Thursday, February 12, 2009

Early days of TV

My friend Jangoz commented here about his family's first tv, how they had one channel, but there was always something good on, as opposed to today with hundreds of channels and very little worth watching. I can always find something worth watching, usually documentaries about war or history, but there is not much on network tv I look forward to. LOST, FAMILY GUY, MY NAME IS EARL, and SOUTH PARK are about the only shows I seek out.
When I was little in the fifties one of my earliest memories is of neighbors coming over to our house to watch I LOVE LUCY on our tiny tv screen. There is a foto of me as a baby being held by my dad looking at our pride and joy; it looks like it had about an 8 inch screen. I guess size didn't matter in those days. Once we moved to California our tv viewing got more sophisticated; ED SULLIVAN, THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY (in its various incarnations) and wrestling were all part of the menu, and I can remember laying in bed trying to go to sleep while my parents were in the living room enjoying THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES and BEWITCHED. I could hear the shows but never got to watch them, as they came on after my bedtime.
One night though, my parents went out barhopping, and my sisters, twins who were eight years older than me, decided to stay up late and watch the late show, and figured they'd better let me stay up too, or else I'd fink on them. I was a little brother, and prone to do this. I think they assumed I'd get bored and fall asleep, but I stuck it out. The movies that night were REBECCA, which I liked and made me into a lifelong Hitchcock fan, and KILLERS FROM SPACE, which terrified me and gave me nightmares! Cheesy movie, but those aliens with the ping-pong ball eyes got to me!
Another significant event was in June of 1957, when we were just settling into a new house, and my mom harangued my dad into putting up the antenna under a deadline; KING KONG was going to be on Channel 5, San Francisco, and I remember him on the roof with less than an hour to spare, cursing and dropping tools, but he got it up! I was six and what scared me about KING KONG was not the dinosaurs or KK himself, but the scene where he's looking in the window. Nothing was scarier than eyes looking in a window at you!
My mom was odd, though. She wouldn't let us watch Bugs Bunny cartoons because she hated the way he'd smack his lips while eating carrots. She didn't like Groucho Marx, because when he hosted YOU BET YOUR LIFE he'd waste too much time joking around. She was there for the quiz, not Groucho! She hated Jackie Gleason, but would watch his show just to see Frank Fontaine as Crazy Guggenheim. And one year James Drury was supposed to be the Grand Marshall of the local Rose Parade, but it rained and he didn't show up. That ended our watching THE VIRGINIAN, which she liked, but she couldn't forgive him for slighting our town.
Nowadays, with Tvo, whole days can go by without the tv being switched on. The shows I want will be there when I want to watch them; even so, often, I just get in bed with a good book and read.


  1. I remember the early days of TV with Test Patterns (with the profile of an Indian on them), being the only thing on before a channel came on for the day. Almost regularly you'd get the all to familiar "Please Stand By" sign as the stations always had technical difficulties. My sister and I would stand up until the problem was fixed. Wrestling, stock car races, bowling, curling in the winter and TV hosts showing afternoon movies with Shock Theater from Detroit on at 11 p.m. on Friday nights. Like you I had to be in bed by then but I could still hear the TV and that was even scarier as I had a pretty ingenious mind trying to visualize what I could only hear. I guess that's why I still love to listen to old-time radio.

  2. Our tv station came on at 945am with the Test Pattern and we'd sit there and watch that damn Indian....I guess hoping he'd move. I was being a bit facetious in saying that with a kazillion channels there's nothing ever to watch. Boy, that is the joy of having 2 tivos. Doesn't matter when it's on or how long it is....just set the ol' tivo ahead of time and let the good times record. Always a joy going to the recorded list and finding a program or movie there that I had forgotton about.

    I hate to admit it, but I, even at age 16, watched Captain Kangaroo on Saturday mornings.....the station came on a bit earlier on Saturday than it did on weekdays and, heck, that was all there was.

  3. We got several channels when I was a kid. Channel 4 (San Francisco) would show Mayor Art, who showed Popeye cartoons. Channel 2 (Oakland) later on showed Creature Features with your host Bob Wilkins, who sadly just passed away from Alzheimer's Disease. He would show terrible movies, and tell you they were terrible, not to watch. He got in trouble with the management for reading the tv guide during commercials to advise viewers what was on other channels that they could be watching. Never missed it.

  4. I miss the pre-cable days of TV, that's for sure!
    When I was a kid in Ripley, Oklahoma we were lucky because we got a lot of channels. That was because we were right smack in the middle between Tulsa and Oklahoma City. So, we had the ABC affiliates (Channel 5 out of OKC, Channel 8 out of Tulsa), the CBS affilates (9 out of OKC, 6 out of Tulsa), the NBC affiliates (4-OKC, 2-Tulsa), two public broadcasting stations (13-OKC, 11-Tulsa), and then there were the handful of UHF stations like Channel 25, 34, and 43 that were THE place to catch classic movies (including lots of Spaghetti Westerns and Hammer Horror films!).
    We had more channels than most when I was growing up; but, it was nothing like what we have on cable TV today.
    And, seriously, I have a very hard time finding anything worth watching on cable---and if this were the 70's or 80's in Oklahoma, I wouldn't have that problem.

    And another good thing about the old TV days...
    There were no so-called REALITY SHOWS or whole blocks of freakin' INFO-MMERCIALS!!!!!!