Television – 1

Early each month I get an E-mail from DirecTV informing that my monthly statement is available on their website.  How thoughtful of them.  I actually don’t have to see it because I authorize them to charge it to a credit card – so my balance is zero.  I always download the statement anyway – print it and file it with my paid bills.

This month DirecTV’s website contained a notice that they now had 160 High Definition channels, with more to come.  This is out of the 250+ channels that I receive.  Like so often happens with me as I am getting older, this announcement triggered memories of television long ago.

I first saw television in 1949, when I was ten years old, and Rochester, NY’s first television channel began operating.  An appliance store in a strip shopping mall across the street from my elementary school had a  television set in it’s front window turned on all day .  The TV screen was only 7 or 9 inches in diagonal, and the set sold for over $400, which in today’s dollars would be over $3,500.  We kids were drawn to that window like a magnet, although there was not very much to see – usually just a test pattern like those  below.  The test patterns were vital then because viewers had to make horizontal, vertical, height and width adjustments in order to get a picture which was not distorted.   At first there was very little programming outside of evening prime-time hours.  I remember Howdy Doody Time, a childrens’ program, came on in the late afternoon, then a test pattern until the news, followed by more test pattern until evening network programming began.

My family didn’t get a television set for another three years, when the screen sizes were bigger and the cost had dropped.  Our first set was a 20-inches and it cost just a bit over $200, about $1,600 in today’s money.  But, I was already a veteran TV viewer by then.  Our next door neighbor had a set and I never let an opportunity to visit go by.  🙂  Also some of my friends’ had TV in their homes, and I would have occasional weekend visits with another friend when I could gorge myself on TV fare.

The city didn’t get a second channel until 1953.  The long delay was caused by there being so many applicants vying for what was in those days right up to the advent of cable TV virtually a license to print money.  Operating a television station was extremely profitable.  A selection was only made when two major applicants agreed to share the channel.  It was a strange deal – one company operated the channel for 24 straight hours from noon one day to noon the next day and then would turn the channel to the other. The process was repeated daily.  The companies were affiliated with different national networks, so if your favorite program was on Tuesday evening at eight o’clock you could only watch it every other week.  This odd setup continued for nine years before a new channel was authorized so each company had a channel full time.  So, it took thirteen years before our city had full time service from each of the three major national TV networks.

In those days, with so few channels,  you knew what was on TV every day and at what time.  Now, there is so much programming available it is almost impossible to know what is on and when.  Who would bother checking out  programming for over 250 channels on the channel guide every day?  Also, it is easy to understand why there are so many more commercials today.  Whereas the viewing audience was once shared by, at most, three major networks, a national educational channel and an independent channel or two in major markets, now there are hundreds vying for viewers.  Advertising rates are obviously much lower and the broadcasters have to pay the bills.



Filed under Reminiscences

2 responses to “Television – 1

  1. naturgesetz

    Our neighbor across the street was a ham radio operator who built his own TV set from scratch as soon as there were broadcasts from Boston. As I recall, we very rapidly had NBC and CBS affiliates, owned by the radio affiliates os those networks. ABC came a few years later, and even to this day it feels like the newcomer to me.

    TV fascinated me, and soon I had a standing invitation to watch Howdy Doody every day. We might never have gotten a television set —my dad basically thought that it was useless, and he may have been right. But it became embarrassing for my folks to have me showing up at the neighbors every weekday afternoon like clockwork to watch their TV. So they bought a Philco set.

    That has to have happened by 1952, because I can remember watching the National Party conventions (at the age of nine) and hopping on my bike and dashing to my friends’ to be the first to share the great news that Eisenhower had won the Republican nomination. Surprisingly, they didn’t seem to care. And today I’d probably prefer Taft. But the folks were for Ike, so I figured he was the good guy. Of course, those were the good old days when conventions were not carefully scripted affairs with foregone conclusions. No, back then there were real contests with the outcomes in doubt, and there was genuine oratory, not just slogans and soundbites. Now they are as useless as infomercials for steak knives.

    I also recall following the coverage of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. They couldn’t transmit the video live, but they had the sound and some still pictures.

    Events like this, plus shows like “The Voice of Firestone” and “The Bell Telephone Hour,” with their great singers, convinced me that TV made me a witness to the larger world, the important world, the world of the famous people. In other words, it felt as if TV was real life. Unfortunately, that notion took root, quite unconsciously, before I discovered sitcoms. But much to my dad’s dismay, I began to want to watch them as well. In effect, TV became my default activity, and basically remained so until I discovered the internet. Now I don’t “have to” watch TV, but I “have to” check the blogs I follow, and they’re available 24/7.

    • I, too, vividly recall the Coronation. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe because it was happening ‘across the pond’ and we were seeing the whole thing on the small screen in our living room rather than in 60 seconds of the news reel at the movie theater.

      I was fascinated by the conventions also, and as you point out there were actually doubts about the outcome. Watching the roll calls was riveting.

      Perhaps this exposes me as an “elitist” but I firmly believe that better candidates came out of the process when primaries had less impact. I actually would prefer to trust the judgment of professional politicians in smoke filled rooms to the beauty contests that determine nominees today.

      I would make other comments, but as you may have noticed, I appended a “1” to the post’s title – which obviously means that there will be “more to come”.

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