With the rise of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, more and more people have decided to cancel their cable and satellite subscriptions in a process known as “cordcutting.” I fully understand why, but a lot of people do miss channel surfing and watching live TV and the like. What to do? Well, why not get an antenna?
In 2009, television stations officially switched over from analog broadcasts to digital. One of the benefits of that was the discovery that additional channels could be piggybacked on the same signal as a main television broadcast. Originally, it was used mostly for rebroadcasts of local news or as weather channels, but it has now expanded into many different genre channels for almost all walks of life. In fact, in certain areas one can access upwards of 50 different channels using this new system.
But what channels are out there? Well, that’s where this article comes in. I’m going to give a summary of most of the major digital subchannels (typically known as diginets) that one can access.
A few things before I start. The biggest is that not all these stations are going to be available in all areas. The closer you are to big population centers, the more channels you can likely get. Also note that since these are broadcast networks, the parent channel can supercede any programming for their own shows (most notably local news broadcasts or sports runover programming). Finally, even if you receive HD broadcasts, the piggyback nature of these channels means that you’ll only get SD broadcasts, but that’s not quite as bad since most of the programming on these channels were created long before HD was a thing.
MeTV (Memorable Entertainment Television) is by far the most popular diginet right now, which has allowed them enough programming to feel like a more traditional television network. Whatever genre you like, it’s likely MeTV has something that interests you. Mornings have 50's sitcoms like Leave it to Beaver and The Beverly Hillbillies as well as lighter dramas like Perry Mason, Matlock, and Diagnosis Murder. Afternoons are full-on westerns like Big Valley or Gunsmoke. Evenings have a mixture of comedies like Mama’s Family and M*A*S*H. Overnight has some spooky stuff like Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Weekends have superhero and sci-fi fare like the 60's Batman, the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman, and Star Trek. Sundays are all sitcoms like The Brady Bunch and Diff’rent Strokes followed by dramas like Touched by an Angel and Columbo. If you enjoy television made before the year 2000, you’ll likely find something here.
They also have some pretty funny mashup commercials as well. There’s the ALF/Star Trek commercial I posted above (though ALF is no longer on weeknights), but others brought back Jamie Farr (Klinger in M*A*S*H) and had him talk with Columbo or the characters from Hogan’s Heroes and Vicki Lawrence as Mama interacting with almost every show MeTV airs. The website also has a free online radio station that broadcasts classic songs as well. The only real negative for some people may be that it’s the most vulnerable to shows getting pre-empted for news broadcasts, especially if they have 10pm shows.
Decades is rather unique in that its mission statement is to reflect and celebrate the history of television and as such, has different shows and movies airing almost every day. They tend to air a lot of documentaries and biopics during the mornings and overnight, ranging from sports to war to television to even geek culture. In the afternoons, there is a block called “The Daily Binge” where you get four hours of a different show Monday through Friday, which range from Gomer Pyle to The Mary Tyler Moore Show to Hawaii Five-O to Early Edition. Evenings have a bit more stability with The Ed Sullivan Show and Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. Saturdays and Sundays have The Weekend Binge, where they air one single show starting Saturday at noon until Monday morning at 7am. The quality of the show selection can vary (and tends to draw moreso from the 60's and 70's), but if a show you like is picked, it’s nice to have such a long marathon.
But their signature program is Through the Decades. A studio show where three hosts (Bill Kurtis, Kerry Sayers, and Ellee Pai Hong) take a look at what happened in history on a certain day in news, entertainment, sports, and more. They’ll air old local news investigation reports, evening news reports of world issues, do brief bios on celebrities celebrating birthdays, and more. It’s a nice time capsule of all that’s happened in the past hundred years or so. And when they do special episodes (such as ones on Star Wars or comic books or baseball), the staff does their research and look at EVERYTHING related to the topic. For example, the Star Wars episode didn’t just look at the original trilogy, but the prequels, the Disney films, the old Marvel comics, the novels, and even Clone Wars and Rebels. It’s a really well done show overall.
