My History With TV
The first time I remember watching television was in the mid 1950s. My family like many others owned a small black and white television. That was the standard in those early days of TV. Only being 5 years old, I did not mind that Howdy Dowdy’s freckles were gray spots on his cheeks each Saturday morning. Along with the TV, you needed an antenna to bring those snowy images onto the screen. The broadcasting stations were still working the bugs out of the signals they transmitted. To compound problems, any bad weather or short wave interference could affect what you saw on the screen.
Color television sets first appeared in 1953. But, what was the sense of having a color TV if stations only broadcasted their programming in black and white? Do you remember when you first saw color on a TV screen? My first time was when my Dad came across a quick way to change black and white television into color. The colorized images were created by placing a tinted piece of polarized plastic in front of the screen. The plastic film created an odd distortion of color images. The best way to describe what I remember was like a psychedelic dream image. The instant color screen filter was quickly discarded.
When the Wheeling station began broadcasting in color, my parents decided we were going to have a color TV. Before long, delivery men were positioning a console model in our living room. Needless to say in those days the cabinet was made of real solid wood.
The earth’s magnetic field affected the color TV’s picture quality. Using a compass the two men positioned the TV in line with the earth’s poles. Good thing the north and south poles were in line with where my mom wanted it placed. Once the TV was in place, my dad manually adjusted the antenna to improve the TV’s picture. Mom watched through the window and signaled to him when the reception was just right. Our antenna only picked up two channels, seven and nine. If it was not too cloudy and the leaves were on the trees, we could sometimes get channel 12 with a little adjustment of the antenna and you if did not mind a ghost image. I don’t mean poltergeist ghost. If the antenna received its signal as a reflection off a nearby hill, the image had a faint ghost image behind it.
After the antenna adjustments were made, the service man plugged into an electrical outlet a small round hoop device called a degausser. He slowly began moving it around the screen. He explained it would improve the picture by demagnetizing the screen to in line it with earth’s polarity. I was fascinated by the way the color on the screen followed the humming magnetic device. I soon realized we were moving into a new world of electronics, even though I did not know what electronics were yet at my age. This device made it look like a poltergeist ghost was alive and hiding inside our new TV. The magnet appeared to pull the distorted ghostly image from the TV.
Finally, our new TV was prepared for our first color program. Family and a few neighbors gathered in anticipation of the color pictures to be displayed on the screen in our living room. At first, the TV image appeared black and white, and then in grand fashion the first color image appeared, it was a peacock. The announcer proclaimed, “Now in living color.” Not sure why he called it living color, the peacock was never alive.
Right on time, the music we came to know as the theme from Bonanza began to play. Our lives would never again be the same as the music and color images filled the room full of people. Do you remember how the map of the Ponderosa burst into flames revealing Ben Cartwright and his sons as they rode into television history? That was 1959.
With our new color television, I waited with anticipation for Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color to appear onto the screen each Sunday evening. I remember Walt himself welcoming us each week to family programming. Somehow it seemed I had known this man my whole life, all ten years of it. Even back then I enjoyed educational programming about history and nature.
I don’t think if Walt had shown zebras crossing an Africa river, while hungry crocodiles devoured them in blood stained water, it would have been considered a family show in those days of TV censorship. In the early sixties, images such as those would have shocked viewers. People only wanted to see crocodiles pulling bad guys under water in old Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies.
Walt’s family programming was my first experience in discovering a world of nature that lived far from the hills of West Virginia. One Sunday evening, the nature program showed us creatures that lived in the Arizona desert. Hairy tarantula spiders, sidewinder rattlesnakes, spinney lizards and the most amazing of all, the deadly poison Gila Monster.
Truth was I had seen tarantulas and Gila Monsters before. Only they were fifty feet tall and stomping on desert towns. These monstrous creatures were the feature presentation at the Lincoln Theater one Friday night. On the big screen, ordinary desert creatures were turned into monsters that crushed police cars and made creepy sounds that scared most little kids, but not me. Disney’s color programming taught me these creatures were a normal part of the world and not fifty feet tall with dripping fangs.
Disney programs also exposed me to legends and tall tales that helped enrich our country. I remember one story told by Roy Rogers of a boy who fell from a wagon while his family traveled west. According to Roy the boy was adopted and raised by wolves. Needless to say the boy grew into a man who became a legend in the old west, Pecos Bill. Roy and Sons of the Pioneers used music to help tell the story. They don’t sing about legends and tall tales anymore, I wonder why?
Looking back, I remember that old color TV of ours showing, Bonanza and The Wonderful World of Color. These programs were part of my life and I did not realize how important they were to my understanding of the world outside the valley. They sparked the imagination of a young boy from Fishing Creek to learn about many things.
When television first came on the market some proclaimed it was a passing fad. Since those first commercial televisions of the 1950’s, the technology and quality has improved with each model year. TV has changed beyond anything those early designers could have imagined. I wonder how future generations will be entertaining themselves in another 65 years, as they look Thru the Lens.