Or, if you want action with a leading woman, Start TV includes reruns of The Closer, Rizzoli & Isles, and The Good Wife in its daily lineup. If crime drama is more your cup of tea, tune to Ion Television, from Scripps, where reruns of NCIS: Los Angeles or NCIS: New Orleans, can be found.
Scripps also has Bounce, a subchannel geared to a Black audience with programs including In the Heat of the Night and Scandal. If you prefer true crime the aptly named True Crime Network from Tegna airs shows such as Dateline and Cold Case Files. Another option, at least at night, is Twist, also from Tegna, that flips from its daytime reality programming (such as Tiny House Nation) to an evening lineup of shows like Murder She Solved and Cruise Ship Killers.
Sci-Fi, fantasy that reaches back 50 years
If you are a fan of Star Trek, then you’ll want to beam in H&I every evening as it reruns five classic series in a row, starting with Gene Roddenberry’s original Star Trek, followed by Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise. Sinclair Broadcasting’s Comet is also a must-see for science fiction and fantasy buffs. Its daily programming includes Quantum Leap, X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you prefer a campy classic, MeTV+ reruns the original Lost in Space.
Game shows from corny to cliff-hanger
For anyone who enjoyed the game shows of the 1960s and ’70s, Buzzr is the place to be. The subchannel, from Fremantle North America, airs reruns of classics such as Card Sharks, The Newlywed Game and Match Game. Game Show Network (GSN) from Sony Pictures airs reruns of more recent game shows — including Cash Cab and Deal or No Deal.
The retro networks to look for
Here are some of the subchannels available to most households.
Programs: Hazel, My Favorite Martian, Welcome Back Kotter, The Jeffersons and Barney Miller