Bounce is the OTA answer to BET. Sitcoms range from The Bernie Mac Show to Living Single to A Different World. The GSN remakes of Catch 21 and The Newlywed Game get aired often. Movies range from various Denzel Washington movies to the Lethal Weapon movies to, surprisingly, a lot of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Jet Li movies. And their selection tends to be relatively recent as well, as a number of their more popular movies have come out in the mid-00's (such as Diary of a Mad Black Woman and Against the Ropes). Do note that they do air about 6 episodes of The Cosby Show each weekday, in case you loathe it now.
But what’s truly special about the network is their original programming. While Decades had simple documentaries, Bounce has full on sitcoms and dramas, such as Grown Folks, Family Time, and Saints + Sinners. I’m not a sitcom guy so I haven’t watched much of them, but I did watch a few episodes of Saints + Sinners and it was actually pretty entertaining and even looks as good as a lot of cop shows on basic cable. The network also has Premiere Boxing Champions one Saturday a month (with repeats viewable on their website) and, on February 11th, are airing their own awards show called The Trumpet Awards.
Laff is all about sitcoms. Outside of weekend afternoons, it is nothing BUT sitcoms. Still, they do have some of the great ones from the 90's and early 00's, including Roseanne, Night Court, Grace Under Fire, The Drew Carey Show, Empty Nest, That 70's Show, Ellen, and Spin City. Weekend afternoons (and very, very early weekday mornings) is when the movies air. Recent movies aired include Wayne’s World 2, Crocodile Dundee 2, Encino Man, and The Brady Bunch Movie. There’s honestly not much else to say. If you don’t like any of the sitcoms I listed above, you’re not gonna like the channel.
Comet is ostensibly supposed to be a science fiction network. And it does air a lot of sci-fi stuff. But if there’s one thing Comet loves, it’s B-Movies. There’s no such thing as too hokey a movie for them and they will give any chance they have to air new ones whenever. Sure, sometimes they’ll air legitimately good movies like Robocop, Mad Max, and Labyrinth, but most of the time they’ll happily air Attack of the Puppet People, Aliens from LA, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (which is awesome and should be watched by everyone), and The Angry Red Planet among others. In fact, every Saturday afternoon is specifically reserved for B-Movies while weekday afternoons have a specific movie theme (such as movies featuring werewolves or the planet Mars).
As far as TV pickings go, there’s only a handful at any specific time. The signature shows on the network are the various Stargate series, with Atlantis airing right now and SG-1 likely coming back once the former is finished. Universe has aired on the network before, but not in over a year. Paired with Atlantis are the old Kevin Sorbo show Andromeda and The Outer Limits (both 60's and 90's) while Sunday nights belong to the venerable classic Mystery Science Theater 3000. Oh, and weekend mornings get the old goofy Japanese show Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot. The channel has also aired Dead Like Me, Jeremiah, and Poltergeist: The Legacy in the past. Also, this is one of the few networks that can be streamed online if you want to watch but REALLY don’t wanna buy an antenna.
(Note: A few of these will have Twitter embeds instead since not every station has a YouTube channel for some reason.)
Grit is the MAN network for MEN who want to watch MAN stuff. As you can probably guess, this channel airs a lot of movies and shows which feature manly men doing old school manly men things, like killing stuff and blowing other stuff up. A LOT of these are westerns, particularly John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, but there’s also a lot of Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal, and Jean-Claude Van Damme movies in here as well. On the TV series front, they’ve been airing a lot westerns during weekday afternoons (such as Death Valley Days or The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp). They used to be primarily known for airing a LOT of Walker, Texas Ranger (usually between 30-40 episodes a week) but, in a shocking twist, the channel has dumped the show entirely! No word on if it’ll come back.
Escape is meant to be Grit for Women, more or less, except focusing on crime and mystery thrillers instead of being a Lifetime-lite. Their top show is Without a Trace, with The FBI Files, Unsolved Mysteries, and LAPD: Life on the Beat also getting a lot of airtime. As far as movies go, they love pretty much any and all mystery and suspense flicks, especially if they star women. In particular, they absolutely adore movies based on Mary Higgins Clark books. If you love crime dramas and suspense thrillers, this is your network.
