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Memories of Analog TV: The 1980s Part 1

Memories of Analog TV: The 1980s (Feb 26, 2009)

My memories of cable TV were getting fuzzier as the later years went on because they were expanding the channel lineups from 25 to 36 to 52 channels by the end of the 80s. At the end of the 80s, Cox was building its fiber optic cable network that would enable it to pipe in hundreds of channels in a digital way by the end of the 90s.

But going back to 1980, this was the year cable companies began to get serious about adding satellite channels and expand their channel capacity to add them.

I remember picking up one of the TV trade magazines and they had a satellite television channel expo or something that showcased a lot of networks that I never heard of before. I discovered what is now Nickelodeon, USA, Showtime, WTBS, WGN, and many now defunct early attempts such as ARTS, CBS Cable, Spotlight (which was carried on Times Mirror in Escondido), and more.

On June 1st, CNN made its debut on cable channel 21. With TV Guide ignoring the cable channels, some San Diego business started up a competetor guide called Tuned In in September of 1980. This magazine carried listings for ESPN, CNN, HBO, Showtime, ITV, Christian Communiations Network, Public Access, KWHY, KMEX, KSCI, and a few others that TV Guide didn't carry at first, as well as articles on local personalities and shows such as "Disasterpiece Theaters" with Sal-U-Lloyd (get it?) on channel 6. It was a show that sort of inspired Mystery Science Theater 3000, but the host made fun of the films by adding joke captions and sound effects in the movie scenes. That used to run on either Friday or Saturday nights, I forget which. Tuned In folded in 1985. By that time, TV Guide was carrying the listings for cable channels.

More terrestrial channels were launched in the 80s. KSCI's Poway translator on channel 48 launched sometime in 1978, but I'm not sure of the year. There was also another translator in Poway on channel 57 that relayed KBSC's (channel 52 in Los Angeles) programming, even during the days when it carried ONTV, a pay TV service that cost some $20 a month, but ONTV sometimes featured new wave and punk videos between movies and specials. In 1987, KBSC dropped ONTV and relaunched itself as a Telemundo flagship station as KVEA.

In 1981, XHAS channel 33 was launched from Tijuana. It originally aried the Televisa 2 feed. In 1990, XHAS picked up the Telemundo affilliation for San Diego. In 1990, a new Tijuana station, XHUAA channel 57, was launched and it picked up the Televisa 2 feed. That and the KVEA relay were co-channel interferring with each other for most of the 90s.

In October of 1980, Cox began carrying Showtime pay TV. Some subscribers figured out how to get Showtime for free. All they had to do is to subscribe to HBO to get the converter box, unscrew the two front screws that held the chassis inside the box, pull out the chassis, locate the orange wire, snip it off, and Showtime came in unscrambled. That also unscrambled all of the channels. In 1981, Cox went after the Showtime thieves by using some kind of testing equipment to locate the homes that were getting Showtime without paying for it, and had the police arrest the occupants. Cox started showing commercials where a nerdy looking man was sent into prison in a cable theft PSA. One of the occupants said to him, "Hey you, preppy, what are you in for?" The nerdy man said, "I rigged my converter box to get HBO and Showtime." The prison occupants began to laugh at him.

Since then, the pay channels were moved to the digital tiers.

In 1982, Cox added Cinemax on cable 17. That was the third pay channel that it added.

In the summer of 1982, I as well as many others were watching the Los Angeles Laker away games (except when they were in San Diego because at the time, the city used to host The Clippers). But in Saturday nights at 8pm, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, was getting a lot of water cooler talk and was becoming a phoenomenom. Sometime in July, the entire Movie Macabre show was shown in 3-D, resulting in some people to get too hot after viewing Elvira in 3-D.

Then in August, we had some good news and some bad news. Good news? Cox added WTBS. Bad news? They dropped KABC from the lineup. Great decision.

Even worse news. in September, Cox dropped KHJ so it could make room for KUSI, which just launched that month.

This caused many people to write to the local papers to express their outrage at missing Elvira, Lakers, and even the just-launched 5-day airing of "Eight is Enough!" One letter writer wrote in once a week for a month listing all of the movies KHJ aired that he didn't watch. To this day, this was Cox Cable's biggest blunder in the history of San Diego businesses.

Even more worse news. Cox launched The Playboy Channel on 22. It replaced the SPN network (Satellite Programming Network) that featured foreign movies with English subtitles, sometimes outraging the viewers whenever the subtitle showed the "F" and "S" words. Playboy caused a lot of stir amongst the cable subscribers because, like HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax, the sound was not scrambled like ONTV did for its terrestrial pay service. Cox began installing channel 22 blocking devices for its customers who requested it.

In 1983, Cox added yet another pay channel: Disney on channel 18, and Pay Per View movies and Padres pay packages on channel 21. It also shifted KCST 39 to cable 7, which had WTBS on it for a while, but WTBS was shifted to 27. USA, which was shown part time on cable 2, was on 24 hours a day on 2. TNN was launched on 29. MTV was launched on 30 after years of requests for it, back when it once showed new wave videos. CNN moved to 31. I forgot what was launched on 28. CNN Headline news was on 32. When KTTY 69 was launched on analog 69, it showed up on cable 36. KSCI was shown on channel 4 from September of 1982 (shared with KNBC), then moved to 35 in 1983, and it lasted until September of 1986. In 1983, Cox shifted KNXT to cable 24 for Captain Kangaroo, then it disappearred without any fanfare. Mission Cable 2 was shifted in 1983 to 24 and then to 33, and then to 4, but I forgot what years.

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