Family Firsts – Television

We had a black and white television that sat on a TV cart long before we had the handsome television encased in a wood veneer case. It had antenna wire twisted onto screws in the back (later, some had u-clips on the end). I have written before about our process of turning the antenna to tune in far away stations.

I do not remember when we got our first color television, but I remember when the first person in the Valley purchased theirs. It was a big deal and all of us wanted to go see the beginning of “The Wonderful World of Disney” or see the NBC peacock spread its plumage in glorious color. Of course there was a gimmick to turn your black and white TV into a color TV. You could buy an Instant Color TV screen with three colors to place in front of your television screen. They were hideous.

The antenna was not the only thing that controlled the image on the television set. Depending on the type of television you had, there were controls to adjust the width and height of the image on the screen, a vertical hold and a horizontal hold. Since these adjustments were on the back of the television, it was best to have someone in front telling you when to stop adjusting. This video might bring back some memories, although this is a color television set.

Eventually if you lived in a more urban area where signals were stronger, there were rabbit ears – antennas that were either built into the set or that sat on top and were attached to the back of the set. One might often see aluminum foil wrapped around the antenna to help boost the signal reception. Ahhh, the glory days!

There were two frequencies VHF and UHF, with early televisions not having a UHF receiver. Later televisions shipped with a circular antenna for UHF  but many people did not know its purpose. I found a great blog on the history of UHF if you are nerdy like me and want to read it. I found it very interesting.

The History of UHF-TV

Early televisions were not instant-on, nor were they instant off. I can still recall the screen disappearing into a tiny dot until it finally faded away. Television stations ‘signed-off the air’ at night with the familiar ‘test pattern’ appearing on screen until the station came back on air the following morning. And there were no remotes. Thankfully there were four children in our family and we took turns serving as the remotes for our parents. It was deemed the light from televisions was bad for children’s eyes, so we were made to sit away from the television instead of sprawled on the floor in front of the set. I can remember having TV lamps which were supposed to help with protecting our eyes.

Televisions got bigger and everyone had a color TV. Eventually there were remotes and more than one television in a house. Cable was introduced (remember when it was supposed to be commercial free because you paid for it? Ha!) We had one station growing up and it seemed there was always something to watch. Now cable offers so many channels and there seems to be nothing to watch.

Our television viewing of choice now has shifted to streaming. We do not subscribe to any cable television at all.

What do you remember about your early days of television? Perhaps, depending on your age, you have never known a time without cable. I’d love to hear!

Jack H. Kubanoff, Indian head test pattern labeled, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons

18 thoughts on “Family Firsts – Television”

  1. My earliest TV memory is having rabbit ears on a black and white TV that was on a cart. There was no guarantee that you’d be able to tune-in the TV to get the channel you wanted. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Eventually we moved to a house with an antenna BUT the TV caught on fire when a lightning bolt hit the antenna. After the firemen removed the burning TV from our house, my mother refused to buy a new TV so we didn’t have one for over a year. Eventually she bought a color one in a wooden case. Very classy. It never caught on fire.

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    1. Oh my goodness, Ally! I can only imagine how scared your mom must have been. When I was growing up, all the houses had lightening rods, but an antenna on the house must have been a great conductor. I think it would have taken me a while before I would have bought a new one given those circumstances.

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    1. What an imagination! I can understand it, though, be sure this kind of new technology was truly far reaching at the time. I hope you did not stay frightened for long. That must have been awful.

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  2. I was nine when we first got a television. At that time there was only one station in Portland and it definitely went off the air late at night. I have always been glad that I had years with little or no tv. I have never really gotten used to it, even now!

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    1. Our stations went off at night, too, but we were all about watching it when it was on. We lived in a rather isolated area and anything other than self-entertainment was hard to come by so we welcomed tv!

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  3. My dad bought a television in 1953, mainly to be able to watch the Coronation of Elizabeth II. It cost the equivalent of a year’s salary for him at the time, and mum and dad paid it off over three years of weekly instalments. It was the only TV in the street, black and white of course, with a 10-inch screen inside a luxurious mahogany cabinet. Half the neighbours came into our small living room to marvel at the broadcast of the Coronation. One channel only, the BBC. I was one year old at the time, but recall watching children’s programmes on it later.
    By the time we got our first proper colour TV, I was 20, and it was 1972. We had moved to the suburbs, Dad had a good job, and paid a lot of money for a 19-inch colour TV. My mum watched Wimbledon Tennis on it that year, and my dad was addicted to the snooker.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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    1. I imagine living in England and having the chance to watch the Coronation must have been a big deal. I have enjoyed seeing the old televisions in various scenes of The Crown.

      It is hard to imagine new technology that would amaze us as much as televisions did. Nothing seems to be beyond my imagination.

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  4. One TV in the house. Black and white. Eventually there was the foil and clothes hanger attached to the antenna.
    Remember the vertical/horizontal hold?
    Remember hitting it on side so it would stop flickering?
    The biggest big screen TV (Cathode ray tube style) I ever had was a 27″ Samsung. Man, those are heavy. It lasted a long time an only got rid of it about 10 years ago.

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    1. I remember banging the side of the tv many times, Leon. We always had to fiddle with the horizontal and vertical hold to try and tune in the picture.

      My husband bought one of the HUGE self-contained big screen televisions. We had it until 2004 when we could no longer get it repaired. Newer televisions truly ended an entire career field of tv repairmen.

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  5. When we were kids, we would get up at 7 on Saturday morning and turn on the TV. The station didn’t come on until 8, so we’d sit and watch the test pattern for an hour. At least one Chicago station used the Indian head.

    Even though UHF was around since the early ’50’s, most new TV’s didn’t have a UHF dial until 1964, when by law they had to have one. I pestered my folks to buy a UHF-TV, and they asked why. I told them it was to watch bullfights. Needless to say, we didn’t get one. I talk about it here:

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    1. Imagine getting a kid to watch a test pattern for an hour these days? It was so exciting though and certainly fun on Sunday morning.

      I am sorry about your dad, too, John. That must have been really hard.

      I do admire your persistence in chasing the UHF TV. We had UHF stations in Akron, but I do not remember much about them. You lived through a lot of history growing up in the Chicago area. Must have been an interesting time.

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