Remember when TV had a 12-channel dial and only three channels? |

Remember when TV had a 12-channel dial and only three channels?

Remember when TV used to sign off for the night? No infomercials, no reruns, no experimental public-access foolishness — nothing at all but snow. Or, if you were lucky, a test pattern. Try explaining a test pattern to someone who’s never seen one. It’s like getting “tube tester” as your word in charades. “Two words, sounds like, oh, I give up.”

Here’s a little experiment: Tell your grandchildren that after midnight, every night, all three channels used to play “The Star-Spangled Banner” and then go off the air for six or seven hours. See if they believe you or if they think you’re pulling their leg.

“Three channels? You’re just funning me. You mean 300, right? You’re talking about back in the Olden Days when you guys only had 300 channels to pick from. It must have been miserable.”

Will they believe you if you tell them there was a time when, if you wanted to change the channel, you actually had to get out of your chair, walk to the TV set and turn the channel knob? You didn’t watch three seconds of one show and then click around the dial to see what else was on. You’d watch the same station for a half-hour. Why the channel dial had 12 numbers on it was always a mystery. Would there ever be 12 channels? Who could ever watch so much television? You’d have to be glued to the sofa. When would you have time to go bowling or go to the movies? You’d have no time to play; you’d never see your friends. You’d have to do nothing but sit in front of the TV all day long. You’d be isolated and unhappy.

Will youngsters believe you when you tell them that you had to wait for the set to warm up? That you had to get up from the sofa once again to adjust your horizontal and vertical settings to keep that thick black bar from scrolling up and down the screen? Adjusting the antenna might help — but by the time you got it just right, the show would be half over.

Will they believe you when you tell them about television repair shops? Repair a TV? Why? You just throw it out and get a new one. And why wait for it to break? Let’s just get a newer, bigger, better one right now.

Will they believe you when you tell them the idea of having two TV sets in one house would never have occurred to most people? Having one was a huge luxury; who in the world could afford two of them? It’d be like having more than one phone. What on earth for? We’re all going to watch the same show, anyway. The sofa majority rules. If four people wanted to watch Ed Sullivan and two wanted to watch “Wagon Train,” you’d watch Ed Sullivan. Maybe every couple of weeks you’d let the losers watch what they wanted on the giant 15-inch TV.

The TV screen itself wasn’t giant, mind you, but the console it came in sure was. It was 12 feet long and weighed a couple of tons. It’d take the delivery men three hours to get it into the house. It had a radio, a record player (we’re back to charades again), a storage bin for records, a bar and a TV, and it matched our Colonial furniture so it wouldn’t shock the Founding Fathers if they ever showed up to watch “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

It was great until something went wrong. Then the whole thing would have to go to the shop and the delivery men were nowhere to be found. It’d take the whole family to stuff the monster into a borrowed station wagon and lug it down to the shop where they would keep it for a week. A week without television? Suddenly that second TV didn’t seem like such a bad idea. And the shop was full of new and better ones. There was talk of color TV. We can always put the old one down in the rec room when it comes back.

Contact Jim Mullen at

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