Stadium is Twitter’s 24-hour sports network, replacing the old American Sports Network. Unlike ASN, which focused exclusively on college sports, Stadium includes coverage of professional sports too. Their signature studio show is The Rally, which is a lighter discussion show that won’t give you a ton of insightful analysis, but it lacks the forced debate that ESPN and Fox Sports have embraced in recent years. They do air live sports, but it’s mostly college sports with the occasional MLS game. They do try to air classic broadcasts of professional sports during playoff runs though, such as airing classic playoff games during the MLB playoffs. The network can be streamed online via their website but, since Twitter DOES own the network, it can be viewed on their app and website as well.
Charge is to action what Comet is to sci-fi. Like its sister network, this channel is dedicated to movies, but specifically action movies. Westerns, kung fu movies (including both Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan movies), buddy cop movies, bonecruncher movies, even comedy movies like Shaolin Soccer. And while not currently airing, a few months ago they did acquire the license to air almost every Bond movie, so expect them to come back sometime in 2018. They’re also the default home of the syndicated wrestling program Ring of Honor. But if that doesn’t convince you, they air both Gladiators and American Gladiators every weekday afternoon starting at noon. Worth the price of admission alone. Oh, and like Comet, it can be streamed online via their website.
One of the oldest diginets around, This was mainly where you could watch a bunch of old MGM movies and the occasional show (particularly Stargate SG-1 before Comet was made). However, I kinda think other networks have passed them by, as their signature movies are westerns (which, as you can see, are well covered by other networks), generic comedies and dramas, and similar fare. Their only signature shows are Bat Masterson (which airs in the early morning), Cagney & Lacey (airs overnights) and In the Heat of the Night (Sunday nights). However, if you have kids, This is decent in the mornings because they air Flipper as well as the Kids Click block, which includes shows like Winx Club, the 2010 Pink Panther show, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures, and Max Steel, among others. Supposedly they are getting Transformers Prime and Sonic X in the future. The block IS syndicated, so it can appear on other networks as well depending on the broadcaster.
A sort-of poor man’s MeTV, except with drama movies added in. As you can see in the promo above, their sitcoms are led by All in the Family, Sanford and Son, and Good Times, though they also air Designing Women and The Sonny and Cher Show. In terms of dramas, they offer more modern hits like 7th Heaven & Ghost Whisperer, older shows like Airwolf, and lots and lots of westerns, in case you didn’t get sick of them on all the other channels that air westerns. Sundays they do air movies, but they either don’t edit them for time or put in some weird commercial breaks, because a lot of them have strange start times (such as 3:55 or 4:15). Most of their movies are, you guessed it, westerns, but they do sometimes air standard dramas, most notably the various Jesse Stone movies.
Antenna is very, very similar to GetTV but Antenna does have alot more variety to its network with shows like Doogie Howser, M.D., Bewitched, Becker, Family Ties, Growing Pains, Sabrina, Soap, Welcome Back, Kotter, and Three’s Company. They’re also one of the few stations that have the rights to Mork & Mindy and they also air The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson every night. And the network recently acquired Coach, Benson, & Murphy Brown to round out the schedule. They also do occasional specials, such as getting the remaining cast of Three’s Company back for the 40th Anniversary.
I wish I could get Heroes and Icons, because holy crap do they have a lot of shows I love. Hercules. Xena. The Greatest American Hero. Batman. Renegade. Hill Street Blues. The Commish. NYPD Blue. So many great drama and action shows. And if you’re a Star Trek fan, they actually air every single series (including the original all the way up through Enterprise and even The Animated Series too) Sunday-Friday nights. Oh, and in case you were worried, the network DOES air westerns as well, so you don’t have to jump ship for your fix. If you like action or genre television, this channel is for you. Sadly, you can’t stream it.
They have The A-Team. Do you really need any more convincing? I mean, I supposed having The Rockford Files, Murder, She Wrote, The Munsters, Magnum, P.I., Frasier, The Bionic Woman, and The Dick Van Dyke Show is a plus as well if, for whatever reason, you want to watch something that’s NOT The A- Team. They also celebrated Black Music Month back in June (instead of February, for some reason) and had an award show named after Art Carney back in December. But it’s the only OTA channel that has The A-Team, which is all this station needs, really.
Hah! And you thought This was the laziest channel name on this list. Guess what this channel airs? Unlike the other networks, though, Movies! doesn’t have a specific genre they pull from, so you tend to get a variety of styles. Some are well known movies, such as Murder on the Orient Express, Muppets from Space, Ghostbusters, The Graduate, Little Women, and Philadelphia. Many you never knew existed, such as Lady Sings the Blues, Blondie Knows Best, Fourteen Hours, and Branded. This may quite possibly be the simplest diginet on the list. If you can get it from the $5 DVD bin at Walmart, Movies! probably has the rights to it.
Do you long for the days when weekday morning Game Show Network (with stuff like Card Sharks, Match Game, and Press Your Luck) was the main feature of the channel? Well, Buzzr is basically old-school GSN. The Richard Dawson Family Feud. Blockbusters. Super Password. Monty Hall’s Let’s Make a Deal. Another channel which I wish I got since I freaking adore game shows and GSN runs way, way too much Steve Harvey Family Feud. Oh, and they’re getting Supermarket Sweep later in the year. Now if only they could get the various versions of Pyramid, maybe Lingo as well.
One of the newest stations, TBD is basically if the YouTube Trending tab became a TV network. There’s stuff from Geek & Sundry and Nerdist as well as original shows like Tabletop with Wil Wheaton, 10 and Up (where they have Top 10 lists based on video games), Fail Army (a prank show), Whistle Sports BTS (Viral video show focused on sports), and Because Science (trying to apply scientific processes to geek stuff like Star Wars tech or X-Men mutant powers). Since this show is based entirely on Internet videos, you can obviously stream it for free from their website.
Sure, this network has The Doctors, I Love Lucy, Cold Squad, Haven, and Horror Hotel, but the only reason anybody really cares about this network anymore is because they air classic episodes of Doctor Who. RetroTV is one of the older diginets, but it’s popularity has waned in recent years as other networks have overtaken its niche. Outside of Who, there aren’t really any other shows to grab people’s attention, unless you really like Naked City and Route 66. However, they do have a Saturday morning cartoon block with the Fleischer Superman, The Barkleys, and The Houndcats, along with The New Three Stooges. But yea, they have Who and that’s about it.
I’m lumping all these together because the programming will vary greatly from PBS station to PBS station. The biggest one is Create, which is focused on DIY shows featuring cooking, painting, crafts, travel, etc. There’s also PBS Kids, which is exactly what it sounds like. All of PBS’s kid shows playing 24 hours a day. Aside from that there’s a bunch of networks based on foreign languages such as World (mostly news and documentaries), NHK World (English-language station that talks all about Japanese news and culture), First Nations Experience (aimed at Native American culture), and France 24 (international news and current affairs).
There’s tons of other channels which can possibly pop up on your antenna. There’s about a dozen different Spanish language networks (including Univision and Telemundo), Light TV (dedicated to Family programming such as Highway to Heaven, Heartland, and the original Pink Panther cartoons), The Justice Network (which seemingly has every forensic science show ever made), AMG TV (which has cooking and tech shows along with biopics), The Family Channel (Also dedicated to family programming), Rev’n (all about cars and other vehicles), and Live Well Network (about health and nature). A lot of cable channels, such as ION, QVC, and HSN, are also making the jump to over-the-air, but that also varies by market, obviously. There are also always some kind of 24-hour weather channel that pops up, stays on the air for about 6 months, then goes off the air and replaced by somebody else. And if you’re into religion, there’s a bunch there as well.
So, if you actually miss channel surfing and watching live TV but don’t wanna pay for cable, look into getting an antenna. As I said, what channels you exactly get will differ from area to area (as well as whatever antenna you get) so you might wanna check out your local listings through TV Guide or Zap2It or some other site. Happy watching!