When I was growing up, there was a fairly good sized box standing in the corner the living room.  In my earliest memories, it towered over me by at least a foot and a half. In retrospect, it was a rather odd looking beast; it looked for all the world like a tabletop model with the thyroid problem , and its own stand to set it on, that you could swivel the screen around the room on.  Made of metal, and looked like wood. It had enough tubes in it, to keep that corner of the room nice and warm.  With all those tubes, it did require a significant amount of maintenance to keep it running.

At first, it only received two channels.  Then, eventually, around 1963, it received three.  There was a mysterious group of channels that it could not receive called “UHF”, that I’d never heard seen… and wouldn’t for 10 years.
It was the TV that brought us the news that JFK had been shot.  We had just gotten around that television , on a cold November night in 1965, waiting for Mom to finish making dinner, when the lights started flickering , announcing that something major was about to happen. Happen it did.  We were without power until the following morning. Even the big blowtorch, WHAM was operating at small power, being supplied by a generator. That was OK, though because very few stations were on in the northeast, that night.
it was the TV on which I watched Captain Kangaroo, before going to school.  I remember leaving for school and precisely 8:45, annoyed, that I always missed the last fifteen minutes of The Captain, unless I was ill.

It wasn’t until almost eight years later, the Dad decided to replace the old beast, mostly because the transformer burned out of it. He replaced it with an old Zenith, also fully tubed, and hungry as hell… took 350 watts to run the thing. The funny part was, as cantankerous as the old one was, the new one was even more so with all those tubes.  The TV repairman, whose name if I remember correctly was “Don” something or another, I considered to be just next to a magician.  There was something magical about being able to bring in sound and picture from far, far away.

A few years later, that one went bye bye as well.  The newer units were far more reliable.  They were computer controlled, had transistors in them, and were advertised as far easier to service.  We saw a less and less of Don, the TV repairman, as the years went by, and as TV became more of a commodity.  Eventually, we saw him not at all.

These days, I don’t even know if the TV repairman exists , anymore. The technoloy is such that it’s cheaper by far to replace, rather than repair an older TV.
But it was all these thoughts, and quite a few more, that flooded into my mind as I fired up our latest electronic purchase; flat panel LCD HD TV. The thing has clarity, and features, that would have caused riots back in 1965.  (Well, at least they’d have had an excuse for riots in 1965.)

A 36in. screen, the size I have here, was unheard of.  One that you didn’t have to chop the sides off of the source material to play movies on, would also of been unheard of, in those days.  And certainly, something that wasn’t limited to 525 lines of the NTSC standard, would have been if nothing else, an extravagance. Hell… COLOR was an extravagance, too…. But there it is; sitting on top of my entertainment center, connected to the DVD player,€ the VCR, the cable TV box, the surround sound system, and a rack full of movies, which also would be unheard of just a few short years ago.
The wave of the future.

If such things were available back in the sixties, they certainly would have cost many times what the average American could afford.  I will assure you that I am not a rich man.  It is therefore a tribute to the state of technology, then I’m able to afford such a rig today.

Sometime in 2009, all the old style TV sets won’t have a signal to tune into, unless they’re being fed by a VCR or a cable box, or a converter.  The FCC, in its wisdom, has decreed that analog style NTSC broadcasts will be no more.  Familiar channels that we have come to know for 50 years, will be moved, and the transmitters that brought us all those events, for those five decades, will be silent.

I suppose that by the time it actually happens, no one will actually miss the old TV stations. For a couple years now, TV stations ahve been operating with one foot in each world, having the new sty;lle systems running… and most of the country has gone to cable, and those that have not have at least moved on to high definition, and therefore don’t even bother watching the old style signals.

But I can’t help but wonder; other than the technology, has changed?  In the old days, we complained that there was only three channels and therefore there was not a damn thing on to watch.  These days, between digital over the air broadcasting, and a couple of hundred cable channels, a couple of hundred movies on various formats, we still complain there’s nothing on. But somehow, with all those sources, particularly the local ones in your living room ; the DVD, VCR, etc… The TV takes on a somewhat less important feel, for reasons that I’m not sure I am able to describe.

Perhaps it’s this; more choices.  Radio had the focus of the nation because it was the sole source of real-time news and such, Radio diminished in importance because the choice of TV was added.. particualrly as the technology got better and allowed for real time programming. To survive, radio changed roles from all-around entertainment, to a stricter diet of recorded music and news. Over the air TV bowed to the cable, old style TV to HD, and so on…and with each passing technology, the focus became more defused, and each passing ‘leader’ in media, became, even at their peak, less important, than it’s predecessor.
Technology has brought us to the point, where anyone who has the relatively small amount of money can own what amounts to their own TV station. (I am suddenly reminded of Doc Brown in ‘Back to the Future”, examining the Video tape Camera that’s attached to his 1955 RCA black and white TV. “This is incredible…a portable television studio! No wonder your president has to be an actor, he has to look good on television.”)

The state of thing has gone through decided change. If you want thousands of people to read your writings all you have to do is run a web site.  (Myself being a case in point.) Your thoughts will reach people in a way that radio or dead trees could never penetrate.  The state of computers is such that my first computer, which I paid $1,100.00 for, is approximately .005% as powerful as the one I currently own.. and paid $1100.00 for.

There was a sense of wonder, attached to that magical box in the corner.  The people that used to show up on it on a regular basis.  There was quite literally a sense of wonder beating up on my Commodore VIC-20, and being able to program it to do things.  For me, there was an even bigger sense of wonder , back in my broadcast days, that I could reach out with words and music and touch thousands of people on a daily basis.  It was one of the things I truly loved about the profession.  It was enough to keep me in the business for a decade and a half, despite all the other problems it caused in my life at the time.
(Poverty, mostly. Time was when a DJ could make a fairly decent living, even not being one of the major voices.  Automation, satellite delivery, cassette tapes, and eventually the CD and DVD changed all that.  Eventually it got to the point where unless you were on the very top of the game, you’d be lucky if you’re making minimum wage. …..Perhaps other people’s sense of wonder got depleted, as well.)

All that said, and the reason I’ve not been posting quite as much the last three or four days… I have found myself these last few nights, looking at all this technology in my living room, with a sense of wonder and awe that I have not felt since the middle’60s, watching in a rather odd looking box in the corner of my family’s living room. There’s a magic about it, again. Mostly it’s because it’s new to me… but there’s no denying it’s there.
God knows, I’m no neophyte.  I work in a high tech field, and handle more technology on a daily basis than was dreamed of twenty years ago.  Yet, it took something as simple as dropping that technology in my living room , to make me look with wonder on it, again.

I’ve remarked on it, tonight, because the sad part is that I know from experience that this wondering is going to fade, as it has with about everything. So it is that when the last old style TV broadcast is completed, and those transmitters are stilled forever, I will sigh… Not because old technology is no longer with us; certainly technological improvements should be considered a good thing.

I will, rather,be thinking of the sense of wonder they helped bring out in all of us, all those years ago. Mostly, though, I’ll be thinking about the TV repairman.

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