My brother and I were chatting the other day and I asked him if he remembered when we were kids and Dad came home from work with a bootleg CATV descrambler.
It was probably 1985 or 1986. It remember it being a very small black rectangular box. A simple thing: coaxial in, coaxial out, and one or two potentiometer-type adjustment dials. I think he got it from our Uncle Tom, one of those “uncles” that’s not really a blood uncle. I never knew my dad to be a the kind of guy to “steal,” but I think bootleg CATV descramblers in the mid-80s were kind of like Napster in the late 1990s… they hit the scene and boom: stuff that used to cost money was free. Maybe came-on too fast and were so simple you didn’t really spend much time considering about the ethical implications. I suppose it was basically just a set of adjustable filters for the analog signal, maybe with enough looped passes to be effectively “universal?”
Anyway then we had HBO, and HBO was a big deal to me. I saw movies I should have never seen at my age: Maximum Overdrive, Return of the Living Dead, as well as fell in love with shows like Brain Games.
I remember it working for a few years then becoming obsolete. This would have still pre-dated the digital transition by quite a few years so it must have been the cable companies getting smarter about how they scrambled things.
My brother remembered it, too, it must have been a thing for us.