2016 will mark an anniversary of sorts..it’s been 60 years since we got our first television set at home. A great story to tell my grandkids… Grandpa grew up without the benefit of television.
We were by no means early adopters. I can remember watching “Howdy Doody” at our “rich” neighbors back around 1952, and my uncle actually got a TV set before we did so I can just remember my Dad watching New Years Day football games there in 1955. But it was 1956 before my parents scraped together enough money for a “down payment” on a set of our own. I can remember my mom putting away coins in an old tin box labelled “television fund.”
I’m sure we probably paid round $400 in all with the TV, cables, outdoor antenna and a couple of stout wires to turn the head around for best reception. That would have been about $3500 today. Big time purchase. What that got was a basic 21 inch tabletop model (my uncle the woodworker built us a base to sit it on.) Black and white? Of course. No remote or electric antenna control? Naturally. But it was a “Super Cascode” chassis. It said so right on that little spring loaded door on the front that concealed the brightness, contrast and picture stability controls. Picture stability? That was my first experience with an oxymoron.
Nobody knew what “Super Cascode” meant, but it seemed high techy and a good idea at the time. I believe it had something to do with signal amplification, and boy did we need that where we lived. The simple tuner knob gave us a choice of 3 US channels (maybe 4 on a good day but don’t count on it.) There was no CBC or CTV available back then where we were trying to watch TV.
And how incredibly analog things were. The chassis itself was an all tube design, and if something went bad you called in the repairman. He took a look at the TV, opened up his manual, unscrewed the fibreboard back (ooh, scary!) and tapped a few tubes. After a bit he extracted the offending tube, replaced it from his big box of parts, and voila! You paid his bill and went back to watching your jumpy, snowy picture.
Kids never made the viewing decisions back then and we couldn’t watch until homework was done anyway. With a choice of 3 channels decisions were pretty easy. Dad liked news, sports and old movies, Jack Benny or Sid Caesar and of course “Gunsmoke.” The wee ones did get to watch old cartoons on WCNY-TV Watertown – but Dad had to go outside and move the antenna with the cable pulls.
With comparison today’s 500 channel universe, LCD monster screens HDTV, Netflix etc it all seems so primitive. And it was. But we thought of ourselves as so terribly modern when that TV first graced our living room. I suppose we were.