Remember When: The anticipation of awaiting that first television set

Tom Mooney - Remember When | June 19th, 2017 6:00 am

In grade school, I kept hearing about a fantastic TV show called “Victory at Sea.”

The kids who were following it told me it showed real World War II news film of aircraft carriers, invasions, big sea and air battles and all kinds of exciting things that our fathers and uncles had seen and done. They said I’d love it.

Fat chance!

In the early 1950s, my family didn’t have a TV. My mother’s uncle who lived next door got himself one, and he started inviting us over once in a while on Friday night to see the fights from Madison Square Garden. I could hardly believe I was actually seeing what I’d only been listening to on the radio, complete with the bouncy Gillette jingle.

Sometimes it seemed like a conspiracy was going on.

Neighbors were telling my parents they would have died laughing at Milton Berle dressed up as a hula dancer the other night. Everywhere I’d go I’d hear adults talking among themselves about what John Cameron Swayze on the “Camel News Caravan” said was the latest dire threat from Stalin and the communists.

Nobody even had to tell me that “Sky King” and “The Lone Ranger” were out there, performing heroics, in a universe to which I was denied access.

My parents, thrifty souls, tried to ease my torment by pointing out that we would get a TV as soon as the reception improved. They were right, I have to admit. With no TV stations in Wyoming Valley just yet, people had to put huge antennas on their roofs to pull in “Toast of the Town” or “Mr. Peepers” from stations in Philadelphia or New York City.

But because of the distance and our surrounding mountains, the picture those adventurous folks got was gray, full of “snow” and undependable, frequently fading out and then coming back in — if you were lucky. Of course, cable TV with its perfect reception was available, but dad was bringing home $50 a week and the era of a zillion cable channels was then as much science fiction as “Space Patrol” and its ray guns.

In January of 1953, Wyoming Valley’s first TV station finally opened, and within a year and a half our area had a full complement of network outlets.

Then we got our family TV — a 17-inch screen floor model in a dark wood cabinet. Top of the line would have been a 21-incher, but who was counting. I think the first thing I watched was a 1930s cowboy movie.

OK, why as summer of 2017 arrives do I unearth such ancient history?

I’m trying to put things into perspective.

Probably a lot of us have been on edge for some time, hoping for the best but bracing for news that our favorite series will not continue for another season. Maybe our cable or satellite supplier has just raised rates.

Or will that 52-inch screen finally grace our living room? Should we buy that new subscription service? Will we remember to hit “record”?

Ahem! How many of us remember the days when there was a question of whether TV would even be in our lives next season?

You can order “Victory at Sea” or almost any other series from any era online today, or see them on a re-run channel. But you can’t order up the youthful angst and excitement of waiting for that first television to arrive in your family’s living room.

That show’s run is over.

Tom Mooney Remember When Mooney Remember When

Tom Mooney

Remember When

Tom Mooney is a Times Leader history columnist. Reach him at [email protected]