How many channel numbers do people remember?
November 3, 2016 8:54 AM   Subscribe

It occurred to me today that I only know about six TV channel numbers anymore, and I was wondering whether that was particularly low. Is there any research into this?

Back in the olden days, you had to remember that 2 was your local CBS affiliate and 4 was your local NBC and 63 was that UHF station that ran horror movies, but you really only had to remember half a dozen or so. But then came cable, and I remember knowing virtually all of the few-dozen cable channels by number back then. Now, though? Thanks to searching by title and DVR programming and whathaveyou, I only remember like six, and half of those are "anchors" for nearby stations (ESPN is 229, and all the other sports channels are in that neighborhood, so I can click over to that and then scroll the guide until I find the particular game I need).

Has anyone looked into this?
posted by Etrigan to Technology (23 answers total)
Note: I don't mean how many channels people watch, but how many they remember the numbers for.
posted by Etrigan at 8:55 AM on November 3, 2016

My mom knows several dozens, including the various channels that just play music, because neither she nor my dad know how to use the search feature through their cable box.

I myself don't have cable and use a tuner through my computer for over the air stations. I know probably 10-12 channels, even if I only know it by "38 is the 24 hour Law and Order SVU channel."
posted by phunniemee at 9:12 AM on November 3, 2016

I know the local channels still (4? the major ones) and maybe 5 other ones total. But we keep switching providers, so YMMV :)
posted by getawaysticks at 9:21 AM on November 3, 2016

I hate using the guide. I know about 40 channels.
posted by AugustWest at 9:27 AM on November 3, 2016

This is anecdotal, but this question prompted me to see how many channels I could remember from my mom's house in high school. Twenty years later, and ten years after I've spent any real time watching TV there (not to mention that she has switched providers and had her channels renumbered), I still remember around 15 cable channels off the top of my head, plus the five broadcast networks. I've never really had cable as an adult (and the one time I did, I had a DVR), so I don't have anything more recent to compare this to, but I'd imagine that the capacity is significantly higher. I guess it really depends on how many channels you watch regularly, though. If I got cable now, I'd probably only be able to name five or six, because all I watch on cable is sports and the occasional HGTV.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:29 AM on November 3, 2016

I used to know more, but we moved and switched cable companies in April and I don't really know any:
  • pressing 555 gets me close enough to where the HD channels start
  • if I hit "5" then "press 'D' to view in HD" I get TBS to watch Married...With Children at breakfast
  • 9 1 something gets me a music station around what I usually listen to
  • 123 is BBC America because, hey, 123
This is largely because as a household we don't watch channels anymore -- 99% of everything we watch is DVR'ed, which was set up by searching for show names, and the DVR is accumulating way more than we watch so there's nearly always something time-shifted to see. If nothing's on the DVR, scrolling through the guide looking for something appealing is what happens. We never plan to watch channel X at time anymore, so we don't need to know the numbers. There's shows I barely even know what station they're on, they just show up on the DVR when they're new.

Another factor to this is the homogenization of channels: there aren't a lot of channels that are strictly "one thing" anymore, so you can't reliably just change to a channel devoted to X in order to see Random X. You need to know what's on, so you hit the guide. Even thinking back twenty years to more simpler times, I pretty much watched the slowly-scrolling schedule in order to decide what to watch, rather than knowing many channel numbers.
posted by AzraelBrown at 9:35 AM on November 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

I watch a lot of TV and I can barely even remember the network affiliate channel numbers at this point. Partially because in the age of HD, "Channel 7" isn't actually on 7 any more. And mostly because I DVR almost everything that I get from cable (I watch a lot from various streaming services too). On the rare occasion that I want to watch something live, I use the guide. For the most common channels I remember what general range they're in, but I usually have to scroll a bit to find them.
posted by primethyme at 9:44 AM on November 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've had the same cable system (Verizon FiOS) for about five years, and I'm a pretty heavy TV viewer, both live and DVRed. Let's see: I know the local stations by number primarily because of branding. 500 gets me to the start of the HD channels, but for the life of me I have no idea what channel that is. I know Comedy Central is 690 and HBO is 899. I think I have a better idea spatially of how they're arranged on the guide (basic channels->basic cable->sports->news->other cable) than their specific number. Also it seems every year or so some channels change number, so really there's no point in memorizing them.
posted by General Malaise at 9:46 AM on November 3, 2016

I'm down to zero remembered, myself. Between moving, the switch to HD over-the-air channels, and cordcutting, I think my childhood PBS station was 20-something?

Not that I'm necessarily representative, of course, but I suspect there's an increasing number of people in my boat.
posted by CrystalDave at 9:47 AM on November 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

So I'm the weirdo then? Good to know.

At my last place, I had a slightly better cable package. I think it was around 60 channels. At the time I could have run them all down from top to bottom. Here the package only contains around 40 or so. I can do the same thing (pretty much) here. I might mess what the religious channel is called these days but I can still tell you the channel number (23).
posted by sardonyx at 9:52 AM on November 3, 2016

As I said above, I know about 40 which is the universe I would watch, but I was thinking about this in other contexts and want to add that I only know about 5 phone numbers by heart (3 of them mine) because I just look them up by name or recent calls or recent texts. I know my family by their speed dial #s. Also, radio stations. I used to know so many more. Now, over the air radio, I know probably 3, (Yeah Nash 94.7fm!) but I know all the Sirius channels. Want the good ole Grateful Dead? 23.

I think I can make a stretch and equate it to schools. A lot of what is taught in schools is no longer content based, it is critical thinking. No need to memorize the Presidents, they are all in the palm of your hand. Same thing with channels, phone numbers, radio dials, etc. No need to memorize them. They are more easily accessed with technology. I am sure there are other examples of this.
posted by AugustWest at 10:16 AM on November 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Since my STB was replaced... 6. the four national OTA channels on cable (1-4) and I remember the HD version of the first being 201 (the other ones not only don't exist, but 202 to 204 are already in use . And then there's Canal 180, conveniently placed at the 180 position.
I don't need to remember a lot of those others channels because I can turn off subscription channels, SD channels and other channels that are of no interest to me. There's like... 50 channels or so I'm turning off between zapping from the national generalist/news ones and the TV shows/movies block.
posted by lmfsilva at 10:20 AM on November 3, 2016

When we had normal cable I would know all the 60 or so channels . Once we got the boxes with the program guides I never learned the channels to begin with (and so couldn't remember them). I would know that the HD channels were 1400 something and that YTV was around 625, and the relative position of PBS to the main channels but not the actual channel numbers themselves. I think part of what made it harder is because we had multiple affiliates of the same networks I wouldn't even be watching the same program on the same channel every week because maybe I wanted to watch it an hour or two later on the Central or West broadcast. Plus with auto-timers for changing the channel/setting the PVR the TV would change the channel itself to whatever I would watch regularly anyway. This also coincided with me having much less time to watch TV though so it is very possible that if I did watch it regularly I would have remembered the channel numbers.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:22 AM on November 3, 2016

We don't have cable, so we basically have five channels; I remember them all. I remember a few from when we had cable but they may have changed by now.

Story 1: Back in the early 90's two of our stations swapped networks. I still have to stop and remember that channel 10 is NBC now, not CBS.

Story 2: I used to volunteer to answer phones for our PBS station's annual auction. I realized about halfway through one shift that I was answering the phone "Channel 21 auction" and that many people probably didn't realize what I was talking about because it was Channel 4 on cable.
posted by Lucinda at 10:44 AM on November 3, 2016

I know the local OTA channels (and AM/FM radio stations) and cable sports channels; other than that, I use the cable box's menu feature. Using "anchors" like the original poster, I have an idea of where the others are and can find them. It seems like the same memory process as knowing the streets of your hometown.
posted by Seeking Direction at 11:22 AM on November 3, 2016

Five channels, ABC, NBC and CBS (VHF) and two channels, 19 and 57 (UHF.) The latter two were affiliated with colleges.
posted by BostonTerrier at 12:21 PM on November 3, 2016

I know none now. My satellite provider moved channels around too many times and I gave up bothering trying to remember them. I know vaguely where they are in the guide though.
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:31 PM on November 3, 2016

I have a Roku and an OTA antenna -- no cable or satellite. I think I only know two OTA channels, Fox and PBS.
posted by crazy with stars at 12:58 PM on November 3, 2016

I could never remember more than 4, because I never cared about more than 4. This is typical of me: If I don't care, I don't remember. I now only know the local PBS station and 1, the news station, because those are the only channels I browse at random.

This is the same with radio call signs, which I remember with much more clarity: KROQ 106.7, the jazz station at 88.1, KPFK at 90.7, and Y107FM at 107.1. I no longer know any radio stations because I no longer listen to live radio.

Same with phone numbers: my phone does that for me now.
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:13 PM on November 3, 2016

I don't currently know any channels through a combination of: switching cable providers many times, my local markets changing hands all the time, HD channels, not having cable anymore.

I used to know about a dozen when I was a kid, I have a good memory even for "tricky" things like numbers, but I really only watched about a dozen channels out of ... maybe 30-100? So that's all I remembered.
posted by shownomercy at 6:24 PM on November 3, 2016

I know zero channels.

I might have a dim awareness that KTLA is channel 5, because I drive past the KTLA studios and they might have the number 5 on their sign. Maybe? Is it 5? Who can say?

For the Presidential debates, I had to look up what PBS was every time, despite the fact that the debates are no more than a few weeks apart.

Up through high school I knew the local cable channel system like the back of my hand, but years as a cord cutter and a few cross-country moves have resulted in being only vaguely aware that channels have numbers which a person could remember if they wanted to navigate their television system more efficiently.
posted by Sara C. at 11:55 PM on November 3, 2016

In my country, we just had the 3 commercial networks and 2 "public" networks. Cable never really took off here to the extent it did in other countries. In general, most people never bought in to cable, or if they did, have abandoned it since, mostly due to the fact that we were really late into the game, and when it did eventually get here, it was rather expensive and generally crap (because all the FTA networks had already signed deals with the cable content providers in the States).

So Free To Air, we had Seven (7), Nine (9), Ten( 10), and ABC (2) and SBS (28). Pretty simple.

Now with digital, where we have gawd-only-knows how many channels, all the extra channels play off what we all grew up with (2,7,9,10,28). So there's 7 (Seven SD), and 70 (Seven HD), then 71 which is something like 7-mate, and 72, which is some other sub-channel of the Seven network. And they all seem to follow similar conventions. 2 is ABC SD, 22 is ABC HD, 23, is ABC Kids, 24 is ABC News "24!". (ABC being our public broadcaster - not the American ABC).

Then there are those weird 24-hours shopping channels that seem to pop up everywhere, like a rash.

But I never watch Free To Air, so I may be completely off, but that is my layman's understanding. On the rare occasion I decide to look at what's on TV, I just cycle around until I got back to where I started, then turn it off and go watch Netflix.
posted by Diag at 12:29 AM on November 4, 2016

Similar to Diag we have the 5 original free to air channels (1,2,3,4,5) and everyone on Freeview (free to air digital) will remember them because they're more or less called the same as their channel number.

I also know ITV2(6), BBC4(9), ITV3(10). Our local TV channel is at 8. Beyond that I use the TV guide. On the TV radio I know that BBC Radio 3 is at 703, I think the other BBC Radio channels are similarly numbered (ie Radio 4 at 704).
posted by plonkee at 1:55 AM on November 5, 2016

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