Cutting the Cord

A couple years ago, I decided to cut out Cable TV for a couple of reasons:

  • First, I was trying to get out of debt and we decided that at over $1000 a year, cable was a luxury we could live without.
  • Second, I often found myself mesmerized in front of the tube, hours after I sat down on the couch, unaware of where the time had gone or what I had even watched.

The fateful day was a bittersweet moment. I was entering an unknown realm without the security of an old friend. At the same time, I finally got to stick it to the company who constantly irritated me by leaving technical problems unfixed and keeping me on hold.

I sat on the couch and asked: “Now what do I do?”

1) XM Radio

The first thing I did to get re-connected was set up an XM Radio. My local bank was offering free radios for opening up a checking account. Everyone knows I love bank accounts, so I said, “Hey, why not get another?”

I brag about XM Radio so much, I wish I got a commission for everyone I’ve turned on to it. I tried with their XMiRep program, but it didn’t work for squat and eventually shut down. Now, I spread the word for free.

The monthly fee is around $14, which is a small portion of what I was paying for cable. The way I see it, I actually spend more time listening to XM radio than I ever did watching TV.

I can do things while I listen to XM like drive around, work on the computer, or even go for a hike (with the portable); instead of being stuck on the couch with all of my auditory, visual, cerebral faculties being consumed.

I can still get the audio from all the major cable news channels, which is what I watched 90% of the time anyway when I had cable. Best of all, they’ve got live radio broadcasts of almost every sports match-up imaginable, most importantly (for me): Big IX Football.

2) Blockbuster Online

I am in the movie business, so I also saw this as a perfect opportunity to expand our knowledge of the film universe. Ever since NetFlix came out with a revolutionary way to rent movies, watching a gazillion films has never been easier.

I chose to go with Blockbuster’s online plan because I liked the idea of being able to get the movies through the mail or the store for even faster access. By now, you should know how this works. If you don’t: you basically pay a monthly fee of anywhere between $5 and $25 a month depending on how many DVDs you want to have at a time.

I get three at a time that come to me based on a massively long queue of movies that I set up online. When I’m done with one, I either send it back in the mail or take it into the store for another movie plus the next one on our queue.

My movie knowledge has grown exponentially over the last few years now that I watch five to ten movies a week. I especially like to dig around in the special features section to learn about how the movie was made. It’s like a mini film school.

I consider watching movies a much more valuable way to spend time than watching mindless TV. Although many TV shows are becoming mini-movies, film is still more of an artistic and cultural experience.

I’m also considering adding NetFlix in addition to our Blockbuster membership. I watch so many movies, sometimes three at a time isn’t enough.

I hear that the main advantage of NetFlix is their vast selection. It’s great for finding those obscure foreign, independent, or documentary films that you can’t find at Blockbuster. Plus, they just added the ability to watch movies over the internet.

3) Radio Time

I’m sort of an information junkie (as evidenced by this article). I especially like to stay up to date with several local radio shows that I listened to when I lived in Austin and Omaha; including the local sports talk shows and this really great real estate investing show that only airs in Austin.

When I moved to LA, I tried to find a reliable way to listen to these stations over the internet. I found a few webcast links, but the timing wasn’t always right.

A few months ago, I ran into this web service called Radio Time; which solved all my radio problems at once. There have been few free services that have added more enjoyment to my life than this one.

Radio Time catalogs just about every radio station in the US as well as their programming. They streamline and localize the webcasts so I can get them all in one place.

Better yet, there is a way to schedule and record your favorite shows for later playback! I have six or seven shows that I record on a daily basis so I never miss a beat. It’s absolutely incredible.

If you’re on a PC, Radio Time schedules and records everything for you; but since I’m on a Mac, I have to take a few extra steps.

1st, I downloaded a program called Audio Hijack, which I think has now mutated into Radio Shift. It was free when I downloaded it, but they might be charging 30 bucks or so now; which is completely worth it considering what this thing does.

2nd, I set up a couple of AppleScripts. The first moves the large audio files into the trash each night after they have been imported into iTunes. The second empties everything in the trash over 2 gigabytes.

Now, I’m in hog heaven (as my grandpa would say). I can listen to my radio shows on my iPod while I hike. I can save up a week’s worth of shows to keep me busy on a 24 hour road trip to Austin from LA. I never miss a show (especially my real estate show), and therefore keep on top of the information universe.

(Click here for my Real Estate show)

4) Network Shows Online

Just recently, the four major networks, ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX started releasing full episodes on their websites.

Holy smokes, this is cool! I’m one of those guys who’s computer monitor is bigger than his TV, so this is great! Now there’s even less reason to have cable.

I was behind on “The Office” after watching season three on DVD and waiting for season four to pass on TV, but now I don’t have to wait!

Best of all, they offer these shows in full-screen high-definition video. That’s way better than I was getting on my clunky old TV. This is great.

5) Books

I love reading books, but like most people, it’s hard to find time with all the distractions in my life. I used to only read when I flew on planes, but since I left my airline job, that doesn’t happen as much anymore.

Without the constant hum of streaming TV in the background, it’s a lot easier to decide to pick up a book. It would be nice to just have enough willpower to shut off the TV in lieu of a book, but it’s a little more subtle than that. Mustering the will to shut off cable once is a lot easier to maintain that having to muster it every day.

Life is Good

I never realized that life could be so nice without cable TV. The only thing I miss is being able to watch college football games in the fall. Now, I have to venture out of the house on Saturdays; but other than that, I don’t even realize it’s gone.

I’ll probably go back to cable or satellite someday; when I’ve got money to burn, or when I have a huge house to hide it in. I’ll put it in the entertainment room, deep in the basement and far away from the living spaces.

I’m not one of these guys who thinks that all media is bad, or who wants to go live in the trees to get away from it all. I’m just a guy who was trying to save a few bucks and got creative in the process.