A Tale of Two Televisions

It took us a while, but we finally entered the era of high-definition television. At our age, it was getting difficult to discern the scores of football games. Some networks think that small type takes up less space on the screen, which is odd, because they’re usually filling up the rest of it with ads for other shows and all sorts of other trivia.

So now gracing the bedroom is a 46″ Samsung flatscreen with a picture so sharp it makes me want to watch every single DVD I own all over again. But that would be too much like my childhood, when – even though I was an avid reader – I wasted way too much time in front of the television set. I was actually upset when ABC cancelled a show called The Hathaways after one season, even though it had the bizarre premise of Jack Weston and Peggy Cass as a suburban couple whose “children” were chimpanzees. Each week, I waited anxiously for the arrival of TV Guide, which (unlike today), was the perfect size for a child’s hands.

In fact, the arrival of this last television has brought back a lot of memories about the first television I remember (see photo). It was a Packard Bell 21DC12, from 1959. I’m sure this is something my father bought in one of his more extravagant moments, moments which would drive my frugal mother crazy (one day he went out to run errands and came back with the sundries he’d gone out for … and a new car).

I started thinking about all the differences between the HDTV and the Packard Bell (over and above the fact that one was built in Korea and the other in America). Take the remote control. The new one has three – one for the television, one for the DirecTV satellite box, and one for the DVD player. DirecTV has done a great job of consolidating many controls
into the one control, but I still can’t figure out how to switch the input in order to watch DVDs, so I still need the TV remote.

We didn’t have that problem in 1959. What we did have was something even more state-of-the-art for the time. See the grainy little box on top of the TV? That was the remote control. Of course, there was no such thing as wireless remote control. This little box was actually connected to the television set by a thick cable – thicker than Ethernet – and on it was a dial for changing channels, switches for adjusting the volume and the horizontal hold, and, strangely enough, a little speaker. It was really the first television truly built for couch potatoes, even though the term hadn’t been coined yet.

The only problem: the remote control sat on a little coffee table, and no matter careful we were, the kids frequently tripped over the cable and sent that little remote control box flying. On the other hand, because it was actually connected to the television, we never lost it. Unlike the three remote controls we have today, which could be in a drawer, in the
headboard, or somewhere in the sheets. (Yes, we have accidentally washed remote
controls. They do not work afterwards.)

Another big difference between these two televisions: that little dial only accessed channels 2 through 13. There were no UHF channels at the time. Even though we were in the Bay Area, I lusted after the channels we couldn’t get. Our TV Guide published the listings for all of northern California, and it always seemed like the really good reruns were on KCRA 3 in Sacramento or KHSL 12 in Chico. On the new TV, of course, I can watch the BBC, any number of Asian channels, and a German newscast broadcast from Frankfurt … in English. Go figure.

Which brings up another contrast from the old days. Every so often, TV Guide would publish an article about something called “pay TV.” I couldn’t understand that concept.
Why would anyone pay for television? Today, of course, that’s the way most people get television. Now you need a special converter to get channels 2 through 13 over the air. And that little boy who watched way too much television now pays way too much for television.

But it’s okay. As a full-fledged Baby Boomer, I loved television then, and still do. I suspect the Internet today is to kids today what television was to us then – this amazing stream of sights and sounds that just flowed into the room whenever you pressed the right button. It’s all democratized now because you don’t have to rely on the taste of Fred Silverman
or some other network programmer to determine what you see – you can find some burgeoning comedian’s videos on YouTube.

And now, whatever it was I wanted to see on Channel 12 out of Chico is probably on DVD somewhere (thankfully, though, not The Hathaways). And I can watch it on this huge, crisp screen, without tripping over anything. And even though it sometimes takes a few minutes to find the remote, I like today better.



About middleagecranky

The Middle-Age Cranky blog is written by baby boomer Howard Baldwin, who finds the world, while occasionally wondrous, increasingly aggravating.
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4 Responses to A Tale of Two Televisions

  1. Faith says:

    Ah, memory lane. Our first TV, a Westinghouse, perhaps, because my father was an electrical engineer for that company, had a screen about the size of an Ipad. The first program I remember seeing was the detective show “The Adventures of Boston Blackie”–in black and white and decidedly noir, although at age 6 I didn’t yet know that term.

    • One good way to really head down TV memory lane is to pick up “The Complete Directory to Prime Table Network and Cable TV Shows” by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh. Actually, it’s a good way to get lost on memory lane and perhaps never get out.

  2. Judit Sarossy says:

    I remember that I was a little kid when we got our first TV. I think it called Orion, but I could be wrong. Most people could not afford to get one. So we had a lots of people every evening at our house watching TV with us.Not only friends but the whole neighborhood. At that time TV was a social event, not and isolating one, like now days. But the TVs looked very different then in the USA. We did not had that big boxes. The TVs were almost only the screen at the front. The bulky part was behind the screen. Of course it was no 24 hr TV; I think they had only few hours at evenings. The first transmissions happened in 1955 which became regular only in 1957. Interestingly its was a Hungarian contributor to the TV, Kalman Tihanyi, was a Hungarian physicist, electrical engineer and inventor. One of the early pioneers of electronic television, he made significant contributions to the development of cathode ray tubes (CRTs), which were bought and further developed by the Radio Corporation of America (later RCA), and German companies Loewe and Fernseh AG. He also invented and designed the world’s first automatic pilot-less aircraft in Great Britain. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%A1lm%C3%A1n_Tihanyi

  3. Die Tante says:

    Coming to this country in 1963, we lived in Noe Valley and bought our first TV on Castro street (a Ma and Pa store, next to the Theater). It was a beautiful neighborhood!! The owner with–buck teeth–gave us our first credit ever! All was good—I learned my English from the show “Comeback.” Then, of course, one of the tubes went… Did you know that good old Safeway had a station to test those tubes and you could buy a replacement? Being new in America—it was the place of opportunities and wonderment for us.
    Die Tante -30-

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