Despite what our parents told us, watching TV is a crucial component of daily life. And now more than ever, because it’s helping us to stay connected, informed and entertained while also safely locked up at home.

But for most of us, watching TV costs money, and there are so many people right now who are making less money than usual, or nothing at all. So if every penny counts, wouldn’t it be nice to save some cash by cutting down on your cable, satellite or streaming service bills each month?

You can do this by experimenting with free streaming services that air mainstream movies and popular TV shows, including Crackle, Plex or Pluto. They might not have everything you want, and they might have commercials, but hey, they’re free. You can also go old-school and buy an antenna (a one time cost) and then get about two dozen free channels broadcast over-the-air from Portland-area stations.

Most of us have more time on our hands now, so why not use it to find some new free TV options? Here are a few suggestions.

Crackle and Roku Channel are among the free streaming services available. Photo by Ray Routhier

LIFE COULD BE A STREAM

Maybe you already pay for streaming services like Netflix or Hulu, but haven’t checked out free services because you thought, “How good can it be if it’s free?” Well, there are some free services you can stream on your computer or smart TV that have pretty wide selections of TV shows and movies. Sony’s Crackle shows ton of mainstream movies from the recent and less recent past, with titles including “The Big Chill,” “Glory,” “The Social Network” and the 1930s classic “It Happened One Night.” TV shows on demand include “3rd Rock from the Sun,” “Bewitched” and “Charlie’s Angels.”

Plex also has ads, but besides movies and TV shows, it has some news and web shows, plus podcasts. Some film titles now available include “Friday the 13th,” “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” “The Virgin Suicides” and “Captain Phillips.” Pluto TV has some classic films, including several earlier James Bond movies like “Dr. No” and “From Russia with Love,” as well as other films like “Basic Instinct,” “Legally Blonde,” “The Big Short” and “The Founder.” The are also documentaries, news and reality TV shows. If you have a Roku TV or streaming device, the free Roku Channel has TV shows, including “The Sopranos,” plus movies and news.

LIKE MAGIC

Once upon a time (circa 1950 to the 1970s) all TV shows came to your house over the air. A station near you broadcast from a big antenna to a smaller one at your house, and voila, the picture was there on your TV. Well, over-the-air TV never went away, but with cable, satellite and streaming offering so many more channels and better reception, people mostly forgot that it was a thing. Local stations are still required to send out a signal over the air.

In this age of cord-cutting, over-the-air TV is making a comeback. You can get on board by buying a $40 to $60 indoor antenna, available online. Many are the size of a framed diploma and can sit on a shelf, or hang in a window. You’ll need one with a range of about 40 miles to get all the stations in Greater Portland. You may have to move it to different places in the house for the best reception. Go to antennaweb.org, or similar sites, for help. Just plug in your zip code and you’ll see where the towers of local stations are, so you can point your antenna in the right direction.

Why not watchTV for free, if you can? Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com

GET A LOT FOR FREE

So what can you get with an antenna? Well, this reporter uses an indoor antenna in South Portland and gets all of the major network affiliate stations, including News Center Maine (NBC), WGME (CBS), WMTW (ABC), WPFO (FOX), WPXT (CW) and Maine Public Television. With those channels, you can watch local news and magazine shows, football and other sports when they’re on, and prime-time shows like “This is Us” or “Chicago Fire.”

But here’s the cool new thing about antenna TV, the signal is now digital and carries more content than older analog signals. So that means stations can broadcast more than one channel at a time. While News Center Maine broadcasts its news and NBC shows on channel 6.1, it also shows the Justice Network (true crime) on 6.2, Antenna TV on 6.3, featuring re-runs like “Barney Miller” and “Alice,” and Quest on 6.4, which features travel, science and history programs. WMTW carries its local news, “Jeopardy” and ABC shows on 8.1, but it carries the popular re-run channel MeTV, home of the “Brady Bunch” and “Gilligan’s Island,” on 8.2. Maine Public broadcasts in southern Maine from two towers, with its main PBS lineup shown on 10.1 and 26.1. But on its sub channels, Maine Public shows a network called Create, which features PBS cooking, travel and home improvement shows, World, which features PBS documentaries and world affairs, and PBS Kids.

To see all the channels you’re likely to get at your house, and a schedule of programs for each one, go to titantv.com and plug in your zip code.


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