In the UK, it was regularly advertised by the BBC, and the Post Office, that they had vans that could check if your TV was on, even if you were in an apartment block full of other people's TVS.
TV "Detector Van", Well, well before my time, let me make that very clear.
Apart from now being able to pay my TV licence :), what really prompted this question were these quotes from:
Television Detector Vans
Britain's ad-free BBC, renowned for the quality of its news and television broadcasting, is funded by an annual fee on television use. But it's also famous for its sinister TV Detector Vans, which legend has it can tell if unlicensed televisions are in operation behind closed doors.
The beeb's (BBC for non brits) secret sauce will remain secret, however, as Britain's Information Commissioner has swatted down a Freedom of Information request for information on the size of the BBC's van fleet and the technology used. (As of 2016)
The BBC explained that the number of detector vans in operation, the location of their deployment and the frequency is not common knowledge. It relies on the public perception that the vans could be used at any time to catch evaders. This perception has built up since the first van was launched in 1952 and has been a key cost effective method in deterring people from evading their licence fee. The BBC state that to release information which relates to the number of detection devices and how often they are used will change the public’s perception of their effectiveness. If the deterrent effect is lost, the BBC believes that a significant number of people would decide not to pay their licence fee.
So my question is, was my Post Office and State TV lying to me? Can a television detector van REALLY tell if you have the TV switched on