What we watched before YouTube
After I introduced the HeadSprout back in April, several people asked me how I came up with the idea of a bike- and head-mounted digital television system. The best answer I could give was that a TV antenna and a bike helmet found themselves both in my field of vision at the same time.
The other day, I read a BBC Magazine article asking a teenager to trade his iPod for a Walkman for a week. Feeling nostalgic as I always do, I went rummaging through a drawer at home and found my old Sony Watchman. Slightly before my time, portable TV gadgets were all the rage. At some point, my family purchased an FD-250 model, probably at Sears, and it became my favorite toy growing up.
The Watchman was my poor-man’s introduction to DXing. Whenever my family took a summer road trip, I’d bring the device along with me and tune in to various stations along the way, collecting their call letters as we entered large metropolitan areas. On the way to New Orleans, I would pick up numerous Louisville, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Birmingham stations this way.
It still works, after you pop in a fresh battery or two. The first thing you notice is how much consumer electronics have changed within just twenty-odd years. Get it? Watchman, Walkman? You know, Walkman, predecessor to the CD player? Like large MP3 players? Um, before iPods?
This particular Watchman model had a black-and-white CRT display. Actually, to give the device a less awkward form factor, the screen is just a mirror, angled to reflect the image produced by the CRT tube (below the screen in the photos). The fact that the screen is black-and-white shouldn’t be that surprising: in the early 1990s, you could still find plenty of full-size, black-and-white TV sets at family-run electronics stores (another relic of that decade).
Since nearly all Cincinnati-area stations stopped broadcasting in analog sometime last month, the Watchman can only receive three stations: WLWT 5, the Cincinnati NBC affiliate; WKEF 22, the Dayton ABC affiliate; and WBQC 38, an independent station in Cincinnati that airs kung-fu movies and similar fare. As a low-power station, WBQC isn’t required to give up their analog signal yet, while the other two are airing nothing but DTV infomercials in a federally-mandated loop. The reception isn’t spectacular in any case – unidirectional VHF antennae never work well this far out from the city – but the Watchman was built for mobility, not kung-fu movies.
If I had the right cables, I could restore the Watchman to full working condition by hooking a converter box up to its A/V In jack. Then I could watch digital TV in glorious black-and-white, and it would be plenty more convenient than HeadSprout. But that’s a project for another day.