"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."
- William Gibson, Neuromancer

I remember back when TVs were analog affairs with knobs that clicked. When you tuned to a dead channel, you got "static", this random pattern of black, white, and gray pixels. That is, unless something was transmitting nearby. Consumer-grade gear always had lousy selectivity. Come mid-1980s, the FCC took away channels 80-83 and gave some of them to cellular phones. Still were plenty of 83 channel TVs around though... We even had an article in Cybertech that talked about this. Eventually the analog click tuners went away, and the static of a dead channel was replaced by a Microsoft-esque blue screen. Another blue screen of death. Kids reading Gibson for the first time are going to have something else to wonder about besides payphones. Although I'm not a big fan of conspiracy theories, I'm of the belief that the establishment gave TVs digital tuning and the blue screen of death because they didn't want consumers tuning in-between the channels and discovering invisible worlds. People might start thinking for themselves and we can't have that happen.

There were a lot of things you could do with analog. I remember back in the 1970s and early 1980s they said you could detect nearby tornado activity by adjusting your TV a certain way. They called it The Weller Method. Supposedly discredited nowadays, but like anything else controversial perhaps there is enough truth there to warrant some research. Won't be able to do it with a modern HDTV. You need analog. I used to tune in channel 2 during the summer and wait for the interference from distant stations that told me a band opening was on the way.

Back when cable TV came to town, I discovered that you could in some instances monitor the leakage from the cable system by hooking up a cable converter to a big enough TV antenna and a receive amplifier. More importantly, that set-up enabled one to get a visual representation of large parts of the RF spectrum and detect certain spread spectrum communications.

The best analog TVs were these little battery operated (10 D cell!) 5" black and white sets with slide tuning that sold for $20 at the local odd-lot/job-lot stores. They were still 83 channels and the slide tuning went quite a ways above and below the TV bands. Add a 2.4 GHz. Wavecom receiver and a good cable TV block converter and you had a really nice way of checking out the spectrum for wide-band stuff you couldn't find with a police scanner.

I got about nine years out of that TV before it finally died. Not bad for a cheap China-made thing that saw some heavy field use. I needed a replacement, and a little voice told me where to go. Up the local Goodwill I found not one but two portable B&W analog TVs with slide tuning. The nicer of the two came home with me for only two dollars and fifty cents. An extra four dollars netted me a brand new-in-the-box set-top antenna (rabbit ears) to go with it. Totally useless for TV watching unless I buy a DTV converter box, but I'm looking for the stuff in-between the channels and outside the normal bands.

I left the second one there. I was planning on getting it after payday if it was still there, and never made it. Perhaps another hacker of invisible worlds found it? Analog is done and gems like these won't be around for much longer, but I still find them to this day, especially in this sector.

There’s a certain truth out there. It’s real easy to find, but once you do it’s like walking through the looking glass. I’m not saying it’s the truth, only that it’s a certain truth. You gotta simply jump in with both feet and it’s up to you to take whatever out of it. You need an AM radio, preferably one with analog slide tuning. It has to be late at night, at least ten or eleven PM, and you have to listen until you’re ready to pass out and fall into sleep. Don’t bother tuning the radio off, whatever you were listening to when you crashed will make your REM cycles all that more interesting. You’ll probably wind up dreaming with an audio accompaniment from George on Coast. Won’t rot your brain any quicker than rap music or heavy metal.

Start at one end of the dial and slowly tune to the other. Stop for at least ten seconds whenever you find a signal. If it sounds interesting, listen for a while, and continue tuning when you get bored. When you’re ready to crash, leave the radio turned on and tuned to the last station you came across. Do this every night for a week, take some DMAE, and call me in the morning.

Go back.