Looking Back

Looking back: TV in the ‘50s

It’s hard to imagine the days when a TV was not part of a home. But that was the case on our street until the early 50s, when gradually families started to acquire one. Being told by your parents that they had bought a TV was the greatest news a child could hear.

For me the year was 1952, when I was 8 years old. A couple of my friends’ parents had already bought one, so I hung out in their achomes every chance I got. I was so excited to learn that I could watch my favorite shows in my own home.

Most early TVs were like a piece of furniture. The color of the wood-grained cabinet was chosen to match the furnishings in the room. Having more than one TV was rare, so they were usually placed in living rooms–the common gathering place for families.

Just about everyone in Rutland knew Mr. Ransom. He was the “go to” person when it came time to have a TV antenna installed. We were instructed to watch the TV screen as he turned the antenna on the roof. He shouted down the chimney to see if there was “snow” on the screen or a clear picture. Once he found the perfect placement, we were good to go until a strong wind storm moved the antenna and Mr. Ransom was back up on the roof.

There were no boxes or adapters required to watch TV. You simply walked over to the set and turned it on. Yes, you used a knob . . . not a power button on a remote. You turned the dial to the channel you wanted to watch and adjusted the volume button accordingly. Then you headed to the couch, and if you wanted to watch a different channel, you got back up and turned the dial. As you might guess, laziness often prevailed and you suddenly became content with whatever channel you were watching. You also watched your favorite shows at the exact time they aired . . . no recording them for later enjoyment.

Our cat, Mitzi, found a use for the TV that was his alone. There was a carved out arch in the bottom section of the cabinet that made a perfect hiding place when it was time to put him to bed. You could see his eyes peering out from underneath. But since there were no casters on the TV it wasn’t worth trying to move it. We would place a dish of food at the opening and eventually he was lured out.

There was a very limited selection of networks for viewing but everyone appreciated the options we had. The content of shows was so tame compared to what is allowed to be shown today. All the shows were in black and white on a relatively small square screen, but nobody complained.

For most people, “The Ed Sullivan Show” was a must-see on Sunday nights. It offered a variety of entertainment for everyone. In 1955 viewers were enthralled with the debut of “The $64,000 Question.” Once contestants reached the $4,000 level they returned weekly to answer just one question. Everyone watched anxiously for someone to get all the answers right. It took only a few months after the show’s debut for that to happen.

There was also a popular soap opera called “Search for Tomorrow.” My mother always watched it, so I blame her for my attachment to “soaps,” which still exists today. I was happiest when the Tates’ young daughter, Patti, was on. Having a youthful character held the children’s interest while their mothers watched the soap.

There was a somewhat local touch to TV viewing when area children went to Albany, N.Y. to be on “The Freddie Freihofer Show.” About a dozen kids were part of the birthday parties and they would come home with a cake. My friend Betty Clark was lucky enough to do just that. My eyes were glued to the set the day she was on. I couldn’t believe that someone I knew was on TV!

As I look back I am amazed at how TV viewing has changed over the years. I might not be a fan of today’s violent and provocative shows but I certainly love my flat screen and remote!

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