Free and cheap TV without Cable or Satellite

My Story: Cable TV Costs Too Much

By Brian Shim | Updated 

I was a loyal cable TV customer all of my adult life, paying $34/month for basic cable back in 2009. That sounds insanely low now, but that’s how much cable TV cost back then, and it seemed reasonable to me.

In 2010, I moved to Providence, RI, where the cost was $52/month for basic cable. I paid it and figured, “well, that’s just the cost of getting TV”. More and more, however, I realized that I wasn’t getting good TV. I was surfing through the channels over and over looking for good TV.

Providence, RI
Providence, RI

Then, my 6-month “introductory cable rate” went up to $57/month. Sure, it was only a few dollars more, but it ticked me off; it was almost a 10% increase in six months! After a few months of putting up with the higher cost and lack of good shows, I decided to “Disable My Cable”!

Of course now, $57/month seems cheap; many people pay over $100/month for cable or even $200/month – crazy!!

My Rabbit-Ear Antenna

Rabbit ear antenna
Rabbit ear antenna

The first thing I did was try an old rabbit-ear antenna that I had from the pre-digital TV days. I was pleasantly surprised when I was able to get about sixteen channels, many of which were HD, with picture quality better than cable TV! At that point, I was sold. I canceled cable that weekend. It felt great!!

Next, I played with the antenna position. It turns out that the original place that I had put the antenna was the optimal position. That’s great, except for one thing: it was right in front of my TV screen. In other words, it was the one place in my living room where blocked my view of the TV!!

I played with the location some more, and tried some home-made wire antennas with varying results. The best spot was still right in front of my TV. So, I ended up putting it there and just bending the antennas out of the way of the screen

After my antenna tweaking, I was able to bring in one more channel for a grand total of 19 unique channels! I was happy with this. Here is a list of the channels I got using this cheap rabbit-ear antenna:

My TV Stations in Providence, RI

PBS HDHi-Def (1080i)Weak
CBSHi-Def (1080i)Medium
ABCHi-Def (720p)Strong
NBCHi-Def (1080i)Strong
LocalStandard (480i)Strong
NBC (duplicate)Hi-Def (1080i)Strong
LocalStandard (480i)Medium
FOXHi-Def (720p)Strong
PBS LocalHi-Def (1080i)Medium
PBS Local 2Standard (480i)Medium
LocalHi-Def (1080i) Weak
PBS SDStandard (480i)Weak
PBS WorldStandard (480i)Weak
PBS CreateStandard (480i)Medium
Kids ChannelStandard (480i)Medium
CWHi-Def (1080i)Strong
Country MusicStandard (480i)Strong
IonHi-Def (720p)Medium
Qubo (kids)Standard (480i)Weak
Ion LifeStandard (480i)Medium

Providence, RI is a city of less than 200,000 people, to give you an idea. The stations labelled “strong” came in pretty much wherever I put my antenna. The ones labelled “weak” required very specific tweaking… sometimes inches mattered.

Now that I have lived with this for a while, do I miss cable? There are channels that I do miss like the Discovery Channel, History Channel, Travel Channel, AMC, and stuff like that. Instead of Samantha Brown, I watch Rick Steves. Instead of History Channel, I watch Ken Burns. Instead of Discovery, I watch Nova. You get the idea. But when I think about how much I’m saving, I don’t mind. I still get the shows that I like on the networks, plus I seem to get even more PBS channels than with cable, interestingly enough.

And, I find that I’m channel surfing less, since there are fewer channels to surf. It takes me less time to find out when there’s nothing good on TV. I am also watching a lot less trash TV – stuff with no redeeming value – like mindless reality shows. I have banished these forever and feel better!! I now spend more time going out and meeting with friends and family.

I am not anti-cable. For some people, cable is the only option (if you live far from TV transmitters, or love to watch live sports). I just want to show people that there are alternatives that they might not have thought about. I don’t think people know how good broadcast TV is now that it has gone digital.

I’ll continue to post my findings and research on DisableMyCable. I hope it is helpful to you. – Brian

My Antenna Experiments and the Mohu Leaf

My old rabbit-ear antenna got a good number of channels, but there were more that were flaky or that didn’t come in at all.  So, I went out and purchased a big metal antenna, the Antennas Direct DB-4 from Solid Signal.

DB4 Antenna
DB4 Antenna

This got me more channels, but I still wasn’t satisfied. Around that time, there was a lot of hoopla about a new flat antenna, the Mohu Leaf. So, I ordered one.

DB4 and Mohu Leaf antennas
The DB4 and original Mohu Leaf antennas

When I tested it, I was totally blown away that this small flat antenna could get better TV reception than a bulky more expensive metal antenna!


Since then, I’ve moved back to Santa Monica and continued testing antennas. But, the Mohu Leaf has remained one of the best ones I’ve tested. I currently use it upstairs and I use the Cable Cutter Aerowave downstairs.

I have all of the major streaming boxes, but I use the Roku most often.  I occasionally use my Apple TV if I want to stream content from a website on my MacBook Pro to my TV. For recording, I use the Tablo.

I spend less than ten dollars per month on TV. I watch over-the-air broadcast TV, free video services like YouTube, and some pay services on a temporary basis to binge-watch certain shows, then I cancel them.

Read more about my current antenna setup in my blog.

My living room
My living room with nondescript indoor antenna on the inside of the door

My Review Policy

I don’t accept payment for writing reviews. All of my reviews express my personal opinion after evaluating and/or researching the product or service myself.

When I write a full review of a product, I purchase the product myself. I don’t accept free samples for review.

Why not? Well, when I get a free sample from a manufacturer, it puts me in an uncomfortable position where I feel obligated to give it a good review. Purchasing all of my review gear and services frees me from that conflict of interest, and allows me to give the most honest review possible! Yes, it costs a bit more, but I believe my credibility and articles benefit from this policy.

If You’d Like to Help

I’ve had some awesome readers email me wondering if they can donate to the DisableMyCable cause. I really appreciate the offers, but I want this site to be totally FREE to you, my readers, so I do not accept donations.

However, there are many ways you can help without spending a dime! If you’ve enjoyed this site, please consider doing one or more of the following:

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Thank you!

About Me

I am from Los Angeles, CA. I have a degree in electrical engineering from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. I’m a freelance web developer and blogger. I currently live in Santa Monica, CA.

If you liked this site, another one of my sites you might enjoy is TheFrugalNoodle.com.  I write about money-saving tips, how-to topics, and career advice there.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment so everyone can benefit from the answer.

I hope this site has been helpful to you! – Brian

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Brian Shim, DisableMyCable.com
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Check out my other site, thefrugalnoodle.com, with ideas on saving money and living simply.

Ask a Question or Tell Me Your Story

If you have a question about this article, leave a comment below. I personally read and answer each one. If you want advice on TV reception, leave your zip code. I'd also love to hear how you're saving money on TV. Tell me your story! Note, I cannot answer individual email sent to me; please leave your questions here instead. - Brian